This qualitative inquiry is characterized by field observations in the natural setting of one fifth grade classroom during the month of September 1993. Observations included the environment: building, classroom, furniture and expendable supplies, the participants: teachers, support staff and students, and the curriculum: content and pedagogy. Research focused on interactive problem-solving activities. The research questions ask: How do teachers create a problem-solving environment? How do students contribute to their peer's learning? and What forms of assessment are appropriate for problem-solving activities?
The literature review and observations indicate that an open problem-solving environment is nurtured and sustained by structure, flexibility and ownership. A concise, well-defined problem-creates a framework or platform. If students are an integral part of the problem designing phase, students do not perceive the structure as stifling or constraining. The process of defining the problem, setting the parameter and manipulating the components leads to the resolution. The process becomes the vehicle for learning. Integrated, long-term problem-solving units are advantageous learning experiences because students discover relationships across the curriculum. Thematic units create an environment where students see positive transfer between curricula. Because of the depth and breadth of study students engage in all levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. Cooperative learning experiences nurture individual students' strengths and build a collegial classroom atmosphere. This atmosphere promotes open-ended learning; it does not support standardized assessment. Open problem-solving is an example of authentic learning that can be best assessed through a student-directed portfolio.
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