Fixed mindset and uncertainty avoiding behaviours are both obstacles to problem solving. So, how do we overcome these?

By scaffolding their problem solving processes.

Think Grass, Don’t smoke it!

I tell my students this as I encourage a disciplined approach to problem solving that is nicely summarized by the mnemonic G*R*A*S*S:

What is Given? What information is given? Draw a picture. What assumptions are reasonable?
What is Required? What is the product of this problem solving activity? Seek clarification. Relate this to the picture.
Analysis How do you get from your given — your starting point — to required — your end point? Often, there are many ways to solve a problem. Identify and prioritize them. Choose an approach. Later, if this approach fails, try one of the others.
Set-up the
way to
solve the problem
Create an algorithm to solve this problem. Show specific steps that enable another person or a computer to solve this type of problem. Use technology. Think of this as a reusable process. After all, we ought to recycle great ideas and solution methods, not just our garbage.

Use this setup to inform your boss (or teacher) when they ask you to explain how you solved the problem. You can also use this setup as the basis for an algorithm that automates the solution for this type of problem.

Solve and
present the solution
Follow the steps of the algorithm. Round numeric outcomes as required and show the units. Find ways to check your results. Once results are verified, write and share a concluding sentence written in the language of the problem.

When solving problems, don’t panic. Instead, take a deep breath and use G*R*A*S*S — Given, Required, Analysis, Setup, and Solve. Remember: technology, used correctly, has the power to magnify intellect. And, think grass, don’t smoke it!

Use this worksheet to scaffold problem solving.

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