Designing Teaching Materials for Learning Problem Solving in Technology Education

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Laurentian University]On: 06 October 2014, At: 13:59Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UK

    Research in Science &Technological EducationPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/crst20

    Designing Teaching Materialsfor Learning Problem Solvingin Technology EducationB. G. Doornekamp aa Department of Curriculum , University ofTwente , The NetherlandsPublished online: 25 Aug 2010.

    To cite this article: B. G. Doornekamp (2001) Designing Teaching Materialsfor Learning Problem Solving in Technology Education, Research in Science &Technological Education, 19:1, 25-38, DOI: 10.1080/02635140120046204

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02635140120046204

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    http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • Research in Science & Technological Education, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2001

    Designing Teaching Materials forLearning Problem Solving inTechnology Education

    B. G. DOORNEKAMP, Department of Curriculum, University of Twente, TheNetherlands

    ABSTRACT In the process of designing teaching materials for learning problem solving in technology education,domain-specic design specications are considered important elements to raise learning outcomes with these materials.Two domain-specic design specications were drawn up using a four-step procedure and were applied to improveexisting teachinglearning packages. The study focused on a construction problem (open-ended) and an explanationproblem (constrained). Construction material (schertechnik) was used to solve the problems. In two experiments, thesenewly designed teaching materials were compared with the existing teaching materials. In all, 600 pupils participatedin these experiments. In the experiment with the construction problem, no learning gains were made at all: the smallgain in quality of the product made by the pupils cost too much time. In the experiment with the explanation problem,the quality of the pupils product was signicantly better in less time. It is argued that strongly structured teachingmaterials for constrained problems are more suitable for learners with little experience with construction material.

    Introduction

    In general and vocational education, problem-solving skills are believed to be veryimportant for pupils. Pupils are faced in life with situations in which they have to solvea problem. Because these situations cannot be predicted, they cannot be learned inadvance. Each new situation differs from previous situations. What would solve theproblem in one situation does not solve the problem in another situation. When vehicles,devices or machines do not perform well, it can be caused by various problems: forexample, it can be a mechanical problem or an electrical problem. Each of thesecategories of problems consists of many different problems and each problem needs itsown solution.In general as well as in vocational education, pupils are taught strategies to solve these

    problems. They can learn algorithms and heuristics, which help them to identify theproblem and take appropriate measures. The pupils need the basic knowledge and skillsto be able to solve the problem. They need to know which tools are needed and howto handle them. Besides, they must know the fundamentals of mechanics or electricity.If the problem deals with pneumatics, the pupils have to know about valves, connectors,tubes, pumps and so on.

    ISSN 0263-5143 print; 1470-1138 online/01/010025-14 2001 Taylor & Francis LtdDOI: 10.1080/0263514012004620 4

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  • 26 B. G. Doornekamp

    These skills are relevant because in most (technical) jobs problems have to be solved.This is obvious for people who are repairing all sorts of vehicles and devices, but also forthose people who perform service and maintenance activities.In job situations, problem-solving skills are considered to be among the many key

    competencies a worker should have. Van Zolingen (1995) describes key competencies asthe knowledge, insight, skills and attitudes that belong to the durable core of a vocationor a group of related functions. Van Zolingen distinguishes among others a cognitivedimension, which includes identifying and solving problems.After this short exploration of problem-solving skills and the need to learn them in

    education, the next question to be asked is how can these skills be learned, and howshould the teachinglearning packages be designed? This article deals especially with thedesign aspects of teachinglearning packages. When designing teachinglearning pack-ages certain design speci cations are applied. The study presented in this article focusedon design speci cations that are speci c to technology education in secondary education.Therefore, they are called domain-speci c design speci cations. First, the development ofthese domain-speci c design speci cations is described and then two experiments inwhich these design speci cations were evaluated are reported. The experiments are fromdifferent domains of technology education and will not be compared with each other.For each problem, a different domain-speci c design speci cation was applied.Although this study took place in the Dutch educational system, the ndings should

    be applicable to other educational settings in which teachinglearning packages fortechnology education are designed.

    Domain-speci c Design Speci cations

    Design speci cations are part of a design theory, a sub-theory of the curriculum theory(Beauchamp, 1981), and have a prescriptive character. Teachinglearning packages aredeveloped according to certain design speci cations. Two types of design speci cationscan be distinguished: domain-speci c design speci cations for a particular subject areaand general design speci cations that are independent of any subject area. Whenteachinglearning packages are designed, both general and domain-speci c designspeci cations are applied.In this study, domain-speci c design speci cations for teachinglearning packages

    (used in technology education) were drawn up in stage 1 according to a particularmethodology and applied to improve existing teachinglearning packages. In stage 2, theapplied domain-speci c design speci cations were evaluated in two experiments in whichthe outcomes of these design speci cations were measured. Finally, conclusions weredrawn with respect to domain-speci c design speci cations for technology education.

    Drawing up Domain-speci c Design Speci cations

    For the rst stage of this study, a four-step methodology was used to draw up thedomain-speci c design speci cations (Doornekamp, 1997).

    (1) Analyse

    Problem solving is studied from a practical, a theoretical and an empirical point of viewby analysing relevant documents. Attention is paid to aspects in these documents, whichcan be related to the design of curriculum materials and the instructional process for

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  • Teaching Materials for Learning Problem Solving 27

    technology education. This step results in three checklists of points meriting attention(one list per point of view).

    (2) Check

    These checklists of points meriting attention are used as criteria to check whether existingteachinglearning packages for technology education in secondary education meet thesecriteria. A criterion that is not met in the existing packages is regarded as a shortcoming.

    (3) Evaluate

    The shortcomings that are observed in the packages which are examined from each ofthe three points of view are considered as the major shortcomings that need to becorrected. These shortcomings have a domain-speci c character.

    (4) Formulate

    In order to correct these shortcomings, domain-speci c design speci cations are drawnup. The design speci cations refer to points meriting attention (step 1). By applying thesedomain-speci c design speci cations to the existing teachinglearning packages exam-ined, the shortcomings will be removed.

    Application of the Methodology to Technology Education in The Netherlands

    Step 1

    As indicated, this step starts with the analysis of documents. Problem solving is studiedfrom three points of view: a practical, a theoretical and an empirical point of view.

    Practice: technology education

    In The Netherlands, technology education in basic education (i.e. lower secondaryeducation) is characterised as a general subject in which practical technical activities leadthe way. The method is structured. During the technology lessons, pupils, girls as wellas boys, must gain an insight into the functioning of technical systems (systems approach)and learn to act technically in an adequate way. For the latter, concrete technicalproblems are used (Huijs & Hermans, 1993).During the development of technology education, problem solving has played an

    important role. For solving (technical) problems a stepwise approach, like the modelThinkingDrawingMakingEvaluating (TDME model), is used. Conceptual knowl-edge is considered as a prerequisite to be able to solve (technical) problems (Ploegmakers,1986; Huijs & Hermans, 1993).It is found that in technology education in basic education the following points merit

    attention:

    Problems have to be attractive and meaningful for both girls and boys. Solving a technical problem is a practical activity combined with knowledge andunderstanding. The system approach used in technology education is an overall approach and has auniversal character.

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  • 28 B. G. Doornekamp

    The method is structured and systematic by using a model when solving a problem. Theoretical knowledge is a prerequisite to be able to solve problems. The pupils level of theoretical knowledge determines the degree of structuring of theassignment.

    Theory: problem solving

    Technical problems can be classi ed by the characteristics of a problem (constrainedversus open-ended) or on the content of the problem (e.g. construction and explanationproblems) (Huijs & Hermans, 1993). Both algorithmic and heuristic methods can be usedto solve a problem.In this study, solving a technical problem was considered to be a combination of

    problem thinking (acting mentally) and practical skills (acting manually). By means of astructured approach, the solution is reached. The TDME model is an example of suchan approach and shows the outlines of problem solving in technology education(Ploegmakers, 1986).The knowledge repertoire of a problem solver may be classi ed into four types of

    knowledge: (a) knowledge of problem situations, (b) conceptual knowledge, (c) proceduralknowledge, and (d) strategic knowledge (de Jong, 1986). There is a strong relationshipbetween conceptual and procedural knowledge (McCormick & Murphy, 1994).The control and guidance of the problem-solving process is called meta-cognition

    (Flavell, 1976; Brown in Schepens et al., 1981).Taking the above into account, the following points merit attention:

    The application of practical skills is assumed in problem solving. Explanation problems are constrained problems, which can be solved by using analgorithm.

    Construction problems are open-ended problems. Heuristic strategies are needed tosolve them.

    The TDME model shows the outlines of the steps which have to be taken to solve aproblem.

    Knowledge deals with conceptual as well as procedural knowledge. Both can bepresent with the pupil or are offered in a teachinglearning package.

    Meta-cognition promotes problem solving. Meta-cognitive skills can be developed bytaking up certain instructions in teachinglearning packages, such as making notes,drawing up study questions, adding teaching material, marking parts of the text,forming verbalisations and actions and explaining concepts.

    Research: effective design specications

    In The Netherlands, six studies have been carried out which focused on problem solvingin technology education, in junior secondary technical education and in scienti c subjectareas (physics, chemistry, mathematics). In these studies, the researchers tried to improvethe problem-solving skills of pupils and students by designing various teachinglearningpackages (de Jong, 1986; van der Sanden, 1986; de Jong, 1989; Kramers-Pals, 1994;Perrenet, 1995; Taconis, 1995).The applied design speci cations can be classi ed into two categories: strategy and

    knowledge. Two types of strategy have been distinguished based on: (a) the degree of

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  • Teaching Materials for Learning Problem Solving 29

    structuring and (b) the normative model of actions. These types are indicated as aninternal and an external strategy.Design speci cations applied in van der Sandens study (using weakly or strongly

    structured instruction materials, dependent on certain pupil characteristics) and in deJongs (1989) study (providing the necessary conceptual knowledge in advance by theteacher) appear to be effective. Van der Sanden used several psychological tests, amongothers the Group Embedded Figures Test for assessing eld (in)dependence. De Jong(1989) administered a Test for Problem Solving for assessing the effects of the treatments.No positive effects were attained with the other design speci cations.With rega...

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