Creative Problem Solving in Math20/02/2009
By K.L. Pepkin
One Friday, a professor gave a take home test to his students. It consisted of three math problems. He explained that the first two problems were very difficult, but the third had never been solved and it was for extra credit. To get credit for the third problem, a student would not have to get a solution, but show evidence of good thought processes.
Shortly thereafter, one of his students entered the class. Since he was late, he copied the assignment off the board and received no further instruction or explanation.
This student, whose grades were marginal, worked diligently all weekend, in an attempt to raise his average. With much effort he solved the first two problems and with extreme effort he solved the third. He brought his assignment to his teacher that Monday and told him that he must need tutoring because solving all three problems took him all weekend. The amazed teacher explained the enormity of the student’s accomplishment to him as well as to the whole class.
My college psychology professor used this anecdote to illustrate the effect of mindset, expectation, and attitude, on creative problem solving. Not knowing that he wasn’t expected to solve the problem freed the student from any self-perceived limitations and allowed him to apply maximum effort.