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Applying the 4 Steps of Problem Solving to Information Literacy

I wanted to take something that educators in Ontario are already familiar with and apply them to information literacy. Something that really stood out was George Polya’s four-step Problem Solving model which appears in the Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8 Mathematics. This post like the previous one needs to be developed a little more. (One day when I get more time to write or someone decides to pay me to do it :)

The Steps are:

Understand the Problem
* reread and restate the problem
* identify the information given and the information that needs to be determined

Make a Plan
* relate the problem to similar problems solved in the past
* consider possible strategies
* select a strategy or a combination of strategies

Carry Out the Plan
* execute the chosen strategy
* do the necessary calculations
* monitor success
* revise or apply different strategies as necessary

Look Back at the Solution
* check the reasonableness of the answer
* review the method used: Did it make sense? Is there a better way to approach the problem?
* consider extensions or variations

The steps for problem solving match the steps for researching web resources rather well. When students search the internet for information they need to ask critical questions and relections that help to access and evaluate the authenticity of the information. This type of learning can be built upon the problem solving model with a few tweaks, and be a useful tool for students to use forever.

Understand the Problem
* what is the problem that needs to be solved through the internet search?
* what are the key words that relate specifically to the problem?
* what is the information that I need and what information is not necessary?

Make a Plan
* where have you found similar information in the past, where might this information be located?
* what are the possible tools that you can use to get this information?
* what strategy or a combination of strategies will help you to filter the results?

Carry Out the Plan
* execute strategies, organize and summarize results
* decide on the relevance of the information
* think about bias of the information
* revise or apply different strategies as necessary in order to obtain useful in formation

Look Back at the Solution
* check the reasonableness of the information collected
* review the process used in order to obtain the information – was it useful? would you use it again?
* consider extensions or variations of strategies for other situations

    Share and Enjoy -


  1. April 7th, 2006 | 7:26 am

    A brilliant idea!

    I’d love to sit in on the workshop you build around this idea. One day, with your permission, I’d like to build a workshop scaffolded this way myself. Maybe we could do it together? Might be fun. 😉

    Polya’s work reads as deceptively simple yet his ideas a so powerful and deep. I just love this application! I keep telling my students the skills you learn in math are all about developing a Habit of Mind. Thanks for another outstanding example of that. 😉

  2. Quentin
    April 7th, 2006 | 8:09 pm

    Funny enough Darren, I am preparing for an 2 hour digital literacy workshop where I’ve developed the concept a little more. I’m presenting early next week, so I will be doing the prep work over the weekend. I can use the content in a online course. Perhaps we could collaborate in Moodle, over the next few weeks?

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