« Return to AACT homepage

AACT Member-Only Content

You have to be an AACT member to access this content, but good news: anyone can join!


Have a student passcode? Enter it below to access our videos, animations, and ChemMatters Issues.


Need Help?

We have all been there. We have explored new material, modeled problem-solving techniques, and tried to give our students the best chance for success with carefully scaffolded series of questions. Some students are adept at following through and succeed in the problem-solving process. Some students are not. They do not do the class work or homework, they don’t pay attention to the instructions, they don’t feel well, and/or they are distracted at key moments and miss the big picture.

How can we reach those students who are struggling? I have found that round robin problem solving has worked well for students taking my course as an elective and for students taking my course to fulfill a science graduation requirement. Of the many documented collaborative group activities developed and presented by Spenser Kagan (1), the round robin activity can be used as a strategy for brainstorming and eliciting opinions and points of view from even recalcitrant students (2). I have modified this strategy slightly to fit my needs, and I use it as a problem-solving technique with excellent results. Students are engaged, participate in cooperative learning, and have high success rates for arriving at correct answers.

How it Works

Each student in a group picks up a version of a sheet with four problems on it. The papers in each group can be the same version or different versions. I usually use four versions of each problem set so students don’t work ahead. Students put their name on the paper and solve the first problem in a prescribed amount of time. When time is up, students pass their sheet to the next student and receive a sheet from another student. (This is a good time to reinforce the disappearing analog concepts of clockwise and counter-clockwise!) They put their initials on the second paper and solve the second problem in a given amount of time. This process occurs two more times—initials and solving problem three on the third sheet and initials and solving problem four on the fourth sheet. By the time the last problem is solved, the sheet is returned to the original owner. Each student is responsible for checking all four answers on their sheet and correcting any answers that are not correct. You can incorporate group answer checking or posted answer keys as ways for students to check their answers for correctness.

I like this activity for the following reasons:

  • Initialing the paper gives students ownership of that problem and accountability to her/his peers. Engaged students won’t like filling in blanks left by unengaged students.
  • A student who is struggling will turn in a paper with three problems done by other students and still get some credit for their efforts. During the time for correcting mistakes, the student has time to ask peers to explain what they did to solve their problem, so they do learn something.
  • It helps students see the importance of being neat and solving problems in an organized manner. If a student can’t follow what a peer has done to solve a problem, checking the answer takes more effort.

I have found it helpful to make all of the versions of sheets have the same type of problem for each numbered problem. That way, you can talk in generalities (e.g., “In problem three, you are given mass and density, what do you have to do to solve for volume?”) and still talk to everyone, regardless of the values given in their particular version. Another benefit of using four versions is that for three-quarters of students, the problem that I solve as an example for the entire class becomes more about the process than the product, since the values on their worksheet version will differ from the values in my explanation. This means they cannot mindlessly copy the solution from the board. This helps show students that the problem-solving process is transferable to other problems. If that idea can take root, then the problem-solving process can be linked to problems in other topics within chemistry and beyond.

The student who has not mastered the material has multiple opportunities to interact with others who have a better handle on the content. They can develop their own problem-solving skills. The activity promotes collaboration that can be used as a springboard to help foster an atmosphere of learning and cooperation that makes the classroom a fun, engaging place to be.

This round robin activity provides opportunities to learn for both students who can and cannot do the problems initially—students who can solve the problems teach and students who struggle see how their peers solve the problems and can resolve their questions in a cooperative manner with their peers. Nothing breeds success like success, and struggling students who, with help from their peers, can complete problems correctly can be an invaluable first step to their own personal success.

This round robin activity provides opportunities to learn for both students who can and cannot do the problems initially—students who can solve the problems teach and students who struggle see how their peers solve the problems and can resolve their questions in a cooperative manner with their peers.  Nothing breeds success like success, and struggling students who, with help from their peers, can complete problems correctly can be an invaluable first step to their own personal success.

References

  1. Kagan, S. & Kagan, M. Kagan Cooperative Learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing, 2009.
  2. "Round Robin," Better Evaluation, accessed March 1, 2015, http://betterevaluation.org/evaluation-options/roundrobin.