Teacher’s Talk: Problems You Have Never Solved Before (Day 1)

Hello! My name is Amar Patel, and I am one of the instructors for “Problems You Have Never Solved Before” this year (my fourth year at VAMPY). I am very excited to get to know all the students as is the other course instructor, Catherine Poteet. We hope this course will be a great opportunity for the students to grow in their ability to think abstractly, read critically, analyze problems in a systematic way, and learn from designs that simply do not work. Our favorite saying: Failure is always an option! We want our students to learn from their failures. Our biggest philosophy for class is that lecture time is reduced and students are working collaboratively with engineering activities to facilitate the learning process.

The first day of class was an extremely fun, community-building day. One of our major goals is to build a strong, positive learning community of learners.

The first problems the students had to solve was to find Catherine Poteet. In order to find her, students had to find different locations (rooms that students will frequently use during class). Each location was listed on a “Clue” card. In order to get the clue, students had to complete tasks correctly. Students were working in groups of 2 or 3. The last clue led the students to the other teacher.

As class began, the students discussed some basic expectations of the course. They came up with the following expectations:

1) Be respectful to all students, instructors, and property at all times.
2) Be on time for class and study hall.
3) Be prepared with all materials.
4) Be responsible for yourself and other.

Students were then given the task to introduce a person in the room that they did not know. Afterwards, students wrote questions they had about the class and for each instructors. Before lunch, we discussed answers to these questions. Students were very interested in study hall and the activities that we have planned.

After lunch, we had students take a few notes on how we would like the “lab” notebooks to be organized. We would like to encourage students to use a systematic and methodical approach to problem solving which involves clearly defining a problem, brainstorming ideas, design a plan, collaborating with peers, testing, reflecting, and retesting.

Students then used this process to determine the contents of a mystery box. Students were not allowed to open the box but they could test the box and collect their observations.