Problem Solving Skills Rubric

Problem Solving Methodology*

0. Engage in the problem (motivation)

  • I can do it!
  • I want to do it!
  • I spend sufficient amount of time thinking about and working on the problem.
  • I do it because I realize the importance of developing problem-solving skills.

1. Define the problem - Rubric for evaluating your performance on Step 1

  • Read the problem statement again
  • Define what the problem states in a way that makes sense to you
  • Sketch the information given in the problem
  • List what is given / known
  • List any constraints
  • Define a criterion for judging the final product (design) / answering the question (problem)
  • Determine the real objective of the problem (e.g. what do I need to calculate?)

2. Explore the problem - Rubric for evaluating your performance on Step 2

  • Examine any issues involved
  • Make all the necessary assumptions that will help you simplify the problem enough, so you can solve it using familiar theories.
  • Guestimate the answer
  • Albert Einstein quote

3. Plan the solution - Rubric for evaluating your performance on Step 3

  • Select appropriate theory, principles, approach
  • Map out any sub-problems
  • List what needs to be found
  • Write down all equations you need to carry out each step of the solution but do not substitute any numbers
  • Draw free-body diagrams and control volumes as necessary

4. Implement the plan - Rubric for evaluating your performance on Step 4

  • Substitute numbers into equations as necessary and carry out all calculations
  • You may want to calculate several intermediate numerical results to make sure they make sense; it is difficult to pinpoint an error when all you have is the final numerical result and you know it can't be right!

5. Check the solution

  • Check the accuracy of the calculations (redo)
  • Check the units of the calculated parameters

6. Evaluate / Reflect on the Solution as well as on your Problem - Solving Process - Rubric for evaluating your performance on Step 6

  • Is the answer reasonable? Does it make sense?
  • Were the assumptions appropriate?
  • How does it compare to guestimate?
  • How could you improve your model to increase its accuracy?
  • If appropriate, ask the question: is it socially / ethically acceptable?
  • What were my strengths in solving this problem?
  • What were my weaknesses in solving this problem?
  • In what specific ways can I work on my weaknesses and improve my problem-solving skills?

*Woods D.R., Hrymak, A.N., Marshall, R.R., Wood, P.E., Crowe, C.M., Hoffman, T.W., Wright, J.D., Taylor, P.A.,
Woodhouse, K.A., Bouchard, C.G.K., Developing problem-solving skills: The McMaster problem-solving program. 
ASEE J of Engng Educ., 86, 2, 75-91 (1997).