May 20 – Problem Solving


  • John R. Anderson, “Problem Solving” (Chapter 8), Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications, Sixth Edition, Worth Publishers, 2005, pp. 242-278
    • Problem solving skills of the type discussed in the reading, and which have been studied in the past by psychologists, are becoming less important in everyday life as we have more access to answers others have generated, through Internet searches and easy communication with those who have encountered such problems. In the real world, it is usually possible to look up the answer to a problem or ask someone who will know it from experience, and as we acquire more experience, novel problem solving gives way to recognition and memory for techniques we have learned in the past. But firms hiring technical workers still like to give brain teasers as interview questions, perhaps because they think the ability to solve these questions indicates general intelligence, or because they want to see the process of thinking an interviewee employs.
  • Jeannette M. Wing, “Computational Thinking”, Communications of the ACM 49(3):33-35, 2006
    • This paper is a good summary of the ways in which CS knowledge can be applied in everyday life.
  • OPTIONAL: George Polya, Part I. “In the Classroom” and Part II. “How to Solve It – A Dialogue”, How to Solve It : A New Aspect of Mathematical Method, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957, pp. 1-36
    • Polya’s book was a landmark for understanding how mathematicians solve problems heuristically. Is the method he advocates applicable to problem solving more generally?

Slides: We talked about the following real world problems and how to solve them:

  • How to select and plant mushrooms on a half-acre of land on two plots in a way that helps the ecosystem of a permaculture farm?
  • How to use flashcards to learn Japanese grammar?
  • How to store excess energy produced but not needed at the time of production?
  • How to improve educational outcomes in the U.S.?


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