a problem worth solving

The Jasper series attempted to situate problem solving within authentic situations.  If I were to create my own math or science adventures, I would follow some of the same principles.  However, my main goal would be to create a problem captivating and relevant enough to my students that they would be motivated to learn something new and difficult in order to solve it.

From a Constructivist perspective, I would attempt to include confounding information that would spur students to either assimilate or accommodate the new information into their existing schemas (Piaget, 1973).

I would also aim to create videos where the problem was complex enough to allow for multiple methods and perspectives to add value to the process.  Kim & Hannafin’s (2011) suggest a model of problem solving through Identification, Exploration, Reconstruction, Presentation, and Reflection that fits well with this goal.

The structures above are important considerations, but the context/culture are also key to creating something effective.  The main challenge of creating a math or science media experience is creating a problem worth solving to the students.  Factors like relevance/meaning in the student’s life and safety/trust in the learning environment play an important role in making a question worth answering or not.

When Jasper was created, video production was not as accessible as it is today, and the creators did an admirable job trying to create adventures that were relevant and fit with a wide audience of learners.  Now that making a video is so much easier, I would move away from making trying to reach a large audience.  The technology available now can be leveraged to create problems tailored to the learners – to their personal context, experiences, and interests.



The Jasper Series as an Example of Anchored Instruction: Theory, Program Description, and Assessment Data. (1992). Educational Psychologist, 27(3), 291-315.

Kim, M.C. & Hannafin, M.J. (2011).  Scaffolding problem solving in technology-enhanced learning environments (TELEs): Bridging research and theory with practice Computers & Education Volume: 56   Issue: 2

Piaget, J. (1973). To Understand is to Invent: The Future of Education. New York: Grossman Publishers.


  1. Hi Joshua,

    I found your comment regarding “a problem worth solving” was particularly important when looking back on the Jasper-series or anchored instruction. Many math problems can often seem contrived, which a particular set of values added into the question solely for the purpose of being solvable. In fact, I feel that Jasper more benefits students who are just starting to develop problem solving skills, while a more general question of “How best should the eagle be saved?” or give them one criteria to focus on, such as “What is the most cost effective way of saving the eagle?” or “What is the fastest way to get to the eagle? How much would it cost?”.

    These questions would inherently require students to examine factors such as weight, fuel consumption, speed, and cost and weigh them against each other. Something like this would become, as you mentioned, a “problem worth solving”.

    Your point about the easier production of videos is also helpful in that a number of videos on the same question can be made, each one with a different amount of information explicitly provided. This would allow students to essentially scale the difficulty of the question by selecting clips as “hints” (ie- show a flashback where the pilot discusses their fuel tank capacity; show a clip of the rescuers looking at a map and commenting on the distance between key points). Providing this autonomy in problem solving would let students explore their own problem solving processes with support both directly from the teacher and indirectly from the lesson design.

    1. Lawrence,

      I like the way you brought a finer point to the Jasper questions. I think that would be very useful for some students, also I also thought that giving a more open ended question, like the one you suggested (“How best should the eagle be saved?”) could be a great way to get them to consider all the different ways to what “best” could mean (fastest, least fuel used, etc.)

      I like the idea of different clip/clip lengths. I was also thinking that the students should really be the ones generating the driving questions and making the videos. Shifting the idea over to a more Constructivist model would help to ensure the relevance of the questions generated (because they are choosing them) and allow the learning to go beyond just math content learning to incorporate some of Jenkin’s (2009) New Media Skills.

  2. Hi Everyone!

    Excellent points made on the relevance of the Jasper series today. I completely agree with the two points made: problems worth solving and the ease of video production. Lawrence, I like your point on creating small clips with specific information that the students on their own could access on a need basis. I envision a computer lab with the videos on a blog and groups of students having access to all videos, and clicking around to get information from the videos when needed to solve simpler problems to get to the bigger solution.

    Do you both see this format of problem solving as an introduction to a topic or rather as basis of assessment at the end of a lesson?

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. I think the concept of confounding information can be an important one for creating enriched learning experiences and subsequent assessment. Ever since our initial exploration of misconceptions, the challenge of identifying and addressing student misconceptions is an area I have found particularly interesting. By adding confounding information, it would enable a deeper analysis as students would need to understand and be able to explain why some information was useful while other pieces of information were irrelevant. This gets at a deeper level of understanding. In a more traditional math sense, I even see this in basic math problems. At times, it can appear that a student can find the area of a triangle because when they look at a diagram with only labels on the base and height, they know they need those two numbers to complete their formula. When presented with a triangle, however, with all three sides labelled as well as the height, some of them struggle more to identify which numbers are actually relevant to their goal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *