Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines – Robert H. Schuller.
Rightly quoted by Schuller, every problem comes with a solution that needs exploration through creative thinking and analysis. Problems appear in different sizes and nature and any one solution does not apply to all of them. Hence, it is essential to acquire and practice the necessary problem-solving skills that help students deal with various challenges at different stages and areas of life.
Problems cannot be avoided however, we can always equip young adults with the necessary skills to tackle them. As college students start their journey of making new friends, building networks, and understanding a fresh world of opportunities, they are likely to come across various difficulties. For example, some college-going students might find it hard to communicate with their fellow mates while others may find it awkward to offer answers to a question asked by teachers.
Know that it is not wrong to have minor difficulties in the college year. However, it is significant to indulge students in problem-solving skills through creative games and exercises. Problem-solving skills include time management, critical thinking, and decision-making. These skills can be fostered through interesting problem-solving activities. Activities that indulge students in communication and coordination also help them become better problem solvers. In this blog post, we will explore different activities that help a growth mindset in college students.
Engaging problem-solving activities for college students
Real-life problem solving does not follow any standard procedures or formulas just like solving a mathematical problem does. It requires one to critically analyze the problem from every possible angle and come up with creative, innovative, and practical possible solutions for the same. Given that, the below-mentioned activities are based on a combination of various essential skills that play an important role in overall development.
1. What’s the Situation?
College students are likely to come across many problems in everyday group discussions and projects. This activity focuses on expanding their thought process and building a growth mindset.
- To conduct this activity, divide students into teams of 3 each
- Now, write different situations on a chit of paper and put them all in a bowl
- Call each team and let them read the situation aloud
- For example, the situation can be about hierarchical problems in a group, lack of coordination with other students, or dealing with a bully
- Give 5 minutes to the team for brainstorming and invite an open discussion of the solution
- Inspire the students to contribute and share their views
Being an analytical thinking activity, it helps students carefully analyze situations and brainstorm potential solutions. Teachers can also offer thoughtful insights into situations.
2. Clarity of Words
Communication is an important aspect of a problem as it is needed for analyzing the problem and discussing solutions. This activity purely focuses on joint efforts to solve a problem within a stipulated time frame.
- To conduct this activity, get building blocks and divide the students into teams of 4
- Now, give the structure of the final product to an only team member
- The other team members should have all the building blocks
- One team member guides the other 3 members to start with the construction without having the final image
- The team member with the image is responsible for communication
- Calculate the time taken by each team and share results at the end
Problem-solving skills enhance when teams come together to only focus on the solution and get it done. Such an activity inspires teams to think creatively and also improve their active listening skills.
3. Where’s the Key?
Treasure hunts are always fun; however, this activity comes with a twist. The activity incorporates communication, coordination, and brainstorming between team members.
- To conduct this activity, divide the students into teams of 3 members each
- Now, hide a key somewhere in the college
- Give teams different hints at different levels to find the key
- For example, the first hint can be in the library and the second one can be in the auditorium
- As students find the hint, offer them the next one and that’s how the leading team shall find the key
Solving realistic problems and getting solutions from different clues enhances creative thinking in students. They are more likely to develop a problem-solving mindset due to the challenging environment.
4. Survival of the Fittest!
When students face a real situation, they are more likely to broaden their horizons and think practically. This activity focuses on understanding life situations and being active throughout the process.
- To conduct this activity, set a situation for students
- For example, the situation can be how students are stranded on an island
- Now, write the names of different elements that are needed for survival on an island
- Out of the list, students can only select 5 elements to survive
- Once they have selected, present different scenarios where they need to think about the usage of elements to solve the problem
- Invite an open discussion about solutions and cross-question them to make it interesting
This activity can either be conducted individually or in teams. It offers practical learning where students learn the application of solutions rather than just finding them.
5. How many Solutions?
At times, there might be no problem but many solutions that one can think of. This tricky activity tests the critical thinking of students with reference to everyday life.
- To conduct this activity, have many different products in a box
- Now, ask students to pick one and think of different uses
- For example, if it is toothpaste, it can be used to clean teeth, clean mirrors, and even clean glass surfaces
- Have many such products and let students think of as many solutions a product can offer
With creative thinking, students get an opportunity to understand and maximize the usage of existing products. It helps develop realistic solutions for everyday life with common products.
6. Puzzled Us!
Puzzles are commonly used in various activities to motivate communication, thinking, and problem-solving in students. The activity is focused to help students solve something really common in an uncommon manner.
- To conduct this activity, get two huge puzzles and divide the class into two teams
- Let the class turn into an activity area
- Now, jumble some pieces of the puzzle and let students find the missing pieces from the other team
- Here, both teams shall start building the final puzzle but simultaneously keep finding the missing pieces too
- Reward the team that finishes the puzzle first
As you mismatch some pieces of the puzzle, you are indirectly asking students to focus on the big picture. Along with problem-solving skills, leadership skills are also enhanced in this activity.
7. Quick Fix!
Finding solutions to a problem is a time-consuming process, however, some situations demand promptness. This activity focuses on empowering college students to think creatively in a quick manner.
- To conduct this activity, have many balloons in the class
- Each balloon should have a problem stated in a chit
- Now, divide the students into teams and make chits of all roll numbers of students
- Pick one chit and that roll number needs to burst the balloon
- As the student bursts, he/she needs to read the problem aloud and offer a quick solution to it within a minute
- Reward the student who successfully offers creative solutions at the end
When students are set in a challenging mood, they are more likely to arrive at solutions at a faster pace. It enables individualistic thought processes without worrying about right and wrong.
8. Hey, Challenge Me!
Everyday problems are also a unique way to foster this skill in students. This activity mainly focuses on analyzing everyday problems and finding solutions in a creative way.
- To conduct this activity, divide students into teams of 4 members each
- Now, let 2 teams sit opposite each other for the round
- Team A needs to vocalize their everyday problems and Team B needs to find creative solutions that are workable in nature
- For example, a member from Team A might say how he/she faces problems when communicating with senior teachers
- To this, Team B now has to come up with viable solutions and solve the problem. For example, Team B might suggest Team A’s member take his/her friend along when communicating with senior teachers
- The teacher needs to be the decider if the solutions offered are valid and workable
As students get an opportunity to vocalize their issues, other students are likely to get motivated and raise their voices too. In such a way, students can find common ground and deal with bigger problems in unity.
9. 3 Cards
Problems come in different natures and situations. It is equally important to teach students how to deal with different problems in different ways. This activity purely focuses on taking the right course of action to solve the matter at hand.
- To conduct this activity, make 3 cards – Act, Confront, and Apologize
- Now, place the 3 cards on the table and be ready with as many situations as possible
- Call one student and speak the situation aloud
- After listening, students need to decide the course of action to solve the problem at hand
- For example, these can be the following situations.
- My friend did not choose me for the group project. It is bothering me but I am not able to do anything.
- I was scolded by a teacher for an imperfect presentation. However, I’m not very good at it.
- My mind is occupied with the thought of flood conditions in other countries.
- For such situations, students have to choose if they want to act, confront or apologize
- Ask them to state reasons as to why they would choose a particular card and how will it solve the problem
Students are more likely to broaden their thinking capabilities when given situations that they don’t exactly relate to. With such an activity, instruct them about examples of self-management skills which allows them to better understand their choices in the problem-solving concept.
10. Brand Failure!
Giving realistic situations to students helps them become better at problem-solving. It also allows them to look at the big picture and solve problems from different perspectives.
- To conduct this activity, turn the classroom into an office
- Now, make teams of 10 students each and let them sit just the way employees sit for a conference
- After this, take the lead and give them situations and examples of how various brands have failed in their marketing campaigns
- For example, you may present the case study of how the product of Nestlé, Maggi, was banned due to contents of lead and MSG found in it
- After this, invite an open discussion as to how they would tackle the problem
- Ask them to think of marketing campaigns or advertisement initiatives to deal with the problem
As students learn about branding and facing problems from the consumer perspective, they get a border opportunity to think like marketing managers. It boosts their confidence as no solution is right or wrong.
Problem-solving activities are an effective way to showcase students’ various problems and how to deal with them. Practical application of skills helps to boost their morale. As college students are also exposed to problems of different levels and perspectives, they are more likely to learn, evolve and become thoughtful of their actions. It should be noted that every student learns at a different pace and encouraging them to arrive at creative solutions is a must-do!
Along with this, teachers can also use different examples of problem-solving skills, games, and interesting quotes to create a diversified learning environment. In conclusion, the skill is an essential step for students to perform better in their future endeavors with a growth-oriented focus.
An engineer, Maths expert, Online Tutor and animal rights activist. In more than 5+ years of my online teaching experience, I closely worked with many students struggling with dyscalculia and dyslexia. With the years passing, I learned that not much effort being put into the awareness of this learning disorder. Students with dyscalculia often misunderstood for having just a simple math fear. This is still an underresearched and understudied subject. I am also the founder of Smartynote -‘The notepad app for dyslexia’,