Recently, I’ve been playing Refraction on my Android phone. The goal is to get the colored light beams from the triangles to the round targets by placing mirrors and prisms on the board to manipulate the light. It’s a neat little game that has both good and bad physics which would be great for analysis. But we can save that for another post.
I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to solve an imposing puzzle:
- I never “see” the full solution by simply looking at the puzzle.
- I don’t wait to make my moves until I know the solution.
- I take a few steps, and see where they lead.
- Sometimes those steps don’t work out. So I backtrack and try again.
- The forwards and backwards steps eventually add up to success.
I know my students take the same approach when solving puzzles, whether it’s video games, mobile games, crosswords, or sudoku. They dive right in and tinker. So why, when faced with a physics problem, do many students suddenly freeze-up if they can’t see the whole solution right from the outset? How do we show students it’s OK to dive right in, go down blind alleys, hit deadends, backtrack, and try again?
How do we eliminate problem-solving paralysis?