Engaging Students in Puzzle Solving for Developing their Logical Problem Solving ability

Posted on April 9, 2011

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Puzzle solving sharpens critical thinking and problem solving ability, and offers a higher potential to develop many of the multifaceted thinking skills. Many software companies include puzzle solving in their selection criteria of new software developers.  Therefore, in 2009 at JIIT, we redesigned the delivery strategy of the first computing course, “Introduction to Computers and Programming,”  by starting it with puzzle solving activity, even before the introduction of the basic syntax of any programming language.   Before discussing the idea with my faculty colleagues at JIIT, I took the opinion of some friends and former students in the industry and got a positive feedback from most.

In 2009, in this course, at two different campuses of JIIT, over eight hundred first year engineering students were distributed in six lecture sections and twenty tutorial sections. More than twenty faculty members were involved in delivering lectures and running weekly tutorial classes. All the concerned lecturing faculty members (Prakash Kumar, Alok Agarwal, Vikas Saxena, Shikha Mehta, Anshul Gakhar, and Chetna Debas) accepted the idea and  carried  out the  experiment in their lecture classes.  The tuturial clases were also aligned with the lectures to give more, puzzle solving practice to students.  Overall every student solved approximately 100 puzzles.  Puzzles  were asked in the exams as well.   All these puzzles used in this course were collected and selected by the concerned faculty members under the overall leadership of course coordinator, Prakash Kumar.

Faculty members felt that puzzle solving activity improved students’ logical thinking ability, which is at the core for designing computer programs. A large number of students have reported multi-dimensional benefits in terms of enhancements in logical, creative, multi-perspective, and out-of-box thinking, attention, focus, concentration, patience, comprehension, urge for creation, etc.

Puzzle solving activity classes  naturally create conditions for  teachers to start their sessions with problems rather than concept.  Hence, puzzle solving is excellent example of inquiry learning.   As per the feedback from the faculty, these classes were highly active and collaborative. Even in the post-lunch sessions, students very enthusiastically came to these classes. The faculty members expressed that these were the most active and collaborative classes they had ever attended or conducted. It also helped them to directly experience the benefits of active and collaborative inquiry oriented classes.

Some final year students were guided to mentor  puzzle solving activity among other students.  These students organised open sessions for puzzle solving after the institute hours.

After the success of first experiement in 2009, this approach  has been continued in all subsequent years so far with many more faculty members at both our campuses.  

I strongly encourage are those students who aspire to improve their aptitude for algorithm design  to seriously take up puzzle solving as a hobby.  I also feel that those who do not enjoy puzzle solving, have little chances of succeeding as algorithm designers.  In my personal experience, many of those students who turned out to be best algorithm designers and software developers, have had good interest in puzzle solving.  However, this does not imply that all those who enjoy puzzle solving can necessarily succeed as algorithm designers.   I personally know few such students as well  who are good at puzzle solving, but are not good algorithm designers.

References:

Design of Interventions for Instructional Reform in Software Development Education , Synopsis,  Page 18, September 2009

Design of Interventions for Instructional Reform in Software Development Education for Competency Enhancement: Summary of PhD Thesis  (April 2010)

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