Problem Sets

Goals for student learning:

  • Develop analytical solutions to problems
  • Evaluate alternative solutions
  • Recognize underlying principles or commonalities among problems

Be aware that:

  • Students may underestimate the amount of time it will take them to complete an assignment; providing a conservative estimate of the time it will take students to complete an assignment may help students meet a deadline without being pressed for time or tempted to cut corners.
  • Students may be tempted to copy answers from other students or existing answer keys if they lose sight of why the problem is worth solving or why the reasoning process is valuable in itself; you may wish to ask students to describe or demonstrate their reasoning explicitly (see more below).
  • Students may have access to answer keys from previous iterations of your course. 

To encourage deep, active, and honest engagement:

  • Ask students to describe or demonstrate their reasoning explicitly. At a low level this includes questions such as “justify your reasoning" or “check your units”; at a higher level, you might ask, “what if the situation was changed such that..." or “determine the range of applicability of this analysis.”
  • Instruct students on whether they may “check their answers” with other students.
  • Guide students on how or whether they may use search engines as they solve problems.
  • Generate a grading rubric that matches your goals; how will you reward originality, elegance, or creativity (for instance) as well as correctness?
  • Clarify which resources students may, should, or should not draw on to solve problems. Is it appropriate for them to collaborate with peers? In what ways or with what limits? May they consult other sources of help?

Assignment types and examples:

  • Problem set
  • Data analysis

 Resources for faculty: 

 Redish, Teaching Physics With the Physics Suite