The Problem-solving Examples with Narration for Students (PENS) Project is creating and assessing instructional materials that target one of the central skills required for success in the STEM fields: problem-solving. Instead of focusing solely on the refined end product of problem-solving, written solutions, students are instructed on how to focus explicitly on the problem solving process, with particular attention paid to self-regulation. To learn more about our model of the problem-solving process, visit the ACE-M page.

To make what is essentially an internal thought process explicit, students and instructors record think-alouds that are then be included in mathematics, chemistry, physics and teacher preparation courses to support teaching STEM problem-solving. To assist students in actively learning how to problem solve through the analysis and interpretation of these recordings, a rubric has been created and integrated into class activities. Through these activities students are better able to plan, monitor and adjust their work as they solve complex, real-world problems. Raising student efficacy in problem-solving may help otherwise competent students see STEM disciplines as positive career options.

Think-alouds are recorded using the Livescribe smartpen, a ball-point pen with an embedded computer and microphone. When used with Livescribe Dot paper, the pen records and synchronizes pen strokes and audio to create a “pencast.” Once uploaded to the Internet, users see an animation of the written work that displays the writing in real time with synchronized audio. You can learn more about how we use this technology and some suggestions for anybody who is considering adopting it in their class and/ or research, in the Technology section. Pencasts, and associated keywords identifying topic, problem characteristics, and solution features, are being compiled into a database that will soon be available to students, instructors and researchers who wish to join the PENS Project.

On the Presentation page we have slides and handouts from some of our recent presentations and workshops. In addition to those past events, we have information on possible future presentations that we could do at your institution or conference. We’re a multidisciplinary collaboration of STEM (chemistry, mathematics and physics) and education faculty. This diversity has allowed us unique insights into problem-solving as well as how to share those insights so they are engaging for a wide variety of audiences.