This week I invented the APPEAR method of problem solving, to help student organize their word problem solving efforts. It goes like this:

Analyze: what are the knowns, unknowns and reference information? Write the variables and units. In other words, what information do they give you, what are they looking for and what can you look up?

Plan: What equation do you need? What unit conversions do you need to do?

Predict: for upper level classes, I think an order of magnitude estimate would be appropriate. Possibly for mid level classes, too, but I haven’t tried that yet. We are doing Boyle’s Law calculations now in my mid level class, so I’m just asking for larger or smaller for now. I think I’ll add units, too.

This step is part of what I’m considering as value added for chemistry – skills that students can take away from chemistry even if they never think about chemistry again. Having prediction and checking skills are good in any career.

Execute: substitute in the information and solve. I don’t ask the students to solve for a variable algebraically, since many of them have forgotten that skill. They can usually substitute in all the numbers and solve for the missing one, though.

And Review: do the units work? Is the answer close to your estimate? If not, why not?

This is the other value added for chemistry, checking your work. I didn’t start doing that until graduate school, but I think it’s a great skill to have, because so few people do it. It can apply everywhere from complex engineering solutions to getting the right change back from a cashier to noticing when things are not rung up correctly at the store.

I’ve looked at other methods, but some had too many steps to remember, some had no acronym (like the ones in most chemistry text books) and some like GUESS don’t have a check your work step.

So this is what I’m going to try with my mid level students this year. I’ve made it into a graphic organizer I can paste into worksheets, etc. It is scaffolded, so some versions have extra questions to guide students.