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Problems-First Learning

A Framework for Engaging Minds and Nurturing Thinkers in Grades 6–12

By: Ted McCain

Fully engage students by first introducing a problem and then empowering learners to solve it using creativity, innovation, collaboration, and other essential skills. Gain instructional methods that foster whole-mind learning, boost student engagement, and prepare learners for the modern workforce with 21st century skills.

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A teacher’s guide to boosting student engagement with the instructional method of problems-first learning

The educational pattern of lecture, listen, and forget is deeply ingrained in schools. In this user-friendly resource, author Ted McCain offers a compelling alternative that flips lessons on their heads: the problems-first instructional method. Using this method, you will fully engage students by first introducing a problem and then empowering learners to solve it using creativity, innovation, collaboration, and other essential skills.

  • Identify the need for instructional change in the current educational system.
  • Consider the transferrable skills students need for solving problems in the workplace and in life outside the classroom.
  • Study the benefits of a problems-first teaching style.
  • Learn to implement problems-first methods into existing classrooms.
  • Understand how this method teaches seven essential 21st century skills highly desired in the modern workforce.
  • Discover how to introduce role-play into the classroom and broaden lessons to encompass whole-mind learning and boost student engagement.

Related Topics

21st Century SkillsInstructionStudent Engagement


Additional Information

Product Code: BKF944, EKF507

ISBN: 9781949539776

Published By: Solution Tree

“Ted’s genius in this book is reframing the school curriculum from content that needs to be covered to a problem that needs to be solved. By adopting a problems-first approach, schools and teachers can use Ted’s very practical ‘4 Ds’ approach (define, design, do, and debrief) to make student learning more authentic and engaging. I highly recommend this book that’s filled with practical strategies and techniques for anyone who’s interested in shifting student work from convergent regurgitation to divergent action and meaning-making.”

Scott McLeod, associate professor of educational leadership, University of Colorado Denver, and Founding Director, CASTLE

“I have had the privilege of knowing Ted McCain for over twenty years as a teaching colleague and as the principal of the secondary school where Ted teaches. Throughout this time, I have continually been inspired by his pedagogical leadership. Yet, it wasn’t until my daughter signed up for Ted’s classes year after year that I truly understood the power of his problems-first approach to learning. Rosie, in the process of developing solutions to Ted’s problems, had to bring her own personality, interests, and abilities to each challenge. Furthermore, Ted designed his lessons so that she had to be resourceful, collaborative, and creative to succeed. To this day, Rosie has credited ‘Mr. McCain’ with teaching her how to learn, and in this book, Ted makes his methods clear to us all.”

Ken Elphick, principal, Samuel Robertson Technical Secondary School, British Columbia

“In a fast-changing world, in which students are inundated with mind-boggling amounts of information, it is important to teach them to be problem seekers rather than problem solvers. Ted McCain has captured this approach elegantly. Through the use of definitive research and personal reflection, Ted lays out how any teacher can bring a problem-first approach to any learning environment.”

Steven Anderson, author and CEO, Web20Classroom

“As Ted McCain so accurately articulates, acquisition of knowledge is an old educational paradigm. What is needed in today’s rapidly changing digital world is for students to be able to identify problems and implement strategies to systematically develop solutions. For the educator or school that is reflecting on how to deepen its students’ educational experience, McCain provides a compelling path. He clearly lays out the arguments for using problems-first learning, then shares insightful and engaging examples of how to implement this game-changing understanding of deep learning. I have seen personally that the implementation of these ideas has provided our students with a distinct advantage as they leave our school to continue their journeys in our ever-changing world.”

Trevor Connor, principal, Maple Ridge Secondary School, British Columbia
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