Problem Solving Through Collaboration

What is Collaboration?

According to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, in order to fully prepare today’s scholars to be productive citizens of the future, they must first be well versed in the 21st Century Learning Framework. This includes retaining content knowledge, learning and innovation skills, information, media and technology skills, life and career skills.

Each of the main categories contains several sub categories, which are all related and essential to 21st century learning. One key word in 2 out of the 3 components of this framework is collaboration.



According to researchers Kim and Tan, collaboration is defined as working in groups to solve problems by “reaching desirable solutions or outcomes through acquiring, communicating,  and  integrating  knowledge and  skills” (Kim & Tan, 2013). Collaboration and problem-solving are very supportive of not only 21st century learning, but successful and enriched learning of all types.

How does it affect learning?

A study was completed in 2013 in Singapore by Mijung Kim and Hoe Teck Tan. They sought out to study the effects of collaborative learning and different dimensions of acquired knowledge through problem solving on middle school students aged 14-17 (Kim & Tan, 2013). During their study, the researchers took the students on a field trip to an organic rice farm in Kinong, Malaysia. The students were given the task of developing their  ideas on creating an eco-village in the Kinong region. They completed this activity by using the jigsaw technique. Jigsaw is a collaborative learning technique in which students all have the same packet of information, with differentiated pieces of information missing. The students conjecture and conduct research individually, and meet together afterwards to debrief and share newly learned information. During this debriefing period, students are able to fill in the missing sections of their packet, which results in a fully completed packet (Kim & Tan, 2013).Researchers also included a nightly discussion period, in which all students had a chance to discuss thoughts about their findings, surprises, and plans for the next day’s continued challenge (Kim & Tan, 2013).

As the study developed, Kim and Tan discovered that effective collaborative thinking wasn’t something natural and innate. It had to be encouraged and taught (Kim & Tan, 2013). Upon realizing this, the researchers gave thorough task guidelines and procedures. They also decided to create collaborative heterogeneous groups of students with mixed learning abilities in order to spark creativity and tolerance amongst the teenagers (Kim & Tan, 2013).

The research showed that when students collaborate in order to solve a problem, deeper levels of learning and motivation are activated. Also, through collaboration, students  learn to accept the viewpoint of other peers, respect the different learning styles and learning abilities represented within the group. In addition to communicating with one another which leads to the development of the group’s thoughts and ideas, students are creating and negotiating solutions to the problem in creative ways. In so many words, collaborative Heterogeneous grouping was effective (Kim & Tan, 2013). Kim and Tan’s study further concludes that problem solving by way of collaboration is a highly effective multidisciplinary approach that helps students develop social communication skills, in addition to decision-making skills and enhances cognitive thinking and reasoning (Kim & Tan, 2013).

Is collaboration effective?

A different study that took place in 2014 focused on the effects of collaborative problem solving combined with 21st century skills when paired with the DEEPER strategy, which is a framework for scaffolding in the classroom. According to the article, “collaborative problem solving is an essential component of any 21st century science career” (Antonenko, Jahanzad, & Greenwood, 2014).

Researchers found that as a result of collaboration, there was a statistically significant increase in domain knowledge acquisition and higher performance with problem solving activities (Antonenko, et al., 2014). Other examples of success and enhanced learning experiences resulting from collaboration come from schools in Mooresville, North Carolina. Richard Calcutta visited these schools. He stated that schools in Mooresville, North Carolina have transitioned to the daily use of technology in addition to working on collaborative projects. As a result of this shift, there has been a major decline in the amount of school suspensions and in the rate of dropouts (TED Talks, 2013).

Just as Kim and Tan found, collaboration is a highly effective and thought provoking way for students to engage in problem solving activities and while learning and making connections to content across the curriculum. The multidisciplinary approach of problem solving through collaboration has strong connections to the idea of maker culture. Looking at Kim and Tan’s study, students who were given the opportunity  to have free time to tinker, conjecture and collaborate to develop an ecosystem were very successful problem solvers. This connects to maker culture  through the lense of teamwork, exploration, tinkering, drawing conclusions, revising conjectures, and finding solutions. (Kim & Tan, 2013). Based on my research, when students collaborate in makerspaces or are given the opportunity to solve problems in creative ways by tinkering, they are far more successful problem solvers which will innovative skills needed to be successful  in the 21st century.


Antonenko, P. D., Jahanzad, F., & Greenwood, C. (2014). Fostering collaborative problem solving and 21st century skills using the DEEPER scaffolding framework. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43(6), 79. Retrieved from

Mijung Kim & Hoe Teck Tan (2013) A Collaborative Problem-solving Process Through Environmental Field Studies, International Journal of Science Education, 35:3, 357-387,DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2012.752116
Retrieved from

[TEDx Talks]. (2013, January 10). Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet [Video File]. Retrieved from

21st Century Learning Framework
Retrieved From

Photo retrieved from


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