Context-Rich Problems

Developed by: University of Minnesota Physics Education Research Group

middle schoolhigh schoolintro collegeinter-mediateupper levelgrad school   other

 Intro College Calculus-based
calc based
 Intro College Algebra-based
alg based
 Intro College Conceptual

Mechanics  Electricity / Magnetism  Waves / Optics  Thermal / Statistical
Lecture - Small (<30 students)  Recitation/Discussion Session  Studio

What? Students work in small groups on short, realistic scenarios, giving them a plausible motivation for solving problems. The real-world scenarios are more complex than traditional problems and may include excess information or require students to recall important background information.

Example materials


Student skills developed

Designed for:
  • Conceptual understanding
  • Problem-solving skills
Can be adapted for:
  • Making real-world connections

Instructor effort required

  • Medium

Resources required

  • Tables for group work

Developer's website: Context-Rich Problems
Intro Article: P. Heller, R. Keith, and S. Anderson, Teaching Problem Solving Through Cooperative Grouping. Part 1: Group Versus Individual Problem Solving, Am. J. Phys. 60 (7), 627 (1992).

The University of Minnesota has created a free online archive of context-rich problems, where you can find problems for many topics in introductory mechanics and electromagnetism.

Bronze Validation
This is the third highest level of research validation, corresponding to:
  • at least 1 of the "based on" categories
  • at least 1 of the "demonstrated to improve" categories
  • at least 1 of the "studied using" categories
(Categories shown below)

Research Validation Summary

Based on Research Into:

  • theories of how students learn
  • student ideas about specific topics

Demonstrated to Improve:

  • conceptual understanding
  • problem-solving skills
  • lab skills
  • beliefs and attitudes
  • attendance
  • retention of students
  • success of underrepresented groups
  • performance in subsequent classes

Studied using:

  • cycle of research and redevelopment
  • student interviews
  • classroom observations
  • analysis of written work
  • research at multiple institutions
  • research by multiple groups
  • peer-reviewed publication