About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

How do we solve a problem collaboratively?

We've launched a new pilot study to test different ways of supporting collaborative problem-solving in the classroom. Here's a look at the thinking behind the project, what we're hoping to acheive and what we've learned so far.

What are we doing and why?

Last week saw the launch of a collaborative problem-solving (CPS) pilot study with Harris Academy Battersea. We'll be trailing different ways of supporting CPS, including the use of innovative transcription technologies.

We hope this joint initiative will shed light on some of the challenges (and opportunities) facing schools when they attempt to put collaborative problem-solving (CPS) approaches into practice in the classroom.

At Nesta, we believe CPS is an essential skill for young people, and one which will hold increasing importance in workplaces of the future. Our upcoming report suggests that, despite evidence for the benefits of CPS approaches for students, they are rarely used in schools.

At Harris, they want to build on their great results by deepening pupil understanding through problem-solving, and to support their teachers to perform their own action research.

Over the next term we will be doing a series of exploratory, small-scale experiments, particularly looking at the effectiveness of transcripts as a tool to record and reflect upon pupil discussions during collaborative problem-solving exercises.

This work builds on promising results from Nesta and the EEF’s Visible Classroom project, which explored the impact of real-time captioning and teacher lesson transcripts to support teachers’ professional development.

It also draws on research into collaborative discussion and self-regulation conducted by one of the teachers at Harris Academy, Battersea (Tom Harriott, Lead Practioner and Teacher of Science) as part of his master's degree.

The pilot

Harris Academy is a mixed comprehensive school based in South London. It is a school that has seen a dramatic turnaround in the past two years, having doubled its A*-C pass rate since becoming part of the Harris Federation group in 2014. This is a success it hopes to continue by responding to a new emphasis on problem-solving in the curriculum and honouring its commitment to building ‘global citizens’, who are able to draw upon their own resources in order to help them achieve success.

The school holds a diverse demographic intake with over 58 per cent of students eligible for free school meals (FSM), and around 52 per cent categorised as having English as an additional language (EAL). 

Although Harris is now an extremely high-performing school in terms of results, we hope this may encourage schools with a similar demographic worried that CPS practices will not work in their specific school context. 

We also hope to pass on some practical tips from the teachers taking part in the study about what works and what doesn't.

Inital findings

Although a small sample size, initial data from participating teachers indicates that while they are confident delivering problem-solving tasks, they are less confident when it comes to collaborative learning approaches. Our baseline survey found that:

  • ⅓ of teachers ‘rarely or never’ use collaborative problem-solving approaches; this was compared to ⅚ who engaged in problem-solving exercises ‘most-days’.
  • This correlated with teachers' perceived value to students, with ‘problem-solving’ on average scoring two points higher than both ‘collaborative learning’ and ‘collaborative problem-solving’ exercises.
  • On all approaches, teacher confidence was lower than the perceived value of each of the approaches.

The fact that all the teachers taking part are maths and science teachers may explain the particularly high focus on problem-solving, and it is possible we would have seen more collaborative learning in humanities subjects.  

However, as our upcoming report will show, instances of teachers using both collaboration and problem-solving together are rare across most subjects.

Teacher feedback suggests they are looking to gain "more of an understanding about what good collaboration looks like" and develop a "specific approach to collaborative work", alongside the school’s emerging approach to problem-solving.     

This is something we hope to discover during this pilot, and we’d like to thank The University of Melbourne, AI Media and the NFER for their advice and support with this project. We hope to discover some useful results.  

We'll be sharing our findings as we go and, if the results are promising, hope to conduct a more robust study into some of the findings in 2017.

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Future skills


Maeve Croghan

Maeve Croghan

Maeve Croghan

Education Intern, Innovation Lab

Maeve was an education intern at Nesta in the Innovation Lab.

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