Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Pass the Problem

K20 Center | Published: September 16th, 2020 by K20 Center


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Pass the Problem

This strategy engages students in critical thinking and collaboration as student pairs create and justify a solution.

Pass the Problem


Students work in pairs to respond to a problem, partially completing the solution. When time is up, they exchange their problem and the work they've done with another pair of students. That pair continues the work and revises as they go. When they have solved the problem, pairs share their solutions and justify their choices.


  1. Choose a problem that requires students to analyze context to determine a multi-step solution.

  2. Arrange students in pairs and give them the problem.

  3. Student pairs work to find the solution. Ensure they know to show their work and know to justify their thinking as they work.

  4. When time is up (3 to 5 minutes, depending on the problem), participants should swap their problem and the work they've done with another pair of students.

  5. Students pick up where the other pair left off in solving the problem. They should modify and complete the work they received from their classmates, continuing to make notes and justify their reasoning.

  6. Once solutions are complete, students should share and justify their completed solutions with each other. Some pairs may share their solutions with the class for additional feedback and reflection.

Keeley, P., & Tobey, C. (2011). #39 pass the problem. In Mathematics Formative Assessment: 75 Practical Strategies for Linking Assessment, Instruction, and Learning (p. 145). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, SAGE.