Physical Problem Solving Activities

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Sometimes, problem solving goes better when students have a chance to get moving. These activities will help you engage in problem solving while getting some physical movement.

Physical Problem Solving

Are your students getting tired of group work? Obviously, you don't want to give up on teaching them to work in a cooperative and collaborative setting, so how about getting them up and moving around? Apart from reenergizing the classroom, even minor physical activity can help the brain approach problems in new ways. The following activities are physical in nature so they may require some modifications for students with mobility limitations.

Physical Problem Solving Activities

Numerical Line

Tape a piece of paper to each student's back containing a number, without letting the student see that number. The goal of this activity will be for the class to arrange itself numerically into a straight line. However, students cannot talk during this exercise, and may not use their fingers to display numbers. With these restrictions, they must find a way to communicate and organize themselves.

  • Materials: Pieces of paper with numbers, tape


Set up a series of squares, sort of like a long and narrow checkerboard. Place a few items across the board as mines. Any square with a mine cannot be occupied. Divide the class into partners. Send half of the pairs to one end of the board, and the rest of the pairs to the opposite end. The first team on one end will step onto the board, occupying two spaces. Then, the first team on the opposite end will step onto the board. In this alternating pattern, each team will try to work its way across the entire board. They may move forward, sideways, diagonally, or backwards, but must remain in two laterally adjacent squares and can never occupy or jump over a mine. To make this more difficult, have a new set of teams step on to the board every five turns.

  • Materials: Chalk/rope/papers for grid, objects for mines

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