Time N/A

Difficulty Intermediate
Prerequisites Troubleshooting
Departments Human Technologies
Authors Ross Parker
Groupings Individual
Minimum Year Group None


The ability to determine the causes of a problem, whether it be as a doctor, plumber, engineer, programmer or parent, is one of life's great skills. In this unit you will learn to improve your diagnostic skills.


This work is shared under the following license: Creative Commons BY-SA-NC


The Pitch
Why should I bother learning this?
  • Some people like to complain about their problems, others like to solve them. Guess who ends up happier, healthier and more fulfilled?
  • If you want to solve a problem, the first step is to diagnose its causes.
  • In this unit, you will work to develop your skills at diagnosis.
What is needed to run this unit?
  • Laptop
  • Internet access
Interdisciplinary Links
Do not try and force this. What areas of other subjects might this reflect and/discuss language. For IB, links with ToK.
  • Any subject involved with problem solving (which should be any subject) stands to relate to and benefit from this unit).
Teacher Reflection
What was successful? What needs changing? Alternative Assessments and Lesson Ideas? What other Differentiation Ideas/Plans could be used?
  • This unit is inspired by Roger Shanck's book Teaching Minds, which encourages teachers to focus on teaching cognitive processes/skills, rather than content. Diagnosis is one of the handful of essential cognitive skills, according to Shanck.
  • Schank's focus on case studies is also utilised in this unit.
Any CC attribution, thanks, credit, etc.
  • Human Skeleton thumbnail by freepik on freepik under Freepik License.
  • Question Mark Folder logo is copyright Apple, used under assumed fair use.
  • Porta Potty image by David Shankbone on Wikipedia shared under CC BY-SA

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Complain Or Fix?
The Pitch
  • Some people like to complain about their problems, others like to solve them. Guess who ends up happier, healthier and more fulfilled?
  • If you want to solve a problem, the first step is to diagnose its causes.
  • In this unit, you will work to develop your skills at diagnosis.

What Is Diagnosis
  • According to Wikipedia: "Diagnosis is the identification of the nature and cause of a certain phenomenon. Diagnosis is used in many different disciplines with variations in the use of logics, analytics, and experience to determine cause and effect."
  • Generally, diagnosis takes place before some kind of action to fix a problem: without correct diagnosis, we are unlikely to find the correct fix.
  • It is easy to think of diagnosis as a medical skill for doctors and nurses, but in reality, almost every job, and almost every life will benefit through the application of diagnostic thinking. Take, for example, the video below, showing a mechanic diagnosing a problem with a car (you don't have to watch it all, just get a sense that he is doing diagnosis ; )

How To Diagnose?
Think, Pair, Share
  • In this section, you will try and decide how diagnosis occurs using the following thinking routine:
    • Think - individually, try and think what processes, skills, mindsets and approaches might be used to diagnose a problem.
    • Pair - working with your partner(s) discuss the ideas you thought about individually, and try and create a list or mind map outlining your ideas. Launder your ideas by talking freely and disposing of ideas that don't seem to work so well.
    • Share - bring your list/mind map to the teacher, and explain how you think diagnosis takes place.
  • There are no absolute answers here, but the quality of thinking here will determine how you experience the case studies to follow.
  • Take your time, don't rush, be thorough.
3 Case Studies
Diagnosing Coming Soon...
  • The rest of this unit will take the form of three case studies. For each case study:
    • Work carefully through the case, working with your partner(s) to come up with an approach to diagnosing the problem.
    • Research the specifics of the case.
    • Prepare a list of what you believe to be likely causes of the problem discussed, suggesting one or two that might be most likely.
    • When you think you are ready, bring your ideas to the teacher for discussion, before moving onto the next case.
  • You will find that prior experience with similar cases will help you (this is why we respect experienced professionals in life).
    • If you have no prior experience, you can always learn from others on the Internet.
  • If you get stuck on any of the case studies, ask your teacher for clues and help.
1. Question Mark Folder On Boot
Case Study
  • Expecting a normal weekend day at home, you turn on your Apple MacBook Pro 13" (non-Retina) laptop, only to find it displaying the "Question Mark Folder" icon rather than your normal login screen:

  • This screen means that the computer cannot find an operating system...which means all your games, photos and work might have just disappeared like the fickle 0s and 1s they really are.
  • Your parents aren't home, you have no money, and the Apple Store has no Genius Bar appointments for a week.
  • You have a mobile phone with Internet access, a set of screw drivers that fit your Mac and an older Mac laptop that is similar, but no longer works.
  • How can you work out the problem and get your Mac working again?
  • The teacher has the solution hidden in Teacher's Notes.
2. Upset Stomach
Case Study
  • Recently you have started to notice that you have a lot more upset stomachs than you used to, leaving you feeling tired and unwell.

  • You visit a doctor, he takes a stool sample, which comes back negative for any problems. He tells you it is caused by stress, and that you need to develop more coping mechanisms (yoga, relaxation, etc).
  • You take the doctor's advice, but the problem persists.
  • You think that perhaps the doctor might not be wrong, as you are no more stressed now than last year, when you were fine.
  • What steps could you take to try and work out what the problem might be, and get your health back again?
  • The teacher has the solution hidden in Teacher's Notes.
3. Find The Spammers
Case Study
  • You run a forum (using software called Vanilla Forum), and it has been overrun by spammers
  • You have installed some plugins to stop spammers signing up, but your user list still has all the old spammers left.

  • With 10,000 users, it is not feasible to go through the list by hand.
  • You banned many (but not all) spammers, but they still remain in the database.
  • You decide to use the Users table in your database, which tells you a lot about the users and their use of the system, to try and diagnose which users are spammers and which are genuine.
  • How can you formulate rules using the table's fields, which are listed below:
    • UserID
    • Name
    • Password
    • HashMethod
    • Photo
    • Title
    • Location
    • About
    • Email
    • ShowEmail
    • Gender
    • CountVisits
    • CountInvitations
    • CountNotifications
    • InviteUserID
    • DiscoveryText
    • Preferences
    • Permissions
    • Attributes
    • DateSetInvitations
    • DateOfBirth
    • DateFirstVisit
    • DateLastActive
    • LastIPAddress
    • AllIPAddresses
    • DateInserted
    • InsertIPAddress
    • DateUpdated
    • UpdateIPAddress
    • HourOffset
    • Score
    • Admin
    • Verified
    • Banned
    • Deleted
    • Points
    • CountUnreadConversations
    • CountDiscussions
    • CountUnreadDiscussions
    • CountComments
    • CountDraftsCountBookmarks
    • CountBadges
    • RankID
    • RankProgression

  • How can you work out the problem and get the spammers out of your list?
  • The teacher has the solution hidden in Teacher's Notes.

  • If you are interested in learning more about what databases are, and how these heuristics (rules) can be run on a database, could look into the unit Data Structures.

Case Study Report
  • Working individually, or as a group, compile a report on one of the case studies above (probably the one you did the best).
  • Aiming for around a single side of A4, write up a description of the case, as well as how you approached it, how close you got to a reasonable solution, and what you might have done better.
  • Submit this report as evidence of your learning in this unit.




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