What is the best family cell phone plan? Problem Solving Lesson

Problem solving is one skill that has to be taught. If you think about it, we really want students who can problem solve, not memorize a whole bunch of facts or methods for doing something. No matter what problem is thrown at them in life we want students who can go through the process of breaking down the problem into pieces, figuring out the variables, and working through the problem to find a practical solution. All fields and industries require some level of problem solving. This lesson happens to be about cell phone plans since it is a problem that students can easily understand yet is more complex so even our brightest students will be challenged in figuring it out.

Time Frame: 2 blocks + homework


  • 2.1.2 Analyze how individuals and families make choices to satisfy needs and wants.
  • 2.4.2 Analyze how media and technological advances affect family and consumer decisions.
  • 2.5.1 Analyze the use of resources in making choices that satisfy needs and wants of individuals and families.


  • Essential Question: What is the best Family Cell Phone Plan for your family?


  • Computer Lab
  • SMART Board


  1. Walk through how to go about solving this problem on a SMART board as a class. Remember the approach to problem solving is more important than the problem being solved.
    1. Ask questions like the following to get them started:
      1. What information do we need to solve this problem?
      2. How can we break this problem down into pieces?
      3. What are the steps to solving this problem?
      4. What else do we need to know in order to solve this problem? What are the unknowns?
      5. What assumptions are we going to make? List them clearly. Too many variables can make problems overwhelming so we often plug in assumptions to aid us to getting to a conclusion, however it is important to go back and question the assumptions to make sure that they are valid and still stand when a conclusion is reached.
    2. Make the problem more specific by narrowing down what features/points you’ll go after. Examine what the ideal decision consists of—what should and shouldn’t be included in that decision
      1. E.g. Try to find a plan that will provide more data and not worry about minutes
      2. E.g. Only look into these three companies that provide cell service in their city
    3. Develop a problem statement: Make the “problem question” more specific
      1. E.g. What is the best family cell phone plan for a family of 2 that have iPhones, primarily use data and want to spend less than $130 a month?
    4. Students will need to gather more information regarding options so you’ll need to provide computer access
    5. Examine possible solutions
      1. Ask the class how a solution should be considered the best solution?
        1. E.g. if it meets the most requirements of the case
        2. E.g. if it meets the most important requirements of the case
      2. Evaluation of the chosen solution
        1. Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?
        2. What are you giving up/sacrificing if the family goes with this solution?
        3. What are the long term and short term effects of the solution?
        4. Does the plan favor one family member over another? Explain.
        5. What is the likelihood something will not go as planned? What is the contingency plan?

Background for Teachers

  • Remember that sometimes the answer will be to keep the current plan that the family has.
  • Provoke students to think about more than just money. Just because it is the cheapest plan doesn’t mean they got the right answer. The intangibles, wants & desires are realistically taken into consideration in everyone’s daily problem solving whether it is what to wear to a school dance or when to do one’s home work.  Opportunity cost, convenience, and delayed gratification are realistic barriers to everyone’s problem solving.


  • Students will need to gather more information regarding carrier options and their own family’s plan features


  • Students will write a two page paper defending the “best” family cell phone plan they found. The paper should include a minimum of one graphic organizer such as a table, venn diagram, etc.
  • Problem Solving Vocabulary Worksheet


  • Have students figure out if they were to add extended family to their cell phone plan if it would be more cost effective than having two separate plans.


  1. How much money would you be saving to switch? Is the amount of money you’d save worth the switching cost? Why/Why not? How much time will the transition take? How much is your time worth? (i.e. opportunity cost)
  2. What intangibles go into the decision making process beyond price? Is there any carrier/plan you wouldn’t select for a reason other than price? Explain.



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