Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Problem Based Learning Should Not Be Problematic

What PBL Isn't

Problem Based Learning is NOT the teacher assigning students random topics to research independently. Problem Based Learning is NOT assigning students to design a board game summarizing a book's plot events or themes. It is NOT a diorama, book report, or a skit.  (The skit may end up being the culminating product of a PBL project, but its purpose must be to address the PBL's driving question.)

It is not a group project where the high achieving students carry all the weight for the low achieving ones, but everyone earns the same grade. Problem Based Learning can NOT flourish in a vacuum.  In a PBL, the teacher does NOT run the show, will NOT work if desks are arranged in perfectly straight rows, if talking is forbidden, and if inquisitive students are perceived as annoying smart-alecks. Culminating PBL products are NOT frilly posters with glitter, buzz words, catch phrases to decorate a classroom, or hallway, or a 5 to 10 page essay or research paper.  Problem Based Learning is NOT easy.

                                      What PBL Is 
PBL is so much more than "hands on" learning. It's a teaching and learning experience giving students a choice to explore a real world topic of interest, and a voice to express original verbal or written content.  PBL begins when students, under the teacher's guidance when necessary, generate "Driving Questions" which will help students focus their investigations. 

Critics and skeptics may wonder, "How can students who struggle with literacy, and lack motivation, choose what they want to learn, how they want to learn, and how they will share what they learned with others?"  A well designed PBL, properly executed, gives all students, regardless of their learning challenges, an opportunity to not only pursue a topic of interest, but also express his/her voice about that issue. No matter what our station in life is, every human being has a natural desire to learn something.  PBL can be the catalyst to engage students and bring back that loving feeling toward learning they once felt as kindergartners.  PBL with ELLs and struggling readers may require more preparation and accommodations, but learning through inquiry and discovery should not be exclusive to gifted or high achieving students. All students deserve learning experiences where they must investigate, where they are in charge of generating the questions and finding texts or people who will answer their questions. All students need to experience collaboration, communication, especially with people of diverse backgrounds, deep analysis of a text, problem-solving, creating and sharing original work with real people, not just the teacher. 

Students need to practice how to think, not what to think. PBL makes this possible. Students need  to learn how to respectfully debate their ideas, and logically support their opinions not only to have a competitive edge in the the 21st century work force, but also to sustain our democratic way of life. PBL also makes this happen. A PBL project takes lots of time and energy, requires teachers plan extensively, model questioning effectively and prepare students so they can take the reigns of learning, discover a solution, plan of action or educated hypothesis about a real world problem they identified in the first place. PBL is about student inquiry of our real world issues, whether they be local, national or global, social, environmental, political, or economic. PBL is also about seeking real world high interest print and non print sources that inspire students to generate driving questions that will guide them in their research, leading them to conduct further investigations, draw conclusions, pose more questions, and ultimately present an original solution, product or content to an authentic audience.    

Problem Based Learning Projects Require:



The key to effective Problem Based Learning involves creating the right conditions in the classroom so PBL can occur.  Whether a pre-service teacher, beginning teacher, or veteran, the PBL conditions require teachers have strong classroom management skills and rapport with students, an ability to generate driving questions, and an ability, among many others, to model the skill of asking and answering thought-provoking questions.

In the next series of posts, I will:
  • discuss each of the 4 steps in the PBL process: SearchingSolvingCreating and Sharingand what each step entails for both student and teacher, including rubric design, embedding CCSS, assessments and more.
  • explore what PBL projects in various grade levels and subjects look like in more detail.
  • provide examples of organizations offering opportunities for global PBL.
  • share lots and lots of PBL resources and web 2.0 tools that facilitate PBL.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...