Many teachers may have heard the term Problem Based Learning (PBL) but have not attempted this somewhat-new educational strategy. Our school has been making the shift to PBL over the last three years, with the last teachers receiving formal training this past school year.
In a nutshell, PBL is taking real world problems and presenting them to students to research and attempt to solve. It involves all curriculum areas and can be done using a regular class schedule or as a part of a school day specifically set aside to do the PBL.
Ideally, a societal problem is addressed and then each curriculum area (math, science, social studies, and language arts) would determine, based on state standards, what part of the problem solving could be accomplished within their areas. Ideally all are involved, but sometimes this is not the case.
For instance, perhaps a science unit was covering water and teachers wanted to do a PBL on this topic. LA decides they will have students conduct research on water pollution and write a point paper on the subject using curriculum standards in the form of an informational essay. Science will do principles of fluid flow and have students use computer animations and hands-on displays of how water moves. Social studies could do water travel in the historical period they are studying and compare and contrast how things have changed. Perhaps math is not doing anything they can relate, so does not take part in this particular PBL unit.
The guidelines for PBL state that this is fine and curriculum areas need not “force fit” activities if they do not fit with standards taught. We found students enjoy choosing the direction they take based on interests. Guidelines with the PBL are such that standards relate to the unit but allow for some freedom of choice for students. If you have not tried this educational approach in the past, give it a shot. Our school is on board with this and it also works well with STEM activities.
Dr. Mike Siekkinen, a retired U.S. Navy submariner, became a teacher as a second career. He teaches history at St Marys Middle School as well as Adult and Career Education at Valdosta State in Georgia.