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An Introduction to Problem-based Learning (PBL)


Educational Information and Resource Center John P. Henry Program Director Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: An Introduction to Problem-based Learning (PBL)

Educational Information and Resource Center
John P. Henry Program Director Educational
Information and Resource Center (EIRC) 856-582-7000 ext.
146 Cell 609-330-9218
Problem-Based Learning (PBL)
  • The Problem
  • Based on national reports and the decline in
    student test scores, there is a need to improve
    enrollment in the STEM areas. The lack of
    emphasis in the STEM fields in our schools and
    the enormous commitment demonstrated by other
    countries to succeed in science and technology,
    has placed the United States at risk.

Consider the following facts. By 2010, if
current trends continue, more than 90 percent of
all scientist and engineers in the world will be
living in Asia. South Korea, with one-sixth of
our population, graduates as many engineers as
the US. More than 50 percent of all engineering
doctoral degrees awarded by US engineering
colleges are to foreign nationals.
  • With security concerns there is a reduction in
    the number of foreign students available to study
    and work in the US, while these students have
    increasing opportunities to study and work in
    their home countries and other nations.
  • The number of engineering degrees awarded in the
    US is down 20 percent from the peak year of 1985.
  • Although US fourth graders score well against
    international competition, they fall near the
    bottom or dead last by 12th grade in Mathematics
    and Science, respectively.

What is Problem Based Learning?
  • (PBL) is a student-centered educational
    approach that organizes curriculum and
    instruction around carefully crafted
    ill-structured" problems. Students gather and
    apply knowledge from multiple disciplines in
    their quest for solutions. Guided by teachers
    acting as cognitive coaches, they develop
    critical thinking, problem solving, and
    collaborative skills as they identify problems,
    formulate hypotheses, conduct data searches,
    perform experiments, formulate solutions and
    determine the best "fit of solutions to the
    conditions of the problem. Problem-based learning
    enables students to embrace complexity, find
    relevance in their learning, and enhance their
    capacity for creative and responsible real-world

PBL consists of two complementary interrelated
processes consistent with constructivism
  • Curriculum Design
  • Teachers design an ill-structured problem based
    on desired curriculum outcomes, learner
    characteristics, and compelling, problematic
    situations from the real world. One big question
    or essential questions.
  • Teachers develop a sketch or template of teaching
    and learning events in anticipation of students'
    learning needs
  • Teachers investigate the range of resources
    essential to the problem and arrange for their

PBL consists of two complementary interrelated
  • Cognitive Coaching
  • Students actively define problems and construct
    potential solutions
  • Teachers model, coach, and fade in student
  • Teachers give students time to think
  • Teachers guide them to, not give them the
    resources needed to solve problems

Characteristics of PBL
  • Learning is student centered.
  • Independent and group investigation for
    construction of knowledge
  • Real-world context. Making connections between
    what students are learning and their own lives.
  • Development of critical thinking skills
  • Time to analyze and solve problems
  • Student autonomy and choice.
  • Decisions are student initiated and
  • Group collaboration and teamwork, developing
    social and communication skills.

Characteristics of PBL
  • Collaboration with external sources for advice.
  • Not limited to the four walls of the classroom
    or the teacher as the
    primary source for information.
  • Encourages mastery of technological tools.
  • Prepares students for the work force by
    building problem solving skills.
    (Teaches them to think for themselves)
  • Role changes for the teacher and
    student--Teacher as facilitator, not the expert
    on the topic

Characteristics of PBL
  • Ongoing evaluation, not a single evaluation
  • Teacher adapts and adjusts to change
  • Teacher as scenario writer
  • Inquiry questioning by the teacher and student
  • Supportive and non-competitive climate for

Characteristics of PBL
  • Interdisciplinary oriented. demonstrates
    connections between classes
  • The focus is on the process more so than the
  • Multiple outcomes instead of a single answer,
    or right or wrong

How does PBL work?
  • Students confront a problem.
  • In groups, students organize prior knowledge and
    attempt to identify the nature of the problem.
  • Students pose questions about what they do not
  • Students design a plan to solve the problem and
    identify the resources they need.
  • Students begin to gather information as they work
    to solve the problem.

Problem-based learning has as its organizing
center an ill-structured problem which...
  • is messy and complex in nature
  • requires inquiry, information-gathering, and
  • is changing and tentative
  • has no simple, fixed, formulaic, "right" solution
  • Appeals to human desire for resolution/

Examples of ill-structured problems used in PBL
  • You are a scientist at the state department of
    nuclear safety. Some people in a small community
    feel their health is at risk because a company
    keeps thorium piled above ground at one of their
    plants. What action, if any, should be taken?

Examples of ill-structured problems used in PBL
  • You are a consultant to the Department of Fish
    and Wildlife. A first draft of a plan for the
    reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone has
    received strong, negative testimony at hearings.
    What is your advice regarding the plan?

Examples of ill-structured problems used in PBL
  • You are a a science advisor at NASA. A planet
    much like the earth has experienced massive
    destruction of elements of its biosphere. What is
    causing the destruction of plant life? Can new
    plants from earth be successfully introduced to
    help save the planet's environment?
  • Bill Orton, 2nd grade, Williamsburg, VA

Examples of ill-structured problems used in PBL
  • You are a thirty-six year old single working
    mother with a five year old daughter. Upon your
    husband's death, you receive 20,000 in worker's
    compensation and 10,000 in stock option shares.
    How can you invest this money so that by your
    daughter's 18th birthday, its
  • growth is maximized?
  • LuAnn Malik, Community College of Aurora, Aurora,

Examples of ill-structured problems used in PBL
  • You are a stockholder of a major oil refinery in
    Louisiana which has mined oil from wetlands in
    the southern part of the state. You have received
    pressure from publicity about the wetlands to
    make it property of the federal government so
    that it can be protected.
  • What will you do?
  • Christine Vitale, 4-5 multi-grade, Arlington
    Heights, IL

Examples of ill-structured problems used in PBL
Develop, design, and demonstrate the feasibility
of a self-contained, self-sustaining human
community in a place that is not yet considered
habitable. Woodbury and Williamstown High
School, Grades 9-12
Examples of ill-structured problems usedin PBL
Paper or Plastic
PBL addresses student needs by taking learning
theory into account with PBL
  • Students take on an active role in their
    educational experiences.
  • Students are actively involved in the learning
    process, and they learn in the context in which
    knowledge is to be used.
  • Students are empowered with the responsibility of
    managing a largely self-directed learning process
    so that they are better equipped to take on the
    responsibilities of mature professional life.
  • Students are encouraged to develop the skill of
    transferring knowledge into new domains, a skill
    that students can carry with them throughout
    their lifetimes.

Teacher as coach
  • Models/coaches/fades in support
  • Asking about thinking
  • Monitoring learning
  • Probing/ challenging students' thinking
  • Keeping students involved
  • Monitoring/ adjusting levels of challenge
  • Managing group dynamics
  • Keeping process moving

Student as active problem-solver
  • Active participant
  • Engaged
  • Constructing meaning

Problem as initial challenge to promote
motivation and attention
  • Appeals to human desire for resolution/

PBL Model
  • Present the Problem, Scenario, or Situation
  • State hypotheses, ideas, theories, design
    brief, or problem statement
  • List what is known
  • List what is unknown, or needed to know
  • List what is needed to be done Action Plan,
    who will do what
  • Gather and analyze information (Dynamic
  • Present Findings

The equivalence in decision making creates
immediate buy in with feelings of identity. It
inspires creativity and a sharing of ideas.
Leaders find they are better informed and able to
lead easier. In DG, a decision is made by consent
decisions instead of consensus, vs. traditional
winner/loser roles. A proposal is put on the
table, and, rather than focusing on whether they
are completely "for" the proposal, individuals
react quickly, indicating whether it falls within
their range of tolerance for achieving the group
aim. Decisions are made by both the hierarchical
layers involved and feedback on implementation of
the decision gets back to the top. The double
linking principle means that an organization
becomes more responsible and can quickly adapt.
A notorious algebra problem concerns the time at
which two railway trains will pass each
other Two trains leave different stations headed
toward each other. Station A is 500 miles west of
Station B. Train A leaves station A at 1200 pm
traveling toward Station B at a rate of 60 miles
per hour. Train B leaves Station B at 230 pm for
Station A at a rate of 45 miles per hour. At what
time will the trains meet? Reading this question,
one might respond, "Who cares?", or, "Why do we
need to know this?"
What are the benefits of PBL?
  • Motivation PBL makes students more engaged in
    learning because they are hard wired to respond
    to challenge and because they feel they are
    empowered to have an impact on the outcome of the

What are the benefits of PBL?
  • Motivation
  • Relevance And Context PBL offers students an
    obvious answer to the questions, "Why do we need
    to learn this information?" and "What does what I
    am doing in school have to do with anything in
    the real world?"

What are the benefits of PBL?
  • Motivation
  • Relevance And Context
  • Higher-Order Thinking the ill-structured
    problem scenario calls forth critical and
    creative thinking by suspending the guessing game
    of, "What's the right answer the teacher wants me
    to find?"

What are the benefits of PBL?
  • Motivation
  • Relevance And Context
  • Higher-Order Thinking
  • Learning How To Learn PBL promotes
    metacognition and self-regulated learning by
    asking students to generate their own strategies
    for problem definition, information gathering,
    data-analysis, and hypothesis-building and
    testing, comparing these strategies against and
    sharing them with other students' and mentors'

What are the benefits of PBL?
  • Motivation
  • Relevance And Context
  • Higher-Order Thinking
  • Learning How To Learn
  • Authenticity PBL engages students in learning
    information in ways that are similar to the ways
    in which it will be recalled and employed in
    future situations and assesses learning in ways
    which demonstrate understanding and not mere
    acquisition. (Gick and Holyoak, 1983).

Similarities to PBL and What Employers Want
Willingness to share information and
ideas Commitment to work in teams Responsiveness
to change Sense of ownership with work and
ideas Willingness to take calculated risks,
without fear of consequences
Similarities to PBL and What Employers Want
Multicultural experiences and or the ability to
communicate in multiple languages Ability to
communicate clearly and honestly with peers,
teachers, administrators, and experts from other
organizations Understanding of business strategy
and how to create shareholder value Commitment to
continuous learning and skill development
(No Transcript)
Mark Swiger
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