I was initially drawn to the Problem-Based Learning approach because of its child-centered philosophy and its emphasis on student initiative, choice, collaboration, and other critical “21st Century Skills” that I mentioned in last week’s post. As a teacher who focuses on educating the whole child, I was excited to discover that PBL offers an ideal way for my students to learn not only academic content but also strong work habits and valuable interpersonal skills.
One of the most appealing features of Problem-Based Learning is that children become the primary driving forces in their learning. In this role students make meaningful decisions about how they will learn, organize their work, and present that work to a larger audience. As teachers, our focus shifts to one of coaching, facilitating, and guiding.
A typical PBL unit begins with either a question, challenge, or problem statement. Often, this introduction presents an interesting context or situation, puts the children in a specific role, and calls for them to solve a problem by inventing something. The key to writing an effective problem statement is ensuring that the engaging context or situation we create addresses the essential skills and standards that we want the kids to learn during the unit. Unfortunately, during some project-based approaches, the emphasis is on making something attractive, cool, and attention-getting, and the content-area learning can take a back seat.
When the problem statement is presented to the class on the first day of a unit, the kids are tasked with making sense of the challenge at hand, organizing themselves into groups, creating action plans, and following through with those plans until the project is complete. This process usually takes a few weeks.
In my next post, you will see a sample problem statement, and I will describe how my students proceeded step-by-step from the beginning of this project to the end.