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Introduction to Problem Based Learning Strategies

Introduction to Problem Based Learning Strategies

Author: Trisha Fyfe

In this lesson students will learn Problem Based Learning Strategies in a 21st Century Classroom

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Source: Image of light bulb, Public Domain,

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Welcome to tutorial on introduction to Problem Based Learning Strategies. In today's tutorial, we will discuss the questions, what exactly is problem based learning, or PBL? What does problem based learning look like in the classroom is the other question that we will discuss through this tutorial.

So let's start with what exactly is PBL teaching and learning. According to Buck Institute, in 2010, project based learning, which essentially is a subset of problem based learning, requires students to go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. It's important that students in the PBL classroom have voice and choices in their learning. Rigorous projects are carefully planned, managed, and assessed, so that we can help students learn all of those key academic content areas.

This type of learning practices 21st century skills. Skills like collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. And students in this classroom are asked to create high quality, authentic products and presentations.

So let's take a look at what a problem based classroom, or PBL, classroom looks like. What are some characteristics? There's high levels of student inquiry. The teacher is the facilitator. There's flexible thinking and problem solving that is apparent in our students. The learning is self-directed. There's collaboration. Students are intrinsically motivated. And there's active student engagement.

So looking at all of these, these are characteristics that you would find if you walked into a PBL, or a problem based learning classroom. Let's go into depth a bit.

As far as student inquiry goes, think about the concept that we spoke of in a previous tutorial called genius hour opportunities. And genius hour opportunities, remember, are those opportunities for students to have time set aside for them each week, maybe one hour per week or one class period per week, for them to pursue their own interests, or hobbies, or passions in their learning.

This type of learning is very student-led, which leads to all of that intrinsic motivation. It also allows for collaboration and problem solving, as well as flexible thinking. The teacher here is the facilitator not the director of learning. You'll see a teacher facilitating, conferencing, and encouraging the questions that lead to the student learning. The teacher is not developing the questions for the students, but instead is allowing students the opportunity to develop and guide their own learning.

Let's take a further look at a lesson example that comes from a PBL learning perspective. This lesson is called Creating Healthier Lunchtime Options. And in this lesson, students must research current lunch options at their school and explain which options are healthy and which are unhealthy. They also need to discuss the standards that they're using. How are they determining what is healthy and what is unhealthy?

We're giving them voice in this lesson. We're allowing them to choose how they are going to assess this. Students will then brainstorm and research suggestions for improvement in lunchtime options at their school. And then will propose a plan and create a presentation for proposing these changes to a school board.

So as a teacher, we'll put students into groups. And we'll have students determine each group member's role for different portions of the project. Groups will determine appropriate technology to use for research and their presentations. And plans will be presented at a school board meeting.

So when you look at this lesson, it's apparent that we have some definite PBL characteristics here. The student inquiry levels will be very high in this lesson. We're asking them to really think about a topic and propose their own questions as guides. Hopefully, this will engage them right away.

The students have voice and choice. We aren't giving them a specific challenge or plan. We're telling them to create their own plan and proposal. There's many opportunities for problem solving, and collaboration, and flexible thinking in this lesson. And the teacher is really taking the role as facilitator.

Let's take a moment to apply these ideas by reflecting on the questions, what are the advantages to using PBL, or problem based learning? What do you think the challenges of using PBL might be for you personally? Do you see any characteristics that might be hard for you to incorporate into your teaching?

What did we learn today? We discussed the questions, what is problem based learning, or PBL? And remember, problem based learning is that type of learning that students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a question, a complex question, or a problem, or challenge. We give the students voice and choice, but the projects and the end product are rigorous and carefully planned, assessed, and managed.

We want students to learn the key academic content and the concepts. And we're practicing all of those 21st century skills, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. We want our students to walk away with a project that they've created which is high quality, authentic, and one that they're proud of.

Thanks for joining me today as we talked about problem based learning, or PBL. I hope you're able to incorporate these ideas into your own classroom.

Now it's your turn to apply what you've learned in this video. The Additional Resources section will be super helpful. This section is designed to help you discover useful ways to apply what you've learned here. Each link includes a brief description, so you can easily target the resources that you want.

Notes on "Introduction to Problem Based Learning"


(00:00- 00:18) Introduction/objectives

(00:19- 01:09) What is PBL?

(01:10- 02:40) What are the characteristics of a PBL classroom?

(02:41- 04:16) Example PBL lesson

(04:17- 04:35) Reflection/application questions

(04:36- 05:44) Review 

Additional Resources

Problem-Based Learning for the 21st Century Classroom

This ASCD video offers an example of student collaboration and technology integration for the purpose of solving an authentic problem.

Watch Problem Based Learning in Action: Apollo 13

Educator Peter Pappas provides a practical demonstration of Problem Based Learning using a video clip from Apollo 13. He stresses the need to develop flexible learners who are able to solve new problems when they are confronted with unexpected issues.

Buck Institute

Website for one of the leaders in Project Based Learning with videos, resources, curriculum and planning tools for teachers. Select your role at the top of the page to find resources and support connected to your Project Based Learning needs. The video section of the resource tab provides excellent tools to learn about PBL and see it in action in classrooms.