Note: The following article is a revised version of one I’ve shared in the past about Problem-based Learning. I revised it to match a new site I’m putting together. This installment is the second in several that will appear over the next few days.

Action 1 – Select a Problem and Brainstorm an Idea to Explore Its Potential
According to Stepien and Pyke (1997), a problem-based learning situation must meet several criteria. The situation must provide an effective way of engaging students with experiences that scaffold higher order thinking. The situation should also accomplish curriculum objectives and include age-appropriate topics. Further, the learning situation should take the form of an ill-structured problem to foster inquiry at a level that is cognitively engaging but not frustrating.
Lastly, the situation should make efficient use of instructional time allotted to the unit. When selecting a problem, the teacher can either look through academic standards and objectives for a dilemma, or search news stories for a problem that will allow the introduction of academic standards. In examining the problem, the teacher can use a brainstorming map to explore the content that students may encounter as they go about examining the issue and suggesting possible resolutions.
Brainstorming with some form of visual aid (e.g, spider map, clustering, fishbone mapping) can be an important tool for teachers to consider the breadth of the issue and to include cross-curricular connections. For example, in the past, the author worked with a sixth grade social studies teacher who was asking the class to examine the core dilemma involved in dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. One ways to explore topics is to develop a map of possibilities.

Consider this map of possibilities relevant to the immigration problem:
In pre-planning, as a teacher, my goal is to identify some of the big questions and issues and make connections to curriculum. Another benefit of this is that, as a teacher, I can identify what areas of inquiry we do NOT want to follow as a class. This may include questions or concepts that are TOO controversial or “close to home.” Our goal is to be relevant and engaging in a professional/academic setting, not inflammatory. Once you have identified key topics that are worth pursuing, you are encouraged to map your problem to curriculum.


In this curriculum map, you can see that connections to Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills have been made for those areas that you will want to encourage discussion. This work builds a blueprint for inquiry and the investigation process to follow. As the teacher, you identify key curriculum goals and work forward from those to pose an engaging introduction that reflects a real world, ill-structured problem. As in real-life, students must use the inquiry process and reasoning to solve the problem. The narrative that introduces students to the real-life problem is the key to a successful problem-based learning lesson.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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