Even as I was readingmy own  Problem-based Learning – Action 1 – Select a Problem and Brainstorm Its Potential posting on the subject of crafting PBL, my mind was immediately asking me, “Where’s the beef?!?” That is, the “technology beef.”

Don’t know what this is about? Watch the commercial that started it all.

As I was reading my own blog entry, which includes a curriculum map and map of possibilities, I realized that it was missing something pretty crucial–how technology could be used to enhance the activity. One of my main complaints about curriculum development is that technology always appears to be an after-thought, an add-on to a process that is almost always complete before anyone says, “Oops, I forgot about that technology stuff.”

How can I include technology in a way that deeply impacts the PBL process and answers the question about applying learning in a world where technology is a fact of life for our kids? 

When considering problem-based learning curriculum map, there are several possible responses to that question.

Here’s one simple adaptation that shouldn’t strain credulity among teachers…what would you do to improve this terrible example?


(2) Scientific processes. The student uses scientific methods during field and laboratory investigations. The student is expected to: (C) organize, analyze, evaluate, make inferences, and predict trends from data

(8) Science concepts. The student knows the processes and end products of weathering. The student is expected to: (B) identify geologic formations that result from differing weathering processes; and (C) illustrate the role of weathering in soil formation.

Making the Lesson Collaborative, High-Level and Student-Centered
To achieve the 3 objectives of collaborative, high-level and student-centered lessons, we would take the following steps:

  1. As teachers and online learning facilitators, identify a way to accomplish the following:
    • Engage students as stakeholders in a problem situation
    • Organize curriculum around a holistic problem, enabling student learning in relevant and connected ways.
    • Use a problem map to outline areas of exploration for the unit of study.
    • Create a virtual learning environment in which teachers and students can coach student thinking and guide inquiry, facilitating deeper levels of understanding.
  2. To engage students as stakeholders in a problem situation, these steps could be followed:
    • Meet the Problem – Choose a relevant problem of worth to stratigraphy
    • Help Students Identify their Hunches, What They Know for a Fact, and What They Need to Know to Help Solve the Problem.
    • Identify Key Stakeholder Roles


To introduce students to the problem, considering using a narrative like the one below that introduces “the problem” to students:

Image Source: http://goo.gl/o131sH

“Quick, Jennie-girl,” cried Grandma, “cover the beds!” The clouds appeared on the horizons with a thunderous roar. The turbulent dust clouds came in from the North and dumped a fine silt over the land. Mom, Dad, Grandma, and I stayed inside the house. Sheriff Marcus would always come by afterwards–“How you farmers doing?”–to check on us after a dust storm. Each of us wore a handkerchief over our nose and mouth. When Pa went outside, he wore googles over his eyes because the wind was so hard. My job was to plug up all the holes, ripping up cloth and sticking them into cracks in the walls, doors and windows. It didn’t make much of a difference, though. The silt, like Ma’s talcum powder, found its way into everything. During a storm, Ma waved wet gunny sack through the air and tied damp sheets over our beds so the dust wouldn’t settle into our sleeping sheets. Pa’s face was gray; the wheat crop was dead. “Oh,” I cried, “how can we stop this from happening?”

Ask the following questions and have students work to identify their responses to the following:

  1. What hunches, or guesses, can we make about the problems, the people in the problem?
  2. What do we know for certain about the problem? Be sure to explain to students that these are certainly in the text kinds of answers rather than extrapolations based on what they have read.
  3. What do we need to know in order to help Jennie?

ONLINE ACTIVITY – To get this activity going, use a wiki page (or, GoogleDoc) for each area with the titles above. Group students and encourage them to fill in this information.


Now that we know what we need to know, what stakeholders can we identify in the problem? Some sample stakeholder roles for this problem include the following:

  1. Farmers
  2. Local authorities, like police
  3. Crop buyers
  4. The Government
  5. Children/Spouses of Farmers
  6. Local Business people

ONLINE ACTIVITY – Have students construct a Glossary in GoogleDocs where they contribute stakeholders who are represented in the problem, and/or need to be consulted. Students can discuss what stakeholder roles are needed, and identify the top 5.

PROBLEM-SOLVINGNow that students have identified stakeholder roles, group students into the different stakeholder roles and ask them to come up with solutions from that perspective. Their solutions should follow a decision-making matrix, which can be developed in a wiki, and should address these key areas:

  1. Strategy
  2. Pros
  3. Cons
  4. Consequences

In the wiki, this would look like this:

Stakeholder Strategy Pros Cons Consequences
Farmers perspective Employ new farming methods and techniques. Farmers can prevent dust bowl scenario
Farmers become less dependent on government support
Costs money to learn techniques
Farmers may not have time to learn new techniques
Change people’s minds and behavior
Potentially eliminate dust bowl problem

Note: This lesson could be developed a lot more, but for now, it addresses weathering and erosion.

Technology Connections
Reviewing this sample Problem Engagement and process, the technologies in use are quite simple. I imagined much more complex stuff, but GoogleDocs is a straightforward, easy-to-use component that GoogleApps for Education schools have access to. Imagine adding Google+ Hangouts to the mix to bring in experts on the dustbowl or a problem, being able to access primary source data (gosh, where’s a librarian when you need one?).

Meet the Problem adapted from the paragraph below from the 1930′ Dust Bowl web page:The clouds appeared on the horizons with a thunderous roar. Turbulent dust clouds rolled in generally from the North and dumped a fine silt over the land. Men, women and children stayed in their houses and tied handkerchiefs over their noses and mouths. When they dared to leave, they added goggles to protect their eyes. Houses were shut tight, cloth was wedged in the cracks of the doors and windows but still the fine silt forced its way into houses, schools and businesses. During the storms, the air indoors was “swept” with wet gunny sacks. Sponges were used as makeshift “dust masks” and damp sheets were tied over the beds.

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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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