What is PBL
Problem based learning is any learning environment in which the problem that is asked is what drives the learning. In other words, to answer the problem that is given to you, you will need to look things up and learn some things before being able to answer the question correctly. The problem is given so that the students discover that they need to learn some new knowledge before they can solve the problem. The first use of PBL was in medical schools, which test the knowledge base of graduates. PBL uses real world problems, not hypothetical cases where the answers are neat and convergent. The struggling with the actual problem is what makes the students learn. Through this struggling they learn both content and critical thinking skills.
Problem based learning has several distinct characteristics, which may be identified and utilized in designing a curriculum. One of these distinctions is the reliance on problems to drive the curriculum. The problems do not test skills; they only assist in development of the skills themselves. The problems are not normal problems; the answers will not be able to be solved until the students themselves do more work. The second distinction is that the problems should not mean to have only one solution, and as new information is gathered, perception of the problem and thus the solution changes. The third distinction, a very important distinction is that the students solve the problems. The teachers are merely coaches and facilitators. The fourth distinction, closely related to the third is that the students are only given guidelines to solving the problem. There is no such thing as a formula or direct way to solve the problem. The fifth and last distinction is the assessment. It is an authentic and performance based assessment and it is a seamless part and the end of the instruction.
There are five main stages for instructing with problem based learning and there are four main stages for a student to use. First we will discuss the stages for the instructor to use. The instructor has a choice of either having everyone stay as individuals or form small groups of about 3 – 5 people. The instructor can ask the students to form their own groups, assign them, or draw from a lottery. The next stage the instructor must complete is presenting the problem. To do this it is recommended to present the students with a brief problem statement usually printed on a worksheet. Bizarre problems work best because most of the time no one will know the answer already and most will no very little about the problem. As the instructor you should have some review of the problem and you should be able to help the students with information incrementally and your source should not be revealed, otherwise the students can just read the answer.
The third stage is to activate the groups. Let the students start to brainstorm and begin to come up with all types of solutions. All students will have to review, discuss and investigate their problem as best they can. This is where most of the learning comes into play. The students help each other understand the problem more thoroughly. The fourth stage is to provide feedback. Ask a representative from each group to share with everyone the top priority hypothesis or data request. You can do this by either having people write it on the chalkboard or by having them say it orally.
After the groups have done this you are now able to give them some help. The feedback from the instructor motivates the next round of small group work. The instructor could now give them another fact that could help them solve the problem. The final stage for the instructor is the solution. The instructor now asks the groups for their solution to the problem. When a large amount of groups have solved the problem, the instructor may want to request a brief written analysis from each group describing the process in which they solved the problem. Now that we have learned what the instructor must do, we will now see what the student has to do to learn through PBL.
The students have only four main stages in problem-based learning. Effective problem solving, however, requires an orderly approach. Problem solving skills do not appear in students if the instructor only throws problems at them. The students must follow an approach. The first stage is defining the problem carefully. You have to know what exactly is the problem and what are you trying to determine. You should see if there are several components to the problem. If they do have several, state them separately. Most importantly, does everyone in the group agree with how the problem is arranged? The second stage will consist of exploring the possible solutions to the problem. Brainstorming ideas that may contribute to a solution should occur. Each member should justify his or her ideas to the group.
Listen to the ideas of the other group members and give positive feedback. You should also make a list of what you know and what you need to find out. This will help in finding the solution quicker. Now you can assign research tasks within the group. The third stage in learning through PBL as a student is through narrowing your choices. After developing the list of hypotheses, sort them, and rank them. List the type of data that you need to test these hypotheses. Give priority to the least costly tests. The final stage is testing your solution. Seek from your instructor the data that you need to run tests on your ideas. If all your possible solutions are eliminated, begin the cycle again. When you encounter data that confirm one of your hypotheses you may be asked to write an explanation of your solution and justify it using the available evidence.
Problem based learning is a way of teaching that most teachers do not use right now. However it is a great way of learning if used properly. PBL can be used for individuals or small groups and can be effective either way. The instructor has only five main stages in developing a curriculum: Forming the groups, presenting the problem, activating the groups, providing feedback, and asking for a solution. The students, although they do all the work, only have four stages: Defining the problem carefully, exploring the possible solutions, narrowing the choices, and testing the solution.