After watching the three video examples and reading the articles concerning PBL’s being incorporated throughout classrooms in the United States, there are are certainly some common traits shared by all.
I noticed that with each PBL, there was always a starting point. An essential question or challenge for the students (tracking the migration of butterfly’s, design a high school to meet specific criteria, researching cystic fibrosis, create a wall street traded company and sell shares, etc). The PBL’s all seemed to include the incorporation of a real world individual(s) to aid the students along in their PBL activity. Health care providers, architects, and even scientists were brought into the classrooms to help judge, advise, and even present to the students (the scientists in the butterfly project were available online, I believe). Bringing in these industry professionals really helps create a real world connection for the students, which every teacher stated was their main driving factor in choosing to pursue a PBL approach.
Another shared element of the PBL’s were the fact that most involved group work to some extent. The inclusion of peer interaction and group work encourages students to develop social skills, and learn to work with others (which is an ESSENTIAL skill to learn in the early years).
Each PBL had several components to it usually starting with an underlying problem/question/topic. Students then researched and developed possible solutions using a wide variety of resources (internet, paper media, video, etc). What I liked about the PBL’s is that students developed multiple components in the project. Students in the Geometry class created floor plans, blueprints, cost analysis’s, etc. Students in the elementary schools made video interviews, PowerPoints, etc. However, none of the PBL’s were ABOUT these pieces of technology, rather they were just additional TOOLS to help accomplish the initial goal of the PBL.
The teacher/student relationship is a bit more redefined with PBL’s as opposed to the traditional classroom model. Student’s essentially become both the learner AND the teacher (especially at the end of the PBL). In PBL’s, students are required to make decisions/choices about WHAT they want to learn, and HOW they’re going to go about it. These were decisions that were normally reserved for teacher’s in the past, whereas in PBL’s, the teacher serves more as the facilitator rather than the director. In a PBL, the teacher is there to guide and direct students, but not DICTATE student decision making. That’s what makes a PBL so effective. Students are able to make decisions on their own, and often they’re required to make quick decisions, or develop an alternate plan. These are all skills students will require once outside of school, and they wouldn’t (couldn’t) develop these in as much in a traditional classroom setting.
Almost every teacher and administrator that commented about the PBL’s said they saw an increase in student participation and overall performance when PBL’s were incorporated. It’s clear that if these few examples are just a sampling of what PBL’s can do for student’s, then anyone who’s choosing not to incorporate them is underestimating their worth.