Introducing the tenets of PBL discussed by each and every resource encountered this week: Messiness, complicated in both planning and application, and frequent confusion. However, instead of these characteristics being taboo and avoided at all costs, they are embraced as elements of the classroom environment necessary for learning. It makes me sweat just thinking about it.
Student-centered teaching approaches are not easy to implement in the classroom. ... Unfortunately, teachers may gravitate toward those activities that are most familiar...rather than those that are most productive for learning" (Ertmer & Simons, p. 42).
"Posthole" units, as described by Ertmer and Simons (p. 43), provide a great introduction to how to begin with PBL; in addition, the structure for posthole units could be used during a professional development workshop so that educators could experience PBL first-hand in a safe and structured setting. Smaller problem-based units that begin with good questions would help teachers and administrators to understand the structure, purpose, and role changes inherent in PBL structure.
English and Katsantas' section on "Practical Application of the PBL-SRL Theoretical Framework" is a must-read for educators wishing to learn more about how to build meaningful PBL experiences in their classrooms (pgs. 137-144). The three phases (Project Launch, Guided Inquiry and Product/Solution Creation, and Project/Problem Conclusion) are carefully explained and well-defined, allowing educators not only to understand the phases, but to envision how problem-based learning and student-regulated learning (SRL) go hand-in-hand...as well as how to develop an environment that supports both.
Block's blog post states the obvious related to feedback on student work, but it is so very important when teachers are planning PBL experiences for their students: "Grading thousands of projects has taught me that feedback given after a project is completed has much less of an impact than conferences and consultations that take place during the project's stages of creation." So true! Providing feedback only after a student has hit "submit" or handed in a project and wiped the sweat from his brow can be meaningless when it comes to helping the student learn along the way. Feedback and conversation with individual students and small groups during the course of the learning will result in far more learning than summative grades when it's all over. This in-process focus on face-to-face, real-time feedback for learning was a common refrain in the research and articles read this week (English & Kitsantas, 2013; Ertmer & Simons 2006; Hmelo-Silver, 2004; Jones, 2006; Solomon, 2003).
Processes and rituals are also described by Ertmer and Simons. The description of how two university instructors structured the development of artifacts as assignments helps put the "messiness" of a PBL classroom into a framework that sounds do-able: "While each artifact [created for the course] was distinct, the process, or ritual, students employed to develop each artifact was similar: brainstorm ideas, narrow the focus, represent priorities in an authentic manner, obtain instructor feedback, and revise for final submission" (p. 44). A list like this immediately brings to mind an orderly table or chart with each part of the process as a heading and standards, texts, tasks, and products in columns underneath. Educators needing the assurance that a way of learning that looks different will result in learning may find comfort in such structure (I know I would!).
Finally, Solomon suggests that "Technology enables PBL" by making available the tools that lead student to more organized planning, tracked and archived collaboration, access to resources and research materials, and media for presentation of learning that may not be available with traditional tools. Students use technology to "gather information from a variety of sources and synthesize, analyze, and derive knowledge from it." Furthermore, technology allows students to publish their work and learning online "for review by real audiences, not just a single teacher, class, or school." Not only does PBL provide excellent means to the end of differentiation, but it is an approach to learning that leverages technology to open the windows to the world to students on a daily basis.
Block, J. (26 Feb. 2015). 5 PBL Best Practices for Redefining the Teacher's Role. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/pbl-practices-redefining-teachers-role-josh-block on March 13, 2015.
English, C., & Kitsantas, A. (2013). Supporting student self-regulated learning in problem- and project-based learning." Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 7(2), 6. Retrieved from http://egandb.uas.alaska.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eft&AN=90663292&site=eds-live on March 13, 2015.
Ertmer, P. A., & Simons, K. D. (2006). Jumping the PBL implementation hurdle: Supporting the efforts of K–12 teachers. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1(1), 5. Retrieved from: http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=ijpbl&sei-redir=1&referer=https%3A%2F%2Fscholar.google.com%2Fscholar%3Fstart%3D10%26q%3Dimplementing%2BPBL%26hl%3Den%26as_sdt%3D0%2C2#search=%22implementing%20PBL%22 on March 13, 2015.
Hmelo-Silver, Cindy E. “Problem-based learning: What and how do students learn?.” Educational psychology review 16.3 (2004): 235-266. Retrieved from: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=13682403&site=ehost-live on March 13, 2015.
Jones, R. W. (2006). Problem-based learning: description, advantages, disadvantages, scenarios and facilitation. Anaesthesia and intensive care,34(4), 485. Retrieved from: http://www.biomedsearch.com/article/Problem-based-learning-description-advantages/188739780.html On March 13, 2015.
Solomon, G. (2003). Project-based learning: A primer. Technology and Learning, 23(6), 20-20. Retrieved from: http://pennstate.swsd.wikispaces.net/file/view/pbl-primer-www_techlearning_com.pdf on March 13, 2015.