PBL: Less Content More Process

Article excerpt

Chances are, you probably had a college professor in your "teaching methods" course who used the toolbox analogy. Remember, each teaching method is a "tool". We often need to "drive in" a point using our lecture hammer. Sometimes, we need to assess the scope of a subject area using our discussion tape measure. A good teacher develops skill in using all of the tools. They are all kept safely in the "toolbox," ready to be called to action in the perfect situation. Sound familiar?

It worked well for me. In fact, I carried many of those same lessons to my actual agricultural mechanics laboratory. Lessons like "every tool has a specific use," "always take pride in your craftsmanship," "take good care of your tools," "and be creative in what you build, but always use your tools as they were intended."

Back to the analogy, I often found myself using my "teaching tools" the same way. Each tool had a specific function and could only be used exactly as intended. The current educational climate has presented several challenges to agricultural education. Today, we are faced with helping our students to become independent thinkers and problem solvers, we are looking for opportunities to integrate core subjects into agricultural content and contribute to school accountability and standardized testing, and we struggle to make the concepts in our classes meaningful for students. To be successful, it is imperative that we learn to use our tools in more creative ways.

Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning is a teaching tool that is very much consistent with the idea that students create or construct their own understanding. Savory and Duffy (2001) identified eight principles that support this approach. The following principles can help educators design experiences to help students construct their own understanding.

1. Anchor all learning activities to a larger task or problem.

2. Support the learner in developing ownership for the overall problem or task.

3.Design an authentic task.

4.Design the task and learning environment to reflect to complexity of the environment they should be able to function in at the end of learning.

5.Give the learner ownership of the process used to develop a solution.

6.Design the learning environment to support and challenge the learner's thinking.

7.Encourage testing ideas against alternative vies and alternative contexts.

8.Provide opportunity for and support reflection on both the content learned and learning process.

As teachers, trying to accomplish all of those things at once can be challenging and time consuming. That's where PBL comes in. Supporters of PBL claim that it promotes student-centered and lifelong learning, is more nurturing and enjoyable than traditional methods of instruction, and improves student motivation and teamwork. PBL can also be effective in improving problem-solving and critical thinking abilities.

In addition to critical thinking, PBL also emphasizes student understanding and learning how to learn. PBL was designed to help students meet the following goals: 1 ) construct an extensive and flexible knowledge base; 2) develop effective problem-solving skills; 3) develop self-directed, lifelong learning skills; 4) become effective collaborators; and 5) become intrinsically motivated to learn.

Over the past decade, several models have attempted to capture the process of PBL. Some of these models are elaborate and others simple, but they have several key components in common. In PBL, students learn by solving problems and reflecting on their experiences. …