This first blog of the school year is a reminder of possibilities problem-based learning can provide in our classrooms and for our students.  As we enter BACK TO SCHOOL, it’s time to re-visit the opportunities we provide at MCSD to unleash the potential of our students….

It’s the question that has been asked for years:  How do you eat an elephant?  The answer has always been the same – one bite at a time.  The same is true when districts begin to implement Problem-Based learning.  Enter today’s Problem-Based classroom and you enter a world of wonder, a world of critical thinking, problem-solving, hands-on learning, and connections to the real world.  For what purpose?  To unleash the potential in students.  But what do the beginning steps of problem-based learning look like across our district?

When you enter our primary classes you might be welcomed into the world of cubelets – where students learn about movement by discovering which cube determines the movement, which is for lighting, which can be programmed, which goes along for the ride, and questioning – how can you configure them in such a way to make them accomplish a task?  At other grades you may see spheros in action that provide an opportunity to explore robotic movement and learn about speed and propulsion.

Enter grade 3 – where students are presented with gizmos and gadgets to create a new type of vehicle run by a creative source.  Innovation and creativity are the focus as students problem solve and think critically about the operation of gears and the concepts of friction and movement while sharing their discoveries with classmates.

Enter grade 4 – a world where gummy worms are used as students discover the design process.  The pre-engineering graphic organizer ASK – EXPLORE – MODEL is employed as they design new ways of moving objects from one point to another.  Collaboration is key as students use hands-on learning and inquiry to discover scientific concepts in their own world.

But what does PBL look like at middle school?  Enter grade 7 Literacy and you could be immersed in a crime scene as students use clues to determine “Who Killed Edgar Allen Poe?”  Deduction and close analysis lead students to work collaboratively to determine the facts surrounding the crime and determine who performed the crime.

Enter grade 8 and you will be immersed in students discovering the effect of gravity and propulsion as they launch matchbook rockets using paper clips and matches, spending time determining the most effective materials for ignition, the angle that results in the farthest landing, and the aerodynamics of flight.

PBL is incorporated with bridge-building activities during exploratory classes – discovering which designs hold the most weight while being the lightest in materials.  Friendly competition leads to those considered master bridge builders (and perhaps future engineers).

Lego Robotics challenges students to program lego robots through a course with the best speed and the greatest complexity along with solving a real-world problem like – How can we create an affordable alternative to epi-pens for those allergic to bee stings?  Robotic skills as well as creative performances are incorporated to explain their creative invention.  All components work together to provide a well-rounded PBL experience.

What does PBL look like in high school?  You might enter the Project Lead the Way class as they design and produce inventions using a 3-D printer or as they develop a new container for popcorn for young children.  You might enter the Tech class to find students building their own mini-laptop or you might enter the Advanced Manufacturing Center to discover their development of waste containers, benches, and bike racks for our refurbished downtown area – a connection with our community.

The list goes on in our district as we seek to develop skills in mastering standards while assuring engaged learning activities bring out opportunities for critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.

All of the described activities provide problem-based learning that encourages student engagement by focusing on relevant problems for students to solve.  The problems provide an opportunity for students to find creative and innovative solutions. Using the PBL strategy, students look at complex and relevant problems, explore all possibilities, and focus on one or two that solve the problem.  What is the role of the teacher?  The teacher provides guidance in the process and asks students metacognitive questions as they research and seek solutions.  In PBL projects students might be provided with a scenario that they research, process the information, and create a proposal to solve the problem. Many of the PBL projects incorporate a presentation where the students provide multiple solutions and use the art of persuasion to convince or encourage others to consider their solution – a strong focus described in the speaking and listening standards.

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time just as the implementation of PBL takes one step at time as we seek to unleash the potential of our students through engaged learning activities that require critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, and creativity.