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Shelagh A. Gallagher, Ph.D.

Royal Fireworks Press Unionville, New York

Also By Shelagh Gallagher

Concept Development PBL Units All Work and No Play Black Death Excluded! Hull House

Copyright Š 2012, Royal Fireworks Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights reserved. Royal Fireworks Press First Avenue, PO Box 399 Unionville, NY 10988-0399 (845) 726-4444 FAX: (845) 726-3824 email: website: IISBN: 978-0-89824-861-6 Printed and bound in the United States of America using vegetable-based inks on acid-free, recycled paper and environmentally-friendly cover coatings by the Royal Fireworks Printing Co. of Unionville, New York.



Chapter 1:

Romance: The Solution to 21st-Century Learning.......................................2

Chapter 2:

A Medical Miracle.......................................................................................................................8

Chapter 3:

Problem-Based Learning Explained.........................................................................12

Chapter 4:

PBL From Beginning to End...........................................................................................24

Chapter 5:

Preparing for PBL....................................................................................................................37

Chapter 6: Teaching a PBL Unit............................................................................................................. 46 Chapter 7:

Epilogue: One Year Later.................................................................................................. 64

References: ....................................................................................................................................................................67 Appendix A: PBL Aids............................................................................................................................................ 71 Appendix B: Performance Rubrics...........................................................................................................76 Appendix C: Resources........................................................................................................................................81


Romance: The Solution to 21st-Century Learning


For our country to function, citizens must be able to reach some common understandings on complex issues, often on short notice and on the basis of conflicting or incomplete evidence. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk Nine year old Sarah Reid and her 11-year-old brother Jason dutifully read their science assignment. Sarah kind of liked making a diagram describing photosynthesis yesterday, but this reading—ugh—are the words actually multiplying on the page? The chapter seems to be getting longer and longer. Across the room on the couch, Jason is wondering which of the dozens of facts in the chapter he’ll actually need to remember. There’s no point learning the rest of it. The trouble is, he has no means of figuring out what’s important and what’s not. As if on cue the children look at the clock and glance at each other. 11:50. Whew. Neeearrrrly lunch time. They can’t wait. Debbie Reid, their mother, is frustrated. She removed her children from traditional school because she wanted her children to have more than the school seemed able to offer. There’s no doubt that they are receiving a more tailored education. They move at whatever pace they want. They have more ‘hands-on’ experiences. But she wanted to do something different, not just faster or more entertaining. She wants a way to help her children make a meaningful connection with the content they’re learning, something that would help them learn to really grapple with a topic and enjoy the grappling, like her friend Cindy… Cindy Kane, an environmental scientist, is across town in her lab. She has forgotten all about the clock. For the past hour she’s been pouring over the results of some soil samples she tested—the results were not quite what she had expected. ‘That’s funny,’ she thinks. ‘What happened?’ She’ll spend the afternoon double checking to make sure her data are accurate, then she’ll look up some studies to see if anyone else has ever had similar findings, or if there’s a way she can piece together an explanation for her unexpected results. Lunch? Oh, yeah, she might grab a yogurt…if she remembers…



Debbie Reid has a justifiable concern about her children’s lackadaisical attitudes toward learning. Sarah, Jason and all of their friends will grow up in a world that is technology rich, information dense, and globally connected. Computers, tablet notebooks, and cell phones make vast quantities of information easily and broadly accessible. Anyone sitting in a library, or even a coffee shop, can do an Internet search for sea turtles and wind up with 12,900,000 hits—a virtual flood of articles, pictures, videos, and even live webcams. In many ways, this easily accessible universe of information is wonderful; it opens the door for anyone who wants to learn and allows access to hundreds of different subjects, to cutting-edge ideas, and to the voices of experts. Yet effortless access to inexhaustible information is a double-edged sword, creating confusion as often as illumination. The temptation to accept anything in print or to make hasty, ill-considered decisions increases with the rate of information flow. Which of the 12,900,000 sea turtle websites are the best to read? If two reliable sources disagree, which is credible? Accelerating access to information compels slower, not faster, thinking. More than ever, children need the skills and attitudes of reflective, thoughtful reasoning. How dire is the situation? This description should be compelling to anyone who reads: Books are published at such a rapid rate that they make us exponentially more ignorant. If a person read a book a day, he would be neglecting four thousand others, published the same day. In other words, the books he didn’t read would pile up four thousand times faster than the books he did read, and his ignorance would grow four thousand times faster than his knowledge. (Zaid, 2003) The tsunami of new information makes many aspects of life more complex. Jobs are becoming more intricate because workers have to master and manipulate an ever-expanding knowledge base. Consider the complexity a clinic doctor faces as a result of increasing advances in knowledge about disease and the human body: During the course of a year of office practice—which, by definition, excludes the patients seen in the hospital—physicians each evaluated an average of 250 different primary diseases and conditions. Their patients had more than 900 other active medical problems that had to be taken into account. (Gwande, 2009) Gone are the days when memorizing facts like a quiz kid was sufficient to be expert, or even competent. Skills valued in the modern workforce include critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and self-direction, in addition to adaptability and technology literacy. Workers must be able to assimilate new information and new ideas quickly, discerning which information is valuable and credible and seeing its relationship to other information. They also must be able to collaborate with others, forming groups with interlocking areas of expertise. Collaboration


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requires communication and trust, skills rarely addressed in schools but considered essential by a growing number of businesses. Nearly 70% of CEOs polled in a survey cited a shortage of employees adept in critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration (Michaels, Hanfield-Jones & Axelrod, 2001). Skills alone are not enough; the modern era requires flexible perspective. As the rate of information growth increases, so does the need for us to question continually what we accept as certain truth. New information often leads to new ways of thinking, sometimes requiring significant, even profound shifts in perspective. Lewis Thomas, former president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute, provided an apt description of the ever-changing landscape: In the fields I know best, among the life sciences, it is required that the most expert and sophisticated minds be capable of changing those minds, often with a great lurch…. The next week’s issue of any scientific journal can turn a whole field upside down, shaking out any number of immutable ideas and installing new bodies of dogma, and this is happening all the time. It is almost an everyday event…. (Thomas, 1983) The “lurching” Thomas describes is not exclusive to science, nor is it exclusive to the work world. The complexity of the Information Age reaches beyond the workplace into every corner of life. One day Sarah may find herself debating whether it is safe to buy a home near an electric tower; Jason may have to decide whether different kinds of foods are safe. Both will have to sort through social policies governing health, the environment, and global politics, separating fact from opinion, choosing a position they think is best while realizing that their understanding is probably incomplete. More and more, personal well-being, responsible citizenship, and professional productivity are dependent on the ability—and the inclination—to self-educate constantly. Reports from prominent think tanks urge the public to understand that:: The sheer magnitude of human knowledge, globalization, and the accelerating rate of change due to technology necessitate a shift in our children’s education from plateaus of knowing to continuous cycles of learning. (Burhkhardt et al., 2003) How can we educate children so that they are ready for a world that requires lifelong learners when so many, like Sarah and Jason, can’t wait to stop learning? This question is hardly new, but the demands of the Information Age give it greater urgency. How can we create a generation of professionals with Cindy Kane’s drive to know? Fortunately, this question has an answer. In fact, we have known the answer for a long time.



The Natural Rhythm of Lifelong Learning In the 1920s, noted mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead described a pattern of learning that embodied the lives of creative, lifelong learners. He noticed that “No man of science wants merely to know. He acquires knowledge to appease his passion for discovery. He does not discover in order to know, he knows in order to discover” (1967, p. 142). Whitehead described learning as a natural rhythm that flows from excited engagement to devoted labor to creative invention. He believed that if education followed this natural rhythm, students would develop a lifelong relationship with learning. And as with most meaningful relationships, it all begins with a little romance. Romance, The Catalyst. According to Whitehead, the catalyst initiating the natural rhythm of learning is not intellectual; it is emotional. Creative, productive adults are driven by a desire to discover something unknown, express something unsaid, or illuminate something unclear. Whitehead called this desire romance. Artists and scientists alike are drawn by the desire to explore, discover, or express —acts that inherently involve solving problems. David Cronenberg’s description of the early stages of exploration echoes the romantic attraction of the unknown: You start to notice what’s around you, and you get very curious about how things work. How things interrelate. It’s as simple as seeing a bug that intrigues you. You want to know where it goes at night; who its friends are; what it eats. (Cronenberg, 1997) Romance is a stage of exploration that initiates a passionate desire to know something better. The powerful emotional pull Whitehead describes pervades the writings of creative adults. Curiously, the object of this passion is a problem. People are drawn toward mysteries and respond to them with romantic-like interest, examining them with an open mind simply to see what there is to discover. Interest in the alluring problem draws us closer to a topic, making Romance, The Catalyst the search progressively more personal and increasing own- What is there that confers the noblest delight? What is that which swells a man’s breast with ership in discovery. pride above that which any other experience Curiosity leads to ques- can bring to him? Discovery! To know that tions, and eventually one or you are walking where no others have walked. two of the questions stand Mark Twain out as particularly important. The self-directed learner can The most exciting phrase to hear in science, describe the object of discov- the one that heralds the most discoveries is not ery—the subject of the novel, ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny…’ the angle of the news story, or Isaac Asimov the variables in the trend. No


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one tells scientists or artists how to define the problems they investigate; the questions are a singular blend of situation, experience, prior knowledge, and desired goal. The highly personal nature of selecting a question to pursue is frequently overlooked, yet it is immensely important, as Einstein knew: The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination. (Einstein & Infeld, 1938) The ownership and originality invested in asking the question only adds to the compelling appeal of the problem. Romance leads to a committed relationship, and then the work begins. Precision: Devoted Labor. Lifelong learners and creative adults work hard— and not just to collect a paycheck. They work willingly, with commitment and care. Their dedication is a natural consequence of romance, the desire to figure out the problem that captured their interest. Their yearning to find answers to the questions evoked by the problem leads to hours, days, or even years of labor. The work is high quality because of the personal investment made in the problem and its solution. Indeed, it is hard to imagine why anyone would spend hours tracking the path of an atom, deliberating over adjecPrecision: Devoted Labor tive choice, or hunting down an obscure historical source if there was no Behind every technological breakthrough there lies a dream. Behind every emotional investment in the search. new product there lies a dream. Dreams Tools of interpretation, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are skillfully create realities—through hard work. applied because the person wielding Rolf Jensen the tools cares about the outcome. Far and away the best prize that life has Even mundane tasks are more tolerto offer is the chance to work hard at able when they are used to illuminate work worth doing. some aspect of the problem. Without Theodore Roosevelt an intriguing problem, the need for careful work simply does not exist. Generalizing: Fulfilling Solutions. Whitehead’s natural rhythm of learning completes in generalization, where the excitement of romance combines with the labor of precision, resulting in a unique creation that fulfills curiosity. Of course the work is not truly done at this point, for the solution has to make sense not only to the creator, but to colleagues, peers, and often the world at large. Learning how to receive and give balanced critiques is an essential part of the process. Conversations around the solution spawn new questions, and the rhythm continues. The lifelong learner is always left asking, “What next?”



Where’s the Romance?

Generalization: Fulfilling Solutions

The life of an adult self-directed, lifelong learner is characterized by an ongoing rhythm of romance, precision, and generalization. The self-directed learner wants to learn, sees the value in chasing down the answer to a question, and feels the satisfaction that comes from working through a problem. In fact, he or she often comes to find questions more valuable than answers.

Creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and erecting a skyscraper in its place. It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between our starting points and its rich environment. But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our adventurous way up. Albert Einstein

True happiness comes from the joy of deeds Traditional education has well done, the zest of creating things new. interrupted the natural rhythm Antoine de Saint-Exupery of learning by lopping off the first stage, romance. Without romance, without emotional engagement, the exacting scholarship that leads to academic excellence is experienced as dull, lifeless drudgery. Students never experience the thrill of ownership that cultivates lifelong learning. Indeed, problems, the source of magnetic attraction to the life-long learner, are turned into objects of fear. Cleansed of all ambiguity, assigned in massive numbers, and presented only after learning is over, problems seem not attractive, but punitive. In the absence of a mystery, students learn without truly knowing why. Creative adults would not engage in the labor of precision without a problem to pursue, but we expect children to do so every day. If children are to become prepared for a life of learning, experiencing the excitement, committed work, and satisfying culmination of true inquiry, problems will have to be reinstated in the place where they do the most good: as catalysts of learning. Real-world, ill-structured problems should take the lead, allowing children to practice asking questions, working hard to find an answer, and ultimately creating and defending a solution. A model for this kind of education has existed for a while; surprisingly, it comes from an environment known for its devotion to traditional, memorization-bound learning: medical school.


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CHAPTER 2 A Medical Miracle

d is important to keep in mind the principle objectives of [Problem-Based Learning: the] acquisition of an extensive, integrated knowledge base that is readily recalled and applied to the analysis and care of...problems. PBL Initiative, Back in the 1960s, medical school educator Howard Barrows of McMasters University faced a problem curiously similar to Debbie Reid’s. Like Sarah and Jason, his medical students did not seem to have the desired reasoning skills or curiosity. True, the young doctors had thousands of facts at their fingertips—facts that were essential to proper patient care. True, they performed well on licensing tests and seemed well qualified. But even though they could recite reams of information, gather a patient history, and give a physical exam, they didn’t know how to use the information to decide upon a diagnosis. That is to say, they knew what doctors should know, but they could not think the way doctors should think. Conversations with colleagues at other institutions revealed that the problem extended well beyond McMasters University. The realization that many young doctors knew a lot but could not think was troubling; it led to a concerted effort to integrate questioning and reasoning into the curriculum. The McMasters team started watching doctors at work, inviting dozens of them to diagnose the same simulated patient. They wanted to define the thinking process that led to diagnosis—what they called clinical reasoning. They recorded the doctors’ questioning patterns and discovered that a patient interview unfolded much like an extended game of “20 Questions,” in which questions start broad but quickly narrow: Doctor: What seems to be the matter? Patient: My shoulder hurts. Doctor: What kind of pain is it: sharp or dull? Patient: Dull. Doctor: What kind of movements make it hurt? Patient: I t’s really bad when I lift something and sometimes when I point using that arm.



Doctor: When did it start? Patient: Last week. And so on. Interviews completed after the exercise reinforced the observation that the doctors’ line of questioning was neither random nor generic; the questions were selected to test a possible diagnosis. If the patient answered that the pain was sharp, the doctor would follow up with a question to discriminate between a fracture and joint pain. If the pain was dull, she would ask a different set of questions. Occasionally, an unexpected answer caused the doctor to backtrack and consider entirely different options. Throughout, the doctors blended their medical knowledge with patient information to inform their line of questioning. When their interviews with the doctors were finished, the McMasters team had a model of how doctors think. They discovered—or rather, confirmed—that doctors spend their entire careers chasing down mysteries:, sorting through an array of symptoms, deciding which symptoms are connected and which aren’t—all in trying to figure out the problem. Skill in following hunches or making good hypotheses is imperative because a bad assumption can cause a doctor to ignore clues vital to the patient’s case. The doctors knew when it was time to narrow from exploration of possibilities to consideration of specific, precise ideas. The McMasters team discovered that practicing physicians followed Whitehead’s rhythm of learning: a patient’s complaint is the romance, the alluring problem. Precision—careful questioning and analysis of patient information—is needed to understand the exact nature of the complaint. After settling on a diagnosis, the doctors started questioning all over again; trying to determine which of the many possible treatments best fit the needs of that particular patient. Successful treatment, the solution to the problem, was the doctors’ form of generalization. Medical knowledge was useful insofar as it could help the doctors sort through a mystery, piece together the clues to create a diagnosis, and then match the diagnosis with effective treatment. Barrows and his colleagues noticed something else: the best doctors were highly self-aware. They monitored their own thinking, keeping track of the directions they pursued, assessing whether they were missing clues, and ensuring that they were considering all necessary options. These doctors were willing to be uncertain, despite all of their knowledge. In addition, the most effective doctors were committed to ongoing self-education so they could stay abreast of new developments in their field. It seemed that problem solving, self-reflection, and lifelong learning were vital to skilled medical practice—yet virtually absent from medical school training. Medical students were schooled in being certain instead of being uncertain; rarely were they provided with practice in contending with ambiguity.


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How could educators insert problem solving, self-reflection, and lifelong learning into medical school without sacrificing crucial medical content? Having just finished watching dozens of doctors, the answer was evident: medical school should look like medical practice long before students reach their residencies. Students should meet patients (simulated patients)—lots and lots of them. In a bold move, Barrows and his colleagues began transforming their students’ everyday experiences from book learning to a carefully orchestrated series of simulated patients. They started with complex, paper-based case studies but quickly incorporated actors trained to act out different diseases. The simulated patients introduced the same information contained in textbooks, but in a real-world setting. While testing this approach, Barrows and his colleagues found that students enjoyed the mysterylike process of chasing down clues. Moreover, the romance of the chase led to increased rigor in investigation and higher-quality patient care. Putting the problem at the beginning of learning reintroduced romance; what remained was to cultivate the students’ awareness of their own thinking. To accomplish this, students were clustered in small tutorial groups. As they worked together to analyze patient cases, the medical faculty focused deliberately on reflective reasoning and critical thinking. Throughout their studies, the students framed their learning with four questions essential to any field of endeavor: What am I assuming? (And how might that affect my thinking?) What do I already know? What do I need to learn? How can I go about learning what I need to learn? Results of the transformation were quickly apparent. Medical students in this problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum generally learned as much or more than students receiving traditional instruction. In addition, the PBL students acquired skills in questioning, collaboration, research, and self-directed learning; they even showed increased compassion and attention to patient communication. Howard Barrows and his colleagues sparked a revolution in medical education. Problem-based learning spread through medical schools in the U.S. and Europe. It is one of the most thoroughly researched educational approaches anywhere, with hundreds of published studies demonstrating its effectiveness in many dimensions of learning. Before long, other educators began to notice the medical school revolution. The thinking process that the McMasters team called clinical reasoning is valuable in all walks of life, not just for doctors, but for detectives and scientists, artists, cooks, historians, mechanics, journalists, pilots, even parents searching for lost car keys. This makes PBL an essential training ground for students of all ability levels



and across all subjects. Because of its roots in medical education, PBL carries a level of legitimacy that other inquiry-based approaches lack. Medical educators voluntarily underwent a radical change—successfully; they took the challenge of creating 21st-century thinkers seriously, and eventually their ideas caught the attention of K-12 educators. Projects experimenting with PBL in K-12 classrooms began at every grade level, age group, and subject area. These experiments also have been successful, some producing award-winning curriculum. Adjusting PBL to large classrooms is possible but requires some adaptations that aren’t necessary in home school environments. In fact, as Debbie Reid is about to discover, the home school can be an excellent setting for Problem-Based Learning.

Does PBL Really Work? Learning the Subject Many studies report that PBL students learn as much content as traditionally instructed students (Dods, 1997; Gallagher, 2001; Gallagher & Stepien, 1996; Geban, Sungar, & Ceren, 2006; Hmelo-Silver, 2004; Verhoeven et al, 1998). However, research also shows that student learning in PBL isn’t automatic. In order to attain equal (or greater) achievement, the problem must be carefully designed toward learning outcomes (Goodnough & Cashion, 2003; van Berkel & Dolmans, 2006). Student achievement increases as students become more self-directed (van den Hurk, 2006) and when the teacher has a thorough understanding of the problem or skill in facilitating self-directed learning. Thinking Skills In addition to learning content, PBL students show improvement in higherorder thinking skills (Cruickshank & Olander, 2002; Feng, VanTassel-Baska, Quek, Bai, & O’Neill, 2005), problem finding (Gallagher, Stepien, & Rosenthal, 1992), ability to make inferences (Sheldon & DeNardo, 2005), interdisciplinary thinking, flexible thought, and adaptability (Hmelo & Ferrari, 1997; Norman & Schmidt, 1992). Attitudes PBL students report higher levels of engagement and more satisfaction with their learning experiences, and they seem to continue to like the subject under study more after PBL. Students enjoy PBL more when they feel supported as they acquire self-directed learning skills (Greening, 1998). Most studies of K-12 classrooms also report higher satisfaction and engagement among PBL students as compared to traditionally instructed students (Hmelo & Ferrari, 1997).


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Problem-Based Learning Explained


Students should be given problems—at levels appropriate to their maturity—that require them to decide what evidence is relevant and to offer their own interpretations of what the evidence means.... Students need guidance, encouragement, and practice in collecting, sorting, and analyzing evidence, and in building arguments based on it. However, if such activities are not to be destructively boring, they must lead to some intellectually satisfying payoff that students care about. Rutherford & Alghren, 1990 Debbie Reid was about to start a unit on plant growth, soil pH, and the impact of fertilizer on plants and the environment. Typically she would assign background reading, discuss the nature of fertilizer (with the help of someone from the garden center), and help the children with an experiment testing soil pH before and after fertilization. She’d finish the unit by assigning a brief research paper on the impact of fertilizer on the environment. Afterwards, she’d give Sarah and Jason some form of assessment to see what they remembered. This approach requires that Sarah and Jason remain dependent learners, waiting for Debbie to tell them what to learn, when to learn, and why to learn. There wasn’t much opportunity for them to experience the kind of curiosity Cindy Kane has in her work. Debbie has decided to give PBL a try. She reorganizes the unit, writing a problem that will lead the children to the study of plant growth and fertilizer. She also arranges for Jason’s friend Peter, to join the children for the unit. Instead of assigning a reading to start the unit, she asks the children to gather at a large whiteboard. She’s divided the board into four sections to create a Learning Issues Board like the one in Figure 5. Then Sarah, Jason and Peter receive a copy of the following opening scenario: A warm spring sun promised a busy day at the golf course in Pinehurst. The course has been in operation for just over a year and you have been superintendent of the course for 6 months. You can see one of the workers mowing on the green of the third hole. The grass looks just beautiful and up until yesterday, that seemed like a good thing. But when you checked your mail yesterday, that all changed. There was a petition with 100 signatures enclosed in one of the envelopes. The letter that came with the petition was from the head of a Citizens Action Committee for a Safe Environment. According to the letter, the people who signed the petition PROBLEM BASED LEARNING


thought that the fertilizer used on the golf course was polluting the local water. Boy was the boss mad!!! He was all red in the face. ‘This is NONSENSE!’ he shouted, and then said, ‘prove they’re wrong – or fix it NOW!” You now look at all the names on the petition thinking, “I sure hope it’s ‘nonsense’ because my family drinks the local water, too!” You know you have to get started quickly; the boss wants a report by next Wednesday. The children look at her, waiting for instructions. “What seems to be going on?” Debbie asks. As the conversation unfolds, she makes entries in the appropriate sections of the Learning Issues Board. Sarah:

What is polluting the water?

Debbie: Why do you ask that question? Jason:

Because the petition says that the water is being polluted

Debbie: I see, your hunch, or assumption, is that the petition is accurate. Let’s write that down (writes Petition is accurate under Hunches). What information do we have that makes you think that the petition is accurate? Peter:

Well, lots of people signed the petition.

Debbie: How many? Jason: 60. Sarah:

No, it’s 100.


Is not!


How are you going to figure this out?

The children refer to the sheet in front of them and Jason reluctantly conceded that the petition has 100 signatures. Debbie writes 100 people signed petition under ‘What we Know’) Peter:

The people are right that golf courses use fertilizer.

Debbie: How do you know that? Peter:

Well, I saw some workers spreading some last time we played golf.

Debbie: (writes golf courses use fertilizer under What we Know) Debbie: Lets think about the connection…does the fact that golf courses use fertilizer automatically mean that the golf course is responsible for the polluted water?


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All: No. Debbie: Then what do you need to know to test the assumption that the petition is accurate when they say that the golf course is causing the water is polluted? Sarah:

Well, we need to know how much fertilizer is used.

Debbie: Why? Sarah:

Because if there’s too much it might get into the water.

Debbie: (writes ‘How much fertilizer is used? under Learning Issues). What other information would we need to test these hunches? Jason:

What kind of fertilizer do they use?

Debbie: How would that question address our hunches? Jason:

Well, it tests the hunch that the pollution is from the golf course be cause they use a type of fertilizer that pollutes then maybe they’re polluting the water but if they’re using a type of fertilizer that doesn’t pollute then it’s not their fault.


But maybe they’re wrong!


Maybe who is wrong?


The people who signed the petition. Maybe it’s someone else!

Debbie: Aha…we have another hunch to pursue…a hunch that the pollution is coming from somewhere else. What facts do you have that suggests that this might be true? Sarah:

Well, none really—but we could get some.

Debbie: What information do you need to know if that’s true?

By the end of the conversation, the Learning Issues board has a list of questions that will create the learning agenda for the next few weeks. The children are excited and Debbie is, too—she didn’t say a word about what they children ‘had’ to learn; all she did was ask questions! The questions the children asked created the learning agenda. That’s how a PBL learning adventure begins— children asking questions about an ill-structured problem. Sarah, Jason and Peter don’t need to know that Debbie wrote the problem so they’d ask the questions she wanted them to ask…But we’ll



come back to Debbie and the children in a little while. First let’s take a look at the elements that combine to make Problem-Based Learning an engaging and effective form of learning.

Sample Learning Issues Board after Problem Engagement Hunches: 1) The petition is accurate 2) Fertilizer from the golf course is getting into the water 3) The water is polluted from somewhere else 4) The water may be OK 5) The petition may be from crazy people What we Know

• This is a new golf course • We are the golf superintendent • Grass looks good right now • Golf courses use fertilizer • 100 people signed a petition • The petition was from the Citi. Action Comm. For a Safe Environment (CACFSE) • The people think the fertilizer from the course is polluting the local water • The boss is mad about the petition • We have to do something about the situation • Our family drinks that water

Learning Issues

Action Plan

1. Is the water polTalk to a golf suluted? perintendent about 2. What is a golf sujob responsibilities: perintendent? Peter 3. What does a golf superintendent do? Get a sample of the 4. How do you test water to test: Mom water safety? 5. What kind of ferResearch grass tilizer is used on fertilizer at a home the grass? improvement store: 6. What is the Jason and Peter CACFSE? 7. What else is around Look on the internet the golf course that and in books to see could pollute the if there is a connecwater? tion between fertil8. If the water is polizer and pollution: luted, what is in the Sarah (and Mom) water—fertilizer or Find Maps: Mom something else? 9. How much fertilizer Look at a map to see is used? where else the pol10. What else could lution might come be used to keep the from: Sarah and grass good for golf? Peter


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PBL in your Homeschool pages 1-15