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Project and Problem Based Learning. John Henry EIRC Project and Problem Based Learning Students Deserve it The World Demands it. PROJECT or SCENARIO. Pedagogy. Technology. RESOURCES & CONSTRAINTS.

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Project and Problem Based Learning

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Project and Problem Based Learning


Project and Problem Based LearningStudents Deserve it The World Demands it









Learning as an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current or past knowledge. Students continually build upon what they have already learned.

What does the research say in regards to students?

  • Increased attendance

  • Growth and self-reliance

  • Improved attitude toward learning (Thomas, 2000)

  • Academic gains equal to or better than other models (Boaler, Education Week 2004)

  • Opportunities to develop complex skills (SRI, 2000)

  • Access to a broader range of learning opportunities

What does the research say in regards to teachers?

  • Increased collaboration among colleagues

  • Opportunities to build better relationships with students (Thomas, 2000)

What does the research say about PBL?

A three-year 1997 study of two secondary schools -- one that used open-ended projects and one that used more traditional, direct instruction -- found striking differences in understanding and standardized achievement data in mathematics.

What does the research say about PBL?

In a five-year study, researchers at SRI International found that technology-using students in Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project-Based classrooms outperformed non-technology-using students in communication skills, teamwork, and problem solving.

What does the research say about PBL?

The Center for Learning in Technology researchers, led by Bill Penuel, found

  • increased student engagement

  • greater responsibility for learning

  • increased peer collaboration skills

  • greater achievement gains by students who had been labeled low achievers

What does the research say about PBL?

Lakeview School in Ill., use PBL to reach students who are struggling in traditional schools by implementing a curriculum that is based on "doing things based on real world situation.“ while addressing state standards -- and uses a project-based approach that incorporates cultural awareness, sustainability and other themes.

PBL Articles

Lecture…Sit and Get


Average Retention Rates




Bloom's Taxonomy



Always think outside the box


Engage the Student and the Achievement will Follow

Achievement Gap or Engagement Gap?

85% of Middle and High School Students report being bored in their classrooms

Example of Engagement and Problem Solving Activity

Toxic Popcorn

Interest, hands-on, interactive and collaborative

Toxic Popcorn


A can of highly toxic popcorn has contaminated a circle of approximately 4 feet in diameter. The toxic area extends to the ceiling. If the toxic popcorn is not transferred to a safe container for decontamination, it will contaminate the region The popcorn is estimated to have a safe life of exactly 15 minutes before it explodes. It’s up to you to save the day!

What do you know about PBL?

  • Why Do Problem Based Learning (PBL)?

  • What are the differences and similarities of Project and Problem Based Learning ?

  • What are the characteristics of PBL?

  • What is a typical process for PBL?

  • What are the benefits and obstacles of PBL

  • How is technology used with PBL?

  • How can PBL be incorporated across academic disciplines?

  • What are the student and teacher roles when doing PBL?

  • How do you assess PBL?

The core idea of Project and Problem Based learning is that real-world problems or situations capture students' interest and provoke serious thinking as the students acquire and apply new knowledge in a problem-solving context

Project Based Learning?

Is a teaching and learning model that focuses on the central concepts and principles of a discipline, involves students in problem solving and other meaningful tasks, allows students to work autonomously and in groups to construct their own learning, culminates in realistic, student generated products.

Problem-Based Learning Defined

Finkle and Torp (1995) state that "problem-based learning is a curriculum development and instructional system/process that simultaneously develops both problem solving strategies and disciplinary knowledge bases and skills by placing students in the active role of problem solvers confronted with an ill-structured problem that mirrors real-world problems"

Why Do PBL?

The National Problem:

As a result of a relative decline in student achievement … and interest of students to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM)-related careers …

the United States IS AT RISK.

Why Do PBL?

  • Although US fourth graders score well against international competition, they fall near the bottom or dead last by 12th grade in Mathematics and Science, respectively.

  • In 2004 chemical companies closed 70 facilities in the United States and have tagged 40 more for shutdown. Of 120 new chemical plants around the world will be in the United States. 50 will be in China.

Why Do PBL?

  • In the US only 15% of the undergraduates receive their degrees in natural sciences or engineering.

  • Past 3 years alone, China & India have doubled production of 3- and 4-year degrees in engineering, computers science and IT, while the US production of engineers is stagnant and CS and IT have doubled.

    Losing Interest

Why Do PBL?

Think critically and be able to analyze and solve complex, real-world problems

Find, evaluate, and use appropriate learning resources

Work individually and cooperatively in teams and small groups

Demonstrate versatile and effective communication skills, both verbal and written

Use content knowledge and develop skills to become life-long learners in order to succeed in a global economy

Framework for 21st Century Learning

  • The standard includes six strands, which reflect the

  • Framework for 21st Century Learning:

  • 21st Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

  • Creativity and Innovation

  • Collaboration, Teamwork, and Leadership

  • Cross-Cultural Understanding and Interpersonal

  • Communication

  • Communication and Media Fluency

  • Accountability, Productivity, and Ethics

  • Understanding by Design UbD template (lesson plan development)


21st Century Themes

Global Awareness

Financial, Economic, Business, and Entrepreneurial Literacy

Civic Literacy

Health Literacy

Similarities to PBL and What Employers Want

  • Willingness to share information and ideas

  • Commitment to work in teams

  • Responsiveness to change

  • Sense of ownership with work and ideas

  • Willingness to take calculated risks, without fear of consequences

Similarities to PBL and What Employers Want

  • Multicultural experiences and or the ability to communicate in multiple languages

  • Ability to communicate clearly and honestly with peers, teachers, administrators, and experts from other organizations

  • Understanding business strategies

  • Commitment to continuous learning and skill

  • development

What are the similarities between Project Based and Problem Based Learning?

  • Both instructional strategies are intended to engage students in authentic, "real world" tasks to enhance learning.

  • Students are given open-ended projects or problems with more than one approach or answer, intended to simulate professional situations.

  • Both approaches are student-centered and the teacher acts as facilitator or coach.

What are the similarities between Project Based and Problem Based Learning?

  • Both approaches are student-centered and the teacher acts as facilitator or coach.

  • Students work in cooperative groups for extended periods of time

  • In both approaches, students seek out multiple sources of information.

  • There is often a performance-based assessment.

What are the differences between Project Based and Problem Based Learning?

  • In Project based learning, the students define the purpose for creating an end product.

  • In Problem based learning, the students are presented with a problem to solve.

What are the differences between Project Based and Problem Based Learning?

  • In Project based learning, the students present their conclusion and there is an end product.

  • In Problem based learning, when the students present their conclusion, there may or may not be an end product.


  • Similarities

  • Both deal with a motivating prompt, a question or problem, that has to be addressed by creating a solution or product.

  • Each is a valid instructional strategy that promotes active learning and engages students.

PBL consists of two complementary interrelated processes

1. Curriculum Design

  • Teachers design an ill-structured problem based on desired curriculum outcomes, learner characteristics, and compelling, problematic situations from the real world

  • Teachers develop a sketch or template of teaching and learning events in anticipation of students' learning needs

  • Teachers investigate the range of resources essential to the problem and arrange for their availability

PBL consists of two complementary interrelated processes

2. Cognitive Coaching

  • Students actively define problems and construct potential solutions

  • Teachers model, coach, and fade in supporting and making explicit students' learning processes

Problem-based learning has as its organizing center an ill-structured problem which...

  • is messy, Ill-structured and complex in nature

  • requires inquiry, information-gathering, and reflection

  • is changing and tentative

  • has no simple, fixed, formulaic, "right" solution

  • Appeals to human desire for resolution/ equilibrium/harmony

  • Sets up need for and context of learning

Creatively Speaking, Part Two:

Sir Ken Robinson on the Power of the Imaginative Mind

Examples of PBL Scenarios

You are a scientist at the state department of nuclear safety. Some people in a small community feel their health is at risk because a company keeps thorium piled above ground at one of their plants. What action, if any, should be taken?

Summer Challenge 1992, IMSA

You are a consultant to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. A first draft of a plan for the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone has received strong, negative testimony at hearings. What is your advice regarding the plan?

John Thompson, Ecology, IMSA

You are a science advisor at NASA. A planet much like the earth has experienced massive destruction of elements of its biosphere. What is causing the destruction of plant life? Can new plants from earth be successfully introduced to help save the planet's environment?

Bill Orton, 2nd grade, Williamsburg, VA

You are a thirty-six year old single working mother with a five year old daughter. Upon your husband's death, you receive $20,000 in worker's compensation and $10,000 in stock option shares. How can you invest this money so that by your daughter's 18th birthday, its growth is maximized?

LuAnn Malik, Community College of Aurora, Aurora, CO

You are a stockholder of a major oil refinery in Louisiana which has mined oil from wetlands in the southern part of the state. You have received pressure from publicity about the wetlands to make it property of the federal government so that it can be protected. What will you do?

Christine Vitale, 4-5 multi-grade, Arlington Heights, IL

Develop, design, and demonstrate the feasibility of a self-contained, self-sustaining human community in a place that is not yet considered habitable.

Woodbury High School, Advanced Technology Class, Grades 9-12

Paper or Plastic

Examples of Scenarios

Exploring the Environment

Career and Technical

Web 2.0 Technology

NJ Green Program of Study

The science of sustainability

PBL addresses student needs by taking learning theory into account with PBL:

  • Students take on an active role in their educational experiences.

  • Students are actively involved in the learning process, and they learn in the context in which knowledge is to be used.

PBL addresses student needs by taking learning theory into account with PBL:

  • Students are empowered with the responsibility of managing a largely self-directed learning process so that they are better equipped to take on the responsibilities of mature professional life.

  • Students are encouraged to develop the skill of transferring knowledge into new domains, a skill that students can carry with them throughout their lifetimes.

Teacher as coach…

Models/coaches/fades in:

  • Asking about thinking

  • Monitoring learning

  • Probing/ challenging students' thinking

  • Keeping students involved

  • Monitoring/ adjusting levels of challenge

  • Managing group dynamics

  • Keeping process moving

Student as active problem-solver

  • Active participant

  • Engaged

  • Constructing meaning

What are the benefits of PBL?

  • Motivation: PBL makes students more engaged in learning because they are hard wired to respond to dissonance and because they feel they are empowered to have an impact on the outcome of the investigation.

What are the benefits of PBL?

  • Motivation

  • Relevance And Context: PBL offers students an obvious answer to the questions, "Why do we need to learn this information?" and "What does what I am doing in school have to do with anything in the real world?"

What are the benefits of PBL?

  • Motivation

  • Relevance And Context

  • Higher-Order Thinking: the ill-structured problem scenario calls forth critical and creative thinking by suspending the guessing game of, "What's the right answer the teacher wants me to find?" Starting the thinking at Adaptation Level is important. (See Rigor and Relevance Framework.)

What are the benefits of PBL?

  • Motivation

  • Relevance And Context

  • Higher-Order Thinking

  • Learning How To Learn: PBL promotes student metacognition and self-regulated learning by asking students to generate their own strategies for problem definition, information gathering, data-analysis, and hypothesis-building and testing, comparing these strategies against and sharing them with other students' and mentors' strategies.

What are the benefits of PBL?

  • Motivation

  • Relevance And Context

  • Higher-Order Thinking

  • Learning How To Learn

  • Authenticity: PBL engages students in learning information in ways that are similar to the ways in which it will be recalled and employed in future situations and assesses learning in ways which demonstrate understanding and not mere acquisition. (Gick and Holyoak, 1983).

Technology and PBL

  • Web 2.0

  • E-Portfolios

Ms, McIntyre introduced a “project” to her students. She plopped a packet of papers on each student’s desk and explained that each student would create a poster about water-borne bacterium and how it can be harmful to humans. The packet included

assignment sheets with due dates and grading policy, a guide for designing the poster, and a list of websites and books to use.

PBL is not…

Giving students a project, that is hands-on, with step by step instructions, designed and guided by the teacher that results in a student produced product. This process is missing student voice and choice, and may not be relevant to a student

Redesign this Project

Ms, McIntyre introduced a “project” to her students. She plopped a packet of papers on each student’s desk and explained that each student would create a poster about water-borne bacterium and how it can be harmful to humans. The packet included assignment sheets with due dates and grading policy, a guide for designing the poster, and a list of websites and books to use.

Design a PBL Lesson

  • Redesign an existing lesson

  • Integrate technology

  • Connect to CTE tracks

  • Focus on areas of low academic student performance in the sciences

Common Characteristics and Process of Problem Based Learning

The Process for Teachers

  • Scenario or Problem Design

  • PBL environment

  • Resources

  • Assessment

  • Collaboration

Characteristics of PBL

  • Learning is student centered.

  • Learning occurs in small student groups.

  • Teachers are facilitators or guides.

  • Problems form the organizing focus and stimulus for learning.

  • Problems are a vehicle for the development of problem-solving skills.

Process of PBL

  • Students confront a problem.

  • In groups, students organize prior knowledge and attempt to identify the nature of the problem.

  • Students pose questions about what they do not understand.

  • Students design a plan to solve the problem and identify the resources they need.

  • Students begin to gather information as they work to solve the problem.

  • The 5-E’s

Students learn and practice team building and social skills by working in cooperative teams and sometimes with people in the community

Includes expectations for the project, based on the learning outcome. These are stated at the beginning of the project and are designed by the teacher to state standards.

PBL Study Guide

Exploring the Environment

Technology Integrated

Benefits and Obstacles of PBL

Benefits of PBL

Problem-based learning encourages students to take control and become active in their learning.

Research tends to suggest that when compared to graduates from a traditional program, PBL graduates are better prepared for professional life with advanced level interpersonal skills, the ability to work effectively in cross and interdisciplinary teams and lifelong learning skills.

As more PBL graduates make their way into the workforce the reputation of PBL will grow and it is likely that employers could show preference for graduates with the types of knowledge, skills and attitudes developed and encouraged by problem-based learning

PBL Benefits

PBL learners become:

  • proactive thinkers

  • critical thinkers

  • problem solvers

  • capable of self-assessment

  • self-sufficient and self-motivated

  • able to find and use appropriate resources

  • technologically advanced

  • leaders as well as team players

  • capable of communicating ideas and listening to others

  • eager to jump into the next challenge or problem situation

Obstacles Described by Teachers

  • It takes a lot of preparation time

  • We don't have the resources

  • We lack administrative support and support from other teachers

  • You often feel uneasy because you're not knowledgeable about the content

  • The open-ended, no right or wrong answer aspect of project work can be threatening

Obstacles Described by Teachers

  • Administrators can fault you for not covering the curriculum

  • There are risks associated with giving up teacher control

  • Students may not participate and are not always self-motivated

Obstacles Described by Teachers

  • students may have difficulty with higher order thinking or open-ended problems

  • There is a risk that students might not learn much, or receive much of value from Problem Based Learning unless designed right

Benefits Described by Students

  • We got to choose what to work on.

  • We learned that we can make a difference

  • There was a clear goal that was a challenge to work on

  • There was an audience for the product and we knew we had to meet the deadline and present it to the audience.

Benefits Described by Students

  • We weren't afraid to try things we didn't know because the teacher said we would have the opportunity to reevaluate and try again.

  • Everyone felt needed and had a part. Nobody got left out

  • We didn't need to use our texts, and we were actively doing things and learning something.

Benefits Described by Students

  • We were using skills we knew we would need in our jobs, like using time wisely, exercis­ing responsibility, and not letting the group down.

  • We learned that when the real world is the source of evaluation, you had better have your act together.

  • Yes, enjoyed it, felt like I had more responsibility.

Benefits Described by Students

  • I liked it, got a lot of ideas out, but did need some guidance some times.

  • Like the idea of going off on our own to research everything possible instead of being limited by teacher specification.

Benefits Described by Students

  • Communicating with outside sources, and making contacts for information.

  • How to communicate and work with the corporate world, make contacts. How to write, how to work with other people in groups

  • How to be a leader.

Teacher and Student Role in PBL.

The teacher plays the role of facilitator, working with students to frame worthwhile questions, structuring meaningful tasks, coaching both knowledge development and social skills, and carefully assessing what students have learned from the experience.

Teacher and Student Role in PBL.

Students are at the center of the work to be accomplished. The classroom environment is student centered, not teacher directed. Students are responsible for brainstorming, solving problems, working together, documenting, evaluating their progress and presenting their findings.

Using your classroom, the school or the local community as a context for learning, design your own PBL Scenario and Lesson.


. Background Information to engage students

2. Student Relevance

3. Scenario


Use the NJ DoEUbD template

Download at…

Or PBL template at…


  • PBL for Teachers

  • Seymour Papert: Project-Based Learning. Inside a state juvenile correctional facility

  • Project Based Learning from Educational Leadership

  • Global Perspectives -


  • Exploring the Environment


  • Project InSTEP Teacher Instructional Designs


  • PBL Essentials


  • PBL in Math


  • PBL Clearinghouse


  • Project and Problem Based Learning


Project Based Learning site for students to practice skills

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