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Getting Started with Problem-based Learning. A presentation deck for training educators on the Project MASH problem-based learning process. 90-minute version. Get your creative juices flowing with a quick activity and conversation

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Getting Started with

Problem-based Learning

A presentation deck for training educators on the Project MASH problem-based learning process

90-minute version


Get your creative juices flowing

with a quick activity and conversation

What would you like to improve in your classroom right now? Write or draw your response and pin it to the front of the room.

Then, interview your neighbor. What did they have to say? Why? Take notes; you’ll need these later.

today s explorations
Today’s explorations
  • Gain an understanding of problem-based learning.
  • Experience Problem-based Learning first-hand with “What’s the Problem?” an activity from Project MASH.
  • Discuss how you can use this activity (and other problem-based learningactivities)in your classroom

Problem-based learning gives students the opportunity to identify and examine a real problem, then work together to address the problem by mobilizing resources and advocating for a cause.


Problem-based learning provides a clear process (as well as the tools and resources necessary) for introducing meaningful project-based learning.


Problem-based learning is interdisciplinary. Students find natural connections between subject areas, similar to real world work experiences.


Problem-based learning builds student agency, independence, and persistence through a student-driven process of real world problem solving.


Problem-based learning is civicallycharged. By taking on local issues, students have opportunities to raise their voices, get involved, and positively impact the larger community.


Problem-based learning is one of several teaching strategies that inform the educational content and experiences available on Project MASH, a social network for learning.


Project MASH is a social network for educators, students, and the organizations that serve them.

On Project MASH you’ll find student activities and projects that rely on problem-based learning—or citizen science and other unique teaching strategies. Project MASH also includes professional development resources and support.


Today’s goal

To develop a hypothesis for why a problem is occurring in your classroom, then conduct field studies to prove or disprove it.To do so, we’ll borrow from a learning activity on Project MASH:

What’s the Problem?

A Problem-based Learning Activity from Project MASH



  • Brainstorm


  • 2 minutes
  • With your team, revisit the opening discussion note wall.
  • Based on that initial brainstorm, identify one specificproblem to focus on.




  • Define


  • 2 minutes


  • Write a hypothesis based on your initial brainstorm. A hypothesis should give a reason why your specific problem is happening in one short sentence.

Example hypotheses

  • Students would exercise more if we had safe walking trails in our community. (Problem: Students are inactive.)
  • School lunch is “gross” because our school has a small budget, limiting purchasing choices. (Problem: School lunch is unappetizing.)
  • People only recycle when it’s convenient; providing more ways to recycle would reduce un-recycled waste. (Problem: The school community is throwing away recyclables.)

Field studies



  • 40 minutes
  • Test your hypothesis.Try the following:
    • Conduct online research
    • Investigateother teachers’ classroomsor spaces in & out of school
    • Interview or survey students regarding your hypothesis; Interview staff or parents
    • Others? You decide!



Project Share


5 minutes

  • In teams, give an overview of:
    • Your problem & hypothesis
    • Your field studies: What did you collect?
    • Did you prove or disprove your hypothesis?
    • What next steps might be involved? What could you (or your students) do with this?

Reflection & Discussion


30 minutes

  • How else might you use the "What's the Problem" activity?
  • What skills and content did you cover today? If adapted to your subject area, what skills orcontent could you cover using this approach?
  • What role does technology play? How is this role distinct from the simple notion of “technology integration”?

Common Core Connections


10 minutes

  • List one standard and describe how today’s activity met a targeted skill.
  • How did today’s activity meet the content goals for one standard?

Consider how the What’s the Problem activity connects to the Common Core State Standards for skills or knowledge acquisition.


Want more?

Visit Project MASH for tool kits and resources that align to problem-based learning and these other teaching strategies, including design thinking, citizen science, making & tinkering, and more.


On Project MASH you’ll also discover activities and projects that incorporate problem-based learning and other unique approaches to teaching and learning.

What’s the Problem?

Ask: The Art of Conversation

Convince Me!