A. Grace Martin

Author, Student Teacher, Optimist and Promoter of Self-Empowerment


PBL: organization, engagement, questions, feedback, and choice

Posted by agracemartin on August 12, 2015 at 9:35 PM

My Problem Solving with Communications Technology instructor posed the following questions, which I answer below:


  • What do you think is your greatest challenge in PBL design?
  • How will you support students in a PBL task?
  • How will you communicate with parents, administrators and colleagues about your PBL tasks? Is this even necessary?


There are many things to consider when designing a constructive Problem-Based Learning project. The greatest challenge, to me, in PBL design is organization and authentic engagement. Not only does a teacher have to make a problem or project meaningful and relevant to the students, it must be thoughtful and organized in an easy-to-follow manner with transparent outcomes (see my previous module entry “PBL in Biology” for examples of relevant and meaningful ideas as well as our readings on High Tech High projects). This requires a lot of creativity and planning from the teacher, which can be demanding on time constraints. Getting students on board with an engaging entry event can also be challenging, but there are many good ideas out there and we have the technology to access them via the Internet and our professional learning networks.



In order to support students in this process, I think that open-ended questions, specific and frequent feedback, and choice of presentation are important aspects. Open-ended questions allow for students to run with an idea and explore it to the best of their potential. In this manner, students with exceptionalities and highly academically achieving students alike can all partake in the same project topic in a way that suits their individual strengths and needs. I like the idea of driving questions from our readings, such as “how can we create…?” in a format that encourages original student thought. Detailed and timely feedback is imperative for student success as a lifelong learner. Peer and teacher feedback guide and support a student’s project. Formative assessment for learning early in the project process allows for correction of any misconceptions and informs a teacher of what other content students may need to be made aware of or clarified through direct instruction. Direct instruction can actually be a strategy of reinforcing what students are learning through the PBL process. When doing a project in the sciences or mathematics, I think that it is especially important to allow for student creativity by giving freedom of expressive presentation, and thereby differentiating the product in order to support unique student needs.



Communicating with administration may be necessary if the project grows outside of the classroom or requires additional resources. Communicating with other teachers in the school may be helpful to make cross-curricular connections to the problem or project and to gain additional ideas for planning, organization, and execution of a successful project. Verbal communication seems best with colleagues and administrators. Most importantly, parents should be aware of the project, especially if it requires time at home. Often students will not take home written notices, and phone calls may take a long time, so I think that electronic communication via e-mail, applications such as Remind, or a web-based tool would be most appropriate to communicate with parents.

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