Home' Teacher : March 2011 Contents CURRICULUM & ASSESSMENT 23
information along the way if they're to suc-
cessfully solve it.
The problem can appear to be quite sim-
ple. When I first introduced problem-based
learning into my classes on human biology,
having taught about the various body sys-
tems for almost 10 years, I used the sim-
ple question: How does a cell in your big
toe stay alive? My hypothesis was that this
question would stimulate my students to
think about fundamentals like the require-
ments of a cell in your big toe and how these
requirements get to the cell.
Problem-based learning gives students
ownership of the learning because they
themselves design the learning activities
they'll need to carry out to solve the prob-
lem. That's why it has to be a real problem.
It has to be something in which your stu-
dents are interested and want to solve.
Students in the class need to be split into
small groups. The ideal group size is prob-
ably three or four students. This size allows
each member to voice opinions and contrib-
ute to the group. Students can be grouped
in numerous ways, but remember you, the
teacher, know you r students best, so the
way you group is really up to you. It's worth
knowing that research suggests groups
selected with members of the same aca-
demic abilities or of diverse academic abili-
ties can both work, in an effective learning
environment -- more on this shortly.
Presenting the problem
The problem needs to be presented to the
students in a stimulating manner, preferably
one that provokes a response. You might
present the problem as a short scenario or
by drawing on a journal article.
With groups established and the problem
presented, you need to create an environment
where your students can learn effectively.
Effective learning environments and the
role of the teacher
The teacher in an effective problem-based
learning environment needs to act as a facili-
tator, be a role model, model questioning
and support and encourage the students.
This is probably slightly more important in
problem-based learning than normal teach-
ing because the students may be unsure of
themselves when presented with a novel and
challenging way of learning.
Your role is to encourage your students
to develop thinking skills and to direct their
thinking, which is not the same as provid-
ing them with the knowledge to solve the
problem, but more to do with scaffolding
You can model questioning by asking
types of questions that will lead to a greater
u nderstanding of the problem. Robin
Fogarty, in Proble m-Based Learning, sug-
gests students create a KND chart or list
where they write down:
what they know
what they need to know, and
what they don't know.
By showing you r students the types of
questions they need to ask in order to begin
solving their problem you can build their
confidence to become more independent and
Your role is also to model thinking. This
is as simple as thinking aloud to demon-
strate behaviour to do with evaluating, gen-
eralising, hypothesising, synthesising and
analysing. Your role, further, is to model
reflective thinking, to encourage you r stu-
dents to reflect on their learning methods as
well as the content they've learnt.
There's a useful model developed by
Hildebrand, Mulcahy and Wilks for teachers
which incorporates problem-based learning
theory, which involves three phases:
Phase 1: encountering the problem
Phase 2: 'doing it' and
Phase 3: drawing it together.
The first phase, encountering the prob-
lem, requires students to brainstorm the
problem using concept maps and mind
maps. Here, students should develop a
series of questions that will help them find
out what they already know and what they
need to know. In the second phase the stu-
dents move into researching the problem
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