Home' Teacher : March 2011 Contents 24 TEACHER MARCH 2011
and trying to collect information they need
to solve the problem. Finally students sort
through the information gathered and dis-
cuss with their group the outcomes and pos-
sible solutions to the problem. This is an
ideal framework for teachers to use as they
begin implementing problem-based learning
into their teaching and learning with their
students, as the students will need much
guidance. As the students become experi-
enced with problem-based learning, they
should be able to independently determine
the direction they take and be less reliant on
such a framework.
Two sample problems for the
Melbourne-based swimmers Shane Asbury
and Sam Sheppard currently hold second
and third spot respectively in the world 800
meter freestyle rankings: Asbury swam eight
minutes, 16.31 seconds to beat Sheppard
by 0.66 of a second at the 2011 Victorian
Open State Championships in January. Both
swimmers eat plenty of pasta before they
This question makes the students begin
to think about what's in pasta, how the
things that are in pasta are broken down
by the body into nutrients and how these
nutrients then make their way into a cell.
In essence this problem is teaching the stu-
dents about the digestive and circulatory
systems. Rather than the teacher standing
up the front of the classroom and explaining
each organ involved in the digestive system,
students are required to think and find out
about each organ themselves.
Maurice Rioli, a Richmond Football Club
player and, later, Northern Territory parlia-
mentarian, died of a suspected heart attack.
Is it possible that heart attack was the cause
This question makes the students find out
what causes a heart attack, and the risk fac-
tors. Then they need to find out what hap-
pens to the heart to cause a heart attack.
Then they can specifically look at Maurice
Rioli and see if he had any of the risk factors
that contribute to a heart attack.
Students who completed problems such as
these clearly developed an in-depth under-
standing of the material they had covered.
They felt confident to stand up and present in
front of the class, knowing that they'd evalu-
ated, generalised, hypothesised, synthesised
and analysed appropriate information and
understood the problem and their solution.
Feedback from students indicates that many
clearly recognise the benefits of problem-
based learning and realise that this type of
independent learning and problem solving
will be necessary once they leave school.
Consider these comments from students
'(Problem-based learning) enabled us to
interact with other students and at the same
time learn mainly through discussion.'
'I found it effective because we had to
go out and search for information ourselves
instead of just copying it from the board and
'It was good to get all the information
yourself; it made you learn more.'
'You get to learn how to work as a group
and share ideas.'
'I found myself asking more questions of
my peers because that's basically how you
have to learn.'
Similarly, colleagues have found this
method of teaching extremely beneficial,
observing changes in the way students think
and in the way they comprehend complex
If you and your colleagues want to
develop and implement problem-based
learning appropriate to your students needs
it's best to do it gradually in order for teach-
ers and students to get used to the new style
of teaching and learning involved.
It's vital that you guide your students
through the nascent stages of problem-based
learning, when both you and your students
are learning a new technique. You should
also encourage your students to document
their progress through the problem-based
learning activity, so that they can reflect on
how they tackled the problem and consider
what they might do differently in a second
attempt at such an activity. You should also
collect information about your students'
reaction to problem-based learning in order
to identify the impact of the approach on
Problem solving is obviously one of the
key skills students develop when complet-
ing work in a problem-based learning envi-
ronment, but it's best taught in conjunction
with traditional methods. Some students
enjoy the approach, while others prefer to be
taught by traditional methods, and remem-
ber there are key skills that students acquire
from traditional learning, such as developing
recall, silent study and repetitive practice.
Caroline Cotton is the principal of Cotton
Educational Consulting and an educa-
tor, author and lecturer. She has taught
che mistry, biology and science for 10 years
in secondary schools throughout Victoria
and still lectures and tutors students across
Fogarty, R. (1997). Problem-Based
Learning: Other curriculum models for the
multiple intelligences classroom. Melbourne:
Hawker Brownlow Educ ation.
Hildebrand, G. , Mulc ahy, D. & Wilks, S.
(2001). Learning to teach through PBL:
Process and progress. Au stralian Teacher
Education Association Conference: Teacher
Educ ation, Change of Heart, Mind and
Action . Melbourne, (24-26 September).
Rhem, J. (1998). Proble m-based lear ning:
An introduction. The National Teaching
and Learning Forum. 8(1). Available at
Schneider, R.M. , Krajcik, J. , Marx, R.W.
& Soloway, E. (2002). Perform ance of stu -
de nts in project-based science classrooms
on a nation al measure of science achieve-
ment. Journal of Research in Science
Teaching. 39(5): 410 -22.
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