The following model is iterative. That is, as students uncover new information, they no doubt will also uncover new questions. Students will have to prioritize the new questions as the deadline for their assessment approaches. Assessment may be a traditional quiz or exam. More often authentic or alternative assessment techniques using rubrics are used. This assessment could take the form of multi-media presentations, debates, papers, or concept mapping.
- Read and analyze the problem scenario. Check your understanding of the scenario by discussing it within your group. Proceed in a deliberate manner; don't be tempted to start thinking about potential solutions or to start looking for information. Your group will be more effective in addressing complex scenarios by following steps 1 through 8.
- List hypotheses, ideas or hunches. Students will usually have some theories or hypotheses about the cause of the problem or ideas about how to solve a problem. These need to be listed; they will be supported or refuted as the investigation proceeds. Students will also list many alternative conceptions that need to be addressed during this unit.
- List what is known. If needed, print a copy of the situation and move away from the computer. Make a list of everything your group knows about this situation. Begin your list with the information contained in the scenario. Add knowledge shared by other group members. Record this information under the heading: “What do we know?”
- List what is unknown. Prepare a list of questions your group thinks need to be answered to solve the problem. Record them under a second heading titled: “What do we need to know?” Several types of questions may be appropriate. Some may address concepts or principles that need to be learned in order to address the situation. Other questions may be in the form of requests for more information. These questions will guide research that may take place on the Internet/WWW, in the library, or in other out-of-class searches.
- List what needs to be done. Plan the investigation. List possible actions to be taken under the heading: “What should we do?” Such actions may include questioning an expert, getting on-line data, or visiting a library to find answers to the questions developed in step 4. Note: DO NOT go on to the next step without a clear plan for investigation—one that includes specific questions that will help focus your research.
- Develop a problem statement. A problem statement is a one or two sentence idea that clearly identifies what your group is trying to solve, produce, respond to, test, or find out. In more complex situations, you may have to begin step 7, then discuss the emerging information in order to complete step 6. Keep in mind that the problem statement may have to be revised as new information is discovered and brought to bear on the situation.
- Gather information. You and your group will gather, organize, analyze, and interpret information from multiple sources. Exchange ideas; think about solutions; weigh alternatives; and consider the pros and cons of potential courses of action. At this point, you and your group may formulate and test hypotheses concerning the problem. Some problems may not require hypotheses. Instead, a recommended solution or opinion (based on your group's research data) may be appropriate.
- Present findings. Prepare a report or presentation in which you and your group make recommendations, predictions, inferences, or other appropriate resolutions of the problem. Be prepared to support the positions you take. If appropriate, consider a multimedia presentation using images, graphics, or sound.
Note: The steps in this model may have to be completed several times. Steps three through seven may be conducted concurrently as new information becomes available. As more information is gathered, the problem statement may be refined or altered.
For more information on using PBL in the classroom, try these links:
Illinois Math and Science Academy
University of Delaware PBL Site
McMasters University Problem-Based Learning
Samford University Center for Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship: Problem-Based Learning