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How Kids Learn: Problem-based Learning

kidsPBL_editWhat is Problem-Based Learning?

Problem-based learning (PBL) is not a new mode of instruction. Plato and Socrates required that their students think, retrieve information for themselves, search for new ideas and debate them in a scholarly environment. These are the key steps of the PBL approach, which places students at the centre of the learning process. However, PBL as it is applied today has been around since the late 1960s, when it was adopted as a pedagogical approach at McMaster University, a Canadian medical school.


How does it work?

In PBL, Students work in small groups to investigate and analyze problems and scenarios. The key steps of the PBL approach can be usually described as follows:

  1. A group member presents and reads out the problem, while another member notes down which are the FACTS as identified by the group.
  2. Students discuss what is known – the FACTS
  3. Students discuss what they think and identify the broad problem that needs to be solved – this is the brainstorming stage, and they will formulate their ideas and hypotheses.
  4. Students identify their learning needs – What must they learn or find out in order to test out their ideas?
  5. Students share their research findings with their peers, and then go back to steps 2-4 until the project is completed.

Why is PBL useful?
The power and effectiveness of PBL is in enabling students to become familiar with the process of inquiry and reasoning. These are skills which will suit them well not just in academic work but in various aspects of their lives. In addition, PBL – when applied in a group setting, teaches students to share what they know with others, to fill the gaps in their own knowledge with insights and ideas that are generated as a group, and very importantly, to learn how to identify what they need to KNOW.

PBL can even be applied in classrooms with very young children. In kindergartens and lower primary classes, teachers may keep the class as a large group for discussion on identifying the FACTS, discussing the problem and coming with ideas on how the problem could be solved.

In the classroom, PBL can be used in a variety of scenarios such as how to solve an environmental problem or building a hypothetical city with specific constraints and residents’ needs to be factored in. Students enjoy PBL as it enables them to be active participants in the learning process, and build knowledge and understanding through the exchange of ideas and discussion with their peers.

What are your thoughts on Problem-Based Learning? Do share your views with us.

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