Home Good Teaching PBL Planning: Begin with the End in Mind

PBL Planning: Begin with the End in Mind

by Miguel Guhlin
jigsaw puzzle

“The Superintendent just called. The marquee in front of the football stadium hasn’t been connected yet.” I stared at the phone in my hand in disbelief.

When my team got together, I reviewed the facts of the situation with them. “There’s a big game tonight and the Superintendent really wants to see that marquee operational. When we spoke earlier, I had the impression the job had been finished last week.”

“Apparently,” quipped one technician, “it’s not.”

“Thanks a lot, Captain Obvious,” muttered the network engineer responsible for the job.

Dialogue-rich scenarios like this one, whether in text, image, or video format, are often sufficient to engage adults or K-12 learners in solving a problem. For adults, the focus may be on generating problem-solving strategies, while for students, the goal may be to achieve an instructional objective.

For example, in a recent lesson connected to the 5E + Technology Model, I referred to this past Christmas controversy surrounding hoverboards.

KSAT 12, a San Antonio news station, has contacted the school and asked us to investigate exploding hoverboards. What they are asking is, simply speaking, “How do hoverboards work and are they are safe?”

The length of the scenario determines the scope of the curriculum and goals to be addressed. In the scenario above for hoverboards, the relevant TEKS include:

4.6(A) Differentiate among forms of energy, including mechanical, sound, electrical, light, and heat/thermal.

4.6(B) Differentiate between conductors and insulators.

4.6(C) Demonstrate that electricity travels in a closed path, creating an electrical circuit, and explore an electromagnetic field.

4.6(D) Design an experiment to test the effect of force on an object such as a push or a pull, gravity, friction, or magnetism.

Problem-based learning (PBL), often labelled project-based learning, relies on real-life problems modeled after a contemporary or historical case to engage students as they pursue specified learning outcomes that are in line with academic standards or course objectives (Stepien & Pyke, 1997). Learners work through the problem as a stakeholder.

The teacher, or professional learning leader, acts as a guide/advisor as students explore the issues involved, formulate questions, conduct research, and consider possible solutions to the problems. An critical component for PBL planners is to reflect on questions like the following:

  • What did we really want them to learn?
  • Why was it important that they learn this?
  • What problems or issues would they be able to resolve with the information?
  • What process, if any, do we want them to follow? Was that process governed by policy? Which ones in particular?


These questions help us to first map out what we want students to learn and thus craft a problem that reflects that and aligns to learning objectives. Keep these questions in mind when crafting your next PBL unit.

Join the ongoing TCEA Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) SkypeChat via your mobile device or online. Explore and share concepts at the intersection of teaching, learning, leading, and technology!

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