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Problem based learning approach or the PBL involves the pupils who are basically challenged for solving some genuine problems from their own discipline. It is a pedagogical tool in which the students get engaged in a problem without having any introductory knowledge about the same and they social work for solving the problem by making use of their existing knowledge as well as by applying them to the very situation for reaching a specific solution. As stated by Peyrefitte and Lazar (2018), PBL is the most ideal way of applying the theoretical knowledge of the students in authentic manner. It is often been used by the students for developing their experience in problem solving process instead of just simply seeking a correct solution for the same. This paper is going to focus on the importance and effectiveness of this approach on the primary school students. It is going shed light on the how problem based approach enhances the engagement of the primary school students and that too, to what extent.
It is to note that PBL is often regarded to be a flexible approach which could be applied in most of the disciplines, right from the partially concentrated to the much more theoretical ones. This approach is also known to work well as an action or an activity for the students but is particularly much more effective if it is used in groups as because of the fact that it encourages the pupils in developing their team-working and creativity along with the influencing interpersonal skill.
It is to mention that PBL is underpinned by the learning theories of constructivism and the situational learning theory. With the same, it is also very strongly influenced by the ideas that are espoused by the theorist named Dewey where ‘learning by doing’ features (Philips, 2017). It basically follows the very natural process of learning by making the learners engaged in a specific problem which is required to be solved. As the problem is been encountered by them, the students or the learners could then acquire a much greater skills and knowledge as they then seek some possible solution regarding the very problem as well as its context. Therefore, it is said that learning has meaning beyond the classroom as the students there are equipped with all the critical skills that are necessary for functioning more efficiently in the world. By undertaking the PBL projects, the students in the primary school setting develop some real world skills right since their yearly years. These real world skills include the skill of solving complex problems, analysing skills, thinking skills and the skill of evaluating the information and communicating in effective manner. Importance of PBL in the primary school students could be related back to the skills that are necessary by the workforce of this 21st century. As per Kohnen and Saul (2018), teachers are required to help these students in successfully navigating such rapid changing professional and social context by equipping them with the skills of 21st century.
Moreover, the concept of action learning also have an influence on the development of the Problem based learning approach. From the perspective of action learning, people learn the most effective way of working on a real life problems and issues and that too in a typically, local context. Notwithstanding this fact, it is also to state that this aspect is changing with the change in the advent of the global and the internet communities. However, this approach is getting much interest from the parts of teachers in the recent years in Australian society as well as in other several parts of the world. This is due to the fact that the teachers always strive to engage the learners in some sort of authentic activities and PBL is the best means to do so effectively. As per Shernoff et al. (2017), PBL could also be applied in integrating the cross curriculum priorities as well as to include learning in the subjects like writing and reading, science and mathematics, which are very essential to learn by the primary school pupils so as to achieve a good knowledge on the same so as to excel their upcoming future academic years. For this reason, PBL involves teaching the curriculum by means of a project. PBL offers an ideal platform for the students for introducing their expertise and knowledge from the people other than that of their institutions. For instance, outside experts in the problem domain could be available for the pupils to question and provide feedback on the ideas, or for giving first hand insight into the very problem. Similarly, the potential users and the other beneficiaries of the solution can be made available in the same for providing their own perspective on the issue as well as the pupils’ work.
However, the very first stage in this approach is a significant entry event which encourages the primary school pupil to develop a driving question. A driving question enables teachers and students to explore and attempt to address a particular area of interest. A major event could taking students to a part of the community which forms part of the project they are undertaking. One example from research being undertaken by one of the authors is where students undertaking a community PBL project focused on a riverside walk where students visited the walk to take photographs. In considering the driving question there are two essential elements: a) It should be a question that people ask in the ‘real world’ b) It should be a question that has no easy answer A good driving question elicits a desire to learn in students and should have some meaningful connection with the students’ interests. It can also be led by the students as learners are engaged in making the decisions about what area they would like to investigate as well as how they would explore it. An example from a research project carried out by the authors is with a grade three class where the focus was on the school garden and students’ driving questions were about how to develop and maintain the garden. In this example, students were able to go on a tour around the school to explore and decide on a location for the garden. They were then able to construct a proposal for a garden that would best suit the location and the purpose for the garden. As teachers seek to implement PBL, it is important that they scaffold learning according to students’ ages. Young students need to have a great deal of input and teachers should set a focus area in which students can develop their driving questions. Scaffolded instruction is regarded as a key to the successful implementation of PBL (Bell, 2012). With younger students, teachers may need to include organisers that help students on track and allows tasks to be manageable and achievable. Scaffolding learning also follows the sociocultural business model where the scaffold enables students to attain a higher level of cognitive growth that they cannot achieve on their own. Teachers can also remove these scaffolds when the learner gains the necessary skills and competency to complete the different activities. Such an approach can generate confident learners (Bell, 2012). In developing the driving question, the students should be encouraged to include the use of community members to help them. In doing so, the students, teachers, and community members engage in collaborative activities (Krajcik, Czerniak & Berger, 2012). The second stage of PBL is where students build knowledge, understanding and skills to answer their driving question. During this stage students develop and revise their product through answering their driving questions. Importantly, in this stage students should put the product into use and assess its effectiveness through gathering data. It is important that students have opportunities to develop multiple drafts/revisions of their product. Assessment and feedback from teachers/self/peers is important at this stage and helps to shape the process and the final product. PBL is considered to be most effective when regular opportunities for assessment are provided in addition to reflection and reminder of project benchmarks (Barron & DarlingHammond, 2017). Regular assessment and feedback allows teachers to meet the particular needs of target students and groups. It also enables learners to value the learning process rather than just focusing the final product. In conducting PBL, teachers therefore need to give students frequent opportunities to review and revise their project so they can support students’ success. “Educators need to develop valid assessment approaches for process oriented education that are consistent with the needs of 21st-century learners and the assessment of 21st-century skills” (Lee, Blackwell, Drake & Moran, 2014). Assessment from the teacher is an important part in helping students develop skills and knowledge and can include learning products like portfolios, rubrics, performance assessment, written journals, weekly reports and whole class discussion (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Assessment plays a significant role in enhancing learning through informing instruction and cultivating student reflection. As a result, teachers approach assessment both as a means for learning and to observe learning. Such practices form an integral part of assessments practices in many primary schools. What sets out PBL as being different in terms of assessment is that authentic assessment should feature given the real-life nature of the projects. Self-assessment is important as it gives students an opportunity to critically reflect on their performance and the projects they produce. It is “defined as a process by which students 1) monitor and evaluate the quality of their thinking and behavior when learning and 2) identify strategies that improve their understanding and skills” (McMillan & Hearn, 2018).
Other ways that students can be supported to critically self-assess include the use of student-led conferences with teachers, the use of graphic organisers and target setting. Importantly for PBL, the quality of the focus question that students develop will impact on how well they can self-assess. The conferences that take place within the project’s stages have a much more significant impact than providing feedback after the project is completed.
The final stage of the PBL structure is the conclusion where students have the opportunity to present their project to the learning community which can include their peers, teachers, family members and community members. At this point students can “continue to learn through other students by seeing how others approached the problem and from feedback and questions they receive from the audience” (English & Kitsantas, 2013). It is recommended that showcasing student work through presentations, portfolios and exhibitions that are opened for the broader community is an effective way to validate the PBL process (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Providing students with a real life audience and context for their work affirms their understanding that their work has a much broader applications and is also relevant to the current concerns and needs. This approach was taken by a year 4 class, which held a film festival to showcase the films produced from the PBL projects undertaken that term.
Hence, from the above analysis it is to be concluded that PBL is very effective in enhancing the student engagement in the primary school settings. It involves teaching the curriculum to these students by means of projects and this develop a sense of interest among the students and hence, they get engaged in solving the problems by seeking for solutions. With the same, it is also to note that PBL offers an ideal platform for the students for introducing their expertise and knowledge from the people other than that of their institutions.
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