Research into PrBL
Background and Need, Rationale, etc.
The California Department of Education reports that 42.97%, or less than half of all 6th graders in the district of this study are not meeting mathematical standards. This data demonstrates that there is room for improvement. Such low numbers were very alarming, not only for policy makers, but educators alike, as clearly traditional teaching methods were not working. The need for thorough, relevant, instruction was essential, and PrBL/PBL was the forefront of many research topics.
Additionally, 21st Century skills, as well as PrBL/PBL methods, are being emphasized in the district. The district’s website professes, The old classroom model – teacher-centered, one-way, one-size-fits-all – makes no sense to young people who have grown up in a digital world. Instruction must enable students to take ownership of their own learning, use technology to enhance learning, and ensure that student are active participants and ENGAGED in personalized educational experiences. (“Mission Statement”, 2017)
As noted in one study, one of the fundamental beginning demands is that the problem, or the question, of the PBL design needs to be rigorous and engaging to the learner. The researchers (Hung, 2016)) employed a method termed 3C3R. The 3C3R methodology refers to that the core components of PBL be: content, context and connection, while the R’s represent : research, reasoning and finally reflection. While this study focused on medical students, the 3C3R model is applicable to all ages and level of learners. Overwhelmingly, the data supported the 3C3R method over traditional learning 76.2% to 40.8%, data which represents the proficiency by which the students were measured. It is also important that the overall quality of the PrBL be rich and meaningful to the students. Real-life problems need to be developed and created in such a way that students relate to it on a psychological and fundamental level. Therefore, it is important that the problem not only be applicable to daily life, but that it be meaningful to the students in a way that strengthens understanding. But as was concluded from the study, the question of how to create a cognitively complex PBL is a never-ending process. The end result of the study was that further research must continue into how to keep PBL meaningful.
PrBL also gives educators the opportunity to use a variety of modes for assessment. PrBL allows teachers the freedom to assess students learning throughout the process rather than only at the end. “PBL assessment involves a variety of methods and modes.” (Yeo, 2005) While this might be a less straightforward approach, it does afford teachers the ability to assess students learning during the PBL journey. As noted in the study, the PBL facilitator serves a resource guide, rather than an instructor.
One of the first actions is to make sure to identify any measurable assets to collaborative learning. It is important to fully understand and apply these skills to daily instruction in the classroom. “PBL is an instructional method that encourages students to obtain and apply content knowledge as well as to develop critical thinking…” (Akcay, 2017). This particular qualitative study noted that students had greater ownership of their learning and encouraged them to use those newfound skills in real world applications. The results were such that students began to take greater interest in their learning, because they viewed themselves as an active participant rather than a mere spectator.
A study (Karacelli, & Korur, 2017) investigated the effects of PBL on students academic achievement, and overall retention of knowledge. In the study, a group was taught a science lesson using a quasi-experimental design of pre/post test and treatment with a control group of students. In the experimental group, a problem based learning activity was the treatment. Several different learning assessments were used on both groups of students. The results determined that there was a statistically significant effect in academic achievement. The findings indicated that the students in the control group were able to construct their own learning methods and change their learning behavior as needed. For these students, PBL lead to better retention of learning and overall academic achievement over their peers who learned in what was considered a traditional method.
Studies (Craft, & Capraro, 2017) from Texas A&M University concur with earlier findings that increasing rigor in the classroom via PBL methodology is important to students’ academic engagement. This quasi- experimental design focused on STEM PBL in two mathematics classrooms. One classroom was taught a math lesson, in what is considered a more traditional method of teacher centered instruction. The second classroom was taught the same lesson using STEM-PBL methods. The results found that students who received the STEM-PBL instruction, had increased academic engagement from the relevance and rigor provided through the instructional methodology . The researchers were able to note their growth through instruction in what is considered traditional teaching methods, versus a classroom using STEM-PBL as it’s primary source of instruction. It should be noted that STEM education has become increasingly popular in education, as the need for labor in the job market to be not only collaborative, but problem-solvers as well.
A similar study (Tseng, Chang, Lou, & Chen, 2013) shows that there is a link between students applying their knowledge of real world situations and continued academic rigor. Academic rigor was defined as the continuing pursuit of learning and mastering science and engineering standards. Using qualitative surveys, the researchers were able to determine students attitudes towards STEM as a learning tool. However, this study was limited in the number of students surveyed, as the research was limited to 30 freshmen. Results indicated that students who experienced PBL type learning, had higher overall critical thinking skills, than their peers who only experienced lecture based instruction. PBL students continued to show that improvement in test scores two years later.
In previous years, most studies focused their attention at the secondary level, many new studies are being completed on the effectiveness of PBL in the elementary and middle school levels. One study (Merritt, Lee, Rillero & Kinach, 2017) in particular focused its attention on K-8 students who were being instructed in the PBL method in science and math. The research examined past studies to analyze the commonalities among PBL- related studies. The results were that, even though many researchers use differing definition of what exactly PBL is, the results are the same; PBL increases academic achievement, vocabulary, conceptual development and overall attitude.
As one of the foremost researchers in quantitative data, John Hattie (2009), suggests teachers move from the mentality that anything goes in the classroom, to being more purposeful in their teaching. That is, why not use data to drive instruction? In his ongoing study, Hattie focused on educational influences on student achievement. He studied student, home school, teacher, curriculum and other influential areas. He let the data speak for itself, using his results, he argued that teachers should not focus their attention on any factor less than 0.4, or in other words, anything outside the zone of desired effect. “Visible teaching and learning occurs when learning is the explicit goal, when it is appropriately challenging…” (p. 51) This is important to the research of PrBL/PBl learning, as it forces teachers to be purposeful in their teaching, and especially in their feedback to students.