PBL Challenge Design Guide

Over the past six years, NEBHE’s PBL Projects team has provided professional development in the use of the PBL Challenges to hundreds of STEM educators across the country. But teaching teachers to use existing PBL Challenges provides limited opportunities for students to engage in real-world problem solving, thus reducing the enormous potential to develop the critical thinking and problem solving skills that are desperately needed in the 21st century workplace.

To help teachers move beyond the use of pre-packaged PBL curriculum materials, one of the goals of the PBL Projects is to teach teachers how to create their own PBL Challenges customized to address the specific needs of their own students. Building on the knowledge and experiences gained in creating the PHOTON PBL, STEM PBL and AM PBL Challenges, Co-PIs Massa and Donnelly created a “PBL Challenge Design Guide,” focused on helping teachers identify “good” PBL problems and a template for producing a PBL Challenge that aligns with their specific learning outcomes and assessment requirements.

The guide was initially field-tested in a graduate level Technology and Engineering Education (TEE) course in PBL methods at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) during the spring of 2012 and continues to be used in this course. After completing three PHOTON and STEM PBL Challenges to introduce and acclimatize them to the PBL method, the 22 in-service high school teachers were asked to use the PBL design guide to create their own PBL Challenges. Teachers worked in teams to research and identify potential problems that would both address the learning outcome requirements for their courses and engage students in meaningful real-world problem solving.

  • One of the Challenges created involved the redesign of the I-95/I-84 interchange in Hartford, Conn., to be used as part of a transportation technology course.
  • Another team of teachers created a PBL Challenge focused on identifying methods and personal strategies for CO2 sequestration to be used in an environmental science course.
  • Another Challenge created involved developing strategies for recycling and composting school cafeteria waste for use in the school’s greenhouse garden.
  • Yet another challenged students to develop a device or strategy for rescuing dogs stranded on the thin ice of a frozen pond.

Since 2013, the PBL Projects team has conducted a number of professional development workshops aimed at teaching teachers how to develop their own PBL Challenges at schools including Boston University, CCSU, Kennebec Valley Community College. Requests for professional development resources continue to grow. See the Consulting section under the For Educators tab.

Challenges developed using the PBL Challenge Design Guide will be evaluated for consistency and added to a digital library of Challenges that will be free to use by educators across the globe.

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