A Case Study of Problem-Based Learning in a Middle School Science Class: Lessons Learned

A Case Study of Problem-Based Learning in a Middle School Science Class- Lessons LearnedA Case Study of Problem-Based Learning in a Middle School Science Class: Lessons Learned

Alice Gertzman and Janet L. Kolodner EduTech Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, GA 30332-0280 {aliceg,jlk}@cc.gatech.edu

Abstract: Research on teacher thinking within a constructivist framework emphasizes the relationship between teacher beliefs about teaching and learning and effective classroom practices. A project sponsored by the EduTech Institute at Georgia Tech provides training and support to middle-school teachers using problem-based learning (PBL) in their science and math classes, seeking also to enhance the role of technology in learning. This report of an ethnographic case study in one 8th-grade science class discusses some of the specific difficulties encountered in implementing PBL and identifies coping strategies improvised by teacher and students in adapting to the unfamiliar roles and expectations of the PBL approach. Classroom observation and interviews with the teacher reveal the importance not only of training teachers in the appropriate classroom techniques but also of providing ongoing support as they develop expertise in using PBL and acquire deeper understanding and acceptance of the philosophy underlying the new approach. Reflection infuses the teaching and learning processes, encouraging all participants to re-view both content knowledge and knowledge about learning. Such reflection must be supported as teachers are learning new classroom practices.

Introduction

In winter, 1995, in response to the wishes of our primary funders and to numerous reports about the low quality of science and math education in this country, the EduTech Institute embarked on a project to enhance middle school science, math, and technology education. We formed a partnership with nine teachers from three local schools and with science and engineering faculty at Georgia Tech. Faculty at Tech provide expertise in science, math, and technology; teachers provide expertise on students, the curriculum, teaching, and the classroom; and EduTech provides expertise in the cognition of learning and problem solving, models of educational practice, software design and development, and assessment. Our goals were to help students learn science and math more deeply and effectively, to help students understand the roles science and math play in the world, and to encourage more students to go into science and engineering careers.

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