Tag Archives: Problem based learning

When A PBL Blows Up In Your Face…

Take a look at the last post about the concepts involved in image advertising. In that, I discussed the struggle I have had explaining the most basic of concepts to my students. I chalked it up to the fact that this was the very first time that any of these kids had any exposure to this information. Teaching media is not like teaching math. I am not building on 8-11 years of math instruction. Don’t get me wrong. I am sure that my colleagues in the Math Department feel the same frustration at times. It’s just that I can imagine them being able to break down a new concept to the point where a student says, “Oh yeah…I’ve learned that.” Even if it means going all the way back to addition and subtraction. Hey, it’s a starting point…

But this Problem Based Learning exercise has been a disaster. I don’t understand it. Not only am I running it the exact same way I have for years, I have added a great deal of new information for students to put in their “Know” column. Their “Need to Know” columns have very little potential anymore. Maybe that’s the problem. Or maybe, just maybe, the problem is theirs and theirs alone.

On looking around the classroom today, here is what is going on. The group directly in front of me is discussing the merits of saying “Mother-sucker” as opposed to the other, more traditional way, of using mother-(insert favorite expletive here) and whether or not they can get in trouble for it. My answer, “No.” I pick my battles and that isn’t one of them since they never used the actual “F” derivative.

A group of boys are exploring their fascination with wadded-up paper and the garbage can across the room. I find it odd that kids who never seem to have paper for assignments always seem to have paper for this little exercise.

Two other boys are engaged in a little game of slap-and-tickle. I don’t know what else to call it. They basically just chase each other around the room giggling and touching each other. Tag? Nope. Slap-and-tickle.

In the back of the room, two girls are exploring the exciting and lucrative career of cosmetology. They’re doing each others hair. But hey, we need salon workers as much as we need french-fry chefs and oil-changers and, probably, way more than we need more advertising agents.

Two other groups are hard at work on their culminating presentation and, from here, it looks like they are doing it right.

So, you might fairly ask, where is the classroom management? Good question. Part of the PBL make-up is that “teachers take on the role of facilitator.” I was facilitating. I was facilitating my butt off. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t put a stop to extra-curricular activities. It means that I just let my wayward charges go on for a little while and then casually walked up to the offenders and asked them, “What are you doing?” When they told me the truth I asked them, “What are you supposed to be doing?” They usually just get right back to work when they realize that I’m paying attention.

Today I did their assignment. I gave a presentation that I had made up with all the elements that they are supposed to add to their own. I then called for questions and told them, “If your presentation doesn’t even remotely resemble mine, please raise your hands.” 90% of the hands in class shot up. We are three and a half weeks into a two week assignment and I just told them all to re-do it. Fun.


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