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NAPLeS Webinar: Problem-based Learning

I participated a webinar in Naples on 4th, February, and the theme is ‘problem-based learning’ by Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver. PBL, as one of my interesting topic, I have learned and experienced some details before, but it is merely on the surface level. Therefore, I expect to obtain more knowledge about PBL in this time. And the fact is through reading the articles and joining the webinar, I acquire the benefits as expected.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is ‘an instructional (and curricular) learner-centered approach that empowers learners to conduct research, integrate theory and practice, and apply knowledge and skills to develop a viable solution to a defined problem’ (Savery, 2006, p12). There are two key factors in PBL: one is the ill-structured problems, the other one is tutor. The ill-structured problems are complicated and open-ended problems which cannot be solved by the single answer, they ask learners to think about the alternatives and provide the reasonable arguments to support their solution. The tutor is the facilitator who guides learners in the learning process, stimulate them to make deeper thinking, scaffold learners learning through modeling, coaching, and fading back his support finally, thus form a cognitive apprenticeship (Savery, 2006, Hmelo-Silver & Barrows, 2006). Besides ill-structured problems and the tutor, the small and collaborative groups and structured whiteboard are also the important features in the PBL (PowerPoint by Hmelo-Silver, 2014).

According to Hmelo-Silver’s lecture, the goal of PBL is to help students develop:

• Flexible knowledge
• Effective problem-solving skills
• Self-directed learning skills
• Effective collaboration skills
• Intrinsic motivation

Through the PBL, the students can (1) engage in the problem with their current domain knowledge, seek related information, have awareness of knowledge limitation, and learn more in the process. (2) identify the problem and set hypotheses, and integrate the metacognitive knowledge and appropriate strategies to solve the problem effectively. (3) be clear about what they do and do not understand, set proper learning goal, make a viable plan, assess the results correctly, and reflect their achievements. (4) share the information with members, discuss and negotiate with each other, exchange and acknowledge the important ideas, and get agreement. (5) be interested in the problem, prefer to investing more effort and time to engage in the challenges (Savery, 2006).

There are some strategies can be used when the teachers apply PBL in practice: (a) build on students discourse. It provides students to present ideas and viewpoints on the basis of their knowledge and information, which can activate them to negotiate and argue various opinions. (b) push for explanation. It helps students to create the casual models, make knowledge public and open for discussion, and make students realize their limitation of knowledge. (c) revoicing. It can clarify ideas and make other students clearly about the discussing contents, and remind the ideas as important in order to affect direction of discussion. (d) summarizing. It gives quiet students opportunities to participate, helps students to synthesize ideas, exposes facts which students considered as important, and keep the learning process on track. (e) generate/evaluate hypotheses. It helps students to focus their inquiry, examine fit between hypotheses and accumulating evidence, and become aware of their limitation of knowledge. (f) encourage construction of visual representation. It makes students construct integrated structure of knowledge and information so as to connect mechanism to observable effects (Hmelo-Silver & Barrows, 2006; PowerPoint by Hmelo-Silver, 2014).

This webinar does not only help me have a deep understanding of PBL, but also encourage me to apply this instructional approach in the elementary education. However, on the basis of PBL mechanism, I feel that not all of the disciplines in the elementary education are suitable to adopt this approach or get the achievement as PBL expected. Therefore, how to apply PBL in the elementary education should be one of the main topics in the PBL field.

Savery, J. R. (2006). Overview of problem-based learning: Definitions and distinctions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1 (1).

Hmelo-Silver, Cindy E., & Barrows, H. S. (2006). Goals and strategies of a problem-based learning facilitator. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1 (1).

PowerPoint by Hmelo-Silver, Cindy E. (2014)

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