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Lesson Title: Forever Wild and Wonderful?
Grade Level: 6
Subject: Science
Author: Lana L. Turner

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In problem-based learning the student assumes the role of an active problem solver and decision maker. Through inquiry and investigation the student develops possible solutions to a relevant problem. The teacher becomes a facilitator of learning—a cognitive coach rather than an imparter of knowledge.

Background: Throughout their four years spent at our middle school, each student is encouraged to learn more about their natural surroundings through a series of hands-on activities in our outdoor classroom. One of these activities involves learning more about our state’s native or indigenous plants and animals. An aspect of this project includes the “adoption” of a particular plant by each student for in-depth investigation—identifying the plant, observing seasonal plant variations, recording plant changes with a digital camera, and assessing the plant’s uses in the ecosystem and by man. Upon completion of their investigation, students are permitted to communicate their findings by posting them on the project’s web site called The WILD PAGE ([] West Virginia’s Indigenous Life Directory: Plants, Animals, Growth, Environment.).

Wild, wonderful West Virginia is changing. There are many places where it is neither wild nor wonderful. Civilization is taking its toll. In order to keep West Virginia wild and wonderful, we must learn to become better stewards of our natural environment.

Student Relevance: The more students learn about their surroundings, the more likely they are to become better keepers of wild, wonderful WV. Unfortunately, the very economy that feeds and clothes these students is changing their environment. Therefore, students may be conflicted by an ingrained bias and need to restructure their thinking. For example, this past Fall our students openly expressed concern over the fires that threatened the welfare of the plants that they had "adopted" from the school's adjacent outdoor lab. A “Ring of Fires” surrounding our region was reported in a series of articles in our local newspaper illustrating various “disturbed” conditions existing in our environment. From the articles, our students learned that some of these forest fires were started by underground mining debris piles that have been burning continuously for years.

Since our students are proud to be able to point to their work concerning their "adopted" plant, this PBL lesson encourages the students to further develop their work on The WILD PAGE. It allows them to post their findings and recommendations for a compatible coexistence between man and nature.


Problem-based learning begins with the introduction of an ill-structured problem. This scenario is based on desired curriculum outcomes, learner characteristics, and a compelling, problematic situation that mirrors a real-world case. The problem, on which all learning centers, is complex and requires inquiry, information gathering, and reflection. It has no fixed solution.

The Scenario: The native plants that thrive so beautifully in wild, wonderful, WV are exemplified by those found in our school’s outdoor classroom. However, these plants are becoming less prevalent in other local environments which have been disturbed by man. Your task is to compare and contrast natural and disturbed environments, to investigate and determine why there are fewer of certain plants in those locations that have been disturbed by man (for example, mining--deep and strip, logging, housing, burning, farming, highway building, etc.) and to communicate your findings and suggests ways that man can use and not abuse the environment.


National Content Standards:

Standard A: Science as Inquiry

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry

Standard C: Life Sciences

  • Populations and ecosystems

Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspective

  • Population, resources, and environments
  • Natural hazards
  • Risks and benefits
  • Science and technology in society

West Virginia Content Standards and Objectives:

  • 6.10 cooperate and collaborate to ask questions, find answers, solve problems and conduct investigations to further an appreciation and joy of scientific discovery  
  • 6.17 3,4,5,7,8,9,10 use inferential reasoning to make logical conclusions from collected data (e.g., causes and effects)
  • 6.19 3,4,5,7,8,9,10,11 develop rational thinking processes that underlie scientific approaches to problem solving by employing critical-thinking skills in applying scientific knowledge, using imagination and creativity while working individually or cooperatively (e.g., how systems work together, factors which impact the environment, ecological consequences of human interactions)
  • 6.21 engage in active inquiries, investigations, and hands-on activities for a minimum of 50% of the instructional time to develop conceptual understanding and laboratory skills  
  • 6.32 4,5 analyze the ecological consequences of human interactions with the environment (e.g., renewable and non-renewable resources) - models
  • 6.78 evaluate and critically analyze mass media reports of scientific developments and events
  • 6.79 5,7,8,10 critically analyze the effects and impacts of science and technology on global and local problems (e.g., mining, manufacturing, recycling, farming, water quality)
  • 6.81 5,7,8,10 analyze the positive and negative effects of technology on society and the influence of societal pressures on the direction of technological advances


  • 6.82 use appropriate software, audio-visual and/or multimedia materials to practice and master sixth grade instructional objectives in science
  • 6.94 identify examples of copyright law violations and possible penalties
  • 6.95 identify ethical and unethical uses of technology
  • 6.96 recognize concerns for the future as they relate to technological changes
  • 6.98 retrieve current data from a variety of electronic sources which might include the Internet, and/or software reference programs

National Educational Technology Standards for Students:

  1. Basic operations and concepts
    • Students demonstrate a sound understanding of the nature and operation of technology systems.
    • Students are proficient in the use of technology.
  2. Social, ethical, and human issues
    • Students understand the ethical, cultural, and societal issues related to technology.
    • Students practice responsible use of technology systems, information, and software.
    • Students develop positive attitudes toward technology uses that support lifelong learning, collaboration, personal pursuits, and productivity.
  3. Technology productivity tools
    • Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.
    • Students use productivity tools to collaborate in constructing technology-enhanced models, prepare publications, and produce other creative works.
  4. Technology communications tools
    • Students use telecommunications to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences.
    • Students use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences.
  5. Technology research tools
    • Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.
    • Students use technology tools to process data and report results.
    • Students evaluate and select new information resources and technological innovations based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.
  6. Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools
    • Students use technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions.
    • Students employ technology in the development of strategies for solving problems in the real world.

Problem-Based Learning Model

  • What is problem-based learning?

    Problem-based learning uses problems as a starting point for acquiring new knowledge.

  •  What does problem-based learning do?

    It promotes the development of problem-solving strategies, disciplinary knowledge, and critical thinking skills.

  • Why does problem-based learning work?

    It requires students to become inquiring, active learners who seek out information that will support their possible solutions. The learning is relevant, embedded rather than dependent upon recall, and applicable to new situations.

  • How does problem-based learning work?

The problem-based learning process consists of steps that may be conducted concurrently or be repeated. Here’s a simplified model:

  1. Read and analyze the scenario.
  2. List what is known.
  3. Develop a problem statement.
  4. List what new knowledge is needed.
  5. Develop a plan for acquiring the needed knowledge.
  6. Gather and analyze information.
  7. Develop and analyze possible recommendations, solutions, or hypotheses.
  8. Present and support the findings.

Additional information about problem-based learning is available at the following web sites:

Access additional information via either the Problem-Based Learning icon or the Facilitating, Planning, and Assessing icon.

Implementation Plan

Teacher note: All students had previously studied the undisturbed "wild" conditions of WV plants. The work at my school was done in an outdoor lab, however, any undisturbed area would be suitable as a control for this PBL lesson.

  • Present the scenario and ask the students to read and discuss the present situation with their classmates.
  • Guide the students to list and record what they know about the problem by using a KWL chart.
  • Facilitate a brainstorming session and graphically depict the contributions made by using a graphic organizer (for example, Inspiration software).
  • The class defines the scenario problem in their own words by composing a concise problem statement.
  • Present students with the assessment tools. Encourage students to provide input or editing or improving the assessment tools.
  • Involve students in establishing the time requirements, or the timetable, for completion. (The most practical times of the school year to implement this PBL lesson are in the Fall and Spring because these are the times that fires are more prevalent. The amount of time spent can vary from two to six weeks, depending upon the amount of time students need to gather their information and visit "disturbed" areas.)
  • Assess the students' technology skills and allow adequate time to instruct the students in the proper procedure and ethical use of technology and other media sources. (Students record, maintain, and store their work in an electronic format, i.e. floppy disks).
  • Have the class review the known elements of the problem, and determine what additional information is needed in order to make an informed recommendation. Assist the students as they record what is needed on the KWL chart.
  • After identifying specific “disturbed” conditions, divide students into groups of four to six members to study and investigate a particular “disturbance”. For example, one group studies fires, one studies mining, one studies housing, one studies agriculture, one studies highways, etc. (the variables).
  • Allow time for groups to develop a plan to acquire the information needed and divide the work load that they form based on their preference of a "disturbance" for study and accessibility for study. (Because the "disturbed" area may be investigated beyond the regular school day, some students may need additional time for investigation.)
  • Facilitate a discussion to generate a list of parameters to compare and contrast in "wild" and "disturbed" areas, such as, pH, moisture, isolation, temperature, etc.
  • Through observation of the teams' planning sessions, determine sources that the students may have overlooked as they compile their list. Recommend a wide variety of resources for the students to access and use. For example, newspaper archives, the Internet, field guides, local experts (science teachers, representatives from timber, coal, and other industries, representatives from the Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, etc.). Where necessary assist the students in obtaining contact information to expedite the process.
  • Have the group members revisit natural areas (for example, our outdoor classroom) and then begin their investigation of the plants in the “wild”, by “adopting” a native WV plant to study. They can identify the plant using online identification keys, traditional field guides, and rule of thumb identification (for example, Sugar Maples have orange-scarlet leaves in the Fall; mosses are more prevalent on northern slopes). They can take pictures of the plant using digital cameras or regular cameras, then scan the picture to digitize it. They should research the plants to identify possible values to our region (economic, medicinal, environmental, aesthetic, etc.) by conferring with local botanists, Internet experts, encyclopedias, etc.
  • Have the group members visit their self-selected “disturbed” area to investigate the existence and condition of their “adopted” plant and record their findings.
  • Following their investigations, provide time for teams to:
  1. Compare and contrast their disturbance with those conditions found in the wild.
  2. Analyze the results.
  3. Make recommendations for the compatible co-existence of man and nature.
  4. Present and discuss their findings in class.

Connections to the Learning Cycle - the 5 E's.

As a result of past project, our students' love of their "adopted" plants and their concern for their plant's well being, lead to the students' engagement which, subsequently, prompted this PBL. (Other students will be engaged simply as a result of their curiosity over why the plants are disappearing.) Students are actively involved in the exploration and investigation of the problem of why plants are disappearing. Following their investigations, the students select their preferred format for explaining and communicating their understanding of the causes of the problem. As students' understanding of the causes deepen and broaden, they can elaborate by applying/transferring this understanding toward making recommendations. Throughout this PBL, students are evaluated using a variety of tools (observation, checklists, rubrics) to assess their growth as an individual and a team member in the technology skills and science concepts involved.


Students compile, create, and post their work on the Internet site called The WILD PAGE ([] West Virginia’s Indigenous Life Directory: Plants, Animals, Growth, Environment), which is an online identification key for plants and animals that are native to WV. The students unveil or present their findings and recommendations via The WILD PAGE to interested and involved parties (parents, science teachers, and those who served as a resource person during the PBL process).

An alternative to posting their work on The WILD PAGE is for the students to create their own web site or PowerPoint presentation, which serves as a way to communicate findings with the interested and involved parties mentioned above.


Problem-based learning students gain information in ways similar to how they’ll recall and apply it to future situations. Assessing learning involves demonstrating understanding, not merely acquisition. (Glick and Holyoak, 1983).

Students are assessed throughout the process using a variety of assessment tools and methods—observation, essay questions, checklists, and rubrics. They are assessed based on their work as individuals, as team members, on the effective use of technology to enhance their work, and on their understanding of the science concepts involved.





  • Field Guides for identifying native West Virginia plants
  • On-line identification keys for plants (listed in above web sites)
  • Inspiration® software and KWL Chart for brainstorming activities
  • Microsoft Photo Editor® software for photo editing
  • Microsoft Word® for record keeping and journal writing
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver MX® for creating web page development
  • Digital cameras and/or film-type cameras and film
  • 3 Disks for each student
  • Scanner for film-type pictures
  • Local newspapers
  • Resource persons—local botanists and science teachers, DNR, DEP, business and industry representatives.

Lesson Source

Lana L. Turner
Library Media Specialist
Chapmanville Middle School

The creation of this lesson represents the collaborative efforts of Ms. Turner and Jewell Garrett who is a former Science teacher from Logan, West Virginia.

The implementation of this lesson was made possible by the collaborative work of Ms. Turner and a colleague, Patricia Winkler, a sixth grade Science teacher at Chapmanville Middle School.

Portions of this lesson are posted on the web site The WILD PAGE ( which was created by students and teachers from various WV schools, representatives from the NASA facility in Fairmont, WV and the Bell Atlantic WORLD SCHOOL Initiative.


Finkle, S. L., & Torp, L. L. (1995). Introductory documents. (Available from the Center for Problem-Based Learning, Illinois Math and Science Academy, 1500 West Sullivan Road, Aurora, IL 600506-1000.)

Glick, M. L., & Holyoak, K. J. (1983). Schema induction and analogical transfer. Cognitive Psychology, 15, 1-38.

Stepien, W. J., Gallagher, S. A., & Workman (1993). Problem-based learning: As authentic as it gets. Educational Leadership, 50(7), 25-29.

Stepien, W. J., Gallagher, S. A., & Workman (1993). Problem-based learning for traditional and interdisciplinary classrooms. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 16(4), 338-345.

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