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 learninga cognitive coach
rather than an imparter of knowledge.
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
WILD PAGE ([http://lc2.boe.loga.k12.wv.us/~wildpage/] 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
- Population, resources, and environments
- Natural hazards
- Risks and benefits
- Science and technology in society
West Virginia Content Standards
- 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
- 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
- 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:
- Basic operations and concepts
- Students demonstrate a sound understanding
of the nature and operation of technology systems.
- Students are proficient in the use
- 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.
- 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.
- Technology communications tools
- Students use telecommunications to
collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and
- Students use a variety of media and
formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to
- 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.
- Technology problem-solving and decision-making
- 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.
What is problem-based learning?
learning uses problems as a starting point for acquiring new knowledge.
- What does problem-based learning do?
promotes the development of problem-solving strategies, disciplinary
knowledge, and critical thinking skills.
Why does problem-based learning work?
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?
problem-based learning process consists of steps that may be conducted
concurrently or be repeated. Heres a simplified model:
and analyze the scenario.
what is known.
a problem statement.
List what new knowledge is needed.
a plan for acquiring the needed knowledge.
and analyze information.
and analyze possible recommendations, solutions, or hypotheses.
and support the findings.
information about problem-based learning is available at the following
Access additional information via either the Problem-Based Learning
icon or the Facilitating, Planning, and Assessing icon.
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
- 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,
- 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:
- Compare and contrast their disturbance
with those conditions found in the wild.
- Analyze the results.
- Make recommendations for the compatible
co-existence of man and nature.
- Present and discuss their findings in
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
WILD PAGE ([http://lc2.boe.loga.k12.wv.us/~wildpage/] 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
WILD PAGE to interested and involved parties (parents, science
teachers, and those who served as a resource person during the PBL
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.
learning students gain information in ways similar to how theyll
recall and apply it to future situations. Assessing learning involves
demonstrating understanding, not merely acquisition. (Glick and
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
- 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
- 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.
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
Portions of this lesson are posted on the
WILD PAGE (http://lc2.boe.loga.k12.wv.us/~wildpage/) 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),
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.