COETAIL, Course 4, Professional Development, Uncategorized

PBL or CBL or… PBL?

Brett (AKA:Mr.T) supervises a challenge.

In reading through the materials on project, challenge, and problem based learning, I’m not sure I see a real distinction between the three.  I’m not sure that I am supposed to see one at all.  I do see the appeal of setting goals for students that are based on real-life situations.

This year was the first time I spent all of my time in math and science classrooms.  Prior to this I taught third grade, ESL, and world language classes.  Teaching grade three probably gave me the best chance to engage my kids in some PBL/CBL-style situations, but I was too wrapped up in teaching reading and writing that I may have missed my shot.  I feel pretty confident saying that the grade 8 students at our school will tell you that they’ve been engaged in a lot of problem solving and project-based learning this school year.

They’ve generated electricity using steam engines constructed from soda cans.  They’ve modeled true situations using their knowledge of exponential growth.  They’ve build windmills from paper and currently they are analyzing the methods used in the ongoing search for the missing Malaysian airliner for the science unit on waves.

A lot of these ideas were generated by my co-teachers, who have put a lot of effort into giving our lessons context.  I really respect them for this.  I can’t take credit for cooking up these schemes, but I have put my efforts into making these lessons as accessible as possible for our English language learners-and it hasn’t been pretty.  In fact, the whole process has been rather ugly.  The three of us have been learning how to present challenge/problem/project based lessons as we go.  There have been some pretty tense times throughout the course of the school year, but I’m glad that we have continued to attempt to provide genuinely engaging lessons and eschewing paint-by-numbers teaching as much as possible.

I know that I have been referencing my co-teachers a lot on the blog, but co-teaching is my reality.  So, once again… thank you Brett and thank you Ryan.  You have taught me as much as you’ve taught the students this year.


5 thoughts on “PBL or CBL or… PBL?”

  1. Nice post, Ross. Much of my teaching career has also been spent teaching ESL/EAL and co-teaching, so I understand both the joys and the challenges of the positions. I am a humanities guy, so I am sure I would find my skills stretched teaching 8th grade science and math. My own child is just finishing 2nd grade, and I wonder how I am going to manage to help her when she gets to 8th grade math/science and HS – ha! You work with two solid teachers and I am sure you have learned much from them. I imagine it’s a fun team to work with and with a large ELL population here, you all have your work cut out for you. Like you, I did not see a huge distinction between project, problem, and challenge-based learning.



    1. It really is a shame that I won’t be working with Ryan next year, but Brett and I are looking forward to really digging into the co-teaching. It will be exciting to improve upon what we have built this year. I’m hoping that I can also help Widi out as he begins his co-teaching with Ryan. There are always new challenges in our profession.


  2. Hey Ross,
    I think you, Ryan and Brett have done some really cool science projects this year. Next year I think we are going to try out PBL/Inquiry projects with select teachers. I’m sure you would all be great candidates. From my understanding of PBL projects, it revolves around a driving question that the teacher poses to the student; an open-ended question that really makes the kids think of real world solutions. With AISC’s new initiative of service learning, maybe some of the cool science projects you did this year can be extended to provide real world solutions to problems in Chennai.


    1. Sounds good to me. Unfortunately, Ryan and I are getting a teacher divorce (ha ha ha, shuffling of teaching jobs in reality) but Brett and I will be going strong next year. I think we’d be open to doing some new projects and modifying old ones. We tried to get students to think about Chennai and the community when designing their science fair projects. I think it really motivated some of them.


  3. Hi Ross, I enjoyed reading about your successes and frustrations in trying to do PBL in your classroom while making it accessible to your EAL students. As a third grade teacher myself, I can empathize with you when you say that you get wrapped up in teaching reading and writing that it is easy to let the PBL go by the wayside unless you are very deliberate about wanting to bring PBL into your classroom. If it weren’t for our FOSS science kits, which basically come pre-planned lesson by lesson, I feel that I might let the hands-on science lessons slide, as there has been so much emphasis on getting the co-teaching model up and working with our literacy program. And FOSS isn’t student driven, unless you get into the special projects at the end. So, I have a goal of being more deliberate next year about trying out PBL with co-teacher next year (although I recently found out I am switching grades and co-teachers!). Good luck with next year.


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