Lesson 2: How can problem-based learning benefit students?

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Participants will identify various benefits of problem based learning, after reading several online articles and watching video clips.

Case Study

Mrs. Jones is constantly hearing complaints from students regarding her instruction. As they enter class, when they see notes written down under “Agenda” on the board, they groan. Mrs. Jones is considering trying out different activities or instructional methods to better engage her students. After some research, she sees that there is a workshop on problem-based learning at a nearby school. Mrs. Jones has heard about this instructional method but has never tried it due to several concerns. She knows it will be a lot of work and may not be fruitful for her students’ learning. She decides to attend the workshop but is skeptical that she will actually change her methods. Why fix something that isn’t broken?

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In your journal, answer the following questions considering Mrs. Jones' classroom and your own.

  • Should Mrs. Jones attend the workshop even though she is skeptical that she will utilize problem-based learning in her classroom?
  • Should Mrs. Jones change her instructional methods to better satisfy her students’ wants? Why or why not?
  • Is there an issue with relying on the phrase “if it’s not broken don’t fix it” in education? Why or why not?
  • Have you ever tried a new instructional approach in your classroom? Was it successful? Did you continue to utilize it?


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Problem-based learning (PBL) has many benefits in the classroom for both students and teachers. Like Mrs. Jones, many teachers are hesitant to change their method of instruction. They are satisfied with their current course arrangement and do not want to alter it. They may also be turned off by the student-centered nature of PBL. Teachers act as facilitators as students take more control over their learning. Use the accompanying resources to learn more about the benefits of this instructional method. Then move on to the assignment portion.


  1. Read the following article entitled “Problem-based Learning in the Classroom”, by the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching. Pay particular attention to the advantages of PBL listed. https://cirt.gcu.edu/teaching3/tips/pbl
  2. Read the article from the Buck Institute for Education. It focuses on the successes of Project Based Learning in more depth. As you read, think about what positive aspects of PBL could help make your current classes more successful. https://www.bie.org/about/why_pbl
  3. Watch the video clip on project-based learning by the Center for Innovation & Transformation in Education. This video focuses on the problem solving skills that students can gain when teachers utilize PBL. While watching the video, think about how this differs from your current methods. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYO89DDYMyQ
  4. Read the following article entitled “Why Is Project-Based Learning Important”. Again, consider how this strategy could improve the learning of your students. https://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning-guide-importance
  5. Watch the talk given by Stanford University alumni, Derek Ouyang. In this video clip, entitled “Thinking Outside the Bubble: Project-Based Learning in the 21st Century”, Ouyang discusses several projects that he has been involved with while attending Stanford, and how that has shaped his education. While watching, think about how these extensive PBL projects could be scaled down to work in your classroom within your curriculum, time, and budget. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AjGc0vCk8k
Optional: Read the article “Should We Lose the Lecture?” which focuses on Stanford Professor Carl Wieman’s use of active learning and its success over the traditional lecture. There is also a radio interview with the professor located below the article. While this research focuses on college-level students, consider how it is applicable at the high-school level. https://medium.com/stanford-magazine/should-we-lose-the-lecture-76a186797573
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After reviewing the above resources, complete the following activities in your journal.
  • Draw a T-chart in your journal. On the top left, write “Pros” and on the top right, write “Cons”. List at least four positive and negative aspects of problem-based learning under the appropriate column headings. If you are able to list more, please do so!

  • In your journal, considering what you learned about the benefits of problem-based learning from the resources above, answer the following question: In your opinion, do the positive aspects of PBL outweigh the negative aspects? Explain.


Go on to Lesson 3: What aspects of a problem-based learning activity make it successful?

Return to Problem-Based Learning in the Biology Classroom