Lesson 4: How can teachers successfully design their own problem-based learning activity for students?

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Participants will design a PBL activity to use in their own biology classroom, after reviewing the specific procedural steps for creating one.

Case Study

After attending the workshop, Mrs. Jones is excited to try out this new instruction in her own classroom. She decides that for the upcoming unit she will create a problem-based learning scenario to help students master the content. When she sits down to begin writing the unit plan she realizes that she is lost. Even after going to the workshop, Mrs. Jones does not know where to begin. She becomes frustrated but decides to research how to create a PBL. Mrs. Jones thinks if she uses a step-by-step procedure, it will be less overwhelming. She hopes she can successfully implement PBL in her classroom to better engage her students.
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In your journal, answer the following questions considering Mrs. Jones' classroom and your own.

  • What is the first thing Mrs. Jones should think about as she begins designing her problem-based learning unit?
  • Should Mrs. Jones design an entire unit for her and her students’ first PBL experience? Explain.


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Many teachers feel like Mrs. Jones when they begin working on creating their first PBL activity. Mrs. Jones has the right idea when she decides to look up the key steps. This will help her break up the task and not become overwhelmed. If you are shying away from designing your own PBL unit, you can start smaller and simply create a mini-unit or an activity. Do not try to completely overhaul your entire curriculum. Start small and see how it works for your students. The resources below will help you learn how to create a problem-based learning activity. Once you have viewed them, please move on to the assignment portion, which will ask you to design your own activity!


  1. Read the following article entitled “Six Steps for Planning a Successful Project”, by Kathy Baron from Edutopia. Read through the six steps listed and how King Middle School utilized them to create their interdisciplinary ecology unit, Fading Footprints. While this article focuses on how to plan a project-based learning assignment, the steps are also applicable to the planning of problem-based learning activities. The only major difference is that Step 1 must involve a problem or question that needs to be solved by students. This problem could also be student generated. https://www.edutopia.org/stw-maine-project-based-learning-six-steps-planning
  2. Read the following webpage which highlights the steps for implementing problem-based learning in the biology classroom. Focus on the “Method for Instructors” and “Method for Students” sections. You can also review some sample case problems to use in biology to brainstorm ideas for your own PBL plans. http://capewest.ca/pbl.html
  3. Watch the video clip entitled “Five Keys to Rigorous Project-Based Learning” by Edutopia. The video points out important concepts to keep in mind as you are preparing your own PBL design. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnzCGNnU_WM
  4. Watch the video clip which reviews PBL design and practices, titled “Project Based Learning: Am I Doing it Right? How do I know?”. This clip raises important questions about the success of PBL instruction that you can refer back to as you design and then implement problem-based learning in your classroom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE6WHn0-cSQ


  • After reviewing the above resources, use the step-by-step procedure to make a problem-based learning activity or mini-unit for your own classroom. Use the attached rubric to evaluate the effectiveness of your design. If you find that your activity is lacking in the key design elements, please revise it. Once you have your final product, upload it as a PDF file and place a link to it on the page below titled, “Problem-Based Learning Final Projects”. Include your name and the subject of your activity with the project link.
The six steps are summarized and listed below for quick reference.
1. Choose a topic that is related to the students’ lives and focuses on the state standards
2. Develop a final project that all students will help complete and is useful to the community.
3. Include professionals from the community in the project and have students take on these roles.
4. Gather learning resources and ensure there are enough to satisfy the project’s needs.
5. Determine the timeline and what parts of the unit or project need to be scaffolded to ensure student success.
6. Plan a final event where students can display their work to the public.
Rubric: File:Essential Project Design Elements Quill.pdf
Problem-Based Learning Final Projects


You have finished the course "Problem-Based Learning in the Biology Classroom". I hope that you have found it informative and now know a little more about PBL! Hopefully you are more confident with the idea of problem-based learning and are ready to implement these methods in your own classroom.

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Go back to Lesson 1: What is problem-based learning?

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

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

Return to Problem-Based Learning in the Biology Classroom