Stephanie Quill

Return to: ETAP 623 Spring 2017 | Problem-Based Learning in the Biology Classroom

About me

Stephanie Quill.jpeg

My name is Stephanie Quill and this is my fourth semester in the CDIT program. I graduated from SUNY Geneseo in 2014 with my BS in Biology and minor in Chemistry. I have my teaching certifications in Living Environment, Chemistry, and General Science (7-12). This is my third year teaching at Auburn High School and this year I teach Regents Biology only. In the past I have taught General Biology and Regents Chemistry. I also help co-advise the school's Chemistry Club.

My Topic/Purpose

This mini-course will focus on the implementation of problem-based learning (PBL) strategies and activities in the biology classroom. This type of learning engages students with a thought-provoking question that they will need to solve. During the course of a unit, students must cooperatively work through related activities that increase their understanding of the topic and help them answer the original question. PBL fits perfectly in the already hands-on subject of biology because it encourages a student-centered learning environment.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course participants will

  • Define problem-based learning (Verbal Skills)
  • Understand the benefits of using PBL in the classroom (Attitude)
  • Examine examples of PBL activities and evaluate their effectiveness (Intellectual Skills)
  • Design their own PBL activity (Intellectual Skills)

Needs Assessment

1. Instructional Problem

The expectations for students have changed drastically in the last few decades and with that the change in the demands of teachers. The focus on 21st century skills and college-readiness has caused instructional styles in the classroom to change. Student-centered strategies that help develop critical thinking skills are becoming more popular. Problem-based learning is one model that has been shown to develop these essential skills in students (Jaelani & Retnawati, 2016). Teachers however, are hesitant to implement this instructional model in their own classrooms for a variety of reasons. One common argument is the amount of time that it takes to create and have students then utilize these learning activities (Balim, Turkoguz, Ormanci, Kacar, Evrekli, and Ozcan, 2014). Teachers already spend their own time completing work-related tasks at home. Creating completely new PBL units would add to this time. They also worry that students will not be introduced to the entirety of the curriculum, due to the increased time these activities take in class. Many teachers also are reluctant to transform their classroom and give students more control over their own learning fearing that it may lead to discipline problems (Balim et. al, 2014). Even though this form of instruction has been successfully utilized in medical schools for decades, many science teachers at the secondary level are still hesitant (Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980). Teachers may need to be exposed to the benefits of this model and gain confidence in the techniques before using PBL in their own classroom.

2. What is to be Learned

Participants will learn what problem-based learning is and how the strategies associated with the instructional style are beneficial to students. Another lesson will focus on the aspects of a PBL activity that make it successful or unsuccessful. Participants will also learn the steps that can be taken to create their own PBL activity. These lessons will familiarize the participants with PBL so that they are more confident in creating their own units or activities using this instructional style.

3. The Learner

This course is intended for educators at the secondary level (grades 7-12), who teach biology or life science. The topic is relevant for individuals who teach other science courses and other content areas, but the examples within the course will focus on the topics covered in biology. The course however, is appropriate for all educators as the concepts can be applied across content areas and grade-levels. Participants will have varying levels of familiarity with PBL and with other learner-centered instructional styles. Many of the activities within the course will be reflection based and the course itself will be self-directed. The participants have chosen to take the course voluntarily and therefore it is assumed that they are self-motivated to learn about the topic.

4. Instructional Context

Instruction will take place completely online so participants will need to have access to a computer with an internet connection. Instruction for the course is asynchronous and students will complete the course at their own pace. Because of this, participants must be motivated to work through the course content on their own. Many of the activities will focus on independent readings and interactive self-reflection questions. Participants will be asked to evaluate various problem-based learning activities and to later create their own. This will give participants a tangible resource to take away from the course that they can utilize in their own classrooms.

5. Exploring the Instructional Problem and Solution

Because many teachers are unwilling to try problem-based learning in their own classroom, the course will focus on this reluctance. Participants will need to reflect on their own understanding and opinion of PBL using writing prompts. This will help them identify why they are hesitant. The course will focus on these common critical issues and prove that the benefits may in fact outweigh the risks. It will provide many benefits of using PBL for student success supported by research. In order to make participants more confident with the idea of implementing this learning style, they will be asked to create their own unit or activity during the course, after viewing them step-by-step instructions. This will help participants ease into PBL activity design so they are not overwhelmed with the task of completely reworking all of their materials for a course. By clarifying some of the misconceptions surrounding PBL, this course will make participants feel more comfortable implementing it themselves.

6. Goals of Mini-Course

The primary goal of this course is for participants to understand the strategies involved in problem-based learning and the advantages of implementing PBL in the classroom setting. They will also be able to distinguish between successful and unsuccessful PBL activities after evaluating various examples. Participants will create their own PBL unit to use in their own classroom. The final goal is that individuals who previously questioned their ability to create their own PBL activities or those who were skeptical of the use of PBL in the classroom will change their attitudes. Participants should become more open-minded to the idea of learner-centered environments and problem-based learning.

Performance Objectives

1. Given information on problem-based learning, participants will be able to identify at least four benefits for its implementation in the classroom.

2. Given examples of problem-based learning activities, participants will be able to evaluate their effectiveness using a rating scale and will be able to justify their rating in a paragraph.

3. Given instructional steps on how to create a problem-based learning activity, participants will be able to design their own mini-unit on a topic of their choice, using the model.

4. Given the reflective prompt, “What is your attitude on problem-based learning after completing this course? Has it changed at all throughout the course? Explain.”, participants will demonstrate a greater willingness to implement the learning model in their own classroom, as measured by their written response.

Task Analysis

Unit One

  • · Participants will define problem-based learning in a written response.
  • · Participants will identify the various benefits and disadvantages of problem-based learning by completing a T-chart.
  • · Participants will demonstrate their knowledge of problem-based learning by completing a short quiz on the topic.

Unit Two

  • · Participants will recognize the aspects of problem-based learning activities that make them successful.
  • · Participants will evaluate various problem-based learning activities and determine their effectiveness using a rubric.
  • · Participants will design their own problem-based learning activity following the steps given in the course.
  • · Participants will evaluate their activity and determine if any revisions need to be made.
  • · Participants will reflect on their learning by responding to prompts in a personal journal.


Essential Prerequisites

  • · Participants must have familiarity with web browsers and have the ability to utilize a Wiki course.
  • · Participants must be open to the idea of student-centered learning in the classroom.


Supportive Prerequisites

  • · Participants should be intrinsically motivated.
  • · Participants should have higher-lever reading skills.
  • · Participants should be able to write clearly.
  • · Participants must have metacognitive awareness.
  • · Participants should have critical thinking skills.
  • · Participants should have creative thinking.

Curriculum Map

Please click on the link below to view the curriculum map.

File:Curriculum Map Quill.pdf

References and Resources

Balim, A. G., Turkoguz, S., Ormanci, U., Kacar, S., Evrekli, E., & Ozcan, E. (2014). Teachers’ views about problem-based learning through concept cartoons. Jounal of Baltic Science Education, 13(4), 458-468.

Barrows, H. S. & Tamblyn, R. M. (1980). Problem-based learning: An approach to medical education. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Biology Group Work with TA [Digital image]. Retrieved May 8, 2017, from TWAatwork3.jpg

Challenge Based Learning [Digital image]. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from challenge-based-learning-che-cosa-e.jpg

Incorporating Problem Based Learning Using the Scientific Method [Digital image]. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from Science_classroom.jpg

Jaelani & Retnawati, H. (2016). The challenges of junior high school mathematic teachers in implementing the problem-based learning for improving the higher-order thinking skills. The Online Journal of Counseling and Education, 5(3), 1-13.

Journal and pencil clipart [Digital image]. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from f7b2b57d418078c4acddfa1736b4dfb6_notebook-clip-art-images-journal-and-pencil-clipart_300-297.jpeg

Male cartoon pointing to white board [Digital image]. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from 27759-male-cartoon-pointing-to-white-board-200x200.png

PBLProject [Digital image]. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from img2.png.

Set of hands with thumbs up [Digital image]. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from set-of-hands-with-thumbs-up_1134-312.jpg

Thought Bubble Template [Digital image]. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from 6Tp5A5gRc.jpg