Utilizing Real-World Problems to Empower Students

Problem-based learning (PBL) is integrated at Blaze to present students with a real-world problems, undertake a series of investigations, and create a product they iterate and present each month. Enabling us to reach all learners with multiple entry points. Making it easy to scaffold PBL for students who need more support and the sky’s the limit.

How It's Done

The perfect problem connects content, student interest, and an authentic context.

  • What content and skills do my students need to learn?

  • What would be proof of their understanding?

  • In what contexts will they develop understanding?

  • What are my students interested in?

  • What are real problems that people in a field—programming, engineering, biology—grapple with that are related to the content I need to teach?

  • What is the problem that I want my kids to solve?

  • What product will my students create?

Once you have those big pieces in place, you can start to plan: What are the day-to-day things that I'm going to do to get them to face that problem and then move towards an ultimate solution.

Find a problem that’s relevant to your students’ interests and appropriate for their age. Our youngest kids are working on problems that speak to things in their immediate environment, but as kids move forward, they work with more philosophical problems outside of their direct community.

First-grade students are introduced to computational thinking, design thinking, & industry language. Immersing them in a playful enviroment of learning where problem solving and critical thinking are valued most. Sixth-grade students learned about gene editing, explored the ethics around it, and presented their findings as a presentation.

Be flexible with the lesson. It’s good to have a lesson in mind that you can guide your students towards, like creating a game, website, or product design. If you want your students to create a website, you can introduce websites as great resources in prior lessons. But the lesson isn’t the learning goal. Solving the problem and understanding the content is. The lesson is just the vehicle. If your students are excited about another lesson idea, go with it. When planning, think about the variety of products that your students might come up with to solve the problem.

Some lessons will have a different outcome than planned, and that’s OK. You think that you’re guiding your kids towards a certain idea and sometimes that doesn't work out.

Start small. Instead of giving your students directions for an in-class assignment, ask them what they should do. If your students are lining up and it’s noisy, tell them what’s not working and ask them how they can solve it. If you create a birthday chart every year, have your students create it.

It doesn’t need to be a three-week unit. It can be a little part of your day. Part of the shift is thinking, What can I hand to them? What am I deciding for them that I don’t need to? It’s about giving them some of that decision-making power, authority, and choice, and that is where we start to see the problem-based learning live.