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Teachers Benefit from Problem-Based Learning as Much as Students do.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Mar 17, 2012 5:37:00 AM

Marygrove MAT shows how problem based learning hleps teachers and students

When students solve problems on their own, as in problem-based learning (PBL), they practice learning on their own…which will benefit them throughout their lives. Studies have shown that when students are challenged to solve problems on their own prior to instruction, the instruction is more meaningful.  When students “do,” they “understand.” 

Ted Hershberg, Director, Operation Public Education and Professor, Public Policy and History at the University of Pennsylvania wrote the following article entitled, “Value-Added Assessment: Powerful Diagnostics to Improvement Instruction and Promote Student Achievement:

“Although variations exist by subject and schooling level (lower, middle and high school), it is fair to generalize that three-quarters of classroom time is devoted to lecture; the remainder consists of “Q & A,” but virtually all of this is characterized by “yes” and “no” drills associated with identifying the “right” answer.  There is almost a disciplined effort to avoid challenging questions that require thoughtful answers.”

In the same article, Hershberg went on to say,

To preserve the stable, middle-class basis of our society, schools must now graduate their students able to use technology, think critically, solve problems and learn on their own throughout their lives. In sum, we are asking our schools to do two things: educate all the children, not simply the top fifth, and educate them to unprecedentedly high levels.”

During evaluation, many teachers throughout the country are being rated based on the value-added results of their students. I propose that teachers who take a problem-solving approach to classroom instruction following the Launch, Explore, and Share and Summarize lesson format adapted from Lappan et al. (1998) will be more likely to see results that will rate them as being “Most Effective.” 

In the Launch phase, students are engaged and motivated through a leading story or question.  It sets the stage for learning. 

In the next phase, the Explore phase, students are presented with a higher level thought-provoking problem to solve, usually in a cooperative group setting. The teacher may use questioning, which can be oral or written, to ease their way through the understanding. 

In the Share and Summarize stage, the cooperative groups communicate the strategy they used to solve the problem and explain their thinking. The teacher guides the discussion to be sure the core objectives are met. The teacher may follow the lesson with instruction on a new or different way to approach and solve the problem. At this point, the instruction will be much more meaningful. 

Instruction involving lecture prior to students having a chance to explore will likely be forgotten or only remembered at a procedural level.  I have seen in my classroom that when students are given the opportunity to explore, conceptual understanding can be achieved.  If you redirect your instruction in this way, students in a problem-based classroom setting will be much more likely to make a year or more growth, thus the teacher will be more likely to be rated “Most Effective.”


Amy McGeehen, MAT ‘98, Marygrove College, has been a teacher for twenty years, and has taught sixth grade math for the last thirteen. A Marygrove MAT Mentor for twelve years, she currently works for Jackson Local Schools in Massillon, Ohio.

Tags: instructional strategies, problem-based learning

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