Fostering Socioscientific Reasoning in Problem-Based Learning: Examining Teacher Practice
Much of the potential success in problem-based learning (PBL) rests on the teacher (Neville, 1999). In order for PBL teachers to achieve the anticipated outcomes, they need to enact specific strategies that enable student success (Kolodner et al., 2003). This includes helping students master strategies for: 1) conducting effective information searches, 2) working successfully in groups, and 3) learning relevant content embedded in the problem. Currently, there exists little guidance for secondary teachers regarding how to facilitate student learning during PBL. Without this, novice PBL teachers can easily fall into the trap of thinking that because PBL may be interesting, students are learning meaningful information. As a first step in addressing this need, we examined the PBL implementation strategies of a middle-school science teacher to investigate the following research questions:
1. How does a middle school science teacher support inquiry specifically related to student research, collaboration, and content learning?
2. How effective are these strategies in supporting student project performance?
This study used an interpretive case study design to investigate the student support methods among a middle school science teacher during her facilitation of a socioscientific PBL unit. While the teacher employed a variety of support strategies, she was ultimately disappointed with student performance. We suggest the students may have been more successful with the use of additional support, such as consistent feedback to bolster students’ research efforts, structuring journal entries and whole group discussion to foster more effective group processes, and employing reflection techniques to support content learning. Nonetheless, complex problem solving environments are difficult for both the students and the teacher. Greater experience with targeted strategies may prove beneficial for both.
Keywords: Problem Based Learning, PBL, Socioscientific Reasoning, Scaffolding, Critical Thinking
Dr. Krista D. Glazewski
Assistant Professor, College of Education
Dr. Peggy A. Ertmer
Professor, College of Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Purdue University