Problem-based learning and Project-based learning

November 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

How did you like the “marshmallow challenge”?

Could the “marshmallow challenge”be considered problem-based learning?

When have you experienced the problem-based learning approach in your classes? (What is problem-based learning?)


I believe most of us won’t like to learn something that is not applicable in our daily life, right? I remember I always asked myself the same question when I was learning advanced mathematics in high school. For example, calculating the probability. Do I need to know what the probability of taking a green ball out of the bag while there are 2 green balls mixed with 3 red balls and 2 yellow balls? Therefore, we try to make everything more relevant and applicable.

That is the problem-based learning. We try to solve the real-world/ authentic problems. You see a lot of problem-based learning in architecture education, engineering, business education and medical education.

In the following video, you will see how a teacher conduct problem-based learning in her classroom.

What are some key activities taking place while students are engaged in problem-based learning?

A lot of problem-based learning is strongly connected with project-based learning. Project-based learning does not need to tackle with a real-world problem. At the same time, students are usually more involved or have much more control in the project.

Let’s watch this video about project-based learning.

Write down some key activities that are included in the project-based learning.

So, can you describe project-based learning? Does it sound familiar?  Many of the projects we do in this course are designed for project-based learning. 20% project? Yes, definitely.


Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.


  1. identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation.
  2. plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project.
  3. collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions.
  4. use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions.

In the textbook we used before, they defined problem solving ability this way.

“Students apply critical and creative thinking skills to prior knowledge during the problem solving process. The end result of problem solving is typically some kind of a decision: choosing a solution and then evaluating it.” (p 155)

“Problem-based learning (PBL) is a teaching approach that combines critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and inquiry as students explore real-world problems. It is based on unstructured, complex, and authentic problems that are often presented as part of a project.” (p 156)

Here is a very nice infographic about project-based learning. Hope this can be a very good reference for your own design.

So, what are we going to do for the rest of the semester? Let’s look at the calendar.

Mini Problem Solving Project

For the next three days, we will do a mini problem-based learning project. This is a group assignment. For this project, I assign each of you to a group based on your choice of product for your 20% project. I generally grouped individuals who chose the same product – Videos, websites, games, etc.

Tessa Trumbauer Emily Turner Matthews, Tyler
Allyson Reyer Kendell Williams Abbie Ringer Calhoun, Jamario
Rachel Wilkinson Pauline Villanueva Jackie Serletti
Shelbi Johnson Carroll, Allison Taj Hall-Harris Julia Dupree
Bradley, Rebecca Jaicee Brewton Welton, Conor
Ansley Brendan Langley Kwok, Elizabeth
Danielle Augustine Laura Ramirez Phillips Jasmine Eatmon brandon kublanow
Hill, Sami Sarah Mathis Hannah Fernandez
Chelsey Toulson DJ Smith Higginbottom, Emily
Meredith Fendler Xzavier Ward Taylor Underwood/
Shelby Griffin Aaron Murray Poe, Katie

The problem solving process usually goes like this.


Problem identification

Today, you will work on identifying a problem. What do you see as the most annoying, pressing problem at UGA? What have bothered you the most living in Athens?

Here is an example of a problem at UGA.

On a typical game day at the University of Georgia, 90 tons of trash are generated after the football game. This massive amount of disposed items require 1000 collective hours of cleaning up by 100 personnel and $100, 000 per game. There are 10 home games per season. The materials wasted on a game day not only cost money but also cause a serious yet avoidable waste of resources and energy. This waste becomes a serious financial and environmental burden for the University. The University of Georgia turns to EDIT2000 students to suggest a solution to reduce monetary and environmental costs by 50%. What solutions would you recommend for the University? Your solutions should be accompanied by convincing evidence and a detailed, realistic plan of action.

Note that the problem as presented as a case. You are already familiar with cases that we worked on creativity cases.  Usually, a case is written in present tense, short in length, compelling, and appropriate for the reader’s age level to arouse interest and empathy (Herreid, 1997). The case clearly illustrates the dilemma without resolving it.

So, today, your group’s job is to identify a problem.  WE will use a think, share, and decide activity.

Think of a problem you encounter at UGA or in Athens. What do you see as the most annoying, pressing problem at UGA? What have bothered you the most living in Athens?

1. Think: Write down your idea individually on a piece of paper.

2. Share: Tell your team members about what problems you identified.

3. Decide: Pick one of the problems suggested by your team members. As a group, describe the problem as a case to solve.

Problem Definition

Your group has identified the problem and turned it into a case. Now, let’s look more closely at the problem. What else do you need to know to better understand about the problem and eventually suggest a solution? Without understanding clearly about the problem, you may not be able to devise a realistic, effective solution.  This Website can help your approach to problem definition. Think of the following to define your problem.

Consider these questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • Is it my problem?
  • Can I solve it? Is it worth solving?
  • Is this the real problem, or merely a symptom of a larger one?
  • If this is an old problem, what’s wrong with the previous solution?
  • Does it need an immediate solution, or can it wait?
  • Is it likely to go away by itself?
  • Can I risk ignoring it?
  • Does the problem have ethical dimensions?
  • What conditions must the solution satisfy?
  • Will the solution affect something that must remain unchanged?


When problem solving, identify the causes of the problem in order to solve it.

  • Identify causes of your problem
    Look at the current situation, rather than its history
    Do not consider the “trouble” it creates whether now or in the future.
  • List and organize the causes of the problem

For Friday:

Enter the problem case in the Google Presentation. Come with the problem case for each of your group.


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