Problem-based learning can be one way of fostering a child's natural curiosity. For teachers this involves rethinking the curriculum so that units of inquiry are designed around authentic problems that incorporate the concepts we want students to understand. Since students are inquiring, it's important that these are complex problems that don't have one "right" answer. In order to address the problems students need to develop good questions, conduct a full investigation, think about the problem critically and from different perspectives, analyze findings, make decisions and reflect on the outcome in order to arrive at a solution. In doing so, students are thinking like professionals: like historians or scientists or economists, for example and are engaging in the sorts of thinking that they will need to be successful throughout their lives.
In 21st Century Skills, the key elements of problem-based learning are outlined, many of which I've seen successfully embedded into the teaching of the PYP units of inquiry. For example:
- students inquire into key concepts that are a part of real-world problems
- students have a choice in the content, the ways they learn and how they share their understandings
- students are engaged in higher-level critical thinking and decision making
- students often collaborate in small groups to share their knowledge with their peers
- students receive feedback from peers as well as teachers
- students have plenty of opportunities to revise their thinking throughout the unit
- students are involved in planning their work, monitoring their own progress and reflecting on their findings
- units are designed to include pre-assessment, formative assessment and summative assessment and students may themselves draw up the assessment rubrics
- teachers and students share in the decision making so students feel more responsible for their own learning
The summative assessment, which we discuss right at the start of our planning process for each PYP unit of inquiry, provides the students with many different opportunities and ways to demonstrate their understanding of the central idea and concepts. Rather than just one "product", for example a game or a poster, our ultimate aim is that students are encouraged to communicate their understanding in many different ways. Some students may choose to make a presentation using a variety of different Web 2.0 tools, others may decide they would like to record an interview, make a movie, write a newspaper report or create a piece of art.
I think curiosity is a powerful thing: when inquiries are based on the students' own questions that have arisen as a result of them being posed real-world problems, it is their curiosities that drive the thinking and problem-solving that emerges.
Photo Credit: Curious Roy by Stefano Mortellaro