Making the switch to problem based teaching has been a progression for me. Each and every time, I’m amazed at how engaged even reluctant students are when faced with a meaningful problem. We have heard this time and time again. As teachers, we all want to connect with our students and guide them to thinking critically, tapping into their creativity. At the beginning, it seemed to take forever to plan a lesson. I wanted to do it often, but my own excuses kept it from happening. You know what I’m talking about – not enough time and not enough money to purchase supplies. I thought each lesson had to be an event, a memory maker that kids would talk about long after elementary school. Well, I’m here to tell you I was wrong! Once your thinking shifts toward problem based learning, the ideas just come…small ideas, meaningful ideas, teachable moments are birthed on the fly.
Here’s an example. I’m teaching a small reading group (1st grade) while others students are working on various activities. One particular boy (I’m sure you have multiple kids like this in your class) has such a hard time staying focused, he is incredibly energetic, and has a wonderful imagination. I’m teaching and notice he is not doing anything productive. I quickly call him over to redirect him and ask him about the book we had been reading together. I asked him what the problem was in the book. He said that the King and Queen were trying to get the baby to stop crying. Next, I asked him how he would solve the problem. He quickly replied that he would sing the baby a lullaby. Guess what I asked him to do…that’s right…I asked him to write a lullaby. He RAN to get paper and pencil, sat down and wrote the cutest lullaby about Spiderman (hey, I gave him no criteria). He was so excited to show me. I even let him record himself singing it on my iPad.
It was short, sweet, based on a problem from his book, and he was completely engaged. He left feeling like a rock star, which sure beats moving a magnet/flipping a card for being off task.