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Helping Gifted Learners Blossom Through Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

It’s at this time of the year that I begin having an itch to see some color around the house and outdoors. I don’t consider myself having a green thumb, but I enjoy filling up the pots in the front of my house with flowers to celebrate the season!

Have you thought about how gifted students feel when they get the chance to solve a problem or utilize their talent and ability to innovate and be creative? It’s how you would feel on a spring day, enjoying the weather and new blooms around you—Refreshing!  This is exactly what the instructional strategy of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) can do for gifted/advanced students when utilized for enrichment or classroom experiences.

Originally grounded in medical education from the 1950s, the PBL method developed out of an instructional need for medical students to acquire knowledge of sciences in authentic ways while developing clinical skills simultaneously. Problem-Based Learning (PBL), not to be confused with Project-Based Learning, is an instructional method that poses an ill-structured or open-ended problem and requires students to use inquiry and research to propose a solution. Problem-Based Learning uses an authentic problem to help students self-direct their learning through the inquiry process, so they can think and respond as professionals might in the field.

Although Project-Based Learning shares many characteristics with Project-Based Learning, a significant difference is that Project-Based Learning usually attaches a product goal to the learning experience (e.g. construct a new aquarium design to meet the needs of an endangered marine species).  

Instead, Problem-Based Learning challenges students to gain understandings surrounding a given problem situation. For example, students may tackle the following problem embedded in the topic of endangered species—“Ocean deoxygenation is reported to be an alarming threat to zooplankton, one of the building blocks of the ocean food web. How might we protect endangered marine life to survive these threats?” In this example, the problem of ocean deoxygenation guides students’ inquiry processes. It may yield an assortment of solutions or products, such as new policy, awareness groups, scientific inventions, regulations, or even more unanswered questions! There is a problem to be solved, not just a product to be made. 

PBL is a wonderful instructional method to integrate all year long because it can be easily inserted into curriculum topics and help build many college and career readiness skills such as research, communication, perseverance, and creative/critical thinking skills while students become stakeholders through the problem-solving process. Visit next month’s posts to learn about ways educators and advocates can weave this strategy along with other strategies into classroom and enrichment experiences for gifted students.


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