Problem-Based Learning


This section of the website is new and will continue to develop in the near future.

For now, you can start by reading my blog post about the difference between project-based and problem-based learning.

Below is a table that includes some examples of problems that students could tackle and the Next Generation Science Standards that could be addressed along with a brief description of the content that could be addressed.  I plan to expand this resource greatly in the future and not only provide some of my own examples but also link to other sites that provide resources.

Problem Standards Description/Notes
How to clean up an oil spill
  • HS-PS1-3
  • HS-PS2-6
  • HS-LS1-2
  • HS-LS2-1
  • HS-LS2-6
  • HS-LS2-7
  • HS-ESS3-4
  • HS-ETS1-1
  • HS-ETS1-2
  • HS-ETS1-3

——OR——

  • MS-PS1-1
  • MS-PS1-2
  • MS-PS1-3
  • MS-LS2-1
  • MS-LS2-4
  • MS-ESS3-3
  • MS-ETS1-1
  • MS-ETS1-2
  • MS-ETS1-3
  • MS-ETS1-4
Give students several materials/options for cleaning up an oil spill.  Can include substance like what’s inside disposable diapers (absorbent polymers), microorganisms, naturally occurring absorbent substances, etc.

Possible content links:

  • What is absorption?
  • What at the molecular level controls absorption?
  • Why are some substance absorbent of some types of “spills” but others work better in other situations?  (microscopic/macroscopic connections)
  • How can microorganisms remove oil?
  • What happens when the oil is gone – do remaining microorganisms or other used absorbent materials tested present a problem?
  • What are the economic, logistics and society pros and cons of each method?
  • What are the environmental impacts of the oil spills – why do they need to be cleaned up?  How does it change ecosystems?
  • To what degree do they need to be cleaned up (is there a level at which it’s tolerable in the environment or does every single bit need to be cleaned up – is that practical – why or why not?)
Develop helmet for baseball pitchers
  • HS-PS2-1
  • HS-PS2-2
  • HS-PS2-3
  • HS-PS2-6
  • HS-PS3-1
  • HS-PS3-3
  • HS-ETS1-2
  • HS-ETS1-3

——OR——

  • MS-PS2-1
  • MS-PS2-2
  • MS-PS3-1
  • MS-PS3-4
  • MS-PS3-5
  • MS-ETS1-1
  • MS-ETS1-2
  • MS-ETS1-3
  • MS-ETS1-4
Develop helmet that is appropriate for protecting baseball pitchers.

Possible content links:

  • Describe motion of the ball after it’s hit by the batter.
  • Describe collision of ball with pitcher – conservation of momentum, conservation & transfer of energy
  • Choosing appropriate materials – what microscopic properties do you want to have the desired macroscopic properties of the materials?
  • How can materials “absorb” energy transfer rather than transferring it to player’s head?
  • What other design considerations are necessary (such as ability to look around for players stealing bases, etc.)
  • What are the economic/logistical differences between different materials or design possibilities?
Develop way to cool hot beverages off but then keep them warm
  • HS-PS2-6
  • HS-PS3-1
  • HS-PS3-4
  • HS-ETS1-2
  • HS-ETS1-3

——OR——

  • MS-PS1-4
  • MS-PS3-3
  • MS-ETS1-1
  • MS-ETS1-2
  • MS-ETS1-3
  • MS-ETS1-4
Develop product that when placed in hot beverage cools it down to a drinkable temperature quickly but then maintains that temperature for an extended period of time (prevents it from cooling down too quickly).

Possible content links:

  • Objects of different temperatures come to thermal equilibrium.
  • Transfer of energy
  • Measuring the transfer of energy through calorimetry
  • Conservation of energy
  • Choosing appropriate materials – what microscopic properties do you want to have the desired macroscopic properties of the materials?  How do we make sure it’s safe to be inside a drink being consumed?
Develop safer barrier for skateboard park
  • HS-PS2-1
  • HS-PS2-2
  • HS-PS2-3
  • HS-PS2-6
  • HS-PS3-1
  • HS-PS3-3
  • HS-ETS1-2
  • HS-ETS1-3

——OR——

  • MS-PS2-1
  • MS-PS2-2
  • MS-PS3-1
  • MS-PS3-4
  • MS-PS3-5
  • MS-ETS1-1
  • MS-ETS1-2
  • MS-ETS1-3
  • MS-ETS1-4
Study safer barriers introduced by NASCAR.  Develop safer barriers for skateboard park after investigating differences between what’s needed on a race track versus what’s needed with human-skatepark collisions.

Possible content links:

  • Describe motion of the skateboarder before and after collision.
  • Describe collision – conservation of momentum, conservation & transfer of energy
  • Choosing appropriate materials – what microscopic properties do you want to have the desired macroscopic properties of the materials?
  • How can materials “absorb” energy transfer rather than transferring it to skateboarder?
  • What other design considerations are necessary (such as ability to allow for skateboarders to do their tricks)
  • What are the economic/logistical differences between different materials or design possibilities?
Develop way to charge personal device batteries from motion (walking, etc.)
  • HS-PS3-2
  • HS-PS3-3
  • HS-ETS1-2
  • HS-ETS1-3
How to harness energy from human motion and transfer it to charge personal devices.

Possible content links:

  • Transfer of energy from one form to another.  Kinetic —> stored chemical
  • How can you harness the energy from motion?
  • Storing energy for later use
  • How batteries work – redox
  • What are the economic/logistical differences between different materials or design possibilities?
Develop system for artificial photosynthesis as alternative energy source
  • HS-PS1-4
  • HS-PS3-1
  • HS-PS3-2
  • HS-PS3-3
  • HS-LS1-5
  • HS-LS2-5
  • HS-ESS3-4
  • HS-ETS1-1
  • HS-ETS1-2
  • HS-ETS1-3

——OR——

  • MS-PS1-3
  • MS-LS1-6
  • MS-LS2-3
  • MS-ESS3-3
  • MS-ETS1-1
  • MS-ETS1-2
  • MS-ETS1-3
  • MS-ETS1-4
How can artificial photosynthesis be used as alternative energy source?

Possible content links:

  • Why do we need alternative energy sources?
  • What is photosynthesis?
  • What role does energy play in photosynthesis?   How is energy produced by photosynthesis (tie into energy stored in chemical bonds – stability of CO2 produced results in energy released that was in higher energy bonds prior to production of CO2)
  • How can photosynthesis be done artificially?
  • How can energy produced be harness and stored?
  • What are the economic/logistic differences between different materials?
  • What impact would this type of endeavor have on the environment?
  • Would the net energy (energy produced – energy put into to run the system) be worthwhile?
  • How would this form of energy differ from those currently used?
  • What could this form of energy be used for?