Data Collection: Focusing Curriculum on Problem Based Learning

Students complete problem based learning when they solve social problems or answer questions that focus on society. These problems or questions may only take fifteen minutes, or they may take an entire semester. Sometimes the teacher creates the problem from recent news, and other times students create their own problems based on their interests and future desires. The main objective with problem based learning is to demonstrate to students that the curriculum is relevant to their lives.

Problem based learning is one of the easier social studies objectives to reach because creating problems for students to solve is relatively simple. Additionally, textbooks and websites have several example problems for teachers to use. For instance, Gilder Lehrman, Library of Congress, and CK-12 all have lesson plans with probing questions for the students to answer

CK-12 possesses a Basic Sourcebook and an Adavanced Sourcebook that gives teachers primary source lesson plans with problems to solve.

Allow your students to form their own questions that they can answer with the skills you give them.

A major issue with problem based learning is teachers will often not allow students to help generate the problems. The teacher will tell students what a big problem is, but many students may have a different opinion on what the biggest issues are. Another issue is when teachers create problems to solve, they will only give problems that are historical and do not have any direct implication to students’ lives. The final issue is when teachers let students solve problems in social studies class, they tend to be brief or shallow. Generally, the students only have a single class period to solve the problem. This is unfortunate as longer problems could unite a class under a common theme and give students time to dive deep into social issues.

Practical Data Collection

1. I will simply ask preservice teachers; “what problems do we face in teaching social studies?” and, “list the top five topical features that should be included in all social studies courses?” my student teachers will get access to each other’s questions and then be asked to choose their top ten issues/features, in order, and then explain why they made their choices and rankings.

  1. This is the only data collection that I pulled straight from my practice of teaching 8th grade U.S. History. At the beginning of the year, I asked my 8th grade students to complete several activities that helped them understand their passions and identities. They had to reflect on the results of these activities and add them to a portfolio. For preservice teachers, these portfolios can help them determine what kind of teacher that they want to be. Below I have listed the activities with hyperlinks to directions and brief summaries of the activities.
  1. The problems that teachers create are often too simple; therefore, in a video that I created for the class, I will demonstrate how a simple fifteen minute problem can be expanded to a unit problem. The students will then be asked to select an issue from a list of problems that the class generated and create a unit long plan of action around that problem. 

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