Spotlight on Strategies

Investigating how Science Works & Project Based Learning

Background on PBL

The Project Based Learning Strategy (PBL) requires students to collaborate and create as they learn new information in the classroom. “Project-based learning is a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge.” (Boss, 2011) Instead of having the teacher disseminate the knowledge and learning, the students are empowered to solve a real world problem. In the process students are acquiring important knowledge that they can use to create a solution to the problem they have been presented with.

PBL has its roots in ancient history with the likes of Aristotle who believed in learning by doing. In more recent times John Dewey, an educator and philosopher, encouraged the process of hands on learning saying, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." (Boss, 2011)

Science is a content area that lends itself to using PBL, that is not to say that other content areas can not use PBL, but since my focus is science I have found it to be effective in helping students understand how what we are learning in the classroom applies to what is happening in the world outside the classroom.

During a PBL project students are involved in hands on learning that requires collaboration between the students, as well as a depth of knowledge in a content area in order to solve a real world problem. This requires students to synthesize knowledge and be creative in the classroom.

Learn more about PBL by watching the video below!

Project Based Learning: Explained.

Example: Reacting to Reaction Times

A core concept in science is learning how to investigate questions using the scientific method. Thinking like a scientist requires practice and guidance. In recent years a new way of looking at the scientific method has emerged. Instead of using a linear step-by-step process it is more accurate to think of it as a “pinball machine” or a flowchart. There is a lot more information about this science flowchart and an interactive flowchart- Check it out!

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Science in Action: How Science Works | California Academy of Sciences

To incorporate PBL and the science flowchart students will be challenged to investigate the human reaction time. I have done a similar investigation like this before using a ruler and having students hand graph their results.

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For this project students will work in teams to investigate a factor that may influence human reaction time. Students may select their own investigation, within reason. For example one group may choose to investigate if gender has an impact on human reaction time or if being on a cellphone impacts the amount of time it takes for someone to react. They will then conduct their experiment using an online human reaction time recorder.

After collecting their data they will analyze it by using Excel to create visual representations of their conclusions. As a culmination to the project they will create a presentation using the presentation method of their choice to show to other classes.

By using PBL students will be simulating how the scientific method works in the real world. They will go through all the “steps” and may even have to repeat a few, but in the end they will have results that they have investigated themselves and have been able to share with their peers.

Do You Dare?

I challenge you to design a PBL opportunity for your students this year. Feel intimidated? Pick just one unit or lesson to teach using PBL- get your feet wet! Here is a great website that has lots of ideas for all grades (it is focused on science, but it will give you some good ideas for any content area!)


Boss, S. (2011, September 1). Project-Based Learning: A Short History. Retrieved October 8, 2015, from

Understanding Science. (2015). University of California Museum of Paleontology. Retrieved October 9, 2015 from

Yuhas, D. (2012, May 24). Speedy Science: How Fast Can You React? Retrieved October 9, 2015, from