Thursday, September 25, 2008

Problem based learning

Last night I was wondering about two things: working interdisciplinarily and also problem based learning.
About interdisciplinarity: On a superficial level, most things are interdisciplinary. If you teach English, you are also teaching things related to culture, to "self" and to many other topics. If you teach M&U, you are also teaching language, you are also teaching math, etc. However, if the school system is based on specific subjects having 45 minute blocks and there is this concept of teachers having a profile (some do English, some do art, some do French - but not all), on a feasibility level, this interdisciplinarity remains on this superficial level unless teachers really make an effort to network. So on the level of strategies, how do you have a strategy-based approach with the children in one subject and then ensure that they are transferring the strategies that they "train" to other subjects? Of course it's possible, but it's more complex due to these profiles. So I ask myself if it wouldn't be better to really get into subject-specific strategies in more depth and leave interdisciplinarity because perhaps if we start to look into depth in one subject, this makes us have another way of looking at things which then transfers to other subjects.

About Problem Based Learning: On the level of tertiary education or more concretely, when working with teacher trainees, I only wonder here if the problem shouldn't be written by the students themselves. Perhaps it's better to say: PBL is a great method but the first two weeks of the semester should be spent observing classes or reflecting upon classes previous seen so that in the third week, smaller but more relevant problems should be written and researched. PBL is supposed to be authentic and real - and this is subjective. Therefore more students would be more interested IF they could themselves decide what problem they want to solve. This is the reason we wrote our "dialogue" - we wanted everyone to find something that they're interested in but I have the feeling that like in any module, some people are really interested and the others don't see the relevance and just want to get through. And then some things stay on this superficial level. If students could write their own problems, then they would be forced to make them relevant.


  1. I am a parent of an 8 years old boy and I wanted to get involved in his education,due to the well known problems we have here,in US.I found that I can connect his school curriculum with his playtime quite easy ,especially if they consist in science experiments.Also,during our games and projects I was able to touch many other fields of knowledge besides science and math.This is how I have learned about the concept of INTERDISCIPLINARY LEARNING.I agree with Laura that interdisciplinarity is somehow a general notion and there is a risk of superficiality on this endeavor but most things are interdisciplinary and this approach in education can be used as a base to ignite in kids the passion for learning.I have used this concept as a tool in my son's education to show him the meaning of the subjects he was learning at school and the relations between them.Regarding the PROBLEM BASED LEARNING,I applied this concept in our science experiments with excellent results.You can see some examples in my web site (
    I am not a teacher by profession so I will appreciate any suggestion (use the FEEDBACK option form

  2. First, thanks for the comments on my blog - I'm using it to support my courses and my reflection so I'm happy when people contribute - it's also good for my students to see! I think you're right in your comments about interdisciplinarity - I sometimes wish there were more innovative projects going on in this regards in Switzerland - I know from my time in the US that we always had "schools within schools" and many, many projects which set forth to combine curricula on large and small scales. Here it seems that teaching is structured in 45 minute blocks from one subject to the next and then also with different teachers that it makes working interdisciplinarily on an in-depth scale more difficult.

    Here in Switzerland, we are trying to teach English through content, and the content of flight is taught in the sixth grade - it's about lift and drag and also about some famous people like the Piccards. So the next step I would make in your website for myself would be to take your ideas and then make sure the language is accessible to kids who have learned English for only a few years - I'll link your pages to ours, I'm sure teachers here would love the ideas!

    And my last thought is about the word "interdisciplinarily" - I wonder how many times I can spell it wrong!!