This project is no longer funded and will not be updated.

Planning and Facilitating

Planning, Facilitating, Reflecting, and Closure

The Briefing

During the briefing you set the stage for learning. You paint a picture of the module scenario, the mission that teams will face, and the roles students will play. Since Global Climate Change problem-based learning (PBL) modules are taken from actual problems in real life, you might want to stress that solutions are to be realistic as well. Who knows, perhaps students will come up with a solution that is original and warrants serious further research. Your ability to make the learning activity as meaningful as possible at this point cannot be overstated.

Facilitator's Role

The Teacher's Role in the Global Climate Change PBL Classroom
The amount of student learning and personal development that occurs in a classroom is directly proportional to the quality and quantity of student involvement in the educational program (Cooper & Prescott, 1989). Yet descriptive research indicates that teachers typically dominate classroom conversation, consuming nearly 70 percent of classroom time. A large portion of this teacher talk consists of lectures and directives. Such an educational environment results in learners assuming passive roles and relying mainly on auditory skills, a limited dimension of the intellect. Problem-based learning modules diminish teacher talk. By teaming students with one another, students have frequent opportunities to talk as they construct knowledge themselves in the course of solving an open-ended problem. Thus, when students use case-based learning (CBL) or PBL modules, they may potentially use more of their intellect than they use during traditional instruction.

Facilitate Rather Than Teach
When you use problem-based or case-based learning in your classroom, your role will be more that of facilitator and less that of teacher. Rather than teach content, you will manage team member interactions so that teams stay focused and make progress. With your careful encouragement each team's problem, plan of action, and outcome will emerge on its own, the unique product of its members' collective strengths and interests. In your role of facilitator, you will begin by briefing students on the modules they will be using. When team work begins, you will spend most of your time observing team members to determine what problems they are having working together and completing their assignments.

Using Restraint
You are reminded to help out only when necessary. If you must answer a question, you should be sure to ask first, Is this a team question?, meaning, could one of the team members answer this question instead of you. You may clarify instructions, review strategies for completing an assignment, answer "teacher" questions, and demonstrate task skills as necessary. You may also assist students in developing questions that help them focus their activities or that help them decide whether particular sources of information are appropriate to their research.

In your role as facilitator, you will:

  • Describe what you have observed or paraphrase the content or feeling of the team's question.
  • Ask what the team has done so far to solve its problem.
  • Ask what the team will do next.
  • Support teams that have reached an impasse as they brainstorm for a solution to a problem.
  • Allow teams to choose a solution.

There may be times when you feel you have to intervene. For example, you may need to intervene so that students critique each other in a constructive manner or compromise for the welfare of the team.

Maintaining Momentum

Your efficient organization of pupils, hardware, and software will reduce interruptions and increase the amount of time on task. Below are tips for establishing and maintaining the momentum of Global Climate Change PBL modules.

Organize Your Classroom and Materials
Arrange the Room Appropriately: Members of a team should sit close enough to communicate without disrupting the other teams. All students should be visible to the teacher. Leave plenty of room around student desks so that you can easily walk around and monitor students' interactions. High traffic areas such as the pencil sharpener and doorways should be kept free of congestion.

Distribute Materials Appropriately: Materials should be distributed in such a way that students understand that the assignment requires a joint effort. Materials useful to all should be readily accessible to all.

Specify a Time Frame for Each Task
When communicating expectations to students, it's a good idea to tell them how much time they have to produce a product or to practice a skill. Shorter is better than longer because a short time encourages students to start promptly and move smartly. Give students reasonable time to complete project tasks, but don't make the mistake of allowing too much time because many students will then develop the habit of dawdling over their work (Harmin, 1994).

Have Students Write Progress Reports
Student teams work on tasks for an extended time to produce a tangible product. The hardest part for you will be giving up control and trusting your students to grow into the challenges. The best part will be seeing students become energetic and responsible as they work on the modules. Having students write progress reports is a good way to reassure yourself that progress is being made. Request a weekly report of what the students have accomplished and what specific plans they have for the following week. Each student could submit this information every Friday, or team members could rotate the job of reporting for the team.


The Reflective Student
Learners do not just receive information only at the time it is given; they absorb information in many different ways, often after the fact, through reflection. Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde (1993) believe that the most powerful learning happens when students self-monitor, or reflect.

Students may not always be aware of what they are learning and experiencing. Teachers must raise students' consciousness about underlying concepts and about their own reactions to these concepts. The PBL modules offer times for reflection during and after the research process. Learners review the appropriateness of their actions and attitudes and evaluate what changes might be desirable in a similar problem-solving situation. They formulate concepts and generalizations and convert their individual and collective experience into education.

There are many ways to reflect. Reflection may occur individually, in groups, in teacher-led discussion, or during student-to-student dialogues. Reflection may occur at any time during the learning process; it does not have to wait until the end. Herbert (1995) offers some excellent advice:

  • To be an effective facilitator of this type of reflection and an analysis, the teacher must be a good observer of what is happening. He or she needs to observe not only the learners' actions and inactions toward the activity, but also toward each other. Then, at appropriate times, observations could be offered, questions asked, feelings explored.
  • The teacher must also be able to vary his or her approach in helping the students analyze what has taken place. The methods are dependent on the personalities and situations involved. At times, it might be necessary to be blunt and honest with feedback.
  • At other times questions, discussions, or a gentle approachs help students discover for themselves what they have done and how they are perceived. Sometimes nothing needs to be said. It is difficult to know the approach to use with each individual in each situation. Experience is a good teacher (p. 206).
  • Reflection is critical to both learning and transfer! Reflection ends the active learning experience and begins the assessment by providing evaluation opportunities as learners apply concepts and skills to new and different situations.

The Reflective Teacher
Keeping Records: During time following a class period or after the school day, teachers can assess the interactions that occurred in their classes. Much valuable information is available from teacher-kept records of a student's behavior in the classroom. Teachers have always been interested in recording student performance on tests, assignments, homework, and other data from the "instructional domain." However, noticeably absent from most teachers' data gathering are records in the "management domain" other than attendance and tardiness records. Teachers don't trust their memory when it comes to instruction records; teachers would do just as well to keep records of students' behavior too.

Providing Closure

The final step is to review the task with the aim of advancing students' understanding of the subject matter. Teachers summarize the major points of a lesson, ask students to recall ideas, and answer final questions. This may be accomplished by:

  • Asking students to post the results of their daily or project tasks, and then have everyone walk around and read over one another's work, either during that class period or at some time soon after.
  • Asking students to write outcome sentences about the subject matter, and then share those in a discussion.