Problem Based Learning Ideas for Middle School Science

A Problem Based Learning Activity is an open ended challenge that asks students to solve a problem or create a product incorporating skills or content they have mastered. Alternately, the PBL can be used to introduce skills or lead students to discover content on their own.

Problem based learning is student centered learning which increases motivation and achievement. PBLs also offer students the opportunity to practice time management and organizational skills. By creating their own connections to the content, students develop intellectual curiosity which helps them understand and retain the concepts.

Additionally, the open ended nature of the problem in a PBL allows for differentiation according to learning preference or skill set.

Many PBL activities can be adapted to suit many content areas. Here are some examples.

  1. Design a museum exhibit. In this sort of PBL, students are given the challenge to select items that represent the topic of choice and to design how these items would be showcased in a museum exhibit. Here is a museum exhibit PBL I use for simple machines but it could easily be adapted to demonstrate mastery of anything from ancient Egyptian culture to the development of the space program.
  2. Design a game. Using the content they’ve mastered, students design a simple game that reviews the content. A simple version of this is a file folder game but it can be as elaborate as a whole class game show.
  3. Create an advertisement. If you have video equipment, or even cell phones, available for your students, they can write, perform, record, and edit a 30-90 second advertisement for a product that reflects the unit you’re studying. Here is an advertisement PBL I’ve used for simple machines but this is easily adaptable for content such as weather instruments, book reviews, or political campaigns for historical figures.
  4. Design a habitat. This is a great activity for teaching ecosystems, food chains, and biomes. I’ve used it as a capstone activity in an endangered animals unit. Students research an endangered animal and design a habitat for a zoo to protect the animal. Another way to implement this idea is to apply a concept to a new location. For example, students can research alternative energy sources and choose one for the imaginary island they’ve just inherited.
  5. Field Trips or Vacations. Students enjoy creating a travel brochure or vacation itinerary to explore a culture or location. This is useful when learning about a historical culture or a geographically distant location. I’ve used it in my solar system unit but it would work just as well for an exploration of the Aztecs or of Antarctica.
  6. Relate it to sports. Many topics can be related to sports which is highly engaging for students. It’s a natural fit for Newton’s Laws but can also be used for many physical science topics such as d=rt, momentum, and energy conversions.

Photo by Pragyan Bezbaruah from Pexels

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