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AQCP Problem-Based Learning Process

PBL Process
The Air Quality Curriculum Project (AQCP) has structured the learning activities using the problem-based learning (PBL) format. AQCP strongly urges educators to use this format when investigating environmental issues with their students.

In a PBL format, the role of the teacher is to act as a facilitator, assisting their students in (1) developing questions about the issue under investigation, (2) finding resources and activities that shed light on the questions, and (3) creating a final product or performance that shares their proposed resolution(s) for the problem. The teacher is NOT expected to be the expert on the topic or issue; instead, the teacher will learn along with their students.

The essential steps of the PBL process are as follows:

  1. The Case: The facilitator will present an introduction to the issues, to establish a personal connection to the problem(s) for their students. This may take the form of a guest speaker, a video, a newspaper story, a photograph, or a written case study.
  2. The Questions: The facilitator will lead discussion with the class to determine the answers to the following questions: (Teachers may wish to have students work in groups first to answer these questions before leading a large group discussion.)
    • What do we know? (the facts of the case)
    • What do we need to know? (other facts that are missing at this point)
    • What do we need to learn more about? (the underlying science or social concepts that need more research, elaboration, or definition)
  3. Action Plan: The groups of 3 to 5 student investigators then make plans for how they will find the information needed. Included in this plan is to develop a list of resources that may assist in the investigations. These resources may be published books or articles, community members or elders, or internet sources.
  4. Investigation: The groups of student investigators carry out their action plans. Facilitators may also choose to have students do a series of activities that provide elaboration or information about the underlying concepts identified during the Questions phase.
  5. Revisiting the Case: Once the independent work is completed, the groups reassemble to report on their work and to revisit the Questions. Further investigations will probably be necessary.
  6. Product or Performance: Each case concludes with a product or performance by the groups, or by subsets of the groups. Facilitators should provide the investigative teams with some possible options of products or performances. These may include plans for further action.
  7. Evaluation: The student investigators evaluate their own performance, their team's performance, and the quality of the problem itself.

The PBL approach prepares students to be productive workers and citizens for the new century, not by overwhelming them with today's facts and theories that soon may be outdated but by showing them how to learn on their own and how to use the information they acquire. PBL works well with all students, making it ideal for use in heterogeneous classrooms. Students are challenged, learn to learn on their own, tap in to local resources and traditional wisdom, understand more ideas, develop skills in many academic areas, and enjoy school more.

For more information on PBL, please contact Mansel A. Nelson, Program Coordinator at 928-523-1275 or by email at mansel.nelson@nau.edu.

Additional information on the PBL process is available on the web; links are provided on the PBL Resources page.




Northern Arizona University Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals

EEOP Staff
Environmental Education Outreach Program (EEOP)
Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP)
PO Box 5768
Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5768
Phone: (928) 523-1275
Fax: (928) 523-1280
E-mail: eeop@nau.edu

Last updated: May 26, 2005