Principle 15

"Every great teacher selects problems for thoughtful and meaningful analysis that are within the experience of the learner at the start of the learning, related to the problems of ordinary life, and require thought or reflection about the consequences of actions taken to solve the problem."

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Problem-Based Instruction
Principle 15 in Action

Patricia A. Hewitt

A recent activity in my Teacher Education 302: Integrated Teaching Strategies class illustrates what I believe Principle 15 is all about. This class is a required course in the undergraduate teacher education program at The University of Tennessee at Martin. My class was learning how to teach "problem-based instruction" and in doing this, my strategy for helping my students understand how they could teach this in their own class is to model lessons or put them into the position of a student in their classroom. The problem that I chose happened to be accidental, but ended up being for them, a perfect model.

I came into the classroom complaining about the leaking faucets in the restrooms. These faucets had been leaking for a number of years and nothing was being done to correct this problem. I posed it to my class: What can we do about this?

From that moment on the class was in charge. They divided themselves up into groups. They gathered equipment to send teams to each of the 12 bathrooms in the building to measure the amount of water wasted and then came back to class with more questions. As they went through the steps they felt they needed to take, all I had to do was answer questions and offer suggestions when they got stuck. After three weeks of working on this problem, they had determined the amount of water wasted through lack of maintenance, through laziness, the amount of hot water wasted, as it incurred additional costs, and had developed strategies for educating other students and faculty, as well as composed a letter to the chancellor of the university about their concerns.

The students found that after determining the amount of water and its costs, plus the environmental impact, they could do something about the problem. Within days of receiving the students' letter describing their concerns, the faucets were fixed. This validated the students' lesson, demonstrated a viable model for cooperative learning and problem based instruction, and solved a major problem.


Dr. Patricia A. Hewitt, Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Tennessee at Martin. An avid environmental and science educator, Dr. Hewitt teaches methods classes in science, as well as generic teaching strategies, and is a facilitator for Project Wild/Aquatics.


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