Ask the Teacher

Can you explain what “PBL” means? My daughter’s new teacher has this term listed on her classroom webpage but I’m not sure what it refers to.

“PBL” is an acronym for Problem Based Learning. It is an approach to education that is hands-on and student-centered. Typically, students work in groups to solve real world problems. Children are actively involved in selecting the problems, so they have a high level of interest and enthusiasm for their work. The teacher acts as a facilitator, helping students to develop strategies that result in actual solutions. Kids learn and apply the necessary content knowledge and curriculum standards are incorporated naturally.

With PBL, students are developing reasoning, cooperation and communication skills in addition to learning academic content. An emphasis is placed on students thinking about their own progress and learning to identify possible next steps, recognizing when outcomes have a low likelihood of success and altering their direction.

In short, students are developing skills and strategies that are employed in the work force.

My son’s school is changing their report cards to be “standards based” instead of using grades. How will I know how well he is doing and if he is learning what he should be?

Many school corporations have moved from using the letter grades of A,B,C,D,F to standards based reporting so that students and parents have a clearer understanding of what kids are actually learning.

For example, consider the traditional grading system in which one overall reading grade would include assessments on how fluidly a child reads, how well he comprehends both fiction and non-fiction material, how effectively he can write about the material and how well he can speak about the reading in front of the class. Because such a wide variety of skills is averaged to get a grade, a weakness in a specific skill can be masked. It may appear that the student has mastered all skills when, in actuality, there are areas that require more attention and practice.

In standards based report cards, teachers and administrators develop a list of very specific learning skills based upon those the state and the school corporation have identified as appropriate and necessary for each grade level. They select levels of mastery which are clearly explained to communicate how effectively the student has learned the content. Rather than point to a general grade that a student received on tests or assignments, the teacher should be able to provide specific evidence to show where gaps in understanding are occurring so those deficits can be filled.

When my son starts school this year, he will be doing most of his work on a computer. Are all those hours of screen time really good for him?

Education experts debate how much technology should be used by children and at what age it should play a dominant role in academic life. We cannot deny that we live in a technology saturated world and that being tech savvy is expected in personal as well as professional pursuits. Your son’s school corporation has obviously determined to emphasize the educational benefits of using computers. You are right to be sensitive to how beneficial the hours in front of a computer screen are for your son’s overall well-being.

One concern of having a great deal of screen time is the lack of physical movement this often means for a student. You can easily compensate for this potential problem by encouraging your son to play outside and restricting the time he spends watching TV and playing video games. Whether that outside play comes in the form of organized sports, playground play or a bike ride, the more opportunities for physical activity your son has, the healthier he will be.

Technology can also infringe upon time when children should be sleeping. It is easy to get caught up in research, reading, gaming or social media and lose track of time. Be sure that your son’s computer and phone are off and inaccessible for 30 minutes or more prior to bedtime. This will help your son “disconnect” and prepare to rest. Monitoring this behavior is critical to ensure that your son is actually sleeping when you believe he is. Having portable equipment that is left in another room is the easiest way to accomplish this.

Another area of concern is how technology affects children’s abilities to develop appropriate social behavior. Encourage your son to spend time with friends in a way that doesn’t involve screens. Learning to read facial expressions, pick up on non-verbal body language and  understand inflection and tone of voice are skills necessary to building good human relationships that can only be developed by spending quality time with people.

Ask the Teacher is written by Deb Krupowicz, a mother of four who holds a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Deb has over twenty years of experience teaching preschool, elementary and middle school students. Please send your questions to her at [email protected]


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