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Rural Teachers

Problem Based Learning Projects

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Tom Barnett Tom Barnett 45 Points

Last year our state implemented new science standards that very closely align with the NGSS and after looking through these standards many times, it seems like one of the better ways of implementing them is through problem/project based learning (PBL). My issue is that I am finding it difficult to find projects that have enough of a real-world application to meet then needs of a true PBL. The other issue is that being in a rural area, it is difficult to find outside resources with which to connect my students so their work can truly be authentic. 

How have others been able to overcome some of these challenges? I would love to hear ideas and thoughts. 

Lara Stubbs Lara Stubbs 250 Points

Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 64325 Points

Hi Tom, 

I agree that PBL is a great way to address these standards.  I see that you teach biology so I can give you a couple of examples that I use with my biology class using storylines or driving questions that are relevant to a rural community.  At the beginning of the year, we ask if Ebola will ever become airborne?  Since most students have heard of Ebola they are intrigued, but we rapidly to viruses that they have a better chance of catching. We explore zoonotic diseases, in particular, influenza. We look influenza A in humans mutates because of the 'gene swapping' between pig, poultry, and human influenza viruses.  Most of my students raise swine and poultry so the connection for them is quite relevant.  For this PBL, we cover HS-LS4-2, HS-LS3-3, and HS-LS3-1 (I'm using the NGSS standard numbers because I'm not familiar with the Nebraska standards.) 

Another driving question that students explore is how antibiotic resistance is developed.  Within it we explore, if antibiotic resistance is becoming more common and how producers can manage their animals to prevent the overuse of antibiotics.  Again, it is relevant because many of my students have herds of their own.  In the years that I don't have a lot of students that raise animals, we approach this unit from a public health standpoint--why you should not always ask for antibiotics every time you go to the doctor.  We tend to cover standards HS-LS1-2, HS-LS4-4, and HS-LS4-5 during this unit. 

A third driving question that students explore is how the salt used on roads and the fertilizer used in fields affect protists growing in ditches.  The general premise is that seasonal run-off either from snow melt or rain washes salt used to keep roadways clear into ditches on the side of the road. We also look at the effects of fertilizer run-off from agricultural fields and why riparian areas are important.  Standards covered in this PBL include HS-LS2-6, HS-LS4-4, HS-LS1-3, HS-LS2-7, and HS-LS4-1.  

If you are interested, we can discuss how I developed my storylines in more detail.  Basically, I looked at what we had available outside and what my students were doing at home. I did this by exploring our campus and surrounding areas to which we could travel within a class period.  Then I brainstormed what types of models we could develop in the classroom based on the natural phenomenon in the area and my students' previous experiences.

Just remember that good storylines take time in their development so pick an unit or two that you want to develop into a PBL each year. You don't have to revolutionize your entire curriculum in one year.  In fact, you will find that you will develop better PBLs if you take your time.  

Hello Tom,

I taught for 26 years in a rural school and community. This allowed me more autonomy to use the resources of my community to teach relevant, project-and place-based units. I lived in a town with about 2200 population but many of my students lived on ranches and farms. Agriculture, soil and water quality were a part of their every day lives. Weather and climate also important. The wildlife in surrounding public lands gave some students project ideas. 

I drew on the expertise of the BLM, USFS, USDA, the extension office from state land grant university, and the local extraction industry. 

In fact, when one of the coal mines about 22 miles from town was renovating their chemistry lab, I inherited whatever I could carry off! Lots of glassware and some equipment although most of that became a maker type of project.

My chemistry class was themed using fresh water-water quality, habitat for fish, all requires a preferred chemical environment. The river ran though limestone so we could talk about acid mine drainage in our state and how limestone naturally cleans up the stream-if not overwhelmed with contaminants. 

The local geology included a shale which posed problems for building contracters. We were able to use that as projects in Earth & Space Science. 

What are concerns or topics that your community is dealing with? What is the local industry? Are you a commuter rural community? That in itself can produce projects such as energy for commuting, mass transit-would that help, fuel economy and vehicles that fit both good for commuting and the local climate/weather. What types of recreation are preferred in your community? There may be projects involved with that. We have mountain bike trails, OHV trails, so the construction of those, their impacts on evnironment, are all possible topics. Water is always a good project. Is their increased algal blooms? Why? How will drought affect your ocmmunity? How will spring run-off flooding? Your local water treatment-pre-use and after use can give your students projects. Being rural, be sure your focus is to help the community! 

I also worked with the Agriculture instructor to incoporate student projects into my science classes as well. One student who now works for the state's department of wildlife, attempted to grow trout for a chemistry (water quality), biology, and agriculture project. He was successful after many trials.

Also, many museums have virtual presence online with educational components. There are scientists you can Skype or Zoom into your classroom. NSTA offers suggestions and freebies as well. 

I would be happy to answer more specifically! Let me know!

Olivia Pfeifer Olivia Bradds 540 Points

I think you should use your rural community to drive the PBL. Just because you do not have many 'resources' does not mean there cannot be rich PBLs happenning. I think if you were to get resources from somewhere else it takes away the authenticity of the learning experience. Remember PBL is all about being in the community. Think about the customs and traditions of your rural community. What problems do they face? Use these as your resources!

Camillia Ledbetter Camillia Ledbetter 960 Points

I definitely agree that you should reach out to your rural community partners. That local influence will really connect to the students but you can still bring in other resources to drive your PBLs. There are many platforms that offer virtual field trips and the ability to hear/ speak to professionals. One of my goals for the coming school year is to reach out to one professional per unit for a Google Meet with my students. Also, I have found that keeping a mindset of local PBL influences helps in creating a driving question. What would the students be able to connect with their prior experiences?

Connecting to the local community and place also encourages students to see the value of their location, especially if rural, and for some students, encourages them to see connections with content and the real world. Authenticity not only connects content to place but gives students choices. 

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