Problem Based Learning - PBL

by frances 14. January 2009 13:09

Talking with a colleague, Scot Aldred (PBL guru from Central Queensland University), this morning, reminded me to go and have another look at his blog. We have been working together for some time now (WebQuests are a sub-set of PBL) introducing teachers and administrators this pedagogical theory and practice.

In a recent article, Scot points to George Lucas' video clip - it is excellent.

I had added this video (from 2007) hear in case you haven't seen it yet at Lucas' Educational website,

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Comment on an article: "Summer School for Teachers Lesson One: The WebQuest"

by frances 8. January 2009 20:13

Summer School for Teachers Lesson One: The WebQuest by Phebe A. Durand, June 23, 2004.

An oldie but a goodie! Well worth a read if you are about to create or develop a WebQuest!

This tutorial (101) is a great start to learning about WebQuests! Durand follows Project-Based Learning Principles and so captures the very essence of wonderful, motivating and challenging WebQuests!

This entails having a messy problem for the students to solve, having collaborative process (team work) in place, and, the WebQuest scaffolding (Introduction, Task, Process, Resources, Evaluation, Conclusion, and, Teacher's Guide).

Durand describes the process of developing a WebQuest:

1. Brainstorming the topic.
Durand suggests using other lessons developed by other teachers and provides sites to look at.

This is a great idea - if the topic is one that you have to cover with your students! Also try to think of the topic that you have found, in the past, that was either "flat" or didn't motivate the students at all. This is the topic that you should consider to make a WebQuest on.

It is extremely important that you think of a messy, authentic (real) problem for the students to solve and provide them with mechanisms to undertake group work!

I would also suggest that you look at other great WebQuests that are now only in the Internet Archive and use them to "kick start" your own WebQuest (always acknowledging the original author, of course). At WebQuest Direct, our team has identified thousands of WebQuests that are now only in the Internet Archive and given them an educational rating based on the Higher Order Thinking Skills promoted and the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) strategies used.

2. Developing an Unit Outline - Teacher's Guide.
Durand lists the ideas to cover: Core Concepts; Main Topic; Guiding Questions; State Standards Addressed; Guiding Questions Support; Key Learning Area (KLA eg. Mathematics); Summary of the WebQuest; Summary of the Project (are they different?); and, Website Resources.

Lots of time, teachers don't concentrate on this step - but it is crucial! I think it is also important to provide teachers with this information when you are publishing a WebQuest in a "Teacher's Guide" page. It allows other teachers to effectively use your WebQuest! This is important, as teachers we have to adopt the philosophy - "Let's Stop Reinventing the Wheel" and share resources with each other.

3. Rough Draft.
Durand suggests paper and pen and writing down all your brainstorming ideas.

This is effective for some people, others might want to write up the WebQuest completely using Word or better still Notepad (as it strips the code from Word).

4. Use a Template.
Durand provides a template that teachers can use, modify or adapt.

Unfortunately, this template requires HTML code and the use of FrontPage (now superceded by Microsoft Expression Web) or Dreamweaver. I suggest that you use a FREE template like we have developed - Short-cut WebQuest Authoring Tool where you can easily make a WebQuest without knowing any code AT ALL. We have over 50 design templates that you can choose from.

There are other Templates at:
a. Bernie Dodge's
Quest Garden (for a small fee)
Zunal (free, some restrictions on design)

5. Developing Content.
Durand expertly describes each section - from the idea of the Title to the Conclusion. Her description of the Introduction, Question and The Task (including roles or perspectives); The Process; Evaluation; and, Conclusion. 

Durand "nails" it when she describes the idea of roles or perspectives to solve the messy problem. These roles encourage students to use their emotional intelligence and reflect what occurs in their communities.

The section on Resources needs more explanation - it is extremely important that as teachers you provide all the Internet resources needed for your students to undertake the WebQuest. A badly designed WebQuest states something like: "Go to Google, Yahoo, or another Search Engine to find resources". This is the case regardless of the age of students - surfing the Internet is a waste of student time! This Resource section can take the longest to create as you need to have numerous resources for students to explore and, this also ensures that if a website is broken, it doesn't disrupt the learning process. Resources also need to be "quirky" - left-field and reflecting the views and attitudes within the community.

Also, in the Conclusion, I usually tell student-teachers to take the issue that the WebQuest explored and get the students to focus on this issue at a local level (they have already explored the Global issue).  

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The Big Question

by frances 15. December 2008 17:10

One of the most important elements of a WebQuest is The Big Question. It is sometimes called the Focus Question, or Essential Question. It provides the students with their focus throughout the WebQuest - an important scaffold, something they can refer back to at all times throughout their exploring and working on the WebQuest.

When you are creating a WebQuest, after deciding on the messy problem to be solve, this is the next element that you need to research and think about. This Big Question has to be a question that allows students to think through possibilities, issues and solutions to the messy problem. It can be an open-ended question. An open-ended question is sometimes called infinite response or unsaturated type questions as they allow a full range of ideas to be developed.

A great WebQuest "Conflict Yellowstone Wolves" with a good Big Question: "Should the wolves in Yellowstone National Park be removed?" is an example of what teachers and creators of WebQuests should be aiming to achieve. This isn't an open-ended question but because this WebQuest has perspectives - Ranchers and Environmentalists - they will approach the question differently. This antagonism (a reflection of real life perspectives) allows students to use their emotional intelligence and they should be given mechanisms to help them resolve this conflict.

WebQuest Direct's Review:

Conflict Yellowstone Wolves  Gold award


Rating:  (Based on Higher Order Thinking and following the WebQuest Concept)
Key Learning Areas: HSIE / SOSE / Social Studies; Religious Education & Values; Science
Key Competencies: Collecting, analysing and organising information; Communicating Ideas and information; Solving problems; Working in a team
Tasks: Analytical; Compilation; Judgement; Persuasion; Research
Grade Levels: Middle; Secondary / High School
Country: U.S.A. U.S.A.
Language: English

Author: Keith Nuthall

Created: 1997. Last updated 2006
Description: Suitable for students in Years 5 - 8 studying Ecology, or, Animal Behaviour, or Environment Studies. Older students studying Geography or Ecology or conflict or social conflict would find this an interesting and challenging problem. Conflict Yellowstone Wolves is a real-life inquiry-oriented activity that challenges students to solve a current complex problem. The big question is: "Should the wolves in Yellowstone National Park be removed?" Students are to interact with experts, study past history, and develop a solution to the heated debate on reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone National Park USA. The project consists of investigating wolf behaviour; researching the Yellowstone Wolf Reintroduction Program; defining and analysing the current problem from different perspectives; developing a solution as a group; and, concludes with the students writing and sending a letter to the editor or government official as a report on their solution - numerous real world feedback contacts are given.

Resources: adequate.

Evaluation rubric is provided.

Conclusion: just a wrap up with no further challenge to students.

Teacher's Guide is provided and includes Duration: 7 days; and, lesson plans.

Design and layout: clean design with images that enhance the activity.

This WebQuest could be improved with more defined roles and a few more quirky resources.

Also at: Images are not linked in this version.
Was at:


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Other WebQuest & Educational Blogs

As I come across other WebQuest Blogs (& Educational ones), I will list them here.

Jane Hart's Blog (Jane is a Social Technologies Guru in UK)

Scot Aldred's Blog (Colleague at Central Queensland University and guru on Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

The Innovative Educator

Digital Education Blog

Blogging Corner Carnival

eLearn Magazine Blog

Dr. Lisa Neal Gualtieri, Editor-in-Chief, eLearn Magazine

Primary Blog

Charlie Sullivan - Charlie does a fantastic job collating websites for Primary schools.

De Tools Blog

This blog by and for online educators and features free web based tools applications and resources. Author: John Goldsmith.

Bright Ideas: a blog by the School Library Association of Victoria

The Book Whisperer

This blog is written by Donalyn Miller, a 6th Grade teacher in Texas, who is reknown for encouraging students to read!


Clustr Map

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Community Shopping Centre Planner
Can you get the party started?
Reminders of our moral conscience
The Petrov Affair
My Business Rules
Pluto's planetary status