Summary of “Student reasoning about ill-structured social problems in a multimedia-supported learning environment.”

In spite of a great deal of writing and study being done on the utilization of problem-based learning (PBL) across the field of education, not much specific study has been done examining the role of PBL within Social Studies.  In this study, findings highlighted that social studies students respond enthusiastically to and feel more investment in problem-centered, technology supported instruction when compared with teacher-centered, more traditional instruction of social studies concepts.  In support, following the lesson his class learned taught from a PBL perspective, one student said, ““You can learn more, maybe, in…a book, but will you want to know more? I mean…next year will I remember what I read in this book?…Even though you don’t learn more facts, just the facts that you learn more about real things, and, like, actuality itself—that just sticks in your mind more than facts” (Saye & Brush, 12).

Teachers unused to teaching in problem-centered, technology supported settings can still succeed with their students within their first semester of trying and with ongoing improvement beyond. In Saye and Brush’s study, the main teacher had minimal experience implementing PBL lessons within her classroom beforehand and received minimal training leading up to the comparative study.  The students in her experimental classroom still thrived in spite of challenges at times with direction and access to their teacher immediately. Nevertheless, problem-centered, technology supported instruction lead to more factual recall and higher-level reasoning skills (persuasive and dialectical) as demonstrated by comparative essay skills and tests. For example 35% of the PBL learning students demonstrated argument framing that met the expectations for the test when compared with only 8% of non PBL-taught students (10).  This information stresses the importance of incorporating more student-centered learning activities in all Social Studies lessons as well as for all Social Studies to improve their content delivery given the overall low rate of standards being met by student work.

This article ties directly into our chapter coverage of problem-based learning and the importance of connecting students with opportunities with authentic, creative expressions. Students deeply connected with and felt motivated to understand content information that was closer to home when they were involved in digging into determining multiple perspectives on certain historical issues that did not have clear, definitive answers (2). This article also directly relates to my own unit planning for Assignment Two, as I am teaching a unit on local government to sixth grade students.  This article’s findings confirmed the importance of teaching government concepts using PBL lesson formats and enriching the student experience with technology as often as possible.  Both of these approaches I plan on instituting in my own lessons.


Saye, J.W. & Brush, T.  (1999). Student reasoning about ill-structured social problems in a multimedia-supported learning environment. Annual Meeting of the National Council for the Social Studies, p. 1-20.


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One response to “Summary of “Student reasoning about ill-structured social problems in a multimedia-supported learning environment.”

  1. Pingback: Announcing a new blog: for Teaching Outside the Box | Teachers Outside the Box

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