How Schools Can Help Students Solve Real-Life Problems


Often we talk about PBL in terms of how it helps students with their own learning.  But there’s another area where PBL can allow students to shine – serving others to address real-life problems.

We see a great example of this from Glendale High School (Springfield, MO)​. As part of their PBL-based curriculum called “Quest,” the students have taken charge to help the homeless while learning about civil rights.  Inspired by grassroots efforts that happened in America in the 50’s and 60’s during the Civil Rights movement, GHS students were tasked with creating their own grassroots organization. The requirement: it had to be based on something they were passionate about.  The result: creating a food pantry (“The Branch”) to serve food to the 35 students at GHS who are homeless. Students sold peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to raise funds for food, which they then served at the pantry.

In taking this route, the depth of the students’ learning ​extended beyond the academic material and helped with a real​-life problem​.  As GHS teacher James Nordine notes, “…they also learned more about themselves and about a need that was here at Glendale that many people don’t realize.”

We know that schools are powerful environments for student learning and development. Here we see that PBL could be used to package that learning and development into efforts that help with problems in the community. The example from GHS shows that putting students in a position to help the community does not have to rely on an after-school club or programs outside of the curriculum. By daring to take lessons from the textbooks and put them  in the hands of the students, there is no telling what great things schools can accomplish for their communities.