Instructional Design: PBL + MEA

Help students become better decision makers: PBL and MEAs Instruction

Many educational pedagogies involve students making a decision. Isn’t one of our goals as educators to better prepare students for a chance to obtain a 21st century STEM career?

“Problem-based learning (PBL) an instructional method of hands-on, active learning centered on the investigation and resolution of messy, real-world problems.” (

For more information:

“Model-eliciting activities (MEAs) are activities that encourage students to invent and test models. They are posed as open-ended problems that are designed to challenge students to build models in order to solve complex, real-world problems.” (

For more research:

The common themes within these student-centered, inquiry focused pedagogies are that students are given multiples days, or multiple subject areas in order to study a particular topic/standard embedded within a real world problem. Students are then allowed the opportunity to experience the engineering design process in which they create a reasonable open-ended solution.


During a recent training presented by Christine (Angel) Danger, @AngelDanger10, I reflected on the wonderful promotion of MEA lessons. Why is it that students have such a hard time problem solving situations that are not about them? Angel and I discussed and agreed on a theory of ego-centrism. This is not intended to have a negative connotation, simply, we infer that students in elementary school have a harder time with empathy and imagining themselves in someone else’s situation than those of their older, more experienced peers.

For example, a student is asked to read a description about how Jerome is conducting a science experiment using x, y, and z. The child is then instructed to answer questions which require the child to interpret what his results would be. Student’s typically have difficulties interpreting Jerome’s problem, assessing the situation and how it should be solved.

The use of PBL allows the students to experience a real-world situation with their peers allowing character building, formal and informal learning, student ownership, and intrinsic motivation.


As this graphic below shows, there is a clear difference between traditional teaching and inquiry focused teaching, therefore the learning outputs will also be different. With traditional teaching, the students are front-loaded most of the information they are expected to learn, then allowed time to practice, typically individually. This method does not foster informal learning discussions which would inevitably lead to a solution of the presented problem. Inquiry focused teaching allows the students be at the helm of the learning experiences, and informal learning discussions with the instructor “guiding from the side”.

It is my belief that stepping away from the tradition learning method this is the fear of most educators. With our current grading system and national testing mandates, educators are left to teach and assess in such a way that allows the students to answer multiple choice questions. Although educators know this is not how students are assessed in life, PBL and MEA lessons can help build student experiences and schema which students access to relate to situations like Jerome’s science experiment.


Most decisions presented to young learners are relatively easy for a student to make.

Do you want to watch TV? Sure!

Would you rather have this, or that? This!

However, when it comes to students making an informed decision, using higher order thinking skills and strategies applying concepts taught in class… crickets. (Well except for that one student.) I am currently obtaining my Masters Degree, therefore am currently a student, and still as an adult learner find it difficult to make decisions based on the curriculum. If more decision based learning is utilized in the classroom with curriculum to support student choices, would students not be better and more confident decision makers for life? I wholeheartedly believe they will. Defy student’s egotistical thought process, by using Problem Based Learning and Model Eliciting Activities to promote student decision making.

Would you like to incorporate more PBL and MEA into your instruction?

Model Eliciting activity resources

Model Eliciting Activities by Dr. Deborah Kozdras and Angel Danger

Integrated STEM Lessons as Model Eliciting Activities on

Follow @cpalmsmea

Problem Based Learning resources

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s