Problem-Based Learning

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) at IMSA

Problem-based learning is a student-centered, inquiry-based instructional approach utilizing a real-world, ill-defined (messy) problem to both introduce and explore specific content. PBL institutes are designed for educators of all disciplines and introduce participants to an instructional technique that is designed to engage their students in deep, meaningful learning. PBL is rooted in real-world experiences, therefore, we highlight the how-to for designing and successfully implementing original PBL units unique to your classroom.

IMSA’s Center for Teaching and Learning is able to customize a school-wide plan for individual educational settings upon request. Workshops may be held in-person or virtually. Contact for more information.

Individual Learning Experiences

The online, asynchronous format of PBL makes allows you to learn at your own pace, anywhere! Our PBL specialist will be available to support your progress and answer questions. Each session will provide approximately three hours of content and assignments, depending on the participants’ pace. Upon completion, you will receive 3 CPDU credits.


This course is the second in the PBL course series and is designed to be an autonomous learning experience. In this course, learners explore design elements involved in creating Problem-Based Learning for the K-12 classroom. Through exploration of example units, learners learn to apply the design elements to create their own PBL unit unique to their classroom. Instructor feedback is provided throughout the course.

Suggested Prerequisite: PBL 1: Fundamentals


The third in our online PBL series, this course focuses on techniques to prepare the teacher and their students for the successful implementation of a Problem-Based Learning unit. Topics such as inquiry-based learning, problem-solving, and building collaboration, as well as assessments, are explored. Instructor feedback is provided throughout the course.

Suggested Prerequisite: PBL 2: Details in Design

Sample PBL Units

Waste Not Want Not: Using Agricultural Plant WasteThis sample Problem Based Learning (PBL) lesson, appropriate for middle school students, focuses on the best use for agricultural waste, using an apple orchard as the hypothetical problem. Students answer questions to define agricultural waste, determine how it can be used, and ways that it can be reduced.
Forensics: Crime Scene InvestigationsIn this sample Problem Based Learning (PBL) unit, middle school students investigate a hypothetical crime scene. Students focus on gathering data, interpreting results and drawing conclusions.
Every Drop Counts: Improving the Health of Lake MichiganThis sample Problem Based Learning (PBL) lesson is appropriate for elementary students and focuses on improving the health of Lake Michigan waters and shoreline. The problem focuses on habitats, pollution, and properties of water.
Take to the Air: Airline DevelopmentIn this sample Problem Based Learning (PBL) unit, high school students are faced with the problem of a new airline being developed in the Chicago area. Students investigate the economic and community impact along with marketing and aircraft considerations.
Rock and Roll: Tectonics in IllinoisThis sample Problem Based Learning (PBL) unit for elementary students focuses on creating earthquake friendly buildings and homes in response to the history of seismic activity in Illinois. Students explore concepts of engineering and tectonics.