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The Mars Education Approach to Problem Based Learning
Problem based learning or active learning, is an instructional strategy in formal educational settings. This strategy aims to achieve certain goals in student educational development. These goals include:
  1. flexible knowledge,
  2. effective problem-solving skills,
  3. self directed learning skills,
  4. effective collaboration skills, and
  5. intrinsic motivation. 
Problem based learning enables positive affects among students by helping them to learn not only content but also thinking skills and meta-cognition. Students also develop flexible understanding and lifelong learning skills. In this process the teacher acts as a facilitator of the learning process using the 5E instructional model as it builds 21st century workforce development skills.
Mars Education Projects applying problem based learning.
How are we applying Problem Based Learning?
  1. Students establish a question and then discuss within their team. Thus activating their prior knowledge indicating what they already know and helping the facilitator (teacher) to understand the base knowledge of the team.
  2. Within their team, they will then develop possible hypotheses to explain the question. Together they identify content to be researched.
  3. Students work independently of the team to research the content. This step invokes an additional critical thinking component.
  4. The team will re-group to discuss their findings and refine their initial explanations based on what they learned.
  5. The team will then establish the most likely hypothesis to use and develop a research question based on this hypothesis.
  6. The team will establish data collection procedures, collect the data, and analyze the data in an attempt to answer their question.
  7. The team will present their conclusions to scientists through a symposium. Similar to a peer review process that all scientists must go through with their research, the students in this last step present their research to a real Mars scientists and get authentic feedback.
Bybee, R., Taylor, J., Gardner, A., Van Scotter, P., Carson Powell, J., Westbrook, A., Landes, N. (2006) The BSCS 5E instructional model: origins, effectiveness, and applications. Colorado Springs: BSCS.
Hmelo-Silver, Cindy E. (2004). "Problem-Based Learning: What and How Do Students Learn?". Educational Psychology Review 16 (3): 235-266.
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2011).  A framework for 21st century learning.  Retrieved March 15, 2012 from http://www.p21.org/