Perceptions of the Value of Problem-based Learning among Students with Special Needs and Their Teachers

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Brian R. Belland
Peggy A. Ertmer
Krista D. Simons


While problem-based learning (PBL) has been found to be effective with gifted and average students (Hmelo-Silver, 2004), little is known about its impact on students with special needs. This study examines the perceptions of middle-school students with mild, moderate, and severe disabilities and of their teachers regarding the value of participating in a PBL unit. The unit focused on the physical accessibility of a low-SES, rural community where the students’ school was located.We used the constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) to analyze interview data, and used observation data and artifacts to triangulate interview comments. Among the noteworthy findings were (1) students manifested strong engagement, and (2) students with less severe disabilities developed compassion for students with more severe disabilities.

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