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Frequently Asked Questions

How does Inquiry-Based Learning develop real-life skills?

The Inquiry-Based Learning method helps students develop the ability to assess what they know about a situation, what they don't know about a situation, what they need to know to make an informed decision, how they should go about acquiring the information that they need, how to evaluate that information once it is acquired, and how to explain and defend the decision that they reach. All of these steps are similar to what most people encounter on a regular basis as they make decisions in their personal and professional lives. The skills learned in an Inquiry-Based Learning environment are hopefully remembered and applied by students throughout their lives.

What makes Problem-Based Learning different from Project-Based Learning?

We believe that these methods are more similar than different, but two primary distinctions may be helpful: (1) Problem-Based Learning is powered by a central problem – not a prescribed end-product, and (2) Problem-Based Learning cases do not typically require the same lengthy time investment associated with Project-Based Learning.

Will Problem and Project-Based Learning work with my existing STEM curriculum?

Problem and Project-Based Learning have become an integral part of many STEM curriculum programs around the country, which is not surprising considering that Problem and Project-Based Learning provide a decision-making framework that can be applied to engineering and technology assignments. Existing cases can be used to introduce students to the problem-solving process, or new cases can be authored that match up with specific STEM projects in a curriculum.

I'm already invested in Project-Based Learning. Can Problem-Based Learning cases be used with it?

Yes. Problem-Based Learning cases can dovetail with Project-Based Learning in a variety of ways. In setting up a Project-Based curriculum, Problem-Based Learning cases can be used at the outset to train students to make good decisions. Similarly, shorter Problem-Based Learning cases can also support extended project work at later intervals by allowing students to practice and sharpen those same decision-making skills.

You mention cases. I teach using a Cased-Based Learning method already. Isn't this the same thing?

Case-Based Learning often is a study of something that already occurred. Students are exposed to portions of the case over time, and ultimately are shown how the case was resolved in its original occurrence. Problem-Based Learning cases are open to multiple answers, and students are evaluated more on their process to arrive at a decision, and their ability to defend it, than they are on finding one predetermined conclusion.

Were the Wake/UTD PBL cases written to align with the Common Core State Standards?

The Problem-Based Learning cases have been authored on an ongoing basis since the 1990s, so most were not created with Common Core Standards in mind. They have, however, been retroactively aligned with Common Core and other State standards. The benefits of the cases are wide-ranging and not limited to requirements of Common Core or any other standards.

How can I get trained?

There two ways to participate in a training:

  • There are regularly scheduled training sessions offered at Wake Forest School of Medicine, which are open enrollment. The website lists the upcoming workshops and their associated costs.  These trainings usually take place during the summer months.
  • Wake/UTD PBL has a team of approved trainers that are available (for fee) to come to your school or district and deliver a customized workshop.  Contact us for more information.

How were the Wake/UTD PBL cases created and selected for inclusion on the website? Have they been used in classrooms?

The case development began sixteen years ago and cases were created by classroom teachers with collaboration and input from medical school faculty. Over the years, cases have been updated and revised based on feedback from teachers in the field and the change in standards, both state and national. New cases have been created and cases are continuing to be developed to address the most current teaching and learning issues.

What is the background of CERTL?

The Center of Excellence for Research, Teaching and Learning (CERTL) is the initiative created by Wake Forest School of Medicine to bring Inquiry-Based Learning training and an online repository of Problem and Project-Based Learning cases to educators across the nation. CERTL was created in 1996 with funds from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Its original mission was to direct more students, especially disadvantaged students, into careers involving science, technology, engineering and math (what we currently know as STEM).

What other services does Wake/UTD PBL offer?

A nationally recognized leadership training program, developed by Dr. Larry Coble, is available for teacher leaders at all levels and central office staff. The programs are customized and delivered on site based on the needs of the school or district. The specific components of the leadership training are available here.

Why should an educator, school, or district invest in Wake/UTD PBL cases?

The cases are designed to provide students with real-world problems that require higher order cognition and collaboration. This approach to education is the focus of the new national Common Core Assessments and the Next Generation Science Standards. PBL is relevant, which results in knowledge being more retrievable. Students can apply their knowledge and skills in similar situations. This is an exciting way of learning that results in concepts and skills being retained in long-term memory instead of stored in short-term memory.

How will I know how to assess my students as they engage with a case in my classroom?

A rubric is provided with each case to guide your assessment approach. It is our belief that students will be better prepared if cases are closely aligned with the new national standards. As a result, we encourage student writing, technical reading and the development of proposed case solutions anchored in defendable pieces of evidence.

How do I manage a classroom while doing a PBL case?

You will use an expanded skill set to include classroom group facilitation with your students. In this methodology, the students do the work and the teacher facilitates. As the teacher, you will select cases based on your educational goals and the interests of your students. A key to success will be the ability to continually ask probing questions and to know when to move student groups to additional questions and tasks.

Why is the use of small groups in the PBL classroom encouraged?

Small groups promote discussion of prior knowledge, encourage cooperation, collaboration, mediation and negotiation. Individuals can participate in the group without fear of reprisal, especially students who tend not to speak up in whole class setting.

How are small groups best managed?

It is recommended that groups consist of 3 - 5 students. Diverse groups allow for more interaction and better group interaction. All students should know that their evaluation is based on their contribution and participation within the group. Encourage equal participation and make the group accountable for contributions from each group member.

How do I get off track students or groups back on task?

Ask students things like, “What does that have to do with this case/problem?” Require them to relate their conversations to the current problem/project. When they cannot do this, have them summarize the current problem/project, where they are with the problem/project, and where they are headed with the case.

What are some sample prompting questions that can be used to move the groups forward?

  • What would be helpful to do/know now? 
  • Is that a learning issue? 
  • How do you know that? 
  • How does that relate to this problem/project? 
  • Does everyone in your group agree with that statement? 
  • Where are we stuck? 
  • Can your group agree on what the next step should be? 
  • Tell me more about what you are thinking, where can you find that kind of information? 
  • What can we agree to do between now and the next time?


"In my 13+ years in education, I have not been able to find another instructional tool that I have found to be as effective or easy to implement. I highly encourage all teachers to take advantage of the resources Wake PBL has to offer. You will NOT be sorry!" - Jayne W. Grubbs

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Physical Address:
Bowman Gray Center for Medical Education
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Phone: 336.713.2708
Email: wfpbl@wakehealth.edu