Problem-based learning scenarios aren’t designed in a day; ask any teacher who’s ever designed one. These designers know that good story structure is essential on two levels: narrative, so that gifted students stay engaged, and pedagogical, so that time is well spent in building skills and in cultivating deep conceptual understanding. When it comes to mystery-based learning, as we call it around Duke TIP, the story is all. TIP is optional, gifted students and their families must choose to join us, so the stories we offer in our programs such as eInvestigators for gifted 4th, 5th, and 6th graders must be compelling.
So how do you organize all the moving parts of an immersive scenario–what feels like sometimes, as many as 206 bones–into a cohesive skeleton?
In an earlier post, “Cracking the Case Design: How Duke TIP Does PBL,” we provided a general overview of our case design philosophy and a brainstorming template for getting started on crafting a PBL scenario for your gifted and talented students. In this post, “Set the Scene in PBL,” we explored how to craft an immersive setting that draws your students into the case. Now we take it a step further with more bones to make your mystery as solid as can be. We have to practice the art of melding curricular design and narrative design in order to ensure a
- driving, or Essential Question;
- that real characters–your students–must solve in the real world;
- making key decisions along the way;
- while developing meaningful skills.
In other words, you’re bringing the best of your curricular design skills together with the skills of a novelist or moviemaker in order to get students curious enough to see the story to its end. And many artists will tell you that a good outline–good bones–is pretty essential if you want to effectively and efficiently create a story.
Members of the Duke TIP Educational Innovation and Online Learning team–Jamye Abram, Brian Cooper, Tracy Walker, and myself, Lyn Fairchild Hawks– recently presented this template for building a meaningful decision point activity at the 2018 ISTE conference, showing participants how one of our online programs, eInvestigators, challenges Duke TIP’s gifted 4th, 5th, and 6th graders to crack a case in subjects such as law, medicine, archaeology. Students pursue questions such as, “What is Mrs. Thompson’s diagnosis?” or “Is Mr. Barrett guilty?”, taking on a professional role such as medical resident or juror in order to find a satisfying answer to these mysteries.
How do you structure a problem-based learning scenario? Share with us below!
How Duke TIP Does Mysteries: The Question Is All
Duke TIP offers a decision-point template to help you think through a brief 1-2 day activity for your classroom–or perhaps combine two or more decision points into a larger storyline. These aren’t random activities, but ones clearly led by the Essential Question we’re familiar with thanks to Understanding by Design theory. This real-world dilemma may be one big question–How do we stop a disease from spreading?–that hinges on students answering smaller questions along the way–the decision-point questions. Where did this disease originate? How do we know when someone has the disease? What is the best way to communicate the information we know to the public?
Try Our Template
Each week students have a choice point to pursue using analysis, evaluation, or synthesis skills. Whether you’re working with gifted students face to face, online, or in a blended learning situation, this template can help you with your design to that the decision remains urgent and the students are uncovering just-in-time information in order to make an informed decision.
Below is an overview of some of our template components, our blank template, and also a populated template: the bones of our mystery case, The Ominous Outbreak. Check out how we designed that storyline.
- Duke TIP Mystery-Based Learning Decision Point Template
- OUTB Example of Duke TIP Mystery-Based Learning Decision Point Template – ISTE 2018
Depending on the elements of the narrative–the events of the story requiring decision points, and the artifacts from characters who play a role besides your students–you can differentiate instruction accordingly. For example, if students are pursuing a legal case mystery, they’ll need time to master legal terms and concepts. Depending on their prior knowledge, or lack thereof, you can decide whether a mini-lesson is in order for students to watch a video or read a text excerpt, in order to prepare to be jurors the next day who read a case brief of a piece of evidence submitted in court. You can structure your teaching around the unpacking of each artifact.
As you analyze each decision point you craft, use these questions to make sure the bones of the scenario are strong:
- What role are students playing in this activity? (Who are they–a juror, epidemiologist, etc.?)
- What decision(s) do they have to make?
- What skills must they use?
- What artifacts must they use to make their decision?
If you try these templates, let us know how it goes!