Problem-based learning scenarios aren’t designed in a day; ask anyone who’s ever designed one. They know that good story structure is essential on two levels: narrative, so that 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 TIP, the story is all. TIP is optional, so the story must be compelling.
So how do you organize all the moving parts–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 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 Out Our Template
Each week students have a choice point to pursue using analysis, evaluation, or synthesis skills. Whether you’re working with students face to face, online, or in a hybrid situation, this template can help you with your design to that the decision feels 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
If you try this template, let us know how it goes!