This post explores the importance of establishing a rich setting for a problem-based learning scenario. It also shares a math activity that asks students to analyze the economic impact of a disease outbreak, part of a problem-based learning unit for gifted elementary and middle school students.
Problem-based learning may be open-ended and ill-structured, but problem scenarios require well-defined characters, plot, and setting. Setting the scene right–with high-stakes, high-impact specifics–helps students understand the importance of the conundrum they’re about to tackle. What elements are key to your scenarios?
Have ideas about establishing a great setting for a problem-based learning scenario?
Someone is sick at the State Fair!
In Duke TIP’s Discovering Science and Medicine: Epidemiology, Disease, and Outbreak course, student play the role of apprentice epidemiologists who must tackle a disease outbreak. Note the where: the State Fair. The where matters because of many factors, including the sheer number of people who might become ill, as well as the economic impact.
Do the math!
After watching a video where students listen to the high-strung State Fair Director, Mr. Nash, worry over potential economic losses, students complete a brief math activity that helps them visualize one reason for urgent action: significant financial loss. Mathematical skills matter while playing the role of gumshoe detective and public health official.
View the Math Challenge.
Where is your PBL story taking place? When you design a scenario, do you consider any of what we call the Six Signposts of Setting? Borrowing from the creative writing world never hurts when you’re trying to create meaningful, immersive narratives presenting real world dilemmas.
We at TIP took it a bit further and set up some secondary characters–such as Ima Inyourface, a reporter who ends up playing a key role later in the scenario. The foreshadowing via tickers and intense reporting–”State Fair: Show Us the Money”– is another way we establish a high-stakes stakes. Check it out!
Want to see the full medical mystery curriculum at the TIP Curriculum Vault? Head here.
Want to dig around on your own in the TIP Curriculum Vault to see all lessons that build to this mystery? Head here. For more on how Duke TIP integrates the teaching of setting in a creative writing course, visit Creative Writing: Adventures Through Time at our TIP Curriculum Vault.