After reading Stakeout by Bonnie J. Doerr, I was inspired to design this problem based learning project. New to problem based learning? Key components include:
The following unit could be completed entirely within a middle school English classroom or science classroom (covering such topics as environmental science, meteorology, ecosystems, habitats, and biology), or some combination of the two.
The problem: You are members of Key Teens Care. Big Pine Key is suffering from a drought. You are worried about the welfare of the animals at National Key Deer Refuge. What will you do?
1. Whole class: Read Stakeout by Bonnie J. Doerr
2. Whole class: Watch a video on drought
3. Pairs: Make a 3 column chart—What we learned from Stakeout that might help us (resources, habitat, animals, process, etc.)/What we know about drought/What do we need to know about drought and the ecosystem in Big Pine Key
4. Whole class: Begin a Learning Issues Board (a working three column-chart for the class)
5. Whole class: Prioritize learning issues
6. Whole class: Select research groups for the top priority questions. Possible topics include:
• National Key Deer Refuge
• Ecosystem and habitat of Big Pine Key
• Drought and water conservation
• Endangered Species Act
7. Whole class: Assign interest- based research groups
1. Whole class: Review Learning Issues Board
2. Small groups: Conduct research
3. Whole class: Discuss findings and update Learning Issues Board
4. Whole class: Make a list of possible interview subjects. Possible list might include:
• Representative from National Key Deer Refuge
• Author of Stakeout, Bonnie J. Doerr
• Representative from Aransas Project
• Representative from the Florida Office of Water Policy
• Representative from Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
• Representative from Florida Office of Ecosystem Projects
5. Small groups: Write interview questions while teacher secures interviews
6. Whole class: Review LIB
7. Whole class/Small groups: Conduct interviews via Skype, phone, or email or in person
8. Whole class: Share and update LIB
9. Optional: Whole class: Consider possibilities for appropriate field trips
1. Small groups: Rewrite problem to more narrowly define it based on your understanding
2. Whole class: Using small group drafts, create a whole class version of the new problem
1. Whole class: Review structured problem
2. Individuals: Brainstorm possible resolutions
3. Small groups: Share brainstorms and then decide on the three most promising. Create a pro/con T-chart to evaluate each one.
4. Whole class: Share T-charts and as a class decide which solution is the strongest.
5. Whole class: Determine who might benefit from their research and how best to share information with them. Create a plan for this and carry it out.
1. Whole class: Discuss any response to their findings from their audience
2. Individual: Evaluate the process, your role, how you could have done better, how the group could have done better, etc.
Have you tried problem based learning? Tell me about it.
Mary Helen Sheriff lives in Richmond, VA with her husband, two children, and two cats. She has an MFA in children’s literature from Hollins University and is an experienced teacher of elementary, middle grade, and college students. Her most recent publishing credits include four middle grade short stories for a reading comprehension website and a YA short story for an anthology written for Ethiopians learning English. She is currently writing a novel and maintaining a blog where you can read her thoughts on writing and education.