The communities of Santa Teresa, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas have something in common—both communities are monitored by the U. S. Border Patrol, but not in the way that many illegal aliens have come to expect their attention. The U. S. Border Patrol has set up outreach centers to bring about goodwill and provide teenagers with the opportunity to explore career possibilities. For the legal citizens of these communities, this is a wonderful initiative. For the undocumented aliens, parents of teenagers coming face to face with the U. S. Border Patrol in school, it's a nightmare.
Illegal immigrants fear that the U. S. Border Patrol may try to identify children of illegals, and then use this information to locate and prosecute the parents. Despite the U. S. Border Patrol's protests that this will not happen, the relationship between parents and school officials is tenuous. How will parents who are illegal immigrants attend school meetings if they fear encountering deportation officials? While the stakeholders of these border communities probably have not heard of ill-structured problems, they are certainly in the middle of one.
Ill-structured problems like this one are messy by nature. They are like the real-life situations students can expect to encounter when they leave school, and they can be great learning opportunities as a form of problem-based learning. Problem-based learning (PBL) uses real-life problems modeled after a contemporary or historical case to engage students as they pursue specified learning outcomes that are in line with academic standards or course objectives (Stepien & Pyke, 1997). Students work through the problem as a stakeholder. The teacher acts as a guide or advisor as students explore the issues involved, formulate questions, conduct research, and consider possible solutions to the problems.
Since most problems spring from a lack of information, problem-based learning makes an ideal tool to use and reinforce the Big6 Skills. The Big6 approach to information-problem solving provides a framework for students to find, organize, and present the information that they need to solve-real life problems. This accomplishes two goals—to help them complete their assignment efficiently and successfully, and to remind them that they must be information processors in their life beyond school. Combined with graphic organizers, the Big6 becomes a powerful tool to help students work through the U. S. Border Patrol scenario.
Using graphic organizers with the Big6 process can help students build their own knowledge and reflect on how new information links to their mental framework, or schema, of the world. This is important because, according to Buzan (1996), the human brain works primarily with key concepts in an interlinked and integrated manner. For each step in the Big6, there is at least one graphic organizer that helps students integrate new information with information that they already know (see Table 1).
Table 1. Matching Each Big6™Skill with a Graphic Organizer Tool
Problem-based learning is a valuable tool for students of many levels. However, the task of designing a problem-based learning lesson can be daunting—the problems are large and messy, and it can be a challenge to know where to start. The following Big6-related five actions can help you keep your problem-based learning lesson under control and moving along.
Action 1—Select a Problem and Brainstorm an Idea to Explore Its Potential (Task Definition)
According to Stepien and Pyke (1997), a problem-based learning situation must meet several criteria. The situation must provide an effective way of engaging students with experiences that scaffold higher order thinking. The situation should also accomplish curriculum objectives and include age-appropriate topics. Further, the learning situation should take the form of an ill-structured problem to foster inquiry at a level that is cognitively engaging but not frustrating. Lastly, the situation should make efficient use of instructional time allotted to the unit.
When selecting a problem, the teacher can either look through academic standards and objectives for a dilemma, or search news stories for a problem that will allow the introduction of academic standards. In examining the problem, the teacher can use a brainstorming map to explore the content that students may encounter as they go about examining the issue and suggesting possible resolutions.
Brainstorming with some form of visual aid (e.g, spider map, clustering, fishbone mapping) can be an important tool for teachers to consider the breadth of the issue and to include cross-curricular connections. For example, in the past, the author worked with a sixth grade social studies teacher who was asking the class to examine the core dilemma involved in dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. By focusing only on activities to teach history, the sixth grade teacher missed the big question, "Should we have dropped the bomb?" and possible explorations through the stakeholders' points of view (for example, President Truman, U. S. Air Force Pilot, residents of Hiroshima, etc.).
Action 2—Engage Students in a Real-Life Problem (Task Definition)
This action builds a blueprint for inquiry and the investigation process to follow. As the teacher, you identify key curriculum goals and work forward from those to pose an engaging introduction that reflects a real world, ill-structured problem.
As in real-life, students must use the inquiry process and reasoning to solve the problem. The narrative that introduces students to the real-life problem is the key to a successful problem-based learning lesson. You can find sample narratives at: http://www.esc20.k12.tx.us/cut/ The Curriculum Using Technology (CUT) Institute Materials web page.
Action 3—Focus Inquiry and Investigation (Task Definition to Information Seeking Strategy, Location & Access and Use of Information)
Once students are engaged in the problem, they begin to write down their hunches about it and identify with a stakeholder. Following this, they can begin the process of locating, gathering and using sources of information using the Big6. Inquiry and investigation builds a basis for students to design a solution product.
Action 4—Support Problem Resolution (Synthesis)
As students work their way through the different points of view according to the stakeholder position they have taken, it is important that they share information with each other. One way to do this is to encourage students to suggest a solution to the problem that considers the various points of view of all stakeholders. The teacher will want to facilitate a discussion to determine how students will share information to arrive at such a solution.
Action 5—Facilitate Problem Debriefing (Evaluation)
After solving the problem, a key piece of problem-based learning is to debrief students. The debriefing step asks students to consider what steps they took to solve the problem and to determine the effectiveness of their reasoning. In addition, students reflect on whether or not they believe their solution will address the causes that were identified in Task Definition. For example, students can look at the criteria identified in Task Definition and ask themselves, "Did I find research from multiple sources?" and "Did I spend my time well in gathering and using information from various sources?" The role of the teacher is to help students focus on metacognition and to review issues inherent in the problem (Gallagher, 2000).
An Example: On the Border
This article began with a presentation of a problem that exists on the border of the United States and Mexico. Here's how the author used this situation to develop a problem-based learning (PBL) lesson called "On the Border," which reinforces essential Big6 information problem-solving skills.
Don't forget that preparing curriculum is an information exercise for the teacher, just as the lesson itself presents an information problem for the student. Since lessons based on real-life problems are broad and information-rich, Task Definition is a particularly important step for the teacher.
A particularly useful Task Definition exercise for lesson planning is the articulation of curriculum objectives and learning outcomes. When developing the On the Border lesson, the author identified four curriculum objectives:
Once the teacher has defined the desired learning outcomes for the lesson, the next step is to consider possible issues associated with the central problem. This will help the teacher to identify and anticipate ways that students may potentially approach the problem. In developing the On the Border lesson, the teacher used a brainstorming map (http://www.oocities.com/mguhlin/writings/ontheborder.jpg) to examine the issues connected with this particular ill-structured problem. The brainstorming map identifies possible stakeholders, issues arising from the influx of undocumented workers, the deaths of border patrol agents, the culture clash between Mexico and the United States, the impact of free trade policies the federal government has enacted and much more. Of course, as any experienced teacher knows, there is no way to anticipate everything the class will come up withexpect to be dazzled by your students' insight and creativity!
While Task Definition deals with the problem at hand, it also asks you to define the type of information needed. For the teacher, this means considering what he or she expects for the final product of the lesson. The author determined that as students progress through the lesson, they would build a portfolio for assessment. Each assessment task pinpoints specific learning objectives. An overview of the assessments for this lesson include:
Student Product Objectives (I=Individual Product; G=Group Product):
Engage Students in a Real-life Problem (Task Definition)
Once the teacher has gone through his or her own Big6 process to plan the PBL lesson, it is time to present the lesson to the students and prepare them to engage in their own information problem-solving process to complete the lesson successfully. First, it is important to help the class understand the importance of the problem. Role playing is one way for the students to become actively involved in the problem. The student must say, "My mother is an illegal alien. How do I feel about the U. S. Border Patrol in school?" or perhaps, "As the U.S. Border Patrol Agent in charge of setting up the outreach centers, how can I reassure these children that I am not here on official business in order to hunt their parents?"
The teacher can use the Big6 and graphic organizers to help students identify with a particular group. Following is an excerpt from the lesson, where students use graphic organizers to help them begin to define the task of their particular stakeholder group.
Big6 #1: Task Definition
1.1 Define the information problem: The U.S. Border Patrol has created several outreach programs to provide teenagers the opportunity to explore career possibilities. With these programs, the Border Patrol hopes to improve its relationship with residents in El Paso and Southern New Mexico. One particular initiative in Santa Teresa, New Mexico seems to be doing just the opposite. As you listen to the National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast, do the following:
Focus Inquiry and Investigation (Task Definition to Information Seeking Strategy, Location & Access and Use of Information)2.1 Brainstorm possible sources of information: After you have done a Web search on your topic, organize the possible sources in a chart, like the one below. Use the chart to compare and contrast sources of information and to gather information for the questions you've written. Be sure to use citation guidelines for any information you find.
2.2 Selecting the best sources: Look at your chart and decide which sources you will use to respond to your questions.
Support Problem Resolution (Synthesis)5.1 Organize information from multiple sources: Once again, a graphic organizer can help with this task. Create a spider map that deals with your stakeholder questions and summarizes the information you have found to answer your questions. This will ensure that you include all of the important information that you have collected, and will help to illustrate the relationships between ideas. Next, develop a problem/solution map to show solutions from your point of view, what you think the results will be, and how these results will affect the overall situation. This is where the point of view of the stakeholder is particularly important—keep in mind what your group will think is a good idea, and what solutions the members of the group would be opposed to. Finally, share your information with your team (the other stakeholders) and then create a Venn diagram to show how the different points of view are similar and different. This will give you the information that you need to develop a problem/solution map that includes the ideas of all members of your group.
5.2 Present the information: Now that you have analyzed the results of your research, develop a multimedia presentation. Using eight slides, address the major points of your group's problem/solution map, such as:
Facilitate Problem Debriefing (Evaluation)
Since students worked both individually and as a group for this project, it is important that they evaluate their individual work as well as their team work.
6.2 Judge the process (Individual): Use the following checklist to judge your information gathering process.
Using graphic organizers with the Big6 information problem-solving model provides students with essential tools to participate in problem-based learning. Graphic organizers give students maps they can use to locate, gather, organize, and synthesize information from a variety of resources. Then, students can put that knowledge to use in developing possible solutions for real-life, messy problems. The process of growing up isn't easy . . . it requires us to work through problems, running into barriers as we gather information and trying to reconcile new information to what we already know. That's why information problem-solving processes, such as the Big6, are important; they allow us to externalize the process we go through. By making the process external, we can begin to approach the situation, not only as stakeholders willing to fight for our beliefs, but also as people who can recognize and reconcile different points of view.
On the Border Lesson Materials
Miguel Guhlin, an instructional technologist, earned a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in Bicultural/Bilingual Studies. He is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership with an instructional focus. He became committed to using information problem-solving approaches such as the Big6 as a way to help teachers facilitate students' use of technology in problem-based learning simulations, such as webquests. Working for the Education Service Center, Region 20 (ESC-20) in San Antonio, Texas, USA has provided him the opportunity to show K-16 educators how to integrate information literacy, information-management tools, and real-life problem-solving. He is fortunate to work with a highly committed team of talented individuals at the Education Service Center. Miguel invites you to visit the Education Service Center, Region 20 in San Antonio, Texas to learn how to integrate technology into the curriculum, and then share what you've learned with others. While working at ESC-20 for the last three years, Miguel created Web pages that offer free workshop materials, as well as a Web site recognized by Classroom Connect, and other instructional technology organizations.
Contact Information:Miguel Guhlin
ReferencesGuhlin, M. (1999). Five steps to Big6™ problem-based learning lessons using graphic organizers. [Online]. Available: http://www.oocities.com/mguhlin
Freeman, G. (1999). The graphic organizer. [Online]. Available: http://www.graphic.org/ (current September 8, 1999)
Gallagher, S. A., & Stepien, W. (January, 2000). Problem-based learning: Blueprint for bringing curriculum reform to the classroom. Workshop presented at the ASCD Professional Development Conference, San Antonio, Texas.
Stepien, W., & Pyke, S. L. (Summer, 1997). Designing problem-based learning units. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 20(4), 380-400.
On the Border Lesson
Brower, D. (no date). Border patrol outreach programs. [Online]. Available: http://search.npr.org/cf/cmn/cmnps05fm.cfm?SegID=68757 (Current 01/05/2000).
Buzan, T., & Buzan, B. (1996). The mind map book: How to use radiant thinking to maximize your brain's untapped potential. London, UK: BBC Books: NAL/ Dutton.
Creating web-based lessons: Webquests and other Internet projects. Rubric collection [Online]. Available: http://www.mindwrite.cc/etprojects/rubrics/Default.htm (Current 1/15/2000).
Eisenberg, M. B., & Berkowitz, R. E. (1999). Teaching information & technology skills: The Big6™ in elementary schools. Worthington, OH: Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Fishbone map. [Online]. Available http://www.sdcoe.k12.ca.us/score/actbank/tfish.htm (Current at 1/15/2000).
Freeman, G. (1999). The graphic organizer. [Online]. Available: http://www.graphic.org/ (Current September 8, 1999).
Guhlin, M. (no date). Graphically organizing the Big6. [Online]. Available: http://www.mindwrite.cc/techserv/workshops/reading/writings/big6/default.html (Current 1/15/2000).
Jansen, B. (no date). Big6 assignment organizer. [Online]. Available: http://www.standrews.austin.tx.us/library/Assignment%20organizer.htm (Current 01/15/2000).
*Author's Note: The Curriculum Using Technology (CUT) Institute guides teachers to develop problem-based learning units that integrate technology. In its second year, the CUT Model is simple enough to understand and encourages teachers to answer three questions: 1) What is the curriculum connection? 2) How is technology connected and used? 3) How are students assessed? Teachers developing a unit and planning lesson activities remember these questions as they answer the following three questions: 1) What is the real-life connection to academic or curriculum standards? 2) What information problem-solving approach will be used for research? 3) What products are students expected to produce?