T2 - The Malaria Mission
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Investigation/ Exploration
Knowledge and Skills
Instructional Strategies
PBL Techniques
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  Resolution/ Refinement
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The goal of the Investigation/Exploration phase is for students to acquire, organize, and analyze the information the problem scenario leads them to gather. They will need a good understanding of the content and the issues surrounding the situation before they can narrow the problem and frame a problem statement.

Your students' investigation will be built around the questions generated and the initial planning done during the Engagement phase. Prompt them to review the Learning Issues Board often and to keep it updated. Encourage them to continue to refine their questions as they gather new information. Click the icon below to see a sample of The Malaria Mission Learning Issues Board as it might expand during Investigation.

Learning Issues Board – Sample 2 PDF

In The Malaria Mission PBL, you and your students will loop through the Investigation and Resolution phases twice, once to investigate the African countries (Investigation) and decide which will serve as clinical trial sites (Resolution) and then again to investigate specific aspects of each country as well as malaria itself (Investigation) as part of developing a plan to reach the people and to gain their acceptance of the necessity for vaccination compliance (Resolution). 


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Investigation A: African Countries Being Considered for Clinical Trials

Topics. You will not know exactly which characteristics your students will decide are important to investigate in candidate countries, but you will know some and can be prepared to have resource materials ready. There are certain topics, of course, that you want to be sure to have students investigate. If these topics are not identified by students, you can “seed” these ideas by suggesting them (e.g.,“You know, there is something you haven’t included that you might want to consider. How about …?”) There is nothing wrong with doing this – in fact, it is exactly what you should do in your role as “coach.” Keep in mind that as a coach you are not a silent observer, but a model and a guide.

The following topics are almost certainly among those your students decided to investigate in each of the candidate countries and include in their database. In addition to any materials you want to provide, students can find a list of helpful resources in the Student Investigation Center. An expanded list of online resources is available for you in the Professional Information Center.

  • Geography (climate, terrain, physical features…)
  • People (population, life expectancy, ethnic groups, religions, literacy…)
  • Government (type of, agencies, leaders…)
  • Economy (GDP, poverty rate, industry…)
  • Communication (telephone, television…)
  • Transportation (railways, highways, waterways…)
  • Malaria distribution (endemic, epidemic…)
  • Issues/problems

As students begin to access this information you will work with them to decide the specific information within each category that is most pertinent to their task. Remind students the information they gather should provide good comparative data. For example, instead of giving a broad overview of the economy, they should decide what particular economic indicators would be important to compare/contrast among countries: GDP per capita, for example. The “economist” group can then use their expertise to explain why this is a good indicator.

Note: If you elected to use the database provided in the Professional Information Center, the categories are already very specific, so students will not have these decisions to make. Still, it would be good to discuss why these are good indicators.

Teaming. One option is to place your students in “country” teams, having each team gather the predetermined data in its assigned country and enter it into the database. However, there is an alternative to consider.

A different approach is to have “professional” teams. You will have noticed that the “special teams” in this scenario are composed of different types of professionals, including economists, communications specialists, geographers, etc. This allows you to assign students to one of these roles to gather information in their particular area of expertise. The information categories provide a good match with professional roles, and this grouping strategy has the advantage of giving students a particular perspective on the problem. The “geographers,” for example, will gather geographic information and begin to think like geographers, taking on that perspective in the problem scenario. One of the reasons for assigning roles in PBL is to allow students to begin to think like professionals and approach a problem with a particular knowledge/skill contribution. The Malaria Mission provides a good opportunity for that.


Investigation B: Plan Elements; Malaria

Once the decision is made regarding which four countries will be targeted for malaria vaccination trials, students (as special team members) must develop a plan for reaching as many people as possible in each selected country so that a major proportion of the population can be vaccinated. This is a complicated job, and again each professional group will make a contribution to the tasks ahead.

Tip: In order to simplify the B part of Investigation and Resolution, you might want to specify that one country will serve as an advance test site (you can designate the country, or allow your students to decide). Again, you would do this through a Pointer – see, for example, the last part of the Memo-Country Selection. That way, students can concentrate their efforts on just one country rather than all four. The tasks that follow are complex and even though you probably will not do them all, or you will change them, they still represent a substantial amount of work, especially if you do them for each of the four countries. As with everything in these units, that’s for you to decide.

Task #2: Distribution HTML

#2a: Transportation
#2b: Local delivery systems

Task #3: Agencies and Organizations HTML

Task #4: Historical Events HTML

Task #5: Culture and Tradition HTML

Check Quiz-Africa PDF. After students have worked on the above tasks, they can take this quiz to test their level of basic understanding.

To this point students have dealt primarily with issues of geography, economics, government, and culture. They really have not investigated malaria, its causes, treatments, prevention, etc. The following Kicker! will send them in that direction. (See an explanation of Kickers and Pointers below.)



The most recent report on the new vaccination has just been received from Silas Pharmaceuticals. There is good news and bad news. The efficacy rate is estimated to be 80%, but two boosters before the age of 5 will be required for full efficacy in children. We know from previous studies conducted by the World Health Organization that when efficacy falls below 70% and when too many and too frequent boosters are required, participants lose interest. Even though the efficacy of our vaccine is above 70%, with the two required boosters Silas is predicting a pessimistic compliance rate of 20%.

With this news, we are asking your team to undertake a major effort to educate the people about malaria, what it is, how it is transmitted, what vaccines are and how they work, etc. It is important for you to educate yourselves, to find out all you can about malaria, its cause, prevention, and treatment so that you can plan and conduct a major campaign to convince people to participate in these clinical trials and be vaccinated!

Task #6: Malaria HTML

Note to Teacher: For two examples of an Inspiration concept map on malaria, click below or go to the Professional Information Center.

Concept Map 1 PDF

Concept Map 2 PDF

Task #7: Prevention/Treatment Options HTML

Task #8: Cost-Benefit Analysis HTML

Check Quiz-Malaria PDF. After students have completed Tasks 6 & 7, they can take this quiz to assess their factual knowledge.


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At this point you will want to work with your students to begin to plan their investigation. Click below or go to the Professional Information Center to find the QD4R Research Strategy with its accompanying Research Guide visual organizer. All of your students might not need this structured strategy, but some undoubtedly will. Again, refer to the paper on Universal Design for Learning for tips on how to scaffold the use of learning strategies with your students.

QD4R Strategy PDF

QD4R Research Guide word


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Deductive and Inductive Approach to the "Big Idea" PDF

One decision you will have to make early on is whether you are going to take a deductive or an inductive approach to the "Big Idea." That decision will guide the questions you develop for this phase of PBL. Regardless of which approach you use, the Big Idea is an important component of The Malaria Mission unit. It provides a lens for looking at the issues involved in this problem scenario, and it facilitates transfer of what is learned during this unit to other problem situations. Use of a Big Idea is discussed in the Universal Design for Learning PDF paper in the Professional Information Center.

Embedded Instruction ("just in time" teaching)

As students engage in their Learning Tasks, they will find they need some knowledge and skills that they do not have. This provides opportunities for "just in time" teaching, or embedded instruction. This may take the form of mini-lectures, demonstrations, interviews, readings, videos, etc. During the Investigation phase, you should probably be prepared to provide information on:

  • African nations – geography, government, culture, economy, people, etc.
  • malaria – causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention
  • malaria in Africa
  • database use
  • cost-benefit analysis
  • other -- (complete the list with items of your own)
You will want to plan ahead for the grouping and instructional structures you will use and to establish effective ways for students to acquire and manage the information they need. Consider the strategies below.

Mediated Scaffolding

Scaffolding, an essential teaching technique, refers to the guidance teachers give to students as they gain new knowledge and learn new skills. On difficult tasks, scaffolding is substantial at first, but then is gradually withdrawn as students become increasingly able to perform independently. The amount and duration of scaffolding will change with the needs of the learner as well as the difficulty of the task. To read more about scaffolding, please see the Universal Design for Learning PDF paper in the Professional Information Center.

Content Enhancements

Content Enhancements are memory and/or organization aids, such as maps, graphic organizers, mnemonics, study guides, etc., that do what their name implies – enhance content. Their use is advocated for students with learning disabilities, but they should be used by any student who finds them helpful. We have prompted students to use content enhancements in some of the Learning Tasks as part of the unit’s UDL feature. You will find a description of content enhancements in the UDL paper PDF in the Professional Information Center.

Reciprocal Teaching PDF

Reciprocal teaching is a well-researched and highly regarded strategy for comprehension and concept development. We have found it also works well with small groups in a problem-solving situation. A brief description of reciprocal teaching can be found in the Professional Information Center.

Jigsaw PDF

A very effective grouping strategy is the jigsaw, a cooperative learning structure that provides a strong design for teaming students. If you clicked on the Learning Tasks above you will have found several tasks that are appropriate for small group work. You might want to use the jigsaw to segment and assign those tasks.

Inquiry ("Stop and Think")

As students work, periodically ask them to stop and think about the implications of their tasks for the problem at hand. Ask questions such as:

  • How do culture and tradition interact with issues of public health? How does that interaction affect our planning?
  • How does the economy of a nation affect the incidence of malaria in that country?
  • How does geography affect the incidence of malaria?
  • How will literacy rate in a country affect the plan we develop for that country?
  • How will the communication and transportation systems within a country affect our plan?
  • What can we now identify as roadblocks to our efforts? How might we overcome them?
  • What can we identify as sources of assistance? How can we use that assistance?
  • Are you beginning to see how economic systems, communication and transportation systems, public health systems, systems of government, etc. interact with each other and impact on this problem? What interactions limit what we are trying to do? What interactions enable us to accomplish our task?
  • How is your investigation changing your thinking about this situation?
  • What forces are operating on this problem?
  • What are the real issues here?
  • What more do we need to know? How can we find out?


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Students will need more information regarding the scenario as they begin to explore their situation. As you give them this information, stay within the framework of the scenario. Make the information as realistic and authentic as you can. These pieces of information, or "Pointers," are often in the form of some communication such as a letter or email or phone call, etc., but they can be whatever provides the most authentic format.

Pointers in The Malaria Mission unit can include:


Occasionally you will want students to consider something they haven't considered or to think about something in a different way. To accomplish this, you introduce a "Kicker." In The Malaria Mission you use a Kicker to get students to learn about malaria, a topic they have not really explored to that point.

Problem Statement

When your students have acquired a clearer understanding of the situation, you will need to lead them in developing a problem statement that focuses further investigation and leads to the Resolution phase of PBL.

A problem statement should include the issues to be resolved and the conflicting conditions that must be met so the proposed solution will be workable. It can be stated in the following format:

"How can we [take/recommend this action] in a way that [takes into account this constraint]?"

Sample problem statements for The Malaria Mission include:

How can we design a vaccination plan that will be optimally acceptable to the people of Africa?

How can we design a vaccination plan that will give us the most generalizable information about trying to establish a vaccination program in Africa?

How can we design a vaccination plan that is cost effective?

You will see from these samples that the particular problem statement will greatly influence subsequent investigation and the problem resolution. This is one of the most difficult components of PBL, but it is important for students to understand the value of a carefully crafted problem statement.


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A variety of assessments can be used during the Investigation phase:

  • Daily entries in students' Problem Logs
  • Rubrics for classroom participation and teamwork
  • Rubrics associated with task products/performances
  • Concept map updates

Visit the Professional Information Center HTML section on Assessment.


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Go to the Resolution/Refinement HTML phase to begin making decisions regarding your proposed solution.


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Before proceeding, please take a moment to share your experiences HTML with us!


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