T2 - Helping Cocoa
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    Professional Information Center | Student Investigation Center | Communication Center
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Investigation/ Exploration
Planning for Research
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 below to see a sample of the Helping Cocoa Learning Issues Board as it might expand during Investigation.

Learning Issues Board – Sample 2 PDF


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At this point you will want to work with your students to help them plan their investigation. As with the problem-solving strategy, the research strategy PDF that accompanies T2 units is probably more complex than primary level students need, but the QD4R Research Guide Word can be adapted nicely to work with young children. See the example below. You will also see this sample as a link from Task #1 with the suggestion that students use it. Refer to the paper on Universal Design for Learning PDF for tips on how to scaffold the use of learning strategies with your students. Even young children can become strategic learners!


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Though you cannot anticipate all the questions your students will ask, you can anticipate many of them and be prepared with appropriate materials and resources. 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” them by suggesting topics yourself (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, especially with young children.

In Helping Cocoa you probably will want your students to investigate the topics listed below. We have grouped Learning Tasks by topic, though undoubtedly you will add others and/or rearrange and change these to suit your needs. We have suggested resources with some of the tasks, and in the Professional Information Center you will find additional lists of recommended books and Web sites to get you started.

You will see that the Learning Tasks provide for a wide variety of interests and readiness levels in keeping with the flexibility principle of Universal Design for Learning PDF. With this flexibility you can assign students to subtopics or allow students to select their own for investigation. You will notice, too, that some of the tasks have built-in content enhancements (see explanation in section below), again as part of the universal design of the unit.
  1. About Brown Bears
  2. About Climate and Regions (Temperate Rainforests)
  3. About Zoos


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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. You probably will want to use the deductive approach with young students, but regardless of which approach you use, the Big Idea is an important component of Helping Cocoa. 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 that is referenced in the Professional Information Center.

Embedded Instruction ("just in time" teaching)

As students engage in their Learning Tasks, there will be many opportunities for "just in time" teaching, or embedded instruction. This can take the form of mini-lectures, demonstrations, interviews, readings, videos, etc. During the Investigation phase, you should be prepared to provide information and demonstrations for each of the content topics of the unit as well as the following skills:

  • making observations
  • measuring
  • recording and displaying data
  • making predictions
  • asking and answering questions
  • using and drawing simple maps
  • other – (complete the list with items of your own)

You will want to plan carefully 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 referenced in the Professional Information Center.

Content Enhancements

Content Enhancements are memory and/or organization aids, such as graphic organizers, maps and tables, videos, photographs and multimedia, etc., that do what their name implies – enhance content. Their use is especially important for students with special learning needs, but they should be used by any student who finds them helpful. We have prompted the use of 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 paper on Universal Design for Learning PDF.

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 a paper referenced 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 grouping students. If you clicked on the Learning Tasks above you will have found several tasks that are appropriate for small group work. You could use the jigsaw to segment and assign those tasks. With students in the primary grades, you will have to have an instructional leader (teacher, teacher assistant, parent volunteer, older student, etc.) at each of the “expert” learning centers.

Inquiry ("stop and think") / Re-visiting the Learning Issues Board

As students work, periodically ask them to stop and think about what they are learning and if they are answering the questions they asked and you recorded on the Learning Issues Board. It would be a good idea to spend a few minutes each day re-visiting the Learning Issues Board and recording what students have learned and writing down additional questions that have been raised.


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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 Helping Cocoa include:

Fact Sheet about Cocoa PDF


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 Helping Cocoa a Kicker could be used if students are not very concerned about Cocoa’s weight loss. (This Kicker also provides a good opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of graphs for displaying data. It is also good for having students use calculation skills.)

Weight Loss Memo and Chart PDF

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 Helping Cocoa include:

How can we help Cocoa so that she gets better quickly?

How can we change Cocoa’s zoo environment so that she doesn’t get sick again?

This is one of the most difficult components of PBL, but it is important for students to understand what they really are trying to accomplish.


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

  • Checkpoint "quizzes.” Be sure to have students take the little quizzes that are part of some of the Web sites. Also have them take the Brown Bear PowerPoint quiz PowerPoint at some time during their investigation. Feel free to change this quiz to match the information you are providing in your class or to develop one of your own.
  • Daily entries in students' Problem Logs
  • Concept map updates
  • Simple rubrics you may develop for task products/performances. See an example of a Teamwork Rubric PDF we developed for young students. Click here or access it through the Professional Information Center.


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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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