T2 - Helping Cocoa
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Professional Information Center | Student Investigation Center | Communication Center
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Investigation/ Exploration
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Resolution/ Refinement
Knowledge and Skills
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The goals of Resolution/Refinement are to consider options and agree on a solution (action or decision), and then to communicate that solution to the appropriate person or group of people. The emphasis during this phase should be, first, on making a decision, and second, on designing and developing a product or performance that will best communicate the decision.

During this phase of PBL you lead your students to consider solution options that meet the conditions as set in the problem statement. It will become clear that there is no one "right" solution, though some solutions may be better than others given the goals and constraints of the situation. It also will become clear that everyone may not agree on the solution because of different ways of thinking and feeling about the problem. This will be a big developmental step for some young students (i.e., to be asked to see “shades of gray”), so you will need to guide carefully.


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Skillful decision-making is needed during this phase of PBL, and the use of visual organizers can be helpful. You will want to work carefully with students as they consider what to do. The task below provides a good starting point for decision-making in this PBL. More than likely all students will benefit from the content enhancement built into the task.

Task #9 Decision-Making HTML
with Content Enhancement 6 HTML

As students try to decide which solution to try first, you will need to help them think of the important criteria to consider, though you might not use those words. You could simply ask, “What is important for us to consider as we decide what to try first to help Cocoa?” and suggest some of the following:

  • Ease – How easy would it be to try that solution?
  • Probability of success – How likely is it that solution will work?
  • Time – How fast will that solution work?
  • Permanence – Will that solution solve the problem completely, or just for a little while?
  • Money – Can we afford that solution?
  • Feasibility – Can we do it?
  • etc.

Be sure to include the condition that you embedded in the problem statement developed during the Investigation phase. In our two samples, the conditions were time (we wanted to help Cocoa quickly) and permanence (we wanted to solve the problem so it would not happen again). Cost and feasibility were not mentioned, but they are often constraints that must be considered in solution selection. You and your students will have to come up with your own criteria and then use those to make your selection.

If students want to know why they shouldn’t try all of their solutions, explain that if they tried all solutions at the same time, they would not know which one really worked. It is important to know which solution was the successful one in case Cocoa should have the same problem again, or if another bear should have that problem at some point. Students typically do not engage in this kind of abstract reasoning (controlling variables) until they are older (Piaget says at 11+ years, when children enter the “formal operations” stage), so you will have to help your students understand this point.

The decision-making and critical thinking called for in this PBL may be a stretch for primary level students, but they can do it with good scaffolded instruction.

Value Clarification

Values can figure prominently into decision-making. You can explain to young students that everyone might not agree on the same solution since some people feel very strongly about particular things while others do not. Actually, there are a number of values at play in this PBL – keeping animals in captivity, protecting endangered species, quality of life, etc. With older students we recommend the use of a Force Field Word graphic. Take a look at it and use it if you think it would be helpful with your students. They might enjoy moving those arrows around!

Product Development

Along with decision-making, product development is the focus of Resolution/Refinement. In Helping Cocoa the main product will be the report they give to the Animal Management Supervisor regarding what they think is wrong with Cocoa and what they recommend be done to restore her to good health.

Task #10 Product Development HTML

The report probably will be an oral report, but it can include several products – the chart they used to list possible causes of Cocoa’s illness, the options they considered about what to try to make her better, etc. The variety of products that can be used as part of their report provides good opportunities for flexible means of expression, an important principle of Universal Design for Learning PDF.

You will need to remind them, however, of their purpose. It is not “show and tell,” but rather to make a convincing recommendation. Students will have to make their reasoning clear and their decision convincing.


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Embedded Instruction

As in the Investigation phase, there will be numerous opportunities for “just in time” teaching during the Resolution phase. Students will need lots of help with decision-making and product/performance planning.

Jigsaw PDF

Again, you may find the jigsaw useful as a grouping structure. A description of the jigsaw is referenced in the Professional Information Center.

Inquiry PDF

Inquiry continues to be essential as you guide students through the process of product development and decision-making. You will find a brief paper on metacognitive inquiry referenced in the Professional Information Center.

Questions you might ask:

  • What should be considered as we make our decision?
  • What is most important to consider?
  • What is our main goal?
  • How will we best communicate our findings to the Animal Management Supervisor?
  • What is the goal of our report?
  • How can we most effectively present all we have found out?
  • How will we explain our decision?


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The Problem Log will continue to be used as a way to assess students’ thinking during the Resolution phase. You may find our Primary Level Presentation Rubric PDF useful in assessing students’ final reports.


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Go to the Debriefing HTML phase to "step out" of the scenario and reflect on your PBL experience.


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


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