Adventures with Dr. Smallz: Creating a Powerful Need to Know
During the course of a 12-week school year, sixth graders in my class will embark on an educational journey based on the exploits of a fictional character named Dr. Smallz. The course is a hands-on, inquiry-based, integrated science and math course that emphasises active learning. Students have the opportunity to study about human body systems, cellular operations, and the ability of the human organism to maintain dynamic equilibrium while also assuming the roles of scientists, designers, makers, and role players.
The Dr. Smallz Mission is an excellent example of the type of game-like learning experience that instils a strong desire to know in pupils, leaving them eager to study even more about their subject matter.
Who is Dr. Smallz, and what is his background? My kids will refer to him as if he were an old friend of theirs. As an inexperienced, disorganised, and well-intentioned medical doctor, he makes the decision to investigate the cause of a patient’s mystery disease by peering inside the body of the patient. Shrinkley Labs’ newly developed shrinking machine (which has not yet been tested on humans) and a microscopic ship designed to withstand the harsh interior conditions of the human body are used to enter his patient’s respiratory system. He does this without his bosses’ knowledge and without his patient’s knowledge and permission.
He suffers from specific forgetfulness related to all of his medical vocabulary as a result of the shrinking process, which unfortunately occurs during the process of shrinking his brain. My class gets discovered by him while conducting an internet search. He is confident that we would be able to aid him.
The journey begins with the delivery of a micro-postcard. As part of my first trimester’s instruction, I introduce my students to the use of microscopes, and when they receive samples to examine, they are under the notion that they would be looking at a few plant cell samples. However, when they turn on their microscopes, they discover an encoded message—letters and numbers that they must decode in order to get the internet address.
Leveling Up at Mission Control
I can hear a pin drop in the classroom when I go to that URL and project Dr. Smallz’s initial message to the kids on my SmartBoard using that URL. Jaws are agape, and eyes are shining with surprise and awe as they watch this.
image courtesy of the Institute of Play Students in Leah Hirsch’s classroom work together to complete a task.
Increasing Your Status at Mission Control
Dr. Smallz’s initial dispatch to us describes his current predicament, provides some hints as to his whereabouts, and includes images of the view from his ship’s windows. After a class discussion, my students establish where he is, and it is at this point that our want to know more is most acute. In most cases, the majority of my students concur that he’s someplace in the throat or nasal canal. At this moment, I pose the following question to them:
What portion of the body does this belong to?
What are some of the things we already know about this body system?
In order to assist Dr. Smallz in navigating around this physiological system, we must first understand what we are dealing with.
What systems are connected to it, and where else in the body could he go if he had the ability to travel?
From this moment on, students are completely enthralled. A number of clues are provided by the doctor’s messages regarding the mystery ailment that his patient is suffering from. Ultimately, students use the clues to diagnose the patient with dengue fever, advise Dr. Smallz on the best therapy, and get him out of her body in the safest manner possible. The majority of the time, they elect to take him through her ear. My students provide Dr. Smallz with advise and information about the body while I incorporate assessment into the story by asking them to create films, posters, travel guides, emails, and other forms of media to help him.
Students gain knowledge about the body by “levelling up”—as they gain proficiency in one body system, they are able to open the doctor’s safe path into the next body system. My students’ opinions and suggestions become increasingly influential as the narrative progresses, giving them the opportunity to plan the trajectory of their own learning and act as mission control for Dr. Smallz’s adventure. Due to their developing empathy for both Dr. Smallz and his patient, the students get completely absorbed in what they are learning.
Creating a narrative and inviting inquiry are two important aspects of storytelling.
Despite the fact that the Dr. Smallz Mission is a multilayered narrative, the need to know is straightforward: my students want to learn about the body systems because they want to assist this character, and it’s exciting for them to feel as though they have a hand in shaping the course of the doctor’s travels throughout the body. Making relevant need to know questions not only allows me to engage difficult-to-reach students, but it also allows me to push the boundaries of my own creativity in the classroom, which keeps me engaged as well.
Building Narrative, Inviting Inquiry
Here are some suggestions for creating a mission in your classroom that will elicit a desire to know:
Start with your own personal criteria. Make a plan from the end to the beginning. Take time to select both Common Core and subject standards, and then decide what you want your students to perform and how they will be able to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding.
Create a set of critical questions and long-lasting understandings to help you define your objective. What type of inquiry will your students participate in, and what will they remember about it years after they leave your classroom, is something you should consider.
In order to answer these fundamental issues, brainstorm authentic scenarios for problem-solving. The kids may participate in a game that involves a cast of characters, an adventure, or a combination of these elements A smart way to start a brainstorming session is with a real-life job that incorporates the content and abilities you want to teach into the process. Create a narrative around that employment.
Determine what hats the students will be wearing—and what part they will play in the tale—by examining your narrative. Examples include detective, designer, researcher, and others. Include additional narrative aspects that will help pupils feel as though they are in these roles.
Create a set of learning experiences and assessments that get you closer to your final goal in a logical and tangible way, and then evaluate them.