## Looking Differently at Problem-Based Learning

There's a great (and relatively short) video on how baseballs are made. Here's how you can use it in problem-based learning.

—which in our case is a baseball.

### Define the Problem

Ask "How are baseballs made today?" Play the video to see how baseballs are made. It shows the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica.

Bring a baseball to class and pass it around. Ask students to focus on the baseball by following the prompt below:
Look carefully at the baseball. Feel the stitches against your palm. You've probably held a baseball like this, thrown one, perhaps even been hit by one, but have you ever really thought about what happens before you pick up that baseball?

### Let's Deconstruct

What problem had to be solved before baseball could become the game that it is today?
1. Rules had to be written.
3. Balls had to be the same circumference and weight, and they had to stay round.
That was easy. Baseballs have to be round, the same circumference, and the same weight. But that hasn't always been true. Mid-nineteenth-century baseballs were lighter and inconsistent in weight and size.

Players intentionally threw or hit the baseballs at other players as part of the game, and no one got hurt.

Some baseballs were covered and stitched together in such a way that, in time, the stitching came loose at the corners, and the ball was more square than round.

### The Entry Event

Imagine the scene in a twenty-first-century classroom in Cincinnati. Students, many of whom are Reds fans, are about to be introduced to an entry event for a problem-based learning unit.
Please note that this story is based on the imagination of the creator of this PBL example. Any resemblance to an actual baseball game is coincidental.

If we had been here in 1867, how could we have made sure that this kind of embarrassing loss would never happen again?

How do we know that this problem won't happen today?

### Research and Group Work

Small groups brainstorm the kind of questions they need to find answers for. They include such notions as how baseballs are made, what kind of rules exist about making the baseballs, and what the class can do to change this.

Some students, after viewing the video about how baseballs are made, decide to research fair labor practices and to look more closely at factories in other countries.

### Imagine the Rest of the Unit

You can imagine the rest of the PBL. Students likely develop a solution to the problem, and in doing so, they also learn a lot about the history of baseball and the history of the nation.

They might end their problem-based learning by once again viewing the video that illustrates how carefully baseballs are made today.

After their research and after viewing the video, students will have a lot more admiration for the baseball.

## Other Ideas to Try

If you are looking for short pieces of nonfiction (or even fiction) to give your readers, especially those who are struggling, take a look at "On the Bookshelf" in the 6–8 and 3–5 sections of this ORC·ON. Often the text for some of these books is more challenging than the illustrations imply. Since the books are relatively short, you might retype the text and present it to students without the artwork (which is usually wonderful, but this way the students don't feel like they are reading a "picture book").

The Annotated Casey at the Bat: A Collection of Ballads About the Mighty Casey, edited by Martin Gardner (3rd rev. ed., Dover, New York, 1995), contains a number of parodies of "Casey at the Bat." You might have students compare and contrast the original with, say, "Casey's Revenge," "Casey the Comeback," "The Man Who Fanned Casey," or "'Cool' Casey at the Bat"; this latter—"'Cool' Casey"—was written by the editors at Mad magazine and begins "The action wasn't groovy . . ." Or have students try their hand at penning their own. For students who have read Moby Dick, you might point them to Ray Bradbury's "Ahab at the Helm."

On the Bookshelf

There are so many books about baseball, it was hard to choose. Here are some, among many, that may appeal to students.

## Baseball History

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson (Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, New York, 2008) This book, an obvious labor of love, recounts the history of the Negro Baseball Leagues from the point of view of a low-keyed, tell-it-like-it-was player who was there from the beginning. Pleasing to read—Nelson has a good ear for how the narrator would sound—the book is accompanied by artwork that is spectacular!

Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America by Sharon Robinson (Scholastic, New York, 2004) Author Sharon Robinson is Jackie Robinson's daughter. She details her father's life, careful to provide background information that gives context to the times. Numerous interesting photographs provide further context.

The Journal of Biddy Owens: The Negro Leagues by Walter Dean Myers (My Name Is America Series, Scholastic, New York, 2001). Walter Dean Myers, national ambassador for young people's literature, wrote this account of 17-year-old Biddy Owens—"equipment manager, scorekeeper, errand boy, and sometimes right fielder"—for the Black Barons (a real team in the Negro leagues) in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1948. Some momentous events happened in 1948—Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby went from the Negro leagues to the major leagues, and President Truman signed orders to integrate the armed forces. The diary touches on it all, along with the daily struggles of African Americans especially in the segregated South. The diary is thoroughly engrossing—it will hook readers early on.

First Pitch: How Baseball Began by John Thorn (Beach Ball Books, Santa Barbara, CA, 2011). This is a short book, 40 pages including the index, with short chapters, but is long on information. John Thorn, the official historian of major league baseball, provides an engaging history of baseball, exploring its beginnings, mostly in the United States. Boxed text addresses a number of interesting topics such as ancient ball games, women in early baseball, and "the other Wright brothers." The photos and illustrations make the book even more fun to read.

Eyewitness Books: Baseball (DK Publishing, New York, 2010). This is a typical Eyewitness Book, filled with bits and pieces of good information and illustrated with a multitude of good photographs.

The Story of Baseball by Lawrence S. Ritter (William Morrow, New York, 1999, 3rd revised and expanded edition). Part one of the book traces the history of baseball through the end of the twentieth century, and Part two focuses on the mechanics of the game. It is well written, and you can easily assign students, or they can choose, different chapters to read and report on.

On the Web

## Lesson Plans

A Trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame: Writing a Persuasive Letter (ORC #101). Created by a high school English teacher, this lesson plan is designed to teach high school students some of the basic research skills needed to find information using the Internet. The goal of the lesson is to use the Internet to review and gather information and to analyze the techniques used to persuade internet users. Centered on the theme of baseball, the activities include researching the Baseball Hall of Fame and writing a persuasive letter to a baseball coach. Grades 9–10.

Baseball Memories. A PBS lesson plan that asks students to interview family members and others about their memories of baseball. Grades 6–10.

Baseball Heroes. A lesson plan that uses clips from the Ken Burns film Baseball: The Tenth Inning. Grades 7–12.

Baseball, Race and Ethnicity: Rounding the Bases. Students use primary sources to investigate race and ethnicity. Library of Congress, Grades 9–12.

## Websites

"The Sporting Scene: Dispatches from the Playing Fields by New Yorker Writers." This online blog features short essays, many of which focus on baseball, by writers such as Roger Angell and Ian Crouch. Since it is a blog, it is updated frequently. And in regard to Roger Angell, his book Once More Around the Park: A Baseball Reader, which consists of 21 of Angell's favorite writings, is a good choice if you want to assign students different nonfiction readings.

National Hall of Fame and Museum website. Read about the latest inductees in the Hall of Fame—plus lots more.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum website. The NLBP Museum is relatively new, founded in 1990 and located in Kansas City. The website provides good information on the leagues' teams and the individual players.

Official Website of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association. This website is filled with information about the women's baseball teams and the individual women who played during World War II.

## Poems

Marianne Moore: "Baseball and Writing." Famous poet Marianne Moore, obviously a Yankee fan, elegizes the team in the early 1960s. How could you not love a poem that begins:
Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.

"The Great One" by Tom Clark. A short, sad, sweet poem commemorating the death of baseball player Roberto Clemente.

## Videos

How Baseballs Are Manufactured. This video does what it says—it provides a look at how baseballs are made (in Costa Rica). The process is fascinating, and the video may raise talking points about the treatment of workers and what they are expected to do.

Making a Major League Bat. Another video that does what its title says. There are several videos on You Tube that show how to make baseball bats.

How's It Made: Baseball Gloves. This makes viewers appreciate what a labor-intensive process this is.

The Great Bambino Resurfaces by John Branch, Gabe Johnson, and Rob Harris. The title of this video makes you think it's all about Babe Ruth, but it's not. It does show a newly found clip of Babe Ruth striking out, but the story is really about what film and video archivists do. Only 4 minutes long, the video shows numerous film clips—of Babe Ruth hitting a home run, of superstitious rituals that baseball players do, of Don Larsen throwing the last pitch of a perfect game, of Willie Mays making his famous home-run-thwarting catch, and more—and explains how the archivists are "put on the case" to detect the who, what, where, and when of a film clip.