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What are Storylines?

At some point most teachers have heard the exasperated voice of a student as they ask, “Why are we doing this?” A typical response may be “Because it will be on the test” or, “You’ll need it in high school”. In many science classrooms the students move from activity to activity without any real connection and coherence between those activities. Although the teacher may see the bigger picture, students see a series of unconnected activities. This wandering without an explicit direction can lead to a disengagement when students fail to see the lack of relevancy of what they are doing in class.

Now, imagine someone walking into your classroom and asking a random student, “Why are you doing this?” Imagine they answer, “Because we’re trying to figure out why…” Storylines give relevance to each activity by setting it in a narrative that drives the understanding of a big idea. It moves lessons away from the traditional teaching method of moving from topic to topic, like a textbook does, instead moving the student through an inquiry-based narrative with a set outcome.  Rather than just doing something that pertains to the topic, students are driven by answering questions and engaging with phenomena. Each episode adds to the student’s progress of deeper understanding. Coherency comes from the perspective of an inquiring student, engaged in a relevant learning experience.

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