Most experts agree the average adult attention span is 20 minutes. That's it - 20 minutes. So why was the Kimmel Farm Elementary's faculty able to maintain positive engagement at its second PBL professional development training for more than 3 hours? It's possible there are three reasons - and they're featured in Dan Pink's book Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
This training focused on facilitation, observing it from the learners point of view. The PBL experience used to teach us about facilitation was a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery where each learning team worked together to try to solve the murder based on letters, facts, witness accounts, etc. The ultimate goal was to come up with plausible and defensible theories as to who did the deed, how they did it, and why the act was even committed. As it turned out not one learning team completely solved the mystery, but that's not what was important. What was important was learning how to manage the process, how to facilitate learning by answering questions with questions, and how to guide students in the right directions to achieve stated learning goals.
After getting a very basic set of directions each group had the autonomy to go about the process their own way. Some read aloud, others wrote on legal and chart pads, some drew maps of the crime scene, while others just analyzed information. Everybody was given opportunity to play to their strengths. Nobody was told what to do next. The challenge to solve the crime provided the element of mastery.
Mastery requires effort and deliberate practice, and it’s impossible to fully realize which makes it simultaneously frustrating and alluring.