If the following suggestions seem at too high a level, read through to see how you might adapt them.
There's a great (and relatively short) video on how baseballs are made. Here's how you can use it in problem-based learning.
Start with a Product
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?
What problem had to be solved before baseball could become the game that it is today?
- Rules had to be written.
- Bats had to be made in Louisville.
- 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.
Miss Rogers asks her students to read the article. She then asks them the following questions:
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.
Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates by Jonah Winter, illustrations by Raúl Colón (Atheneum Books, New York, 2005). This biography recounts the life of Roberto Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates player who died in a plane crash on his way to help earthquake victims. The book is written in unrhymed couplets and would lend itself beautifully to a reader's theatertype presentation.
Casey Back at Bat by Dan Gutman, illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher (HarperCollins, New York, 2007). Casey gets another chance, with humorous results. After students read this, you might ask them to work in groups to create their own, and perhaps briefer, "Casey Back at Bat."
There are so many books about baseball, it was hard to choose. Here are some, among many, that may appeal to students.
These next two books are good candidates for comparing and contrasting:
Teammates by Peter Golenbock, illustrations by Paul Bacon (Gulliver Books, San Diego, CA, 1990). After briefly explaining the Negro leagues and segregation, the book tells the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African American baseball player to join a major league team, the National League's Dodgers. It recounts the abuse he had to endure and the support that he received from fellow player Pee Wee Reese at a crucial time at a game played in Cincinnati.
Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America's Game by Chris Crowe, illustrations by Mike Benny (Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA, 2012). It's October 9, 1948, and the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox are battling it out in the World Series. Readers will feel the excitement that the young narrator feels, as he listens to the game on the radio, when Larry Doby, the first African American to join an American League team, hits the first home run of the series.
A Picture Book of Jackie Robinson by David A. Adler, illustrations by Robert Casilla (Holiday House, New York, 1994). This biography of Jackie Robinson not only reports on his accomplishments in baseball, but also chronicles his early years and the prejudices he and his family had to suffer. The book gives readers a clear sense of the times and plenty of food for thought.
Henry Aaron's Dream by Matt Tavares (Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA, 2010). Growing up in the segregated South and at a time before baseball teams were integrated, Hank Aaron had dreams of playing in the major leagues. This book traces Aaron's life until the time he became a Milwaukee Brave in 1954.
All Star: Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever by Jane Yolen and Jim Burke (Philomel Books, New York, 2010). The Honus Wagner baseball card is one of the most valuable and difficult to get. This illustrated biography of the old-time baseball player details his life and explains why the card is so rare. There is an Ohio connection since he played for a while on a Steubenville team.
These next three books can be compared and contrasted:
Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of '41 by Phil Bildner, illustrations by S. D. Schindler (G. P. Putnam's, New York, 2011). In the summer of 1941, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams each broke baseball records. It was quite a season, and the author captures the flavor of the time.
No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season by Fred Bowen, illustrations by Charles S. Pyle (Dutton Children's Books, New York, 2010). This book focuses on Ted Williams during baseball season in 1941, when he batted more than .400 for the season.
There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived by Matt Tavares (Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA, 2012). This biography of baseball great Ted Williams includes the time he served as a fighter pilot during World War II.
The Batboy & His Violin by Gavin Curtis, illustrations by E. B. Lewis (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1998). A little boy, who loves playing the violin, becomes the batboy for the baseball team his father plays on. He brings his violin with him and plays for the team, bringing them beautiful music and good luck. An Ohio connection: The team travels to Cleveland to play the Cleveland Buckeyes (a Negro League team).
Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team by Audrey Vernick, illustrations by Steven Salerno (Clarion Books, New York, 2012). There were enough Acerras brothers to form their own semiprofessional team and then some. The book follows the brothers as they play baseball as children in the 1920s and 1930s, play together as a semipro team in the late 1930s, suspend play to fight during World War II, and play a pickup game with their children and grandchildren.
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, illustrations by Dom Lee (Lee & Low, New York, 1993). This is not a book about the history of baseball, but it does intertwine history and baseball. A young Japanese American boy and his family are forced to move from their home in California to an internment camp. Baseball makes life at the camp a little less dreary, and it is there that the young boy learns to play baseball. He uses his skills to gain acceptance at a new school after the war.
Ballpark by Elisha Cooper (Greenwillow Books, New York, 1998). With no more than a few sentences on each page, the author-artist depicts what happens at the ballpark, from mowing the field before the game, to laundering the uniforms, to playing the game itself.
Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrations by Terry Widener (Atheneum, New York, 2003). Girl Wonder is based on the life of Alta Weiss, who was born in Holmes County (Ohio) and played for the Vermilion Independents. Eventually she gave up baseball and became a doctor. A timeline at the back of the book highlights women's achievements in baseball, beginning in 1866.
Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl's Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard, illustrations by Randy DuBurke (Lee & Low, New York, 2005). Marcenia Lyle became the first woman to play on a professional men's baseball team when she joined the Negro League's Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, taking the place of none other than Hank Aaron. Catching the Moon captures a time in her youth (elementary school age) when she struggled to be accepted into a summer baseball day camp for boys.
Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen by Marissa Moss, illustrations by C. F. Payne (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2004). This is the retelling of a true story. In 1931, young Jackie Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth and then Lou Gehrig in a game played in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Babe & Me
by Dan Gutman (A Baseball Card Adventure, HarperTrophy, New York, 2000). One of a series of books in which a young boy goes back in time and meets old-time baseball players. In this book, he wants to see if he can solve a long-debated controversy: Did Babe Ruth really predict, before batting, where he would hit the ball? Dan Gutman has written a number of baseball books for children. You might want to check out his website
The Fenway Foul-Up, A Ballpark Mystery, by David A. Kelly, illustrations by Mark Meyers (Random House, New York, 2011). Someone steals the bat that belongs to Big D, the best hitter on the Boston Red Sox team. Kate and Mike to the rescuethe two friends solve the mystery of the missing bat.
Poem Runs: Baseball Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian (Harcourt, Boston, 2012). Fun poems. Students will understand some by themselves, and for some they will need a little help.
This Is the Game by Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander, illustrations by Owen Smith (Harper, New York, 2011). A book that highlights the history of baseball in rhyme, as played in alleys, and yards, and ballparks.
Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888 by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrations by C. F. Payne (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2003). The classic.
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.
How Baseballs Are Manufactured
. This video does what it saysit 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 YouTube that show how to make baseball bats.
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 clipsof 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 moreand explains how the archivists are "put on the case" to detect the who, what, where, and when of a film clip.