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Indiana Jones and the Power of Story

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Never underestimate the power of a well-told story to engage and educate learners of all ages, especially when it involves popular cultural heroes like Indiana Jones.

“In 1977, one of the nation’s most infamous burglaries occurred at Marshall College’s Museum of Antiquities when thieves stole numerous priceless artifacts that had once been recovered by the college’s greatest archaeologist, Dr. Henry Jones. For years, the location of the stolen treasures have remained a mystery. That is, until two months ago when a strange package arrived addressed to the Archaeology Department of Marshall College. The package contained a never-before-seen leather-bound journal that once belonged to Dr. Jones and described in detail each of the missing artifacts. Also included was as a map of a mysterious island. After deciphering the contents of the journal and carefully studying the map, we believe we know the location of the stolen treasure. Now, it’s up to you to locate them, using only the journal, the map, and your ability to work together as a team.”

Three of the missing artifacts and accompanying journal pages used in the lesson.

With that,

our adventure begins. Welcome to Low Ropes, High Adventure!, an immersive, story-based lesson in ancient history and team building and taught on the low ropes course at Roper Mountain Science Center. While we use the ropes course for numerous types of trainings, the story-based Indiana Jones lesson is by far its most popular activity.

Each obstacle on the course has a narrative that is based on the history or mythology of one of several ancient civilizations that include Egypt, Greece, and China. Once an obstacle is successfully navigated, students receive a page from the journal that contains a clue to a treasure that is buried nearby. The goal is to recover each artifact, four in all, and make it safely off the island (which is really no island but the course itself). The lesson takes around 90 minutes and incorporates both physical education and social studies standards as students learn the importance of collaborative problem solving in the context of exploring ancient cultures.

Creating an Indiana Jones-themed lesson was a natural fit for a ropes course that promises adventure and an element of danger. While the main idea of most challenge courses is to teach teamwork, framing the activities in the format of a story with a mystery to solve provides the potential for a deeper level of excitement and emotional involvement that can lead to a learning experience that will stay with them longer than it would otherwise. Of course, you don’t need unique facilities like a ropes course to tap into the power of story-based learning. You can do so anywhere with any subject.

Everyone loves a good story. A well-told narrative can grab the attention of students and set the mood for learning. In reality, we’re wired for stories; it’s how our brain works. The brain needs the chance to classify and sort information that is related to each other. If information comes to it in a fragmented, random, non-linear way, it has a more difficult time handling it. Yet if information arrives in an ordered, contextual way, such as through the narrative course of story, it is much easier for the brain to make meaning out of that new knowledge which allows it to be stored in a manner that is clearer when retrieved. Storytelling, then, is fundamental to meaning-making. At Roper Mountain, we’re taking full advantage of this fact as we teach a wide variety of content with stories, including coding, properties of light and sound, principles of forces in motion, energy creation and conservation, chemistry, paleontology, forensic science, and more.

In a future post, we’ll explore the research behind teaching with stories as well as discuss the additional benefits of doing so. We’ll also examine the power of experiential learning and how it relates to, but can be different from, story-based learning.

Until then, we'd love to hear how you're incorporating stories into your classroom. Feel free to share in the Comments box below.

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