My overarching theme for this year has been student-centered learning, so putting the focus back on students rather than me talking them through the learning. So as I prepped social studies over the break, I realized that I could not just tell my students about the first explorers in Wisconsin; they had to research it and present. But how to do this without it being another research project with a report attached?
We have just finished a formidable Native American research unit, discussed here, where students took full control of their own learning. As said by my students, this proved to be one of the best experiences for them this year, so I knew there had to be control relinquished to them. I also have very set perimeters for the project because it does have to fit into the information presented in the chapter in social studies book. So students will be creating two separate projects.
The first project will be a simple read and share event, in which the students have been placed into teams (no more than 3 kids) and they will read a sub-section of general information about the Native American tribes in Wisconsin. This mini-project will take one lesson (45 min) for reading and writing (they are learning to not copy others’ words) and one lesson for presentation. By ripping half the chapter apart, students will have to take more control of their learning as they engage in active listening during presentations, and practicing their own public speaking skills.
The second project is the actual research of various historical figures prominent in the exploration of Wisconsin. There are 12 different prominent explorers that the students should learn about. I will therefore go through the time line of the exploration years to provide them with an overview of the time, and then set them off to research. I have checked out netbooks for them to do their research on, however, students can choose to use them or not. Other student choices include:
- Who their learning partner should be?
- Who they would like to research (I ask them to pick 3 and then pick sticks and assign)?
- How are they going to research?
I find the “how” is just as important as the “who”, because in 4th grade, we are just learning how to do actual research. Students have not had a lot of practice and are so used to the teacher printing out various sources, or creating a livebinder. By having a classroom discussion on various forms of research, we are once again handing over the responsibility (and thinking) to the students, so you are facilitating rather than leading.
Students will be asked to present all of their information via the fantastic Facebook Template that has been circulating on Twitter. However, I will be asking them to draw it out by hand rather than on the computer. The reason is two-fold; we have some very artistic students that need an outlet, and we have limited access to computers. So in the end, we will have some fantastic Facebook templates adorning our classroom walls. Timeline will be discussed and determined by the students as well but I foresee about one week’s worth of time is needed.
As for grading, students will be evaluating themselves, and we will discuss what they loved, had difficulty with, and how they would improve upon it. No formal grade will be assigned, as is my style, but students will be asked to read and comment on each other’s work as well, as part of the learning process.
I have been meeting with my students and some need a little bit more scaffolding, so I created this direction sheet for them to use. That way they can check off when they find the needed information or if they need to make something up they can.