PBL for the history classroom…

Oh, what to talk about, what to talk about…

I should be sleeping.

Tonight I get to stay up late with hundreds of Key Clubbers to rendezvous with thousands of others for their Fall Rally at Magic Mountain. A yearly tradition where I get to not sleep for a couple days but otherwise I always come back with a story. (In 3 years I have had 2 rainy days, a fire and a bus where the door wouldn’t close all the way and froze us for the ride back.)

So here I am, trying to kill time until it is time to leave. Seems like a perfect time to rant.

So for the past two days (Block Scheduling) I have been watching student presentations. A couple years ago I began looking for real world projects for the social studies classroom. I wanted to translate the material into possible future situations. After an exhaustive search I finally found a base idea for some.

Prentice Hall, in their new Modern World History series, came up with a collection of WebQuests. Here is an example of two:

You are political scientists. A group of people who are establishing a new country have come to you for advice. They are interested in learning more about how political systems have risen, developed, and declined throughout history, so that they can make the right choices in governing their country. You have been asked to prepare a comparison study of political systems, including the advantages and disadvantages of each.

You are a curator at the Science and Technology Hall of Fame. The museum director has asked that you nominate an invention or technological innovation from the last fifty years to be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame. You will then design a virtual museum exhibit—An Invention That Changed Your World—to demonstrate why your invention or innovation deserves to be included in the Hall of Fame.

I love these so far because they address possible situations a historian, political scientist or any type of social scientist might find themselves in. It brings a real world feel to the material.

Now, this has just been my first presentation and I have already come up with many tweaks to make it run smoother. Even the students have seen a multitude of improvements to make, taking bits and piece of what has worked in other projects and what hasn’t.

One of the major parts to all this that I am finding to be vital is the debrief. Even the small debriefs after each presentation and another at the end of the day is adding a new level to everything. Getting them past the worry of grades and criticism are the two hardest parts but once free of that, it opens them up to take risks and to think outside of the box.

I think that final part is the most important skill I hope they develop from this. For too many of my students, they have been trained to follow the directions to the letter. They are obsessed with keeping it safe. For the political system project, most gave what could only be described as a government lesson but for a couple, they threw out the “rule book” and just talked and displayed some showmanship. They had fun with it instead of keeping it rigid out of fear it would hurt their grade.

A photo of the Shake Weight product for sale i...

Image via Wikipedia

The same was true for Science and Technology. Most students went with the expected (iPhone or cell phone, video games, etc…) but for one group; the Shake Weight. They had fun with the assignment and I find that selling the Shake Weight will be much more difficult and require more creativity.

The ultimate goal of these projects is to get them to find their creativity, to utilize more than one skill to create something and to become more comfortable with presenting information in a variety of ways to a group. Also, along the way they are getting some content too.

I like the direction and we will have to see where this all leads to in the end.

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