Evolution of Warfare

Warfare is always a favorite topic for my students. Maybe its the excitement from the action or the emotional response that is brought on by the death involved, but student engagement always improves dramatically as soon as we start discussing a war, especially WWI. This year I had the opportunity to push student engagement even more by mixing the War to End All Wars and project-based learning.

When I was in college,  I always wanted to take the History of Warfare, where we would have studied how warfare evolved. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to take the class I used it and the fact that WWI resulted in dramatic changes in how wars are fought as inspirations for my students' WWI projects.

I introduced this unit by having students analyze primary resources to determine the causes of WWI, beyond the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Once the causes were determined and the trenches were experienced by the students, they began work on their Evolution of Warfare presentations. The only rules that I set for the topic was that it had to relate to warfare and that no one could do the same topic in the same class. Naturally, some students knew immediately what they wanted to do while others needed to some inspiration. Because of the openness of the prompt, I had some students tracing the evolutions of a particular weapon while others traced the evolution of uniforms or infection prevention.

Since it was February, I realized that my students' research skills needed some improvement so I created a research proposal to help them find new information and record their research.

 Research Proposal for Evolution of Warfare
Link to Document
In an ideal world, I would like to say that this was a silver bullet to helping my students become better researchers, but it did not. Since some students knew their topics immediately and others needed more time, many completed this proposal before I had the opportunity to fully explain its purpose and the meaning behind "sub-questions" and "words to research". This document was a good experiment for me to help give students more guidance when researching, but I feel like it could have students use it more effectively.

Once the proposals were completed, they then started working on their presentations. I provided them with the template to help them stay organized and they were off. Literally. I had never seen them be so excited and focused on their research. I even found that some students would get mad at me if I had them complete a blog post or another task besides their presentations. It also helped that I followed Jon Corippo's advice of avoiding the suck so that this level of excitement remained high throughout the project.

When the presentations began, students were eager to present their new found information, including ones that were typically disinterested in history. Students that had a record of not finishing their project or avoiding presenting were suddenly the ones who wanted to go first.

Below are some exemplars:

Created by Clay Allen, who was chosen to present his findings to the Board. 

Created by Justin Hough, who was nominated as the Best Project of the Year.

Created by Ryan McDougald.

When the project was finished, I asked students what made this project so enjoyable to them and they said it was because they were able to choose whatever they wanted. At first, I was a little baffled by this since I had given them choices before, but I think the difference with this project was that they got to choose from their prior knowledge and/or research instead of a list provided by me. For me, I saw no difference with this, but for the students their complete choice helped with their engagement. They didn't mention this but I think the real-world relevancy of the topic helped as well.

Based on student excitement and enthusiasm , I think I can safely say that this was top project for my sophomores in World History. 


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