From Mars to Ancient Societies

Last year, I launched my World History class with the project called We, the People of Mars... where students investigated various forms of government so they could form their own ideal government to be used on Mars. As I mentioned in a post last year, it was one of my more cringe-worthy projects for a variety of reasons and I decided to completely revamp it for this new school year. But no matter the adjustments I made, I couldn't fall in love with the project and I felt stuck on what to do for a project that discusses democracy.

As one of the beginning of the year activity, I had students do a gallery walk with sticky notes where they answered questions on posters. One of the questions was "What do you want to learn in History?" No students put "FOUNDATIONS OF DEMOCRACY!" and I realized that I only taught that concept because I always have, not because the students were excited about it. The most successful PBL is one where students are engaged in relevant projects they are excited about so I threw out that project altogether.

Based off of the responses from the beginning of the year activity, many students showed interest in ancient societies, like Native American tribes, Spartans, Vikings, etc. I then created a whole new project, titled Ancient Societies FTW (For the Win!), where students investigated how an ancient society of their choosing contributed to our world and created a collaborative video.

I launched the project with a Pear Deck where we discussed why so many people feel that history is boring. The consensus was that teachers made it boring since they didn't show how it was important and it didn't relate it to their lives. I fully agreed with them and explained that I chose to do this project so we can start from the beginning and see how ancient societies have influenced us today. I may have also shown this clip from Ferris Bueller's Day Off as an example:


See Document Here.

After a discussion of why I chose the word 'society' instead of 'civilization', students immediately jumped to work by choosing their groups, deciding on the ancient society, and drafting a group contract. Without much prompting, students eagerly began researching and started to have passionate debates with other groups; most prominently, a Vikings group and a Pirate group kept arguing who was the best at pillagers.

The skills I focused on for this project were collaboration and corroboration. Each student had to complete general history research and then contributions research for the topic so their group could pull all their information together to confirm that everything was true and determine what information should be included in the video. From there, students began planning for the video itself based on whatever their assigned role was in the group contract.

Unlike last year, my students didn't lack of enthusiasm for the project, but they struggled with collaboration. Despite the agreed up contract, many students failed to complete their assigned task, which brought down the entire group. Frustration and irritation ran high for the students, and some parents, but it allowed for some great conversations about responsibility, communication with peers and the teacher, and learning how to work with difficult people. Yet I don't believe this was a failure since the main point of the project was to practice and improve peer-to-peer collaboration, which students did even if it wasn't successful.

One of the most memorable parts of the project was when my SPC (Student Project Coordinator), who was my student last year, realized very quickly that this was not the same first project that he did. After I explained to him why I eliminated the "We, the People of Mars..." project, he completely agreed my reasoning and even confirmed that it was not an engaging or interesting project for him or his peers. While I am a little embarrassed about my failure last year, I'm really happy to see that I learned from my mistake and improved my skills as a PBL teacher.

Oh, here are some of the exemplars:

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