Wednesday, April 6, 2016

5th Grade PBL: An American Revolution Museum

BCS 5th graders recently completed a Project Based Learning unit (PBL) where they were tasked with designing a museum experience about the American Revolution. The PBL’s driving question was: “How can we, as artists, create a museum experience that connects our community with the people of the American Revolution?”

When designing the driving question, the fifth grade teachers purposefully included the word “people” to encourage the students to get into the mindset of the people of the American Revolution. By considering those who initiated and fought in the war, the students are better able to develop empathy for their experience and understand the society in which they lived.

Utilizing the design thinking process, the fifth graders interviewed students in other grades to hear different perspectives on what makes a fun and educational museum experience. Based on the feedback they received, each student brainstormed ideas on how to present the American Revolutionary War in a museum setting. Students then chose one idea to focus on and built a prototype of their idea. When finished, they presented their prototype to classmates and received feedback on their design.

Some students struggled with not knowing what their end product would look like. “Students often start the process with ‘is it OK if…,’” says fifth grade teacher Jessica Morgan. “I always respond to this inquiry with, ‘I don’t know, what do you think?’ I want the students to own their design process. I encourage them to refer to the driving question if they feel unsure about their ideas. In the end, there are no wrong choices or presentations. As long as the student answered the driving question, they have succeeded. The way in which each student does this will be different and that is part of what makes the end results so exciting.”

Specialist teachers worked closely with the students on this PBL, helping the students to integrate art, drama, and music into their exhibits. In art, students examined political messages from the time period and developed their own political cartoons to encourage or discourage someone from participating in the Revolution. In drama, students practiced speaking from different perspectives to understand how to portray a person from the Revolution. In music, they composed original pieces of music reflecting the musical style of the time period. 

The students were free to choose how they wanted to present their final displays as long as they were historically accurate and connected the museum audience to someone from the Revolution. Some students made paintings about the Revolution, some wrote memoirs using the perspective of someone from the time period, and others created scratch games or board games to explain specific events in the war. A few students even integrated their drama skills and produced a skit about the people of the Revolution.

The museum opening was a well-attended event bustling with parents, staff, and students. “The variety of displays the students created are impressive. It is amazing to see what fifth grade students are capable of accomplishing,” said fifth grade teacher Mr. Villaluz. “These exhibits are the culmination of everything the students have learned about project-based learning at Bullis and this incredible event is the result of what happens when you give students a say in their learning process.”