We are currently working on a social studies project for our unit Then and Now. Students have been so mind blown with how different the world was back then compared to what it is like now. They have been really engaged with this unit, and I wanted to support their interests and desire to explore and learn more. I decided we would turn this unit into a research project, and we would present our new knowledge and ideas with others in a few different ways.
To begin this project, I came up with five different categories for Then and Now: Transportation, Home Life, Communication, Technology, and School Life. We talked about what each of these categories include and what it might look like, and I also showed them examples of the project from previous groups. Then I gave each student a notecard and told them it was their turn to tell me what category they would like to work with. I really emphasized that it is not about what your friends want to learn about, it is only important what you are most interested in because that will help you be more motivated. Each student wrote down their first three options in order.
I then split up the groups depending on their choices. Not all students got their first choice, but all students either got their first or second choice. All groups had four students besides one group, which only had three students. The first thing I wanted the groups to do was to just build a sense of teamwork and trust amongst their group. For the first day working on the project, we just played different games in our group, and I had them come up with a long-term goal as a group for what they would like to accomplish by the end of the project. I loved seeing so many groups develop teamwork, and I feel like this has definitely helped groups work together better and depend on each other for support when needed.
The next step was to have students research. I always emphasize that research should begin with BOOKS. Technology is a huge part of our world now, but I don't want students to forget the importance of using books to find information. I had checked out a bunch of books from our school library, and I did allow them to use Epic to read books. We discussed smart choices for picking books. Would it make sense for a group to read a book about computers if their category is Transportation? Not really. Why not? The students actually had so many ideas as to why this would not make sense. I loved hearing all of their answers. My favorite; "Of course that would not make sense, Miss Mitchell. Transportation is how you get from one place to another place. You can't use a computer to move." Duly noted. We talked a lot about how we could decide if a book was a good choice or not, and I am so glad we spent time doing this. I saw every single group using the strategies and ideas we had discussed, and it definitely cut down the amount of time that would have been wasted otherwise.
Each day, I have the students set a goal for what they would like to have accomplished by the end of the day. This helps all students stay on task, and they are all on the same page as to what they should be working on. Their first task was to research and come up with a group definition. I didn't want to give too much away before the students started researching. I wanted to see if they could work together and figure out what I meant by a definition. After listening to groups, watching what they were doing, and seeing what they were writing down I felt it was necessary to discuss how to define something in your own words. Many students/groups were writing examples of their category, which was great. Examples help others understand a definition, but they still needed a real definition. I pulled everyone together and we discussed how we could define something in our own words and gave examples of different definitions/ideas. Then students went back to their groups and write a definition. I reminded the students that they might change or add things to their definition as time goes on too.
The next day, their task was to find three items from the past and the corresponding item that is used now. They did not need to write any details or information about these items, they just needed to fill them out on their outline. After they did this, they needed to find an influential person for their specific category. Once again, they were not supposed to write down any details or information, just the person's name. At this point in the project, we have not used anything but books to find our information, and that makes my heart SO happy.
Up until this point in the project, everything has been done as a group. They have developed teamwork, trust, and have begun to get really excited about their findings. Now, each student is going to get their own responsibility and task. There are four students to a group, and each student will now be given an item from the past with the corresponding item, and one group member will get the influential person. Their responsibility is to research and find out details and information about the item/person. What is the item? What was it used for? What do we use now? How has this made things easier? Who is the influential person? How did they influence this category of Then and Now?
Students now feel accountable and want to do well for their group. They also know that their group members are there for help with they need it. Once students have completed their responsibility of the research, they will come together to share what they found and will create a poster to show the information they found.
After each group finishes their poster, they will come up with three future inventions that would help this category of life. This is to help students see the connections to the past, present, and how this will influence the future. The group will then decide on one invention and sketch it out and create it. The team must have reasonings to support why this would help us in the future.
Once all of this is done, we are going to Skype with a classroom in Kansas City who is also working on the same project. We are going to present our posters, and they will do the same. Then we are going to see the similarities and differences that their class and our class found through our research. At the school, we are going to set up our posters and new inventions to represent a museum. We will have students, teachers, and families walk through and see what we found. I will also have students stand by their posters and explain their new learnings and understandings.
So far, this project has been a blast. My students have been so engaged and excited about this project, and they have enjoyed researching and learning about the past. I have seen them develop so many skills besides just learning about life then and now. I can't wait to see how this project wraps up!
Hi! My name is Mikaela, and I am currently in my second year of teaching second grade. I am working at a Title I school with a diverse population of learners.