Can you imagine creating your own museum? Researching content, collecting artifacts, creating and constructing displays, laying out the space, and inviting visitors to see your work? ISLAND PACIFIC ACADEMY’s Grade 5 students did all of that with The American Revolution Museum Experience: Stories and Secrets of the War. Their museum was a two-day exhibit held on April 4 and 5 at Hawai’i Tokai International College and was the culmination of their project-based learning unit on the American Revolution.
Project-based learning (PBL) is a dynamic and rigorous teaching method that encourages students to think critically and work collaboratively to apply their knowledge and skills in engaging, real-word tasks. PBL leads to deeper understanding of the content by taking an inter-disciplinary and student-centered approach, which encourages students to make connections across content areas and take ownership of their own education. Students are active and engaged in their learning, even as they develop initiative, independence, empathy, and skills in problem-solving skills and communication.
The Grade 5 American Revolution PBL was conceived of by Grade 5 teachers, Lisa Uesugi and Joe Villaluz. They modeled it after a similar idea from the Bullis Charter School in California, where Villaluz previously taught.
The PBL provided the students with the opportunity to investigate the driving question, “How do we as artists create a museum experience that connects our community with the people and events of the American Revolution?”
There was no rote memorization of names and dates and places of battles in this learning process. Instead, the students used different forms of art – visual, digital, performance, music, culinary – to explore the history, events, and experiences of that period of time in American history.
Each student first researched and wrote about a specific event from that time. Then, as individuals or in small groups, they chose their medium for presenting their information. Students replicated artifacts, coded computer games, became wax museum figures, and created paintings, dramatic plays, a Hamilton-like song and dance, a working tavern, an interactive spy exhibit, propaganda posters, and sculptures. They were empowered to actively explore ideas and issues and make their own decisions on how to best demonstrate their understanding to their audiences through their interactive exhibits.
“The students’ passion and individuality really drove this process and Mrs. Uesugi and I are so fortunate to have the support of colleagues driven by the same commitment to innovative student learning and excellence,” explained Villaluz.
The students received help and support for their inter-disciplinary projects from many of the elementary specials teachers. Computer science teacher, Debbie Yoshino, assisted with technology – coding, videography, photography. Terry Fuller, SEED teacher, helped students design and construct frames and exhibit displays. Katherine Jones, with her strong background in theater, helped the students with choreography and costumes. Ruth Babas, music teacher, helped the students with musical performances, and Katie Davis, elementary art teacher, helped students with their visual art pieces, including paintings and sculptures. It was a team project with many people working together.
“The credit goes to Mrs. Uesugi and Mr. Villaluz for conceptualizing the project and managing it into fruition. We just gave the students the tools and they ran with them,” shared Jones.
The culmination of their weeks-long PBL unit was the creation of a living, interactive museum, The American Revolution Museum Experience: Stories and Secrets of the War, which showcased their innovative learning experiences. The exhibits were set up around the Tokai College auditorium, and the students came dressed in period costumes to add to the authenticity of the experience for their guests. The town crier opened the event, ringing a bell and reading a proclamation off a rolled scroll. Live performances were scheduled on the hour throughout the day, and students interacted with museum visitors explaining their projects, answering questions, and providing samples of food and drink from the period.
The IPA community and families, as well as the students at Tokai College and the public, were invited to attend the event. After an earlier learning trip to the Honolulu Museum of Art and discussions with museum curators, the Grade 5 students set a goal of attracting 200 visitors to their museum. IPA’s Head of School, Board of Trustee members, faculty, and staff came to visit along with the students’ families and Tokai College students. The event was a fabulous learning showcase, it was featured on KITV, and the students reached their goal of 200 visitors!
“The students worked tirelessly in school researching relevant content and planning out their chosen exhibits,” said Uesugi. “Today they really showcased what they learned and we are all very proud of them.”
“We look forward to even more amazing PBLs in the future!” added Villaluz.