Back in February, Grade 5 students asked themselves “How do we as artists create a website experience that connects our community with the people and events of the American Revolution?” That driving question was the basis for their American Revolution 2021 project-based learning (PBL) that culminated in an impressively comprehensive and engaging virtual experience. Originally envisioned as a live and interactive museum, this year’s experience had to be adapted as a multimedia website, but nothing was lost in the translation.
Project-based learning is a way of teaching that encourages students to think critically and work collaboratively to apply their knowledge and skills in engaging, real-word tasks. Students have a deeper understanding of the content as they make connections across content areas and take ownership of their own learning. Along the way, they are active and engaged, and develop initiative, independence, empathy, and skills in problem-solving and communication.
For their PBL, students researched the people, places, food, events, and causes of the American Revolution, but there was no simple memorization of names and dates and places of battles. Rather, students combined art and technology – including visual arts, performing arts, culinary arts, literary arts, and filmmaking – to demonstrate their learning to their web audience.
“The best thing about this PBL is how important historical concepts become opportunities for meaningful experiential learning,” shared Joe Villaluz, Grade 5 teacher. “Students walk away from the American Revolution PBL knowing and remembering more about this important period in our nation’s history than if they had just read it out of a book.”
“When students are interested and engaged in what they are doing and are able to use their areas of strength, they achieve at a higher level,” explained Lisa Uesugi, Grade 5 teacher. “Students learned not only about the American Revolution, but also developed many of the ‘soft skills’ they need now and in the years to come.”
The student projects were as diverse and creative as the students themselves. The Battle of Yorktown is brought to life in a stop-motion animation pitting Continental and British Army Lego troops against each other. The story of Deborah Sampson, a hero of the American Revolution who disguised herself as a man to join the Patriot forces, is told in a single digital illustration portraying her as both woman and soldier. The events of the Boston Massacre are rhymed and put to a beat in a rap video. Insights about the colonial diet are gleaned through hardtack baking demonstrations. George Washington’s camp at Valley Forge is recreated in Minecraft. Each student was empowered to actively explore ideas and issues and make their own decisions on how to best demonstrate their understanding to their audiences through their creations.
All of the student projects were compiled, uploaded, and organized into a full-scale, multimedia website developed by Lisa Lariscy, Grade 5 teacher, and Villaluz.
Transforming a traditional PBL into a virtual experience came with novel challenges for the students and the teachers.
“The biggest challenge for the students in doing this virtually was making sure their project translated the content to a wide range of audience,” shared Uesugi. “Unlike with a real museum, they knew they wouldn’t be there in person to explain or answer questions so they needed to make sure their project was self-explanatory.”
“Since project based learning has such a strong collaborative component, we were unable to capitalize on that aspect of learning,” explained Villaluz. “Nevertheless, we were able to provide more one-on-one feedback to the students in lieu of the feedback that they would receive from their peers. This helped them improve the quality of their work and provided more opportunities for them to explain more challenging concepts.”
The switch also came with an unexpected positive for the students – the excitement of having a global audience for their work.
“It was exciting to potentially reach more people outside of our immediate community using a web based platform,” shared Villaluz. “Using Google Analytics we were able to see that we even had someone visit our website in Australia and many places on the mainland! This helped generate more buy-in from the students since they knew their work had such a far audience reach.”
Experience Grade 5’s The American Revolution 2021 for yourself!