This past quarter, I've been teaching a lot through projects. Rather than giving daily reading or writing, worksheets or questions to answer, students have been completing longer-term projects. Although the front-end work is tremendous for me, I believe that students are getting more out of their work and using a variety of skills to complete the tasks, which is more efficient use of learning time.
In our after-school study group, we've been talking about teaching in a creative classroom and how to develop creative units. Most of the teachers in the video discussed the idea of “beginning with the end in mind.” As I began planning for a World Cultures unit on Europe, I used this process to design the unit.
In a typical unit about Europe, students read a brief overview of each region's culture or complete a country report. However, having lived and traveled Europe, I realized that this type of classroom experience was very superficial and unrealistic. However, most of my students have had the experience of moving to a new country because their parents' jobs require that they move every three to six years. Often the parents have some choice of country, but the students didn't have an understanding of how their parents made that decision. In this unit, I wanted students to research two countries – economically, politically, technologically and culturally – in order to make a decision about which country would best support a growing business. Then they would present their results to the class. This would cover several skills – research, analysis, evaluation, and presentation.
The unit “Country X vs Country Y,” is especially good in combining a variety of social studies and life skills in a real life problem solving activity. The scenario required the students to think like a business person. They were the CEO of an export company that wished to enter the European market. Therefore, the company needed to choose a location for its European headquarters. Not only did the country need to support the business through a strong labor force, economy and transportation, but it also needed to be family-friendly with good education, health services and activities.
I broke the project into five tasks. The first task was to research the two different countries, which were randomly assigned to each student. Using a table, created in Star Office Writer, and teacher preselected websites, students were able to complete the research within a week. Task 2 was the analysis. Students categorized and highlighted information in five areas -business, health, technology, family, and safety. Then, using a template, students made a decision on which country would best support the new headquarters. The third task was to create a story-board of the presentation. This allowed me to check their understanding of the task. Once the story-board was complete, the fourth task was to complete the design of the presentation. Finally, each student orally presented their two countries and final recommendation.
My school has a block schedule. Each class meets for two periods of 80 minutes and one period of 40 minutes. The entire project took four weeks to complete. After viewing the presentations, students had a more realistic idea of each of the highlighted countries. The skills they learned in this unit will be useful as they later decided where to go for college or even a simpler choice such as finding a place for vacation.