Monday, May 24, 2010

Civil War PBL

By all accounts, the Civil War PBL was a huge success! I am trying to figure out how to load pics and video to the blog, so bear with me! BTW, congrats to 1st Period for winning the pizza party! Your field hospital received rave reviews! All the stations turned out much better than I expected. Great job!
Hopefully, the press release that I sent the newspaper will be on here, so look for it!


(CALEDONIA) Caledonia Middle School became a war zone Thursday, but not in a bad way.

Caledonia Civil War Military Park was open, and student “park rangers” shared their expertise with reenactments, videos, posters, and student-created props.

The park stations included New York City during the Draft Riots of 1863, a cave in Vicksburg, a working telegraph, a spy balloon, ironclad ships, a Gettysburg field hospital, a Chattanooga railroad boxcar, and military weaponry.

Students acted out battles and skirmishes at Antietam and along Sherman’s “March to the Sea,” and they recruited soldiers for a Union regiment in Illinois.

Eighth grade history students related various aspects of the Civil War, plus they gave seventh graders a glimpse of some of the things they will learn next year. The reenactments were part of a unit using a method called problem-based learning, or PBL.

Social studies teacher Allison Barnette gave her students a “messy problem,” and a role to play to find solutions. They were told they would be park rangers at Caledonia Military Park, and it was their job to teach seventh graders about different topics in the Civil War, such as field hospitals and disease, railroads, and civilian survival. They had to employ their skills in English, math, and science, also.

Beyond that, the students knew only that they must be accurate and interesting, and that teachers had to have an outline of what they planned to do.

PBL is one of several scientifically proven effective teaching strategies that Lowndes County School teachers have been discussing in Professional Learning Communities this year. Using Paul Marzano’s book as a guideline, they study and employ the strategies in their classes, then share their own instructional experiences.

“In a recent Professional Learning Community meeting, we decided to use PBL in a collaborative effort among eighth grade teachers,” said Barnette.

CMS Principal Karen Pittman could have been wary of the undertaking, but she remained supportive. “As always, when teachers come with new ideas and projects, you are uncertain of the results,” said Pittman. “The results far surpassed any of our expectations, she added.

Although Barnette has been a proponent of PBL for several years, this was the first time to be able to collaborate with other teachers and involve her student teacher, Kevin Tindoll. “CMS teachers are so great at helping each other help our kids. I was glad that he was able to be in this environment to learn this unusual way of teaching,” she said.

Fellow eighth grade teacher Allison Crowson echoed the importance of the collaborative effort.

“We incorporated all subject areas for this project, and the students were instructed to write an outline for their English portion of the assignment. The outlines really helped the students plan out their presentations,” said Crowson. “They did an amazing job with this project and put forth real effort to get the success we were reaching for,” she added.

The goal of PBL is to get students to use more critical thinking skills.

Other rewards come from this teaching strategy. “I had a lot of fun teaching the seventh graders about civilian survival,” said eighth grader Alexis Pass.

Fellow CMS student Shelby Richardson, whose group made a working telegraph, said, “I hope that the seventh graders got as much out of it as I did.” Richardson called her experience “an extraordinary opportunity.”

One positive side effect to using PBL is that some children who do not seem to be motivated by traditional pen and paper, teacher-directed methods find hidden talents that help them to be successful in school and throughout life.

Eighth grade parent Rachel Cannon remarked, “I enjoyed watching the students having so much fun while still learning.”

The budding engineers, architects, journalists, computer and audio technicians, fashion designers, research scientists, and actors found in this PBL offer a sample of what Caledonia can expect in a few years.

Elizabeth Thomas, who worked on the field hospital, said, “By participating in this project, I have learned leadership and discovered facts about how hard they actually had it back then.” Blakney Clark, whose arm was “amputated,” added, “I really enjoyed acting it out.”

“My generation often says that kids nowadays do not know how to think or how to use their imagination. I think we just try to do so much for them that we do not allow them the chance to work out things for themselves. Maybe we want everything to be easier for our kids than it was for us, or maybe we don’t have the time and patience to let the skills evolve. Either way, we do our kids a great disservice by not making them figure things out for themselves,” says Barnette.

In PBL, the teacher acts as a facilitator who asks leading questions: What is your job? How are you going to do that job? What knowledge will you need? What supplies will you need? How will you get the information and materials you need? How will you know when you have done a good job?

Students had three weeks to discuss, research, build, and perform their projects.

“The final result was tremendous,” said Pittman. “I was thrilled with the participation and hard work of our CMS eighth grade students. The leadership and teaching techniques of Mrs. Barnette were evident throughout the entire process. My congratulations to her on a job well done.”

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