Teachers are passionate about the subjects they teach. Sometimes however, students are less so--they might not share their instructor’s enthusiasm and/or find the topic inherently exciting or motivating. Middle school social studies teacher Jim Malewig at Minnetonka Middle School West is familiar with this scenario. One of the topics he teaches seventh graders about is the Reconstruction post Civil War, and over the years Jim has come up with some creative ways to make it more engaging and memorable for his students.
Recently I was in his classroom during this unit of study and was amazed to see the students’ engagement on their “Road to Reconstruction” projects. Students were working to answer the question, “To what extent did Reconstruction bring African Americans closer to full citizenship?” A few years ago Jim began having students make a timeline of the events during this period and used a road map as an analogy. Then after working with Lisa Reed, Tonka Coders and Makers Teacher on Special Assignment, they decided to integrate Ozobots with the project. Ozobots are programmable robots that read special colored markers to gather their instructions. Depending on what colors and patterns are used to create the code, Ozobots can be programmed to turn, change direction, color, speed and more.
Now as part of their learning, students identify the key events of the time period, create a roadmap/timeline of ten major events during the Reconstruction, decide what actions the Ozobot will take while traveling this path to symbolize the each event, and then film an Ozobot on their timeline. But the project doesn’t stop there. Students import their video into iMovie and add in historical photos to illustrate each of their selected events. Then they write a script and record their narration into their film.
Throughout the project students are very motivated. This project is a great example of learning at higher levels on the Minnetonka Framework for Teaching and Learning. Students are communicating and collaborating in small groups, critically thinking and analyzing events and their effect on history. They are able to use their creativity and technology to illustrate their learning. Perhaps without realizing it, they are coding their Ozobots and debugging issues to get things to work, too. Rather than just reading about this in a textbook and taking notes, students are deeply learning and understanding the material and historical time period. Perhaps some of them will become future social studies teachers, too, motivating their students in unique and creative ways!