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Project Based Learning (PBL) is hard work. It is hard work to find and develop and create projects that not only grab learners’ attention in the beginning, but keep learners’ attention throughout the process while providing them a real world, authentic final product. Add in the fact that the product that they are creating and the learning that they are delving into has to be driven by the standards that my co-facilitator and I are responsible for, and it gets even harder. I feel like this last project did a great job of combining those elements. For this project, learners were guided by this driving question: What were the real causes of the Civil War and how did it effect the people of our community and our nation?

This question was the glue that held it all together as we embarked on a VERY long journey of learning. (It wasn’t actually very long, it just felt like it because of all the snow days.) Working with the Rogers Historical Museum, our learners were given the task to create a museum display that included information on the causes of the Civil War, the effects of the Civil War, author’s perspectives on the Civil War, and to create a multimedia component that addressed the Rogers/Benton County connection to the Civil War. This was no small feat for the learners, as they realized throughout the process. On the day of the project due date, learners were expected to be so well-informed on their topics and information that they could answer the questions of not only their facilitators, but of the museum representatives and the upperclassmen as well.

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Their displays were creative and reflected serious understanding of the war that went beyond surface level learning and delved much deeper into the matter. We were even lucky enough to have the Northwest Arkansas News there to interview and showcase our learners. The article, Rogers Students Explore Underlying Themes of Civil War , did a great job of interviewing a wide range of students. One learner, whom I must say I am very proud of, stated that, “The war pretty much started because of authors,” and he definitely made that connection on his own.

Causes and lasting effects of the Civil War weren’t understood in a basic way by most learners; they were able to make connections that went beyond the idea that the Civil War was all about slavery. Most of the learners came to the conclusion that the Civil War was really about States’ Rights vs. Federal Power and that became the perfect segway into our current project which further explores that. This project was all about choice: choice of display, choice of medium, choice of how in depth you wanted to go. One group made a book shelf out of foam poster boards, created an interactive puzzle that followed the causes and effects of the war, and wrote a “book” that explained the role that authors had in the Civil War (Picture 1). Their creativity never ceases to amaze me.

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I wrote all of this to say that my learners are learning. A lot. We have recently had discussions with some of the learners that want to go back to their regular high schools. Most of them want to go back for social reasons, while a few want to take some of the different classes that we just can’t offer because of our smaller size. One of these learners recently told me that she didn’t feel like she was learning anything. When I met her parents during parent teacher conferences, I told her parents what she said and asked her why she felt that way. Her answer was that she hadn’t taken a test or anything. In our society, getting an A or B on a multiple choice test is equated with real learning. Oh, how we are failing our young people.

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I then asked her a series of higher level questions that were based off of our previous projects and a couple from our current project. Not only was she able to answer the questions about the Civil War, but she was able to articulate an answer to a question about immigration law, our very first project. (Her group’s final Civil War Day Project is pictured above). A multiple choice test is an excellent gage for information that is fleeting, but with these projects that our learners are doing, they are truly learning, and that learning is sticking with them.

Honestly, even when the planning gets hard and the thoughts get jumbled and I spend hours and hours of my free time evaluating, I know that what we are doing works, and I am so proud to be where I am, doing what I’m doing.

Happy Wednesday, Friends!

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