I just spent the last hour working with a class of 40+ fifth graders. We are working on an ambitious project where students are recreating several of the different battles that took place during the Revolutionary war through the use of stop animation video. When you have that many students in one room working on several different projects, the atmosphere tends to be on the crazy side. I am sure that if a traditional teacher (or principal) were to pass by, he or she may think that no learning could possibly take place in the midst of all the mayhem.
There are even times when I wonder if all the craziness is worth it. Things get crazy with that many students all going different directions, but as I sat in a room with small groups recording their scripts, I was amazed at what they were taking away from the project.
First of all, they knew the content of the subject they were assigned as was evident from the content of their scripts and storyboards. These students weren’t messing around. They wanted to show how these battles really took place and what happened there. Granted, many of the battles in the videos will be fought with Barbie dolls and GI Joe figurines, but the content is great. Most of the storyboards have over 10 scenes.
The second thing these students are learning is problem solving. One group reported that the hardest part of the project was writing the script. I asked why. They said that it was hard to write the script like they were there at the time of the battle. What an awesome example of higher level thinking! The students are also having to solve the problem of how they are going to depict the battles. I have really enjoyed watching the wheels turn as they have tried to figure this out.
The third, and maybe the most important thing learned is teamwork. Putting a project like this together has caused some tension in some of the groups, but they learn to work together to get the project done. Again, it is neat to see how student handle this.
Going into a project like this, it is reasonable to expect some of the students to be off task, and that has happened as well, but overall, there is a bunch of learning going on in the room. This is student engagement at its best.