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If you have ever tried to engage nine-year-olds with a history lesson from over 200 years ago, you will know from experience that you are going to have to get a little creative, especially if you’re nearing the end of the year! Grade 4 teachers at AISE-West had a challenge on their hands with their third term history material: a focus on immigration from Europe to North America. The students were to spend a whole quarter with this theme, learning about New World explorers and the reasons for immigration with push and pull factors.
The teachers worked together to build a cohesive cross-curricular study plan, with activities and projects to encourage deep and active learning. Research tells us that project-based learning experiences can bring subject material alive for students, as it allows them to investigate important ideas, uses inquiry-based methods, is differentiated based on their interests, encourages creativity and critical thinking, and, most importantly, allows students to take ownership of their presentations. Jessica Muonio and Jonathan Menke, both Grade 4 teachers at AISE-West who are stepping into Vice-Principal roles in 2017-2018, told Strides more about the unit.
“For our literacy modules, we read books about the topic, such as the historical fiction novel ‘Fever 1793.’ We also watched videos and conducted virtual field trips to Ellis Island in the computer lab,” shared Jessica. “Students researched about the life of a famous immigrant from Europe, learning to differentiate between primary and secondary source material as they conducted research on Ellis Island and immigration.”
Two projects helped students literally get up close and personal with the immigrants to learn more about the migration. The first was the Wax Museum project where each student each researched a famous European immigrant from Europe to US or Canada. They learned about his or her origins, reasons for migrating, when they migrated and what the migrant's family is doing presently. The fourth graders then set up a living “wax museum" where they dressed up as their immigrant, stood ready with a button in front of them and presented a short speech to visitors when the button was pressed.
After the student presentations, Jessica concluded that the results were wonderful: “Several grade levels were able to visit the wax museum and they all enjoyed learning about the chosen immigrants. Our fourth graders really stepped up and handled the information and presentations very well.” Jonathan, who has previously used the Wax Museum device, added, “The Wax Museum is a versatile learning tool that can be applied for many topics and across genres. I originally used it for a biography study with great results, and the students really enjoyed the experience.”
The second project was an ongoing historical fiction writing project where the “student immigrants” had to write a fictional journal about their journey from their home country to America through Ellis Island, documenting historical facts in their journal entries, putting all their research into action. "The whole unit, from the research to the Wax Museum to the historical fiction journals, really allowed our students to embrace and understand the immigration experience," said Jessica, summing up the study unit which exemplified a successful project-based learning plan, demonstrating how classroom teachers, librarians and technology specialists can work together to help students make authentic connections with their subject material for a truly immersive inter-disciplinary learning experience.