Saturday, July 19, 2014

Bring History to Life: Native American Murals & Presentations

I remember being nine years old, crying over a social studies test.  After studying for a full week with my mom--making notecards, coming up with songs and mnemonic devices, and intense study sessions--I still could not pass a social studies chapter test.  I also remember saying to my mom, "When I become a teacher (yes... I knew I wanted to be a teacher then...ha) I will find a way to make kids like me like social studies!"  Well, I have to say, I have worked hard over the years to hold true to my word.  I have worked to create learning experiences and opportunities in which kids like me--hyperactive, creative, social, musical, and awful at memorization--like social studies.  This one project in particular is one of my all time favorites.  I owe the idea 100% to my teaching partner, Heather Briggs.  She told me about this idea, and I could not wait to implement it with our Branke Bunchers.  

The idea was to create and present MURALS as a culminating activity and unit review for our Native American unit.  I divided the class into four groups--each group responsible for creating a mural on a different region of Native Americans studied in class.  Each mural had to portray the geography, tribes, climate, food, housing, traditions, and other important features of this region.  I created region sheets for each group that gave specific focuses for each of those categories of that particular region, so that it would review the specific information they were expected to learn and show mastery of for the unit common assessment.  

The students immediately were PUMPED for this assignment.  I received phone calls from parents saying that their child has never liked social studies in previous years, but came home that day telling them all about the Native American region they were studying and all the supplies they wanted to bring in to create their mural! (BEST COMPLIMENT EVER!) 

As they worked in class, my students got into academic debates over various traditions or customs of the Native Americans in that region.  They would be flipping through stacks of books looking for evidence to support their argument and prove their group mates wrong!  (Is it bad that I actually enjoyed watching my students fight and argue like this?!??)  My students begged to stay in from recess to do extra research and work on their murals.  

But, do you want to know the best part?!  EVERY SINGLE STUDENT was successful with this project.  Why?!  Because it taps into EVERY SINGLE FORM OF INTELLIGENCE!!!

  • VISUAL-SPACIAL:  My visual-spacial students were pros with creating the geography for the murals.  Being able to portray a 3-D image on a 2-D surface is their specialty!  They were able to see and visualize the way their assigned region looked, and then create a mural to show it.  
  • BODILY-KINESTHETIC:  My bodily-kinesthetic students love to make things!  They would enjoy using tools and their hands to turn their ideas into creation. 
  • INTERPERSONAL:  My interpersonal students not only work well in groups, but benefit tremendously from talking through their thinking.  The dialogue that I overheard as I walked through my classroom as we worked on these projects would bring any teacher to tears of joy.  Any misconceptions my students had about the Native Americans were corrected through the process of this project.  
  • INTRAPERSONAL: You may be thinking... how would an intrapersonal student benefit from a group project?!  Well I saw, first-hand, that they did!  While many questions arose within each group while creating these murals, my intrapersonal students would go off in a corner with a book, scan for information, and then come back the hero of their group for figuring out the answer they had all been debating about!  
  • LINGUISTIC:  These students were able to articulate to their group clearly and take on leadership roles in an effective way.  They were also the stars of the oral presentations of these murals.
  • LOGICAL-MATHEMATICAL:  These students were the first to be able to see the relationships between the land and the Native Americans of that region, and therefore bring that to life on the murals.  They could see the big picture of how the regions impacted the Native Americans who lived there--which is the actual learning goal of this unit!
After all was said and done, I was so impressed with how well they did on the murals.  As I looked at each of the four murals, it was evident which region it was meant to depict.  Here are the final results:

After completing these murals, the students presented their murals to the class. This was the prefect review for our final exam.  Bottom line, the students all mastered their final exam.  I have never been more proud.

Hope you try this out and have as much success with it as I did!!!


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