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Make Learning Interactive and Student-Led

Students at museum.jpg

From slavery through modern day, the classroom was curated as a Black History Month museum, taking students through time with individual projects that spoke to important moments in history.

And the best part is, the museum exhibits were completely comprised of student-made work. Teachers Mike Paul and Stephanie Withopf of West Hempstead High School created a learning experience that doesn't just serve their students. Students from other social studies classrooms are invited to visit the museum to learn and ask questions about what they see.

For the teachers whose students made the exhibits, they have an interactive scavenger hunt that asks students to visit with each project and take different learning points away, making connections to past learning as well as their own lives. 

Each year I'm blown away at the attention to detail students pay and the choices they make as to which project and/or time period speaks to them. Project-based learning really is an opportunity for students to take ownership of what and how they learn while developing necessary skills and deepening content knowledge. 

Additionally, with this project, the collection of the work together builds a rich teaching experience for those students who didn't work on the other projects and also allows students in other classes to see what is possible through their classmates' work. 

The museum approach offers a different experience, much like a gallery walk, where students are moving all period, visiting with each project, and are accountable for the things they learn. The class is set up with specific expectations for the museum days that help them engage with other people's work as well as their own.

Here are some of the greatest takeaways from this experience:

  • The teachers empower the learners to make decisions about what they want to research and do a project on.
  • Students have a choice about how they show what they know, whether it is by creating a diorama, video piece, poster, or actual artifacts.
  • Students learn from each other and are able to ask questions and also leave feedback for each other as they go through the museum
  • Students in younger grades and in other classes get to partake in the experience and therefore help to build a better school community and culture, being inspired for the work they will get to participate in when they get to 11th grade.
  • The teachers are invested in helping the students create their best work but give them the freedom to do what they want, and how they want.
  • Everyone is a winner in a project-based-learning environment.

Although project-based learning can be daunting at first, it is well worth the mess. Planning your first project may not go as smoothly as you want or imagine, but I promise everyone will learn, so don't give up. It takes time to figure out a process that will work for you, and as the teacher gets more comfortable, the more student voice and agency can be added into the experience. 

museum (1).jpgReflecting on the development of projects and the pacing is the most important part for the teacher. What worked and why? What didn't work and why? What needs to be adjusted? What did the students take away from the experience? How do you know?

Do you use project-based learning in your classes? What do you and the students love most about it? What is most challenging? Please share

All photos are by Starr Sackstein

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