Thursday, August 27, 2009

History Week, Day 5: Constitutional Expert Project

In December of my second year of teaching, I was absolutely despondent. My classes were not going very well and I wasn't very happy with myself as a teacher. Desperate to create the kind of exciting, student-centered classroom I had always dreamed of having, I went to my TFA advisor and asked for guidance. With her help, I created what is still the most ambitious project I've ever asked students to do.

It's called the Constitutional Expert Project, which asked students to "focus on either: one of the amendments we studied, the entire Bill of Rights, or the principles of the U.S. Constitution (popular sovereignty, federalism, checks and balances or separation of powers)." I wrote about introducing this project at the time:
It was grander in scale than anything I had thus far tried, and required me to really sell it to them at the beginning in a way I had never successfully done before...

I dressed up like a waiter and arrived Wednesday in character as head waiter of DeRosa's New Jersey Diner, where the options are endless and there's plenty of "food" (knowledge) available for any budget. Based on what they knew coming in about what we had been doing the past week, they would pick from different sets of assignments--pictures, songs/raps, writing their own amendment, skits, surveys, letters to the editor, PSAs, etc.
It is a highly differentiated project that's meant to incorporate many learning styles. After introducing the basic premise of the project, each student completed the "wallet check" diagnostic to see what they could "afford" (which types of assignments they could choose from). There's a graphic organizer and rubric included to keep them on task and show them how they will be graded.

Here's a small sample of what my students came up with:

1st amendment poster
3rd amendment poster
14th amendment posterThere were also puppet shows, skits, new proposed amendments and opinion pieces. Needless to say, it was exciting to witness both the creation of their projects and their presentations.

I have to give a lot of credit to materials I found in my TFA curriculum and examples of projects my TFA advisor gave me. As with just about everything good I've done in the classroom, this was the product of many other people's good ideas. Of course, I comfort myself in the fact that most good teachers "beg, borrow and steal" to create their best lessons.