Motivating Students through Simulations
When we arrived in Independence, Missouri, we came from the future and did not understand what was happening with everyone! They were all traveling by wagons and were seemingly leaving their lives behind to start new ones elsewhere. We were curious. We wanted to know where they were going and why they were leaving in the first place. My students were hooked. Their interests drove instruction; my curriculum map did not.
Of course, I had objectives to cover (I really don't like that word "cover"), so I had to make sure that I guided my students to be interested in the topics that were required, but that was simple. I just made sure that our wagon train traveled to places or events that I wanted my students to learn about!
To start, we had to sell off some of our personal possessions that we brought from the future so we could have enough money to buy things for our journey. But what should we buy? We didn't know, so we researched it!
How should we research it? Independently, but collaboratively (oxymoronic, huh?). How do you do that? Well, we used one of the many new and exciting Web 2.0 tools that are out there and available for FREE for our kids. We used "Solvr." (Click here to see what we created.) While on Solvr, we created a Problem/Solution chart that allowed all of my students to suggest ideas of what to buy to the whole group (independent), but everyone could respond with their ideas or suggestions to help refine or improve the idea (collaborative).
The next class period, we set off on our adventure west. After traveling 60 miles in one day, we realized that our oxen were exhausted! How do we fix this? What should we do to prevent this from happening again? My students researched it independently, but posted their findings online here on a Today's Meet page. As students made discoveries, they shared them for others to see. By including links to websites where they found their information, others were able to learn more about each idea.
As each were posted, I monitored and commented on those that I felt were headed in the right direction. I complimented individual students for finding information that helped us solve the problem. Students were eventually required to only post ideas that came from a source online. They had to include a link. This prevented unconfirmed guesses. Of course, teaching them how to search their ideas online was important.
The next day, as we were walking along the Oregon Trail, we wondered why everyone was headed west. Why would people leave all of their friends behind and most of their possessions? What is so great about the west?
So we asked each other why people move today (through a classroom discussion) and we asked the people in our wagon train why people were moving in the 1840's and 1850's (by researching online). Here is what we found out.
We discovered that researching online did not provide us with enough information - probably because much of it was too confusing with our limited background knowledge. I decided that completing our History Alive 16 unit would help provide us with the necessary background knowledge to complete the activity. So we took a three period break to do our History Alive chapter and came back to our research on reasons why people moved west. This really improved our list.