I love doing projects with students. I think that project based learning is the best type of learning. A few years back I had the opportunity to work with a group of seniors in high school and I really wanted them to conduct research. I knew however, that in order to get them to buy in and do their best, I would have to do something new and different.
At the time they were studying the Medieval time period of British Literature. I had each class for an hour and a half and decided to go big or go home. So, I created a Medieval Feast whole class project. I had students divide up into groups or pairs for categories such as food, music, knights, king/queen, and fashion. They then had to conduct research on their topic and prepare something to share with the class on feast day. Each student independently was required to write up a page report on what they learned, and then as a group they could work on the feast presentation.
The King and Queen wrote toasts as if they were famous kings/queens of the time. Knights jousted in class or created videos of themselves jousting. The music group brought in a CD and played it in the background. The girls in charge of fashion brought in a few dresses and a poster depicting the styles of the time. The food was probably my favorite. The students did a very nice job of finding a variety of foods that were similar to what would have been served. I added to the feast by making hot apple cider (mead) and a bunch of chicken drumsticks. We set the desks up in a big square as our feast table and ate away!
Grading projects, especially with a group component, can be daunting or at the very least frustrating. I dealt with this two ways. First, I had the individual component. I did this to make sure that everyone was accountable for helping with the research and for mastering the skills of researching and citing sources. Secondly, I had students complete an evaluation sheet with regards to the group portion. They had to write down what they did to help their group, what each group member did, and assign a grade. It was very interesting to see how the students evaluated each other. Most of the evaluations lined up with what I observed and the students were very honest. I think that this accountability worked extremely well and it’s something I always do with group projects.
The kids learned a lot, and had a great time. It is still one of my favorite projects that I have ever done with students.
This could easily become a cross-curricular exercise. It most clearly aligns with history but it could also work with science and math. Students could look up information about the scientific minds of the time, they could do math problems that dealt with how many seats around the table, buying enough food to serve the guests, or comparing currency.
Sara Fuller is a 5 year veteran English teacher with an MA in literature who has experience teaching students ranging from the middle school to college level. She blogs about her teaching adventures at Ms. F’s Teaching Adventures and young adult books at YA Lit, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly!