A Lesson Reflection

I had a week before Spring Break started and my next unit was Westward Expansion. It never fails – one week before a long break with a new unit. I like to use these weeks to try something new. In this instance, I’m reflecting on a student driven unit on westward expansion.

The Design

The end goal for my unit came down to these expectations for learning:

  1. Explain how westward expansion contributed to economic, agricultural and industrial development.
  2. Analyze debates over sectional issues, war with Mexico and the displacement of American Indians in relationship to westward expansion.
  3. Describe how the United States added to its territory through treaties and purchases.

I was looking to see that the groups of students created their own questions related to these expectations. In order for the students to create questions, I started with an 8pARTS Eduprotocol. I created a shared slide deck (click here to access) and students analyzed the painting American Progress by John Gast. Instead of using the classic I See – I Think – I Wonder, I like to use 8pARTS to get students observing and writing creatively. I like to use 8pARTS as a way to get students asking questions they can refer back to during a unit. In this instance, I had the students create 5 questions in the speaker notes.

The next step in the lesson was having students pair up and use a jamboard to share their questions about Westward Expansion. Students collaborated and discussed questions as I gave feedback on good compelling questions.We discussed opened ended questions vs. closed questions. The key phrase that clicked with students in creating a good compelling question was me telling them, “A good compelling question can be answered with research now, but maybe you could change your answer 5, 10, or 20 years from now.” Here is an example of a JamBoard we used to collborate:

Students worked in groups and I had them create a compelling question to start researching. Students then created individual supporting questions for further research. I shared a created Cornell Notes slide to help them (click here for access). As students researched, I gave feedback on compelling questions and supporting questions. Two things that disappointed me were the vague notes and vague summaries on the Cornell Notes. As a result, I used 1 day to do a Cybersandwich.

During the Cybersandwich, I had ever group choose 1 source related to their topic. Everyone in the group read the source for 10 minutes and took 5-6 important fats. They discussed the notes for 5 minutes. Finally they wrote a summary using their notes. I felt it was good to do this to get them back on the same page and to use a familiar lesson in class.

At the end of the lesson, I gave the students 3 options for project choices:

  1. Create a Graffiti Page – click here
  2. Create a Comic Book – click here
  3. Create a Newscast – click here

These are some of the project creations – most students chose the Graffiti Page or the Newscast:

The Good

I was really impressed with the project creations and the information included in them. The students did a nice job with research. I wanted to keep this project simple. Simple meaning – ask a compelling question, discuss supporting questions, and research for a few days. The simplicity of this lesson helped students create awesome projects.

Another item that helped students throughout this process was the simple, effective Thin Slide. Each day, the last 10 minutes of class, students designed a Thin Slide (1 picture, 1 word) about what they learned that day. After a 3 minute slide design, students do a 10 second presentation from their seats about their slide. This definitely helped students reflect, process, and use metacognition throughout this lesson.

The Bad

If there is one thing I would change about this lesson it would be a source review. Overall, an area I need to improve in is helping students chose appropriate resources for research. There is so much crap on the Internet and it’s hard to sift through. How can I help students navigate this process and become critical of sources?

Most of the topics the students chose were about people that went west. This is fine, but nothing was addressed about purchases, treaties, and wars. As a result, I started a new lesson on these topics making an annotated map (more on annotated maps here).

Overall I was really happy with this lesson. The use of Eduprotocols is always a win and the frameworks are so versatile and creative. The project choices were different and creative. Student engagement was consistent each day as they drove this lesson.

2 thoughts on “A Lesson Reflection

  1. Thank you! This is such a great post! I love the ideas! I was able to make a copy of the 1st couple links you posted, but I’m wondering if you would be willing to do the same with the comic book and newscast projects. If not, I understand. Just thought I would ask. 🙂 Great work!!


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