Our middle school students are studying modern history, and through our project classes, Mr. McDermott and I had them meet with a WW1 historian, and design and construct embankments and trenches from PVC piping in preparation for their WW1 battle simulation.
In all of our project classes, the choice of materials, constraints, and design plans are conceived, planned, and tested by the students. Adjustments were needed before final construction of our battle embankments and trenches outside as there were a few spectacular failures during the process. Allowing our students to fail helped them to develop better solutions to protect their soldiers from enemy (water & nerf) fire.
There was a moment during the actual battle where my students affirmed their own learning experience in the most satisfying way possible. While the Central Powers started off strong and dominated the first round, we secretly planned that on my cue, our upper school “student audience” would join the battle as the American forces. Just as I yelled out, “The Germans have just sent the Zimmerman note to Mexico!” (and before the upper school students could get up and charge), the kids on the battlefield responded: “Oh, NO! The Americans are coming!”
The Allied Powers eventually turned the tide and won with the help of their British and American allies. There were victorious smiles, and a lot of dramatic deaths. I am always charmed by the connections and questions our students make between disparate subject matter: our teaching team all smiled when France spontaneously broke into song with, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Miserables. “No La Marseillaise?” someone asked.
At the end of the day, a student told me that she was going to dance class after school and “couldn’t wait to tell everyone that we defeated the Central Powers.” I am so happy and proud to see that what I do with my students is memorable. They fully experience authentic learning that is not quickly forgotten. It’s what I like to call “fierce engagement.”