At the beginning of the year, I had the students in my class work in small groups to research different animals. It was a really great project with amazing results, so I decided to build on that by having the students work in different groups to research the early European explorers. They have been working on their projects for the past several weeks (nearly a month, in fact) and finally presented the research findings to the class today.
As with the animal inquiry projects, I gave the students the option of selecting their presentation method. Of the eight groups, all but one decided to do PowerPoint presentations. The one group chose to make a poster, instead. Because the groups wanted to do PowerPoints, it meant that we had to spend a lot of time in the computer lab. Fortunately, the lab has been available during the times we wanted to use it on Tuesdays. Most of the students have been working hard whenever we were in the lab, but there were others who were not using their time as wisely. I have moved the deadline for the project presentations three times because of those who were working and wanted to really research, but today I decided that enough was enough. Every group but one was finished, and the one group that wasn’t was the only group that had been using their time in the lab for less important reasons. (They quickly changed what they were doing as soon as they realised that they had to present their project to the class today!)
Before starting the research project, we talked about exploration in general and the question of why people chose to explore. Some of the reasons given were finding new land, do something new/exciting, learn about other people, find money/gold, escape, and just to see what could be found. Then we focused on the explorers from Europe and I asked the class why we would be focusing on them. After some reflection, the students brought up that none of us would be here in the United States if it were not for those particular explorers. If we want to know about where we live, we need to know how we got here.
Finally we got down to the most basic question for the research project: who were the European explorers? The students made a list of names (with considerable help from yours truly) and then someone pointed out something they found slightly off-putting: all of the European explorers were men! One student, who had done a considerable amount of reading over the summer, brought up that Isabella of Castile was at least influential in European exploration, so we added her to the list. The students then divided up into small groups and began researching. I started them with a ThinkQuest site I found and then they were off and running!
Despite the vast number of Explorers from which to choose, the inquiry groups focused on a small set: Prince Henry the Navigator, Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, and Isabella. While the groups have found useful information about these few explorers (we are including Isabella, even though she herself was not an explorer), there are still many more they need to learn about. I am going to have them return to the ThinkQuest site next week and work through the entire site and then use the Games link to assess their understanding. I’m interested to see what else they will learn!