Native Alabamians - Project Based Learning in Highlands 4th Grade

Anne Tapley
To begin the year, our 4th grade classes studied the first Alabamians. Students were curious to learn exactly how we knew these people were here so many years ago, the timeline of their civilization, and what artifacts prehistoric these native people left behind. These questions became the launch pad for a Project Based Learning opportunity. I contacted Dr. Meghan Buchanan, an archaeologist from Auburn to set up a Google Hangout with the 4th grade. Before we met with her, we discussed what questions we wanted answered. The students came up with a list of almost 50 questions to present to Dr. Buchanan and we got them all answered!
Next, we discussed the essential question of the project which is “How did Native Americans interact with their environment to create a unique identity?”. From this question, Janie Fahey and I developed 11 topics for each child to choose from so that they could begin their group work. The topics included everything from homes and shelters to ceremonies and festivals. The students wrote down their top 3 choices and were grouped accordingly. They wrote down their remaining questions and created webs to help with brainstorming.
The next step was for them to conduct research using the internet and books in order to find answers about their specific topic and put the information into a typed expository piece. When the group finished that, they were able to move onto the visual portion of the project. The groups had free choice in engineering the physical representation of their topic. Dioramas seemed to be the popular choice among students. Using class time and available materials from the school Tinker Cabinets, the students collaborated to design and construct intricate visuals to communicate their findings.
Once their visual aides were complete, they were ready to present to the parents and our peers. It was their duty to not only explained what they learned through the project, but to also communicate their role in the construction of their visual, why certain design decisions were made and what was unique about their representation. This culmination of their project work allowed them to take ownership of their learning and present their understanding to peers and adults with confidence and clarity.
Enduring Understandings
  • Geography influences the movement and interactions of different cultural groups.
  • The natural resources of a region affect the types of food, clothing, shelter, transportation and tools that people create.
  • All cultures are unique: cultures share similarities and differences
Curriculum Standards
Social Studies
  • Describe the cultures, governments and economics of prehistoric and historic Native Americans in Alabama
  • Identify the locations of Native Americans and describe their types of life
  • Identify the roles of archaeologists
  • Describe the impact of Europeans settlements and identify the impact of the Trail of Tears on Alabama’s Native Americans
Language Arts
  • Use text features for understanding and comprehension
  • Determine main idea and summarize text
  • Explain events, procedures, ideas or concepts from text including what happened and why based on information from the text
  • Compose text in a variety of genres, for example: expository and fiction
  • Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.
  • Demonstrate clarity and organization in writing
  • Demonstrate the writing process of prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing
  • Write routinely over extended time frames for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences
Research & Inquiry
  • Organize information on a specific topic obtained from grade-appropriate reference materials
  • Formulate research questions
  • Uses paraphrasing to convey ideas from resources
  • Uses note-taking skills to gather information
Highlands School, 4901 Old Leeds Road, Birmingham, AL 35213, (205) 956-9731
Highlands School's 'whole child' approach to education and commitment to academic excellence, creative expression, and leadership development prepare and motivate students in grades 4k through 8 to make a positive difference in an ever-changing world. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, Highlands School holds dual accrediation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Southern Associations of Independent Schools (SAIS).

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