HMCo College

Investigating Social Change | Hiking the Appalachian Trail
The Egg-Drop Experiment | Mission to Mars | Literacy Skills & Reciprocal Teaching

Project 1: Investigating Social Change

The Problem

Pick one of these three problems

A.Evolution of the Midwest, USA

B.Systemic political or economic shift within a country

C.Regional adaptation of Native American peoples


The Project

Modeling the Process: Searching | Solving | Creating | Sharing



A.Evolution of the Midwest, USA

Over the past 200 years, the Midwest has been identified by varying names. Originally known as the Great American Desert by settlers, it quickly became known as the Garden of Eden at the turn of the century. In the 1930s, this area of the country became known as the Dust Bowl and now we know it as the Bread Basket. Trace the geographic, climatic, and use/allocation of resources of the Midwest and offer a possible explanation about why people's perceptions about it and thus its identity may have changed over time. Try to incorporate popular culture such as folk songs, literature, and cinema into your presentation.

The use of popular culture is a good student motivator. Recent movies, songs, and literature prove to be an effective entry point.


B. Systemic political or economic shift within a country

Identify a recent change in the political or economic system of a country (such as the end of the Berlin Wall, end of apartheid in South Africa, the Civil Rights movement in America during the 1960s) and suggest reasons for the change (such as ethnic or national differences, political control, economic inequalities). Try to include how forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of the earth's surface.

C. Regional adaptation of Native American peoples

Describe and compare the traditional ways of life of different groups of Native Americans who live or have lived in your [the student's] community, state, or general region to draw conclusions about how these particular groups adapted to the natural resources available (examples: the Great Plains -- the bison; Northeast -- fishing).

Goal Setting



Your project is to integrate all knowledge you have acquired during this semester by fully answering one of the above problems. If you wish to reformulate any problem, be sure that it meets criteria generally agreed on for higher-order cognitive learning; that is, your reformulation needs to be sufficiently rigorous. [Marx et al. (1994) Enacting Project-based Science: Experiences of Four Middle Grade Teachers. The Elementary School Journal, 94. The University of Chicago.]

Learn more about Portfolio Assessment


Instructional strategy tip

Your "answer" should demonstrate to the fullest extent possible that you have constructed your own understandings and generated novel ways to explain or teach others what you have learned. Thus, the creation of a multimedia presentation utilizing music, graphs, charts, and maps would be especially useful and encouraged. An example of a vehicle or forum for your demonstration would be a "debate" among you and your peer learners on key issues related to the problem you have chosen to investigate.


Modeling the Process: Searching | Solving | Creating | Sharing


Make sure you clearly identify and represent the problem. You might want to divide into groups of interest area into the six elements of research mentioned earlier in the warm-up section. One method that you may want to use is to individually generate a list of problems that need to be solved in order to plan this hike. Then, come together as a group, and try to synthesize and prioritize your problems to a manageable number, say no more than twenty. Create a number of subgroups that will be responsible for answering the question along with the distribution of that information to the other members of the class. This models the notion of Distributed Expertise. An example of a distributed expertise model would be a team of four members who have developed some expertise in the areas mentioned previously under Background Knowledge, also in the warm-up section. For instance, Spatial Ideas and Places & Regions would be covered by an expert map reader; Physical Systems would be covered by a meteorologist; Human Systems by a sociologist; Environment & Society could be handled by an ecologist. By developing separateexpertise in each of these areas, team members will share in each other's knowledge as well as forge new areas of research.

Cooperative Learning


For instance, a possible breakdown of responsibilities for the "Evolution of the Midwest, USA" section might look like this:

Map Reader/geographer: The map reader could accumulate a series of maps of the Midwest looking at annual rainfall, corn production, population expansion and soil depletion over the last 100 years.

Meteorologist/geologist: The meteorologist may offer some research into the conditions that exist that make the Midwest unique, especially the existence of the Ogalala Aquifer. Why is this area of the country so flat and what is the unique composition of the soil that allows for such a wide diversity of vegetation?

Sociologist: The sociologist may look at the relationship between the land and the people. How has "work" been defined in the Midwest, what are its core values, and how does this play into the changing role of agriculture vs. urban expansion in the area? The sociologist may also want to look into popular music and how the Midwest has been portrayed (see Bruce Springsteen's album Nebraska or the ballads of Woody Guthrie, along with Broadway shows such as Oklahoma!).

Ecologist: The ecologist may be interested in the long-term benefits and costs of increased fertilizer use of the ecosystem.




Solving the problem involves gathering information and generating a solution. In this phase, the groups collect and analyze data. As mentioned in the Wakefield text , the use of the Search, Solving, Creating, Sharing model might involve computers as tools for recording or manipulating data. Each group may require some guidance in determining how to gather information and answer research questions but, given this guidance, will be capable of solving the problem. Use of e-mail, the World Wide Web, and Telnet should also be used as well as your own library and hiking supply company.

Cooperative Learning



Creating refers to the creation of a product, such as a presentation to the class. The creation of a product helps facilitate the understanding of the concepts and procedures of what is being studied by the individuals in the group. It does so because individuals take ownership of their learning as they construct their own representations of their knowledge.



Sharing involves the actual communication of findings. This is also known as a Consequential Task (Brown & Campione, 1994) in which the students' thinking and reflecting are made public. A consequential task may be a presentation, a demonstration, a multimedia show, or some other form of alternative assessment. It should also result in the generation of future search questions, such as "Can the Ogalala Aquifer be saved?" When constructed information is shared with other members of the classroom, especially by multiple groups, it creates a sense of community, maximizing the opportunity for the types of exchanges that will deepen mutual understandings and learning.




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