Loren Morales as Frida Kahlo during the Second Grade CTE Expo.

Deerwood Elementary second-grade students took ownership of their learning through a recent historical figures project-based learning assignment. Through research, writing, project planning and design, the students created their own original monuments for famous historical figures. Ruby Bridges, Walt Disney, Frida Kahlo and Abraham Lincoln were just a few of the historical figures chosen by the second graders.

During a school-wide initiative for each grade level to commit to one project-based learning assignment, Amanda Watson, Deerwood Elementary second-grade teacher, challenged her students to define a historical figure. They were then tasked with answering why we honor great leaders of the past and how they could honor a specific historical figure. After the research portion of the project, the students created a structure, memorial, mural, monument or statue to honor their historical figure.

Project-based learning is a student-centered learning method. This approach allows for students to obtain a deeper knowledge through exploration of real-world challenges. Students learn about a topic by using research skills to respond to a complex question or problem. This method is different from the typical teacher-led instruction and poses questions for students to answer to increase knowledge of the topic at hand.

“Our biggest goal was for them to understand the research process, how to use their resources to find accurate information, and what to do with their new knowledge,” Watson said.

“From the beginning to the end of this project I saw my students learning stretched. I saw them collaborate and learn from their peers, become responsible for their own learning, and excited about learning new things,” Watson continued.

The six-week-long project allowed students to dive into poetry, math, descriptive writing and research. At the end of the unit, the students were responsible for answering the question of why and how did they honor a historical figure.

“I chose to honor Ruby Bridges because she was born during the Civil Rights era and helped desegregate schools,” student Lillie Murray said. “I was even able to talk to her on Twitter.”

From left, Cale Willeborg, Maekennah Tchokoev, Katerine May and Journey Rhodes. Students created a museum to honor Walt Disney.

Bees, circuitry, how to take care of animals, how to share kindness, and weather were just a few of the project-based learning topics Deerwood Elementary students covered during this school-wide challenge. Once the monument project was complete, the students presented their historical figures to their parents during the Second Grade Expo.

“We honor historical figures from the past because once we learn about them we are able to share with others who do not know all the great things they have done for our world,” student Brett Pope said.

Educational movements like project-based learning are adding value to the curriculum in the classroom. Teachers become facilitators who spark student interest, but it is the student’s curiosity that ignites the flame to seek new information. The effects of project-based learning are rewarding, giving students a new way to connect and collaborate with their peers. Most importantly, it allows students to take the lead in their learning and transform their classroom experience.