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West Kelowna middle school teachers earn international award
Every year, Grade 7 students from Constable Neil Bruce Middle School are taught about ancient civilizations.
From the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia, to ancient China, ancient Egypt and ancient Greece, students are expected to understand how each civilization dealt with geography, laws, government, military and social structures.
Instead of textbook readings and basic homework assignments, Social Studies and English teacher Jenn Craig and teacher librarian Dayna Hart created a project-based learning concept with the goal of helping students truly engage with the subject matter.
The instructors tasked students with creating their own civilizations by utilizing certain techniques and philosophies from other ancient civilizations they had studied earlier in the school year.
"It was a way to pull the entire year's curriculum together, which is really disjointed when you think about it," said Hart.
"Mesopotamia, China and India—how do you find a common thread? Through this Create a Civilization (project), you really could."
The project was an instant success with students, parents and other faculty members.
The teachers were recently named winners of the prestigious 2013 Gale/Library Media Connection TEAMS Award, which recognizes teachers who promote learning and increase student achievement.
"On the first day back to school, we received the notice that we'd won," said Craig.
"It was a delightful e-mail to read," added Hart.
In preparation for the project, teachers gave their students "steal sheets" as soon as they began studying ancient civilizations.
Craig said the kids would listen closely when learning about the various civilizations, and write notes when they heard about a concept they wanted to steal and implement in their own civilization.
Once the Create a Civilization project began, students were put into groups of three. They brought each of their steal sheets and ideas to brainstorming sessions and began planning what their own civilizations would look like.
"We gave them a map and said: 'Here is where your civilization must be created,'" said Craig.
"They needed to figure out what aspects of the geography could work for them—where they should settle, where they should avoid.
"From there they had different benchmarks they had to meet…one person would create the laws, someone else would create the government, someone else would create the military."
Craig noted communication was key during this process because a ruthless dictator wouldn't likely mesh with a peaceful military.
"There was a ton of talking, a ton of arguments…they got so involved in it. They were doing their own elements, but communicating with others the whole time," said Craig.
"Each group was very different. (Nobody) had the same laws—it was fascinating," added Hart.
The teachers noticed several trends as well.
Many of the male students created strict laws that came with harsh punishments if disobeyed; most female students attempted to create more peaceful nations.
The students were thrown a curveball when the teachers announced an unexpected catastrophe—such as a locust infestation or civil unrest—was threatening their nations.
"They had to be able to provide information of how they would deal with their challenge," said Craig.
Both teachers agreed the project piqued students' interest in a way basic teaching techniques aren't typically able to.
"The kids were unbelievably engaged," said Craig, noting every student in her three classes managed to complete the project.
"Some had convinced themselves that their civilization did exist, or could have, and could give reasons why it would have thrived."
Hart and Craig said last year's project-based learning assignment became the success it did because all Grade 7 teachers in the school bought into the concept and worked as a team to implement it.
The teachers plan to continue the Create a Civilization project each year as part of the Grade 7 curriculum.
Constable Neil Bruce Middle School was one of three schools to earn the 2013 TEAMS Award; Draper Elementary School in Eden, North Carolina and Branford High School in Branford, Connecticut were also honoured.
Each winning school will receive $2,500 in cash, Gale products, a one-year subscription to Library Media Connection and the Educator's Professional Bookshelf from Linworth Publishing/Libraries Unlimited.
Hart and Craig will also be flown to the American Association of School Librarians Conference in Hartford, Connecticut in November to receive their prize.