Looking for the Sweet Spot: Modern World PBL/Inquiry

I am about a month into my PBL/Inquiry version of our Modern World class. I embarked on the class with the understanding that the content and skills would be the same as the regular Modern World class, although the approach would be different.

The students selected the class, for the most part, but they are coming from a pretty traditional ninth grade history course. In my transition to more Inquiry and PBL, I have included a fair amount of structure in the first unit. We started the project, creating a model to show who has power in the world at any given time by looking at who has power today. Then, we took a break from the project to study the Ottoman and Mughal empires in a little depth – empires of the early modern era is the content of the first unit of the regular Modern World class. The end goal of the unit is to have the model reflect the major powers in the world today as compared with the early modern era (1450-1750). I gave them material for the Ottomans and Mughals, and started to look at the Ming and Qing dynasties in China with them. We have been reading, taking notes, discussing, and comparing empires.

I am starting to feel a little restless, though. I am defaulting back into my old routine. I want to create a course where students take on the ownership, with my support and guidance, of course. So, instead of spending another day going through the Chinese dynasties together as a class, we are moving ahead to the next phase of the project. They will be researching the other powers in the early modern world, figuring out how to measure their relative power and illustrating that on their model. We have done some work on research, including reflecting on the process.

I want to push them gently on the way to greater ownership over their learning, but I know that I need to provide enough structure and even some of the content, so that they can actually get beyond a superficial understanding of the history. My instinct tells me I should move on now, but I know that I may have to backtrack if it doesn’t work. I think that we need to treat the entire unit as a learning experience about the content but also about how to do inquiry-based learning and PBL well. At the same time, I don’t want to lose the kids in the first quarter and have to try to get them back.  In the end, I think it will work, but I am a little afraid of how messy it might get along the way.

The only thing I know for sure is that it’s not a linear process – learning really never is.

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