Two of my classes just finished up a research project designed to help them learn about different countries in Africa and I was so proud of how well they did! This project was designed for my middle school classes – Book Club and my 6th/7th grade IE block.
The first step was that I had each of the students take this Africa country quiz. I had to search a little to find a quiz I liked because I wanted one that merely asked students to name countries not find them on a map. Even just naming countries was a challenge. The majority of my students were only able to name about 2. I think even my highest scorers only had about 20 (Africa has 54 countries), and those students were coincidentally sitting near the world map *coughcough*. Either way, it was clear to me and the students how much there was to learn.
My next step was to construct a giant Africa map out of bulletin board paper. I did so by taping the paper up on the wall and then using my projector to project a map of Africa I found on it. Drawing the outlines was then a simple business. It was important to me to have a map at hand while the students did their research to have a visual to reference.
I found a list of every country in Africa and then removed the ones I thought the students would be most likely to already know something about (Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, etc). Each student then signed up for a different country.
The students each got a research sheet that asked them to find basic information about their country. I don’t have a copy here at home, but it asked things such as capital, official languages, religions, date of modern boundaries, major ethnic groups, major historical events, etc. I also asked the students to research the different types of literature and writing in their country. My plan was for each student to paste their information into their country (and for the smaller countries to paste their information nearby and we would draw an arrow).
I created a sample version using Kenya of what I wanted them to look for and came up with four concise paragraphs with a sample of Kenyan poetry that took me about half an hour. It took most of my students a week to gather all the information I had requested. At first I put this down to the fact that I have much more experience researching and am more familiar with the topics. It turned out that I was wrong.
The reason it was taking my students so much longer than it took me was because they were being much more thorough than I had been. Where I had four paragraphs most of my students had several pages. Obviously my initial plan would need some tinkering because if it was going to be a squeeze to fit the information into each country before, it would be impossible to do so now.
After thinking it over and hemming and hawing, I finally came up with a plan that I liked. The student work would be displayed in full next to the map and the map would be turned into a map quiz with which everyone else in the school could check how many countries in Africa they knew too. Each country would have a picture which would be taped along the top to create a flap. By lifting the picture up, a person could reveal the name of the country below. Each picture also had a number corresponding with its country and the countries that had student work were labeled with a matching number. This way people passing by could quiz themselves on a country and find out more about it.
I had a lot of fun quizzing people who walked by in the hallway as I was hanging everything (so many people didn’t know that Egypt was in Africa!). A few of my students passed by and looked very pleased with their work, and I can’t wait until Monday to pass the numerous compliments I’ve gotten from colleagues on the the students.
Everything turned out so well and I’m so proud of how hard my students worked on this project. My favorite part was how often during their research a student who exclaim over something they had just learned and turn to share it with a fellow classmate – whether it was an interesting food, animal, or a unique custom such as the Giraffe Women of Zimbabwe.
Next up, apartheid in South Africa and the problems of colonialism!
Stay magical readers!