Many people remember history as a dry collection of textbook facts but project-based learning allows students to encounter history in 3-D. Middle-school World War I projects familiarize students with key people, places, events and machinery of the Great War while grabbing their attention through the use of artistic expression and technology. Middle school students can come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of how past events have shaped the world they know today.
Prepare a memo informing students that they have been specially chosen for a secret intelligence gathering mission and hand out a list of questions that the secret service needs to know to properly conduct war operations. Write sample questions that will lead students to explore one of the battles of the war. Students must then check internet websites for the answers and record the "sensitive information" in a trench journal. They must then conceal the journal in a disguise, such as folded in a newspaper, glued inside a folded map, placed in a hollow book or a soldier's boot or even baked into a loaf of bread. They must then hand in the journal at "headquarters"--the classroom.
Break students into small groups to create multimedia slide-show time lines of key causes, people, events, battles and places in World War I. Provide a list of questions or topics to cover for each group; the slide show should include pictures, maps, graphs and charts of casualties, war costs for each country and the wartime industry. The last slide(s) should include a bibliography of the resources used to research the war.
Have the students create books that follow the story of one soldier through the war. Each student plans out the soldier's identity details--country, name, rank, regiment, personality, family background--and roughs in some details of important moments in the war for which this soldier was present. The story should explore the human side of war as realistically as possible and highlight how the battles and events at home and on the field affected the soldier's physical health, thoughts and feelings. The students can accompany their "books" with illustrations of their choosing, drawing the character or the scenes or events he encounters, or include handwritten diary entries of the character.
Put students in small groups and either assign or have each group choose a key event in World War I. Each group writes a script and re-enacts the event through a skit or puppet show. If possible, provide or encourage students to bring appropriate period costumes to add an air of authenticity to the re-enactment.
Weapons of War
Have students choose a particular plane, tank or weapon of World War I to research. They will create a poster or manual describing the specs on the particular model. They should provide a picture as well as a description and include any interesting historical uses or what was necessary to operate the machine or weapon.