Every year I try to fit in a Native American unit into my eighth grade U.S. History curriculum. If I were to follow the prepared curriculum out of our mammoth sized textbooks, this would probably never happen. But, I think it’s important to recognize the uniqueness of Native American history and culture alongside the expansion if the United States history, so I make time for it.
Previous years I’ve tried to allow students to work to their strengths and create a final assessment for me that not only demonstrates their understanding and comprehension of the material, but affords them the opportunity to stretch themselves creatively. Students have turned in dioramas, movies, created songs, written reports, and other types of projects, all on a specific tribe they research. While it was very interesting to see what the students came up with, I felt they were placing more emphasis on the finished product, and not as much on the learning objectives. A sort of teaching to the diorama, if you will.
This year I was intent to reverse that trend, by limiting the projects students would do in favor of having them spend more time on research, analysis, and application. Rather than allow students to choose anything they wished, I narrowed the focus and required each group (3 or 4) of students to:
- Research a Native American tribe.
- Summarize their information in the form of a Google Doc they create and edit together.
- Apply that information to a Google Map they create.
With their research analyzed and summarized in paragraph form, they could now easily create their Google Map. I created a rubric for students to follow, and also provided some simple instructions on how to get started. What was surprising was how quickly most students picked it up. After reading through the directions, the majority of students would shoo me away and finish the map on their own. Each group had to insert Placemarks of the three categories, insert relevant pictures that would help explain their paragraph, draw the area the tribe lived in and, for extra credit, they could insert a YouTube video about their tribe.
So..did it work?
Compared to years past, this project was much more successful at having students meet learning objectives. Not only did they have fun and use their creative energy to create a Google Map, but after giving them a reflective final assessment, it was clear to me that they had a better grasp not only on their tribe, but on the histories and cultures of Native American tribes across the U.S. during the 19th century. If you’ve ever thought about using Google Maps with your students, I highly recommend you dive right in and try it out. Especially, if your district uses Google Apps for Education, as mine does.
Here’s how you can insert YouTube video clips into a Placemark.