This lesson is designed with 8th grade U.S. History students in mind, but could easily be applied to any age group or class that is studying what led to the American Revolution. The activity planned for this lesson has the potential to be done on individual iPad’s or computers, however I have found that the most effective way to utilize Mission U.S. is playing through one computer and making decisions as a whole class. Mission U.S. is a free online “choose-your-own-adventure” game designed for educators to teach American history topics ranging from the American Revolution to Reconstruction. Most of the decisions of fairly irrelevant to the story, but any choices still teach important concepts and engage the students with a sense of choice. On the other hand, a few key decisions change the entire outcome of the “game” and so far students have been very heated in their debate over what route to take.
The process in this lesson would usually begin with 5-10 minutes of students working on their own to locate definitions for the vocabulary words on the provided worksheet. All vocabulary words are relevant to the choose your own adventure chapter and students are not expected to complete all the definitions before the game begins — they can use time at the end of class to find more or write the definitions as they are covered during the chapter. Receiving student input to make the decisions as a group is another critical part of the process for this lesson, and ideally the program “Plickers” is used. Plickers allows an instructor to print what is basically a QR code that links to each student in a class on the Plickers website. The QR code sheets can be rotated 90 degrees, with each rotation representing the answers A-B. After creating a set of questions created on the Plickers website, the instructor can use an app on their phone (or iPad with a camera) to quickly scan the room as students hold up their QR code with the answer they choose. (For this game, I leave the question blank and make answer options “A”, “B”, “C”, and “D” to act as placeholders for all the decisions in Mission US) Once all the students have been scanned in, and the website shows which students have been scanned and which have not, the instructor can display a bar graph that shows which answer was the most popular. Choices are made based on the group’s majority decision, and discussion about key points is consistent through the whole lesson.
Finally, the students are responsible for one more task while the “game” is being played. On the back of the worksheet with vocabulary words there is a portion called the “Response Log.” Students can choose four of the decisions they found interesting and write what they wanted to choose, not what the class majority chose, and why they wanted to make that decision.
The virtual reality tour of Salem, Massachusetts I did for this mini-lesson seemed like a success and was a great experience to learn how I can better improve the use of this technology in my future virtual reality lessons. Fortunately, I had some experience using the headsets in a classroom before using them in the mini-lesson, but I learned how to feel more confident in teaching with the technology due to the improvised approach of not guiding participants through their tour from the central iPad (since I couldn’t get a stable connection). Of course the audience for my mini-lesson was a much more controlled and participatory group than almost any group of students I would eventually do this lesson with, but I was still impressed by the group’s ability to understand how material can be learned through relevant images in virtual reality.
One of the challenges in my mini-lesson, which has also been a challenge when using the VR in my classroom, is the timing and pacing required to get through everything important while accounting for technical difficulties that will detract from available instruction time. Although the mini-lesson did not go the full 25 minutes, I also left out nearly half the information planned for a full lesson and only got through ~2/3rds of the tour itself. Since the tour and accompanying information are planned for a 50-minute lesson, I would have expected to get through either much more of the tour in 25 minutes or at least go into a substantial amount more detail.
In general, I think I accomplished the goal I had with this mini-lesson, which was to get more experience teaching with the virtual reality and receive feedback on how I could improve my approach for when I do similar lessons in the future. Timing and pacing is what I learned to still be an area that needs attention, but perhaps this is a factor that will “work itself out” as I practice each tour over the course of time!
This mini-lesson has a target audience of 8th grade U.S. History students learning about the various settlements in early colonial America. The lesson comes after a previous virtual reality tour of Jamestown, as well as other lessons about Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. By studying Salem in this tour, students will gain a better understanding of life in a 17th century American settlement along with an introduction to the Salem Witch Trials topic.
The process for this mini-lesson will be a virtual reality tour of Salem, Massachusetts and the completion of a worksheet with questions drawn from information given in the tour. This was not my original plan for a mini-lesson, but it will be the activity I present to the Canby Education Foundation for the $10,000 grant my CT and I applied for. Feedback and practice of this lesson will be extremely helpful in perfecting how I approach the lesson in front of the CEF.
The main resources for this lesson are the worksheet I designed to help student analyze the information they gather throughout the tour, and more importantly the Google Expedition software and Google Virtual Reality headsets. These are not easily obtainable, but very valuable in assisting the learning of location-based Social Studies topics!