Brett Mayer’s K-12 History Sculpture project

Brett’s powerful driving question would carry the entire project forward:  Why is it important to have a contemporary understanding of the US Constitution and its Amendments?

She spent many hours developing her ideas and planning how modern art could intersect with a seminal US document—the US Constitution.

Our discussions as Brett planned this unit were rich.  She wanted this to be a memorable experience for her 12th grade students—one that they would take with them well into the future.  As we planned, we spent time discussing assessment of team projects, and the importance of individual accountability within the project and that a “group grade” would not be acceptable evidence of meeting the standard.  Brett decided to use self-reflection as a vehicle for formative and summative assessment throughout the project.  Student groups created contracts where equal participation was required.  The reflection papers students submitted would reflect whether or not equal participation was achieved.  Individuals were assessed on their final reflection of learning, and not as a group about their product.  The product was important to the learning, but the learning beyond the creation of the product was more important.  Along the way, Brett invited another teacher to join in on the PBL journey with her, so there were two classes of government participating in the project.

The project launch, of course, involved modern art.  The PBL experience began with developing an understanding of modern art and how art can be the interpretation of modern and historical experiences in society.  She worked with the art teacher in her building to make sure that she shared pieces of art with her students that would stretch their thinking about what art is before even starting the project.

After that, the students received an entry document that explained their task:

Most Americans appreciate the freedoms that come from the Constitution but don’t necessarily understand the specifics.  Your job is to help your peers, teachers, and community learn more about the specifics of the Amendments to the US Constitution by creating an original piece of modern art to be showcased in our Living Amendments Contemporary Art Exhibit. 

Students would also need to provide a rationale for the creation of the piece of modern art as well as a guest book where the people viewing their pieces could leave impressions and reactions to their pieces.

I checked in on Brett and her students throughout the process of their creation of the Living Amendments.  I was as excited and anxious about their exhibition as they were.  The day finally arrived for them to showcase their work, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.  I took an hour and a half to spend time immersed in their art and experienced something very powerful.  Brett’s students had come through with professional works of art that had meaning and impact.

Could Brett have done the same old “drill and kill” memorization of the amendments of the Constitution and given a quiz that has been done for ages with her students?  Sure.  Was creating an engaging PBL easier than the old way?  No.  But she was right when she said that her “students deserve something better.”  They did deserve something better, and Brett, you delivered.  Your students have a contemporary understanding of the amendments to the US Constitution and have applied the 4Cs of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity along the way.  Now that’s quality assessment and deeper learning.

Here are a few pictures of some of the Living Amendments Projects taken when I viewed them on November 3, 2015: