For the PBL, each 5th grader received a personal letter with their identity, welcoming them to the Oregon Trail. Then, students teamed up with fellow “pioneers” (classmates) to simulate a wagon train.
“These meaningful experiences provide opportunities to problem solve, as students have to take given situations/fates and decide what decision is best and how it will affect their chance of survival,” teacher Lee Clayton said. “With the flip of a coin, sudden fates decide survival of our wagon train members. These are always unexpected, but teach the students that the days on the trail were really unpredictable and working together and deciding upon the right path that could help them make it safely to Oregon.”
To help students imagine what it was really like to start a new life, every aspect of the PBL was as close to real as it could get – minus the covered wagons. Students brought necessary supplies from home and made decisions together to experience a positive journey. During each group meeting, students took part in experiences that decided their fate on the wagon train. Then, the entire grade grouped together to hear one another’s experiences, study real trails and make decisions based upon geographic features, weather and people.
Students also created skits, where they reenacted unique but realistic happenings that could occur on the trail. They picked the situation, selected actors, created props and presented their skits to a live audience.
Students quickly realized how things in the past were completely different.
“I think this taught us a lot about what it was really like for folks back in the 1840’s and how they lived,” 5th grader Avery Neal said. “It was hard for these people because they had to rely on each other and the land to make it.”
Fellow 5th grader Kaitlyn Mcleod added, “I liked the wagon train, because it’s fun and it taught us a lot about how pioneers traveled to Oregon. I felt like I was really there.”
Clayton enjoyed watching students work together on their projects.
“Students completely loved coming together as a grade level to make decisions and see what fates they had to encounter next,” Clayton said. “It is exciting for them to make it one more day on the trail. The cafeteria was always loud, but for a good cause.”
Go West, young students!
See more photos on Prairie Trail’s Facebook page here.
Elizabeth Haas is a member of the media relations team at the Lewisville Independent School District.