Past To The Future: The Actionist

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Objective: Students Will Be Able To synthesize research about the American Revolution into their own lives to make a CHANGE in their world in order to affect their futures.

Big Idea

Use the PAST To CHANGE the PRESENT in order to SAVE our FUTURE

Prior Knowledge and Language Objectives

Prior Knowledge: Basic background of the American Revolution. The Major events that led up to and happened during the Revolutionary war. Basic computer skills. Being able to save files properly. Being willing to make mistakes and chances.

Language Objective: SWBAT use persuasive language in order to convince others that their ideas are worth changing the world

Technology Used

Technology Used:  Each Team has a separate project outcome which requires different technology. Technology listed here are not the end all and I encourage you to find technologies that you are comfortable using. I ALSO encourage you to find new technologies and explore them. I am always amazed at how quickly students learn new technologies and how much they teach me about the ones I do know!

Technology that I use: Word, PowerPoint, Movie Maker (a lot!), GiMP, Scratch, Skype, Class Dojo, Edmodo

Project Overview

Driving Question:  If you (we) could initiate one change in your present life that would shape or change the future what would you do and how can you use history (the past) to justify/support your idea/cause(s)?

Theme: All history is about change. We need to connect our lives to historical events in order to engage our students in understanding history, AND creating a "want to know more" environment. (*Challenge: to engage students in researching history by using it to connect to the (their) real world.)

Final Project/Outcome:  The Actionists broadcast their ideas to the world by composing a short film/video. They will use stop-motion techniques to make a short stop-motion movie.

The Actionists works with a local studio and professionals to create final movies. Our movie has been submitted to the student division of the Seattle International Film Festival

Each team chooses their mode of final presentation during the Spring Showcase. The Spring Showcase is an event where are students get an opportunity to showcase their work. Families, community members, and supporting corporations’ representatives are invited to share in this celebration of work. I typically like to hold these events during the school day so that all students get to participate, but we have also had success holding these events on weekends. Our evening events generally are not well attended.

General Lesson

90 minutes

The Actionists are all about making change through action and words, making the connection that the American revolutionists were advocating change and quite vocal in doing so. The Actionists are challenged to take up a cause, be vocal and make change happen!


1. Start with discussions of what students have learned about the Revolutionary War and the changes some colonists wanted, and were willing to work to make change happen.

2. In the Actionist team, students to decide on one thing they would like to see changed in this world to make tomorrow a better place.  Each student is responsible for bringing ideas to the team. The team discusses and debates until a final focus is chosen. Students use the Socratic Seminar method to discuss and come to their final decision.

3. Once the direction is decided upon, students write and design their individual movie. They must each design a movie that involves everyone from the team. They will need to assign directors and a person to take the photos that will get put together to create a stop-action final movie product. The entire team collaborates equally in the movie's creation. Each individual film is put together in the final film.

*My students chose the movement Choose 2 Matter, created by Angela Maiers. This movement is all about giving students the strength to know that everyone has a voice worthy of being heard, all have something to say, and each person matters in this world. The connection to the Revolutionary War is the colonist's desire to change how they were governed so that their voices were part of decision making that affected them. The colonists wanted to feel that they were in charge of their destiny.

Using technology as their spring board, each student designed and made a stop motion short film that demonstrates why learning, technology and dreams all lead to the feeling that we all matter. These students collaborated with a same age class in Germany to create the music that accompanies the video. The students in Dr. Holger Fröhlich's class (Tilemannschule Limburg in Dornburg, Germany) and my students in Seattle communicated through social media to create individual pieces of music to match each video. I hope you enjoy and are inspired 2 Matter!

Cross Curriculum Connections

Reading – Writing – Social Studies – Science – Math - Technology

Real World Connections:

Students need to feel that they matter in this world. Students need to know that they have something to say about their own lives. So many students these days do not believe that they have a chance in the world to be successful. I feel that this project empowers students to believe that they can succeed!

The change students are making is within their school and community, solving problems that they see as important. While grade levels will dictate the scope or theme, in all cases students direct the focus. Connecting what has occurred in the past to themselves, students make research relevant to their own lives. They are directly applying their learned knowledge to their own lives. Students are driven by the idea that they can "change the world". Using real world connections makes a compelling case that motivates students to critically think about their learning. Using what they know to drive positive change gives purpose and meaning to learning. Students will also be connecting with people in their own community to open up the classroom into the real world, not just relying on their teacher to lead.

This project is connected to (these other projects insert links).

Research / Reading Connection:

Motel of Mystery by David Macaulay.

Science and Technology in Colonial America by William E. Burns. 

George vs. George, The American Revolution as seen from Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer. 

Memoir of a Revolutionary Solder: The Narrative of Joseph Plumb Martin by Joseph Plumb Martin.

Soldier’s Secret: The Story of Deborah Sampson by Sheila Solomon Klass. 

Chains (Seeds of America) by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Writing connection:

  • Major product: Students will write 2 or more reflective letters from your ‘past’ self to your ‘future’ self, based on information collected to explain what they are learning about why people chose to change things (CCSS W.5.3a).


This project is connected to (these other projects insert links).

Skills Development

Collaboration - Individual ResponsibilitiesStudents will work in teams to collect research to support their final product. Information and ideas will be shared in the form of a Socratic Seminar model.  Rubric to be created to assign team roles and responsibilities. CCSS SL.5.1a-b

Each team member will be responsible to complete their work, help their classmates and work as part of a team. Individual work is always related to what the team is doing. Individual work doesn’t feel isolated. A team is only as strong as its weakest link so it is important that team members support each other learning

Collaboration –Team Responsibilities: Students will work in teams to collect research to support their final product. Information and ideas will be shared in the form of a Socratic Seminar model.  Rubric to be created to assign team roles and responsibilities. CCSS SL.5.1a-b

Teams will be responsible for working together on ALL projects. In order to have Team Control it is important that the team collaborate on strategies in order to be successful.

Team project is dependent on teamwork to finish.

Teams will also process through revision work where students give supportive and critical revision suggestions to one another. Teams work together so that every project is the result of teamwork.

Critical Thinking Skills: Students will be able to take their learned knowledge of the changes made during the Revolutionary War and apply it to their own lives, seeing that their own voice is just as powerful as the voice of the young Americans.

Students will be able to work together as a team, support each other and use the minds of the team to create the most successful team. It is really important that teams identify the strengths of each team member and work together to be successful.

Problem Solving Skills: Students will be able to work together as a team to come to common solutions. Teams will assign responsibilities to each team member in order to be successful.

Students will be able to bring together all the strengths of the team to overcome problems. Challenges will be designed so that no one person can do all the work!


STEM Connections:


Science and Technology in Colonial America: What is the role and context of science in the colonial era.


Application for research (internet), Movie Maker, Web Cams, PowerPoint or Prezi, GiMP, Scratch, Edmodo.


Grade level social studies/history. Grade level science materials. Historical fiction book for group study.

Science: Science in Colonial America


The final product, building digital presentations.


The final product, use of art and creativity to argue and justify a message, cause, and/or campaign.


Math centered activities that use colonial life to connect learning in math: currency, data/charts, fractions.

21st Century Learning Skills

Learning and Innovation Skills:

• Creativity and Innovation

• Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

• Communication and Collaboration

Information, Media and Technology Skills:

• ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) Literacy

Life and Career Skills:

• Flexibility and Adaptability

• Initiative and Self-Direction

• Productivity and Accountability

• Leadership and Responsibility

ELL and Special Education Support

Project Based Learning is very supportive of ELL and SpEd students. Allowing them to create final project based on their abilities is very rewarding, especially when working in a team.

ELL Support: Finding videos, research/support materials in a home language is quite supportive. Visual representations such as diagrams and art are also very helpful. Finding events that relate to home countries provides personal context. I find pairing ELL students with classmates speaking the same language to be supportive. Allow ELL students to use a more graphical, rather than text-based, presentation allows all students to participate fully, especially when students have great ideas but have yet to develop the language to frame ideas in English. You can also partner-pair for final presentations.

SpEd – Find the research materials for these students to use, because you want to save the cognitive challenge for the work rather than the search for research. Partner support can be a great support. Simplify elements of the final project (differentiate to meet individual needs) yet keep the same high expectations. An example of an outcome would be a PowerPoint that has 5 slides rather than 10 while still delivering the critical information. Quality not Quantity!

Educator as Change Agent / Bringing Educators & Community Into the Project

It is vital that you work to bring outside community members into students' projects. I find social media is a great way to find "specialists" to support this work. I rely on Edmodo (similar to Facebook but for school use) because it allows student to blog with experts. This way the experts are more likely to be available, as they don't have to travel to the school!

It is really amazing how much more engaged students become when they make a connection with someone, outside of the school, who is interested in their work! Also, I urge you to bring more teachers into the project work, as it is a lot easier to manage when there are more minds involved. Each of my lessons in this this project have suggestions on how to involve other teachers, community members, including corporate involvement!


Suggestions for Assessments


Formative Assessments

(During Project)


Summative Assessments

(End of Project)

  • Journal/Learning Log


  • Written Product(s), with rubrics
  • Preliminary Plans, Outlines, Prototypes


  • Oral Presentation, with rubric
  • Rough Drafts


  • Multiple Choice/Short Answer Test
  •  Quizzes/Tests/Exams


  • Essay Test
  • Notes


  • Other Product(s) or Performance(s), with rubric
  •  Checklists


  • Peer Evaluation
  •  Concept Maps


  • Self-Evaluation