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Engaging Students with Project Based Learning (PBL)

How can we get Kyrgyz students engaged in the study of world history?

Approaching World History with Project Based Learning offers us a way to address this issue: Many historic events, which still shape our world today, happened in other parts of the world. While Kyrgyzstan played a vital role in Central Asian history, there were minimal connections with events in Europe or other parts of the world.

So how do we help students to put historic events in context and understand how the ideas, life or events played out and shaped our present?

Fostering work discipline

Sixth graders are still in transition from Primary School to Middle School. At this age (11-12 years) they have just started to develop the learning skills needed for academic studies and still lack work discipline.

So how to we stimulate 6th graders to develop self-motivation and work discipline?

Stimulating learning environment

Our goal was to create a stimulating learning environment within SRIS, where learning is inspiring and fun. A system that engages them. The system should provide consequences and reward behaviors, efforts and teamwork. Students should honor their commitments out of self-motivation and not just because grades force them.

What is Project Based Learning (PBL)

Project-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered approach where students acquire a deeper knowledge through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems.

This can happen thru role games, simulations or internships. Another possibility is learning by working on a real world problem.

To deal with historic events and provide the context to understand them, Mr Oscar, the history teacher at SRIS, developed a role playing game. He designed the game to be engaging and motivate students to focus on self-studies.

The ‘Civilization’ Project – approaching history with Project Based Learning

PBL: Project Based Learning Slide: Value and Costs of a Barrack in the Civilization Game - Symbolic Map view of the gameThe idea of the civilization game is simple:

  • The class is divided into 4 groups and they will work together the whole school year.
  • Each group will choose one place in the world to build a city. The group will create their own flag and name their civilization.
  • From now on, this city will live thru all the events that we are studying in World History. Any war, idea, technology, religion, country, philosophy, natural disaster, etc. will directly affect everything they built.

How the cities are build

Before we go into the details of the game, we should explain how they build their cities. Each team will develop their cities, creating them building by building.

The only way to get another building is buying it with the coins of the game.

The teams get the coins doing homework or answering questions in the class. Another way is getting points by playing learning games on kahoot or completing other learning tasks.

The teams can loose points as well, providing consequences for negative behavior.

How game progress is measured

Each civilization is defined by a list of statistical metrics, which represent sectors of development. Each team has to develop their abilities in order to grow and become more powerful. The most important sectors are:
PBL: Project Based Learning Slide: Value and Costs of a Barrack in the Civilization Game - Cost: 150, 5 workers needed, supplies 5 warrior points per day

  • Population
  • Food
  • Happiness
  • Money
  • Weapons
  • Warriors
  • Culture
  • Technology
  • Science

Every building brings different stats to the city, which means it increases the point value of one of these sectors. Each city (team) decides which sector they focus on and what to develop.

All of the stats are affected by unemployment, shortages, wars, religious celebrations, etc.

Improving Debating and Decision Making Skills

Playing the game develops their management skills and improves their decision making. It makes the students more aware of the relation between causes and consequences.

The game encourages teamwork, because everyone is required to pass all the challenges in order to develop their cities faster.

Additionally it improves their debating skills, because all the decisions need to be made unanimously. Persuading your team to make a decision requires structured arguments and social skills, which our students develop debating complex issues with their team mates.

Deep Understanding of History and Innovation

The game by itself provides a learning process, which is much deeper than what can be achieved with traditional learning methods.

Students have a full understanding of historic events and about the main goals and aims of the most influential and important civilizations of the world. They understand how the ideas and technologies developed throughout the world, can be a huge boost for their cities. So the benefit they get from understanding innovations inside the game, helps them understand their importance in the real world.

For that reason, the game is encouraging them to search, understand and interiorize this full vision of our past. Thanks to this experience, the students are able to understand the gains and consequences of any process in World History and integrate it to their own experience.

Understanding the Value of Knowledge

Last but not least the game encourages them to search for knowledge from other subjects as well.

Inspired by the biggest discoveries in World History, the students want to be pioneers into technologies that weren’t possible at the period of time they are playing. This gives them a big boost over the competing teams.

But they can use these technologies only, if they are able to explain it to their own people. To do this, they need to have full, life lasting knowledge of these subjects. The ‘innovation’ only gives points to their civilization, if they are able to teach the technology to the imaginary populace of their city.

Project Based Learning provides deep knowledge

The engagement of our students shows that his PBL approach works. The students are engaged and full of positive emotions during the lessons and show motivation beyond the classroom. The research the history topics well beyond the syllabus and show a high interest in the technologies that made our civilization.