Multidisciplinary Thematic Unit
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Connections—Learning from the Wisdom of the Past

Middle School English language learners (ELLs)

Canton Middle School, Streamwood, IL

(IL School District U-46)

Students in Dr. Montgomery’s American History Class
(English Language Proficiency [ELP][Levels 4 [Emerging] and 3 [Developing]

Essential Questions:

  1. How did the people who created the founding documents of the United States of America learn to work together to achieve lasting results? (What vital ingredients did they share as a team?)
  2. How can we learn from them what we need to do to make our work together more effective? (How do we connect to their wisdom?)
  3. How do the documents they created show evidence of the special working relationship they had among themselves as a team?

Goals and Curriculum Fit

Social Sciences—Political Systems
14.F.3a Analyze historical influences on the development of political ideas and practices as enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Illinois Constitution.

English Language Arts—Reading
1.C.3a Use information to form, explain and support questions and predictions.

English-Language Arts--Research
5.A.3a Identify appropriate resources to solve problems or answer questions through research.
5.B.3a Choose and analyze information sources for individual, academic and functional purposes.
5.C.3a Plan, compose, edit and revise documents that synthesize new meaning gleaned from multiple sources.
5.C.3b Prepare and orally present original work (e.g., poems, monologues, reports, plays, stories) supported by research.
5.C.3c Take notes, conduct interviews, organize and report information in oral, visual and electronic formats.

English Language Proficiency (ELP) Reading—Level Three--Developing
Sequence pictures, events, and processes.
Identify main ideas.
Use context clues to determine meaning of words.
English Language Proficiency (ELP) Writing—Level Three—Developing
Produce bare bones expository or narrative text.
Compare and contrast information.
Describe events, people, processes and procedures.

English Language Proficiency (ELP) Speaking—Level Three—Developing
Formulate, hypotheses, make predictions.
Describe processes, procedures.
Retell stories or events.

Social Emotional Learning
2C.3b. Demonstrate cooperation and teamwork to promote group effectiveness.

Identifying, Representing and Describing the Problem

The framers of the founding documents of the United States of America represented lots of differing interests, values, and perspectives. It was difficult for them to come to agreement on the different documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The documents that they created have been used as inspirational models for democratic ideals throughout the world and have sustained government in the United States of America for 232 years.

The power of a team is revealed in the presence of synergy, a word that means that what has been produced by the team as a whole (collectively) is better than what would have been produced by combining the best efforts of each person on the team individually. Synergy requires trust, respect, acceptance, and a willingness to work with each other’s ideas and not to insist on only one point of view. For modern teams to function effectively, they must also learn to bring synergy present as they work and to have it be revealed in their work products.

What are the essential question & sub-questions?

Essential Questions:
  1. How did the people who created the founding documents of the United States of America learn to work together to achieve lasting results? (What vital ingredients did they share as a team?)
  2. How can we learn from them what we need to do to make our work together more effective? (How do we connect to their wisdom?)
  3. How do the documents they created show evidence of the special working relationship they had among themselves as a team?

1. Synergy
What is synergy?
How can we see synergy in a document?
How can we see synergy in a team?

2. Framers of the founding documents of the United States of America
Who were they?
What did they believe in?
Where did their ideas come from?
How did they work as a team?
How did they work together and build trust, show respect, and encourage synergy?
What special values did each contribute to the team?

3. Where did these people get their ideas? What historical events during the time-frame (roughly 1700 to 1800) that influenced the thinking and emotionally felt beliefs of these framers?
In Europe?
In America?
Anywhere else that had an impact on the framers of these documents?

Interdisciplinary Considerations
This is designed as an interdisciplinary thematic unit. While it can be completed exclusive in one bilingual American History class, students will benefit if it is pursued in more classes with more teachers. The learning goals encompass Social Sciences, English Language Arts, and English Language Proficiency standards. Some outputs could also support Fine Arts standards.

For other teachers to be involved, they would need to find ways to assess and to support students in activities related to this PBL project during their class periods.


The overall time frame is envisioned as a three-week project in Semester 2 with final presentations taking place during the 4th Quarter. Presentations could take 20-minutes or more per team, depending on the product they decide to produce.

Other Participants:

Similar classes with other teachers at Canton Middle School may choose to participate and it is possible for other students in other middle schools to be involved as well. The project is not dependent on other participants and they can enrich the project.

Project Level
What levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy are addressed?
Most of the activities in this project are designed to operate on the Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation levels of Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Target Audience

Who will your students present their findings to?
Students will share their presentations with parents at a Literacy Night Celebration. Some presentations will be digitized and the presentations shared with the Instructional Council at School District U-46.
Depending on the products and the appropriate permissions, links to some products may also be published on the Internet sites supporting the class.


What types of products do you envision your students making?

Some students will prepare Microsoft PowerPoint and Microsoft PhotoStory3 presentations. Other students may choose to create a mural or other artistic piece to reflect what they are learning. Others may write stories, poems, or draw sketches to illustrate key learning from the project. Students could also write and enact a play or other dramatic performance of the results of their research.


Computers and the Internet will be used extensively in the research and documentation of this project. Students will also access “streaming video” from the Discovery School (UnitedStreaming) and will work with resources made available from the Library of Congress.

Public libraries (in school and in neighboring communities) will be used for some of the reading needed to complete the assignment.
Part of the learning activities of this unit will be the way in which students engage with the technology and learn to work with it to conduct research, to store and organize their data, and to prepare their final results.

This unit has a reflective component in that students will continually observe and reflect on their own process to look for evidence of synergy.

Roles of Students
What roles will your students assume?

Students will assume multiple roles in the course of this project. They will be assigned to one or more teams throughout the project.

One phase of the project will be to explore the world views of key framers of these founding documents, so student teams will represent a framer. For example, one team may represent Benjamin Franklin and another team may represent Thomas Jefferson.

Students will also be investigators, authors, team members, directors, authors, and have specific duties in support of the cooperative learning processes of the teams to which they are assigned.

Strategies for Facilitating Student Success

Students as Problem Solvers

What decision making authority or power will your students have?
Within their teams, students will be able to make choices that impact the consequences for their teams. This is a beginning Problem-Based Learning project and students will have more structure during this project than in later ones.
Within the parameters of the project, students will choose what they want to produce, the order in which they will take on the cooperative roles in the group, who they want to investigate or learn about, and how they will capture the information as they do their research.

Managing Student Groups

•Who will determine the roles students have?
Roles will be determined collaboratively by the teams and the teacher as the facilitator of learning. Assignment to teams will be made by the teacher with input from the students.

•Are the student directions (study guides, etc.) clear enough so that students' learning doesn't "wander“?
This PBL will be one of the first the students have done this year. Guides will be developed and coaching provided to insure that student teams learn how to remain on-task.

•Can you evaluate students’ progress by noting the quantity and quality of their notes?
As students develop their research and product, informal assessments and observations will be collected throughout the project. Students will be asked to hold regular reflection checkpoints every day they participate in the PBL project.

Checkpoints (KWL charts, notes, study guides, etc);

What are the checkpoints or “mini-goals” to assess students’ progress along the way?
Reflection check-points are scheduled for every day of activity and upon completion of each phase of the PBL project. These check-points allow students and the teacher to see what has been done and at what quality and what remains to be done. Everyone is expected to produce a top-quality product at the completion of the activity. Rubrics will be provided for use in the check-points and during the activity

Working with Others Outside the Classroom (real world connections);
•For what purpose will the other people be used?
–i.e. Help getting or organizing data; interviews; etc.
•How will the others be chosen? (Don’t forget safety considerations)
Most external resources will be in the form of research sites on the Internet (the Library of Congress for example) and parents or other adults in the students’ families. Librarians may also be involved as external resources.

Getting The Most Out of Technological Resources (technology and literacy skills): Do your students possess the tools they need to do help them learn?
Conceptual / Language Readiness
Technical Readiness
Research Skill Readiness
Another part of this PBL will be for the teacher to assess the readiness of the students in terms of concepts and language, ability to use the Internet and other technology resources, and their ability to conduct Internet research. A complementary part of this project will be the use of Skills Tutor modules to assist students to improve their research skills and other modules to help with both technical and conceptual and language readiness.

Assessing Students and Evaluating Products

For this initial PBL, the teacher will have some of the rubrics already in place. Within those rubrics, students can develop additional rubrics specifically focused on the sub-tasks they need to complete as a team.
All rubrics are designed to serve as an ongoing guide to quality and achievement throughout the PBL project. The design of the rubrics can be used for student self-assessment, peer review, and teacher assessment.

Rubric Sites
**Project Based Learning Checklist** ****
**RUBISTAR** ****
**Kathy Schrock’s Assessment Rubrics** ****