Learning Always Starts with Questions!

In mid-February, our study of the American Civil War began as meaningful learning usually does — with questions. So many questions!! Nearly everyone in the group had only passing knowledge of the conflict, though all seemed to be aware (perhaps because we had been harping on the shared birthdays of Charles Darwin, subject of our fall study, and Abraham Lincoln) that Lincoln was somehow connected to it. Below is a list of the questions they raised, which have been posted around our room throughout the entire course of our study:

Were all of the states of the U.S. established by the time of the war?     Were all of the states involved in the war?     Why did people use slaves?     How many slaves were there?     Were slaves physically abused?     Was the Underground Railroad before or during the war?     Why did the South want slavery and the North did not?     Could a president end slavery without a war?     What did Abraham Lincoln do to stop slavery?     Is this the war that stopped slavery or increased it?     Did segregation start when slavery ended?     Were there other things (besides slavery) that caused the Civil War?     How did the war start?     Where was the first battle of the Civil War?     Who were some important people in the war?     Were there leaders in the war and who were they?     How is Lincoln connected to the Civil War?     Was Abraham Lincoln killed before the Civil War?     Why was Lincoln killed?     Was Lincoln president for all of the war?     What happened during the hunt to find John Wilkes Booth?     Was there a leader of the South?     Where was the North/South boundary?     Was there another side — other than the North and the South?     How far north did the war get?     How long did the war last?     How many people died in the Civil War?     How did the war end?       

These questions guided our work together, particularly the group lessons which began with a study of the institution of racial slavery in the Americas and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the abolitionist movement against slavery, the economies of different regions of the early United States, and the tension between state and federal governments. 

After spring break, we dove into the war itself, considering a major event of each year of the war (i.e. Battle of Bull Run/Manassas, Battle of Gettysburg, etc.). We also learned some music, poetry, and photography from the period and to allow ourselves a closer look at the experience of war, read Gary Paulsen’s Soldiers Heart. Along with our deepening knowledge came deepening questions — and interests. So the children took on independent research. Even a brief look at the list of topics demonstrates the growth of their understanding:

Robert Smalls: Escaped Slave, Ship’s Pilot, and Politician     Spies in the Civil War     Confederate Currency     Small Arms Used in the War     Songs of the North and of the South     Medicine and Surgery During the War     Animals in the Civil War     Confederate Cooking     History of My Ancestor’s Involvement in the War     Drummer and Bugler Boys     History of the 20th Maine     Uniforms     Women in the War     Artillery     General P.G.T. Beauregard

We’ve taken our related culminating trip (so many details in the next blog entry!) and are wrapping up our study. Next week, the group members will be sharing all they’ve learned about their topics of interest with one another, and we’ll be quizzing ourselves to see which of our questions we’ve answered to our own satisfaction. So much learning! So many questions!