In this Project Based Learning Activity (PBL) students will form a wagon team to research, pretend to be pioneers and problem solve, and write to explain their thinking while learning about westward expansion, pioneers, and the Wild West. This unit includes comparison prices of items from the time period, photographs, and journal entrees from the Oregon Trail. Each lesson includes a pdf (which can be projected like a powerpoint, printed for students to use for reading, or partner activities). Students apply their research using thinking maps or graphic organizers as they explore the wild west.
Lesson 1: Do you want to be a pioneer or a gold miner?
Students read (or you read and discuss together the pdf research file) and research life as a pioneer or gold miner using a circle map. To use a circle map, students just write the important information they learn inside the circle map. After students research, pair students together to debate whether it would have been better to be a gold miner or a homesteader. Students will synergize with partners to explain why they choose to be either a pioneer or gold miner. Discuss as a class what students think is important.
Form wagon trains by either placing students into groups or having students form wagon train groups. Students can form their wagon train groups by naming their group and stating the purpose of their group.
Lesson 2: What are you taking west?
Students research what types of wagon pioneers used to journey west and the animals they used to pull their wagon. As a wagon train, they decide which wagon they will use and the animals they will take with them on their journey west.
Lesson 3: Pack Your Wagon
Students research items that pioneers took with them on their journey west. As a wagon train family/group, students choose 15 items from a selection of images of artifacts that pioneers took west. The wagon train has to decide which 15 items will be the most important on their journey west.
Lesson 4: Oregon Trail Scenarios
Students create a map of the trail by connecting dots, labeling famous places, and drawing in mountains/landforms, or landmarks while researching. Students are presented with facts about spots/landmarks along the Oregon Trail where pioneers had challenges. Wagon teams make plans to successfully face the challenges that pioneers faced.