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Introduction -- Why is this lesson constructivist?

Underground Railroad Museum is a prime example of a constructivist project because it promotes both group collaboration and individual creativity. In the constructivist tradition, students are assigned an authentic task: to create a museum that documents the Underground Railroad used by slaves to escape from the South and seek freedom in the North. Students employ a variety of resources to research and compile information: the Internet, textbooks, literature, interviews with experts, personal knowledge, and primary slave accounts. During the four-week period of the project, students work together and individually, as well as with the teacher, to discuss and exchange ideas as they construct the exhibit that will be displayed in the museum. Students learn how to take notes from their research, synthesize information, and draw inferences and conclusions.

Underground Railroad Museum Project

A four-week-long project (assumes about 9-10 hours per week) to create an "Underground Railroad Museum" that demonstrates understanding about the history of slavery and the significance of the Underground Railroad.

The sixth graders of the Manhattan School for Children were commissioned to create a commemorative, interpretative, interactive, educational and research center and museum dedicated to the Underground Railroad. The classroom housed the museum.
There are many reasons to establish this new Underground Railroad Museum. The reasons include:
1. The Underground Railroad story is nationally significant.
2. There is a tremendous amount of interest in the subject, but little organized coordination among interested individuals and organizations.
3. It is the most dramatic protest action against slavery in United States history.


  • Reading and comprehending informational materials
  • Reading aloud fluently
  • Producing a report of information
  • One-to-one conferencing with teachers
  • Participating in group meetings
  • Preparing and delivering an individual presentation
  • Demonstrating a basic understanding of the rules of the English language in written and oral form
  • Analyzing and revising work to improve its clarity and effectiveness
  • Producing work in one genre (nonfiction, fiction, poetry, drama)

  • Textbooks
  • The Internet
  • Interviews with experts
  • Literature
  • Lecture notes
  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Newspaper articles
  • Personal knowledge
  • Primary sources - slave accounts
  • Pictures


The First Week

First Lesson:

  • Introduction about museums and why we have them. Introduce Underground Railroad Museum assignment.
  • What are the types of exhibits that could be included in an Underground Railroad Museum and Research Center? Brainstorm ideas with the students.
  • Below is a list of possible ideas.
    • monument/statue in front of museum
    • symbol/logo
    • exhibits
    • biographies of major players
    • maps
    • charts
    • timelines
    • bibliographies
    • paintings
    • quilts
    • photos/documents
    • old newspapers
    • creation of children's books
    • recreations of artifacts from that time period
    • models of Underground Railroad "stations"
    • reviews of books about the Underground Railroad
    • skits
    • role-playing/living history
    • poetry
    • oral presentations
    • songs
    • stories and books

Second Lesson:

  • Students should arrive at the next class prepared with some ideas about what they would like to research and study.
  • They should be prepared to conference with the teacher about their exhibits and how they will present their research.
  • After conferencing with the teacher, the students should start researching, taking notes, and amassing information.

Third Lesson:

  • Review of research techniques - e.g., taking notes on note cards, recording bibliographic information, deciding where to look for information.

Fourth Lesson:

  • Students should have the resources and skills to work independently on research from now until through the following week in class.

Workshop: Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning
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