Something I would really, really like to assign my students is the "Your birthday, in history" project. Here's a sketchy lesson plan outline:
Purpose: To develop students' research skills. To enjoy discovering new, unknown events and people in a "six-degrees-of-separation" kind of way (this isn't technical teacher-speak, but for the blog's purpose, it'll do).
Objectives: Students will 1) research 1-3 significant historical events that happened on their birthday, 2) research 1-3 important historical figures who were born (or died) on their birthday, 3) write a 3-5 page report on these events and people, 4) synthesize these events and people by drawing connections across time and geographic regions to come up with new knowledge (this is WAY higher order thinking - so much so that I'm not quite sure how to phrase the objective; for advanced students only), 5) present their findings to the rest of the class.
1. Anticipatory set - tell students a bunch of connected (or not, or both) events and people and have them guess how they are connected (take a limited number of guesses - I have a weakness with making the "hook" part of the lesson too long). Of course, these events are connected because they all happened on my own birthday.
2. Tell students their assignment. Basically tell them the objectives in kid-language. Set up micro-deadlines for a) the list of events and people students will use, b) list of resources they will use (at least five; sounds like a lot for elementary school, but considering the project, not at all unreasonable), c) rough draft of their report, d) (second?) final draft of report and presentation materials (must use at least one visual aid!).
3. Do some direct teaching on book, online, encyclopedia research. Visits to the library and computer lab are a must!
4. Do some more direct teaching, this time on writing informative reports with personal voice/twist. Possibility of reading lots of examples.
5. And more direct teaching on presentations.
6. Collect and give feedback on rough drafts (most likely peer edited).
7. Set aside sufficient time for all students to present.
Notes/modifications: students with the same birthdays may work together. Each is responsible for the original amount of work (i.e. two students = two reports, two visual aids, double the presentation time).
Closure: the presentations cover it, basically. Perhaps peer graded, on a certain level? Perhaps display visual aids somewhere for the rest of the community to see? Reflective paragraph on what students found out and what it means to them, maybe?
This is obviously an end-of-the year project. End-of-the-first-semester project for more mature students. It is highly time consuming, but extremely educational. I definitely have to make time in the school year to do this - even just a shortened version of it.
Who am I kidding, the shortened version of this project is ambitious enough already. But I'll still try.