Students Explore Counterculture with NGL

Two classes at Burrell High School, a public school outside of Pittsburgh, completed a two-week long, interdisciplinary project together using NGL. These classes included Dawn Lovic’s AP English class with 22 students and Travis Welch’s Academic, or general, History Class with 30 students. The project used a singular quest created by Lovic called “Mainstream and Counterculture of Vietnam Era and Modern Society America.” Students work on the quest both in class and outside of class, individually and with peers to create a presentation about Vietnam Era America.

In the first activity of the quest, students used class time to individually research their choice of two aspects of society during the Vietnam Era such as fashion, communal living, music or politics. They took notes on the hippie attitude and mainstream attitude on each aspect. Students created an artifact such as a collage, presentation, or video that compared and contrasted these attitudes.

Next, students took a survey that identified their views of Vietnam Era society as either “hippie” or “mainstream.” Lovic and Welch used responses from this survey to create groups of students with similar survey results. Each group had four members, two from each class. This transitioned students from the individual and in-class portion to the group and out-of-class portion of the project.

On their own time, students introduced themselves to their new group-mates and arranged times to meet to work on their final presentations for the project, which asked students to “highlight an aspect of Vietnam Era society from their identified hippie or mainstream point of view.” Lovic and Welch intentionally left the prompt for presentations open-ended to encourage creativity and to challenge students to effectively collaborate with unfamiliar peers outside of class, an exercise intended to prepare for college group projects.

Two students created these signs for their final presentation about music in Vietnam Era America. 

Two students created these signs for their final presentation about music in Vietnam Era America. 

With this freedom for interpretation, groups gave a wide range of presentations, from simulations to peaceful protests. One group that researched mainstream fashion put on a fashion show using clothing from the 60s gathered from relatives and thrift stores. Another group that researched hippie music performed a Janis Joplin song.

Lovic and Welch assessed students on their preparedness for the presentations and on the research they bibliographies. Students also completed out peer-evaluation forms to assess each other’s contributions to the presentation. Lovic and Welch said that using the NGL methodology engaged the students much more deeply because it allowed them to explore interests relevant to them, learn socially with peers and create a presentation that synthesized all of their work. Lovic said: “Using the technology made it convenient for the students to work remotely. Some of them went on field trips and still had access to the same content as the students working in class. More so than anything, using quests gave these kids insight about how to learn on their own. Not everything needs a rubric and not every step of a project needs to be graded.”

Lovic and Welch plan to make a few tweaks to the project based off of student feedback and do this project together again next year. They are excited to get students out of their textbooks and use this self-directed method to finish off the school year.