Project Based Learning on the Civil War


Designed by Eric LaPorta



This page was designed to help integrate a project based learning lesson plan for teaching the Civil War into the classroom. Project based learning is a valuable tool for teachers to use in their classroom. It engages their students and allows them to take control over their own education, rather than being forced to learn from the teacher. Integrating technology into a teachers lesson, which this project based learning unit aims to do, focuses the students and allows those who learn through audio, visual or hands on experiences to explore their learning. By placing students into small groups, they can work together, collaborate and revise work without the feeling of being under a microscope.

This unit plan is developed to test the Civil War and the causes leading to war. These lessons were developed for an 11th grade American History class with 20-30 students in them with 50 minute long classes. The class is a full year course for high school juniors starting off with colonization and ending with contemporary issues. Throughout the year, emphasis will be placed on changes occurring throughout the country leading to a divide among northerners and southerners.

Learning Assessments

Building off the idea of divide and change occurring throughout the country, I will begin a new unit on the Civil War and its precedence. These projects are designed to get students to research the material in their own way, finding ways to explore their own creative personal knowledge building strengths.

The students will be assessed primarily through their end products. The instructor should however roam the class ensuring the students are understanding the idea of the unit, the questions needing to be answered, and how to go about doing this. The instructor should not find the answers for the students, however they should point the students in the right direction if they are struggling finding information or understanding what they are finding. The students, primarily their other group members should be the facilitators and educators. The idea of this unit is to have students gain knowledge and answer questions from one another.

Performance Objectives

  • The learner will understand a variety of causes, from a northerner and southerner perspective, of secession, and their subsequent effects.
  • The learner will be able to describe these cause and effects in a presentation.
  • The student will understand various aspects of southern life trying to be upheld, leading to secession.
  • The student will understand the various reasons the south had for seceding and understand these reasons date back many years.
  • The student will be able to identify who was the first to secede? Who else followed and when?
  • The student will be able to explain if there was a war right away, or if political action was taken to avoid war.
  • At the end of the lesson(s), the student will have a better understanding of the war to come and identify key points of contention.
  • The student will be able to outline battles, important events etc on a timeline.
  • Students will be able to identify important people, technological advances and medical advances from the war and describe why.
  • At the end of the unit, the learners will have better communication, research and team building skills.

Essential Questions

  • What were the main causes of secession from a southern perspective? A northern perspective?
  • What were the major battles of the war?
  • What were the major events (non battle) of the war?
  • Who were the most important people of the war both north and south?
  • What advances in medicine and technology took place? How did these change the war?
  • How did Lincoln try to re-unite the union during the war? After?
  • What resulted from the war? Specifically, who won, and what results came from this in the long term (ten years after the war ended)?

Learning Standards

New York State Learning Standards Social Studies Standards

  • Standard 1: History of the United States and New York- Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments and turning points in the history of the United States and New York
    • 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4
  • Standard 3: Geography- Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the geography of the interdependent world in which we live - local, national, and global - including the distribution

of people, places, and environments over the Earth’s surface.

    • 3.1
  • Standard 4: Economics- Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of how the United States and other societies develop economic systems and associated institutions to allocate scarce resources, how major decision-making units function in the United States and other national economies, and how an economy solves the scarcity problem through market and nonmarket mechanisms.
    • 4.1
  • Standard 5: Civics, Citizenship and Government- Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the necessity for establishing governments; the governmental system of the United States and other nations; the United States Constitution; the basic civic values of American constitutional democracy; and the roles, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship, including avenues of participation.
    • 5.1, 5.2, 5.3

Unit 1: Causes of the Civil War

the raid at Harper's Ferry

Overview of this learning project

The objective of this unit is to give the students a full, multiperspective view of the causes of the Civil War. What reasons did the south have for seceding from the Union? Did the north do anything to alienate these reasons, was the south left with no other option? These are the types of questions the students need to ask themselves while researching the causes of the Civil War. These searches should not be limited to secondary texts, but should include soldier perspectives, diary entries and letters from southern and northern viewpoints. The point of the unit is not only to understand why the war started, but to understand what the north and south were fighting for, and to understand reasons why the war unfolded as it did. This unit will set up the next unit, which will be an in-depth look at the war itself, the people and the advances made. This unit should provide students with sufficient background knowledge to research the war.

Rationale for this unit

In previous classes, we have covered the political, social and economical splitting of northern and southern ideologies. In this lesson, the students will examine the problems that brewed throughout the country and how these numerous problems caused a civil war. Students will examine the social, political, economical and physical problems that created tensions between the north and the south. Students will be split into groups in order to research and evaluate an individual cause, going deeply into the problems roots and implications for the country. This 5 day lesson plan will help students understand and analyze the causes of the Civil War, ending with each group presenting their findings. This lesson addresses New York State standards 1, 3, 4, and 5 while also addressing numerous Common Core standards requirements.

Unit 2: The Civil War


Overview of this learning project

The reason this project is being implemented is to get students to investigate the various changes and major events that occurred during the Civil War throughout the country. The other reason for this project is to get students to think differently than they are accustomed to. One major part of this project is to investigate the different perspectives and reactions to events that occurred during the war. Obviously, a soldier in the south is going to react differently than a soldier in the north. The point of the project is for the students to uncover these differences through primary sources and inquiry. They will only investigate one perspective, however another group will research the same event from a different perspective. Therefore, by the end of the project, the students will have a full view about the events that unfolded during the 5 year span.During this unit, like the last unit, the point is for the student to learn about the war from multiple perspectives, not to just summarize the events that occurred. That is a necessary element of the project, but it is also to uncover the changes of the war and their impacts as well as the perspectives of major events.

Rationale for Unit 2

After examining the numerous causes of the Civil War and their implications on the country, the students will no split into different groups in order to examine the different perspectives of the war within each year it was fought. Students will either research their year from a northerner's perspective or a southerner's perspective weighing each argument based upon what they are reporting and what is going on in context to the country at that time. At the end of their research, each group will again present their findings to the class, as well as hand in a "newspaper" describing and analyzing all the events that occurred that year of the Civil War and their respective perspective. Students will research primary and secondary sources to gain insight into the reactions of events that occurred in the north and south during the war. Students will also examine technological, medical, military, and other changes of life that may have effected the war in some manner. By doing this, students will have an idea of the mentality of each side during each year of the war as well have a greater understanding of the events that unfolded. At the end of all presentations, the teacher will compile all the newspapers together creating a study guide for students that addresses all aspects of the war. This lesson addresses New York State standards 1, 3, 4, 5 and numerous Common Core standards requirements.