English, History & LO Path to Panem PBL

By Leigh Morris, Lindsay Wesner & Louis Pienaar

We did not foresee that this Path to Panem project would lead us, as students and teachers, on a path of discovery beyond any of our expectations. A number of colleagues told us that we were asking too much of our Grade 9s and that they would not be able to cope with this style of learning or the high-level question posed to them. These people were wrong. The academic and emotional development of our students was tremendous.

See how Louis, Lindsay, and Leigh designed a cross-curricular PBL journey for their Grade 9 students covering the English, History, and Life Orientation Curriculum!

The vision

The vision

The South African school environment is very insular; teachers have their own classroom; all classrooms have walls; students spend 50 minutes in one subject and then move to another, packing away the knowledge that they acquired in the previous subject. In the real world, however, adults are seldom adjusting to an entirely new work environment with a new boss, new colleagues, different dynamics and a new project seven times a day.

In discussing the reality of our insular education system we united in sympathy for our students and began to question the traditional approach to education. In response we designed a curriculum which would challenge the fragmented nature of education by engaging our students in solving a real world problem. As three teachers from different departments, English, Social Sciences and Life Orientation, we came together and decided to pilot a project that would shake up the idea of learning, subject differentiation, and teaching.

We deliberately reimagined the notion of ‘subjects’ and posed a problem to our students which could only be solved by them applying their knowledge and skills gained through a combination of different subject areas. It was our vision was that this approach to learning would not only equip our students with the required content knowledge for all three subjects as prescribed by the curriculum but more importantly facilitate the development of invaluable skills that would benefit them long term, and not just prepare them to pass the final examinations.

Curriculum standards

The vision


  • Extract and interpret information from a number of sources.
  • Evaluate the usefulness of sources, including reliability, stereotyping and Subjectivity.
  • Recognise that there is often more than one perspective of a historical event.
  • Organise evidence to substantiate an argument, in order to create an original, coherent and balanced piece of historical writing
Curriculum standards

Learning journey

The vision


In essence, project-based learning is the idea of learning through the act of being posed a real-world problem and developing its solution. The students learn as they journey through the problem and eventually cement that knowledge by presenting their solution. What we loved about this pedagogy was that we could engage our students in a relevant problem that was close to home, have them actively involved in pursuing and developing the solution, and finally present their solution through chosen vehicles that embraced 21st-century tools.

When engaging in a project of this nature, students constantly collaborate with each other, show what they are learning as they progress through the unit, and assess themselves and one another. The process is ongoing and does not simply result in the student taking a test or examination. Our belief in the incredible power of active, collaborative, social, real-world learning has only been strengthened through implementing this pedagogy.


We developed a cross-curricular project-based learning unit named Avoiding the Path to Panem - inspired by Educurious’s project by the same name. We essentially asked students to use evidence from their study of Germany’s shift from the Weimar democracy to Nazi Germany in order to infer what events, or series of events, might have led to Katniss’s world of Panem in the prescribed English set workbook, The Hunger Games; and, in turn, articulate how our society in South Africa could avoid going down the same path. Our students explored primary and secondary sources from Germany in the 1920s to the 1940s to support their analysis. The culminating task of the unit was to present a 3-5 minute multi-media presentation answering the project question:


How can you, as Grade 9 students, stop South Africa from becoming like Panem and Nazi Germany?


We launched our project by inviting students, teachers and school administrators to an official project launch. At the start of the launch, we showed students our Path to Panem launch video, which was made using iMovie, in order to grab the students' attention, pique their interest, cultivate curiosity, and introduce them to the project.

Students were then given a copy of this Project Map document using Google Classroom for delivery. 

The Project Question

We broke the project question down into smaller components and explained it in order to ensure that all students were clear on what the question required of them.


We clarified the difference between group work and individual continuous assessments and that the examinations would take place as normal. We also informed our students that some assessments would be assessed with more than one rubric and therefore count for more than one subject.

Time Management

We explained that the only deadlines were continuous assessment deadlines at the end of each module. Students would have to manage their time and set their own worksheet and activity deadlines in order to complete each module on time.

Project presentation

Students were informed that the culminating presentation would need to answer the guiding question and were given the relevant specifications of the presentation.


We required digital structures to afford these key project components and found that the G Suite provided all the key elements we were seeking.

  • The project manager of each group set up a Google Drive folder which was shared with the group members and teachers. Within this folder structure students could access and collaborate on learning activities, worksheets and planning documents.
  • Using a Google Sheets timetable template students planned how they would use each project lesson and when they as a group or individuals would engage with flipped classroom materials.
  • Using Google Docs, students collaboratively engaged with source-based activities which formed the foundation of their understanding.
  • Groups stored all their learning activities on Drive and this meant that teachers could easily monitor student progress and provide feedback. Using the ‘suggest edits’ and ‘comment’ features of Google Docs, teachers were able to provide personalized and constant feedback simultaneously, to all group members, at all stages of the learning journey.
  • Google Classroom not only served as a submission vehicle for individual tasks but also provided students a platform to share resources, ask questions and engage in discussions around their learning. It further served as a platform for us as teachers to respond to instances on the learning journey, providing additional resources and provoking student reflection.

Student activities

The vision

In order to give our students the opportunity to drive their own learning, we removed the teacher as the source of authority and knowledge in the classroom and created carefully scaffolded learning activities to provide our students maximum opportunities to create their own understanding. Through engaging with a series of group and individual learning activities, our students were able to explore the topics at hand within the confines of the project structure. Each activity encompassed more than one subject and covered various cognitive levels as appropriate to the stage in the learning process.

These activities included...


Analysis of sources is a skill that is needed across both English and History. Our students engaged in a number source-based activities across the three modules of the project. These sources aided the students in drawing comparisons between the novel, historical content and present day South Africa in order to assist in answering the overriding question. In one such source-based task, the students examined leaders in the form of Katniss and Adolf Hitler, and then drew parallels with current South African political leaders.


MEDIA CONTROL: A concurrent theme in the English novel and the History content was media manipulation and propaganda. In order to harness this theme, we tasked our students to write television interview scripts for an interview between Cesar and one of the Hunger Games tributes to demonstrate how the media sensationalizes and manipulates information. Students then spoke their interviews and recorded themselves using Garageband or Quicktime. This helped learners become familiar with the correct format for a written interview and was used to assess student oral skills based on how well they were able to use language persuasively

To listen to some sample interviews click HERE 

Student creations


To complete this activity, students had to immerse themselves in the realities of the districts of the Hunger Games novel and create a propaganda poster to encourage the people of their district to join the revolt. This activity drew on the student’s understanding of the use of propaganda in Germany during the studied time period and pushed them to develop their use of emotive language and apply their understanding of symbolism, whilst honing their persuasive skills.


This activity had students create five-paneled cartoons demonstrating the causes of World War Two fostering a sequential understanding of causation. This activity, not only provided students an opportunity to demonstrate their historical content knowledge, but also served to develop their visual literacy skills - a common pain point in English language examinations.



Students interacted with historical sources and documentaries on YouTube, Keynote and EdPuzzle.


Using Padlet our students were given the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of various communication styles as it applied to the actions of characters in The Hunger Games. The interactivity of Padlet took a seemingly content-heavy, abstract activity and made it entertaining and relevant.


BLOG WRITING: Each student wrote a weekly blog with a focus on a topic such as: difficult decisions faced by teenagers, the role of active citizenship and How we learn. The purpose of the blog was to give the students an opportunity to reflect on the process of this project as well as what they were thinking and learning during the project. Not only did this help us as teachers, better understand our students but we were blown away by the level of depth and insight displayed in their writing.

THEMES CHALLENGE: We challenged our students to create a visual representation of literary themes from The Hunger Games using relevant images from Nazi Germany and South Africa History content. In order to create these visualizations using the iMovie trailer templates, our students had to unpack their selected literary theme and find parallels in the additional two time periods and as such, abstract and complex concepts were made visual and tangible through the use of the medium of film.



FORMATIVE ASSESSMENTS: We embedded a number of formative assessments throughout the project to give students opportunities to demonstrate their learning and identify any gaps in their understanding which they could then address.


The culmination of project-based learning is typically a presentation by the learners which offers the solution to the posed real-world problem. We did not prescribe any specific format or vehicle but simply specified that the students' presentation needed to demonstrate their understanding of the English, History and Life Orientation content, answer the project question, and pose a solution to their peers and parents who were in attendance. Students presented their answers using various technological tools and vehicles, displaying incredible synergistic critical thinking skills.

Student reflections

The vision

Michaela shares how even though learning felt different, she was still able to effectively demonstrate understanding in traditional assessment.

Bohlale shares his experience of independent learning


LEARNING BEYOND ACADEMIC CONTENT: Our classroom environment was enriched by students sharing the insights they gained at every point of the learning process. In giving our students a voice and not dominating the classroom ‘air time’, we were astounded by the abilities and insights of these young adults. We had the privilege of assessing project presentations that covered not only demonstrated a deeply rooted understanding of the curriculum, but also a scope and standard of knowledge that extended far beyond the four walls of the classroom.


STUDENT-TEACHER RELATIONSHIPS: By allowing students to be active investigators rather than passive recipients, students gain a voice in the classroom that had a lasting effect on their maturity and self-confidence. The fear of being wrong decreased, with students allowing themselves to be vulnerable more frequently. With the teacher away from the authoritative lecturing role, students could engage with teachers as co-investigators and experts they could trust. As such, powerful bridges were built across the traditional divide between students and teachers. We did not anticipate the bond that developed between us and the Grade 9 year during this project. In the beginning, our students were unsure and somewhat skeptical of this new approach to learning but through hard work, a level of trust developed which has remained even after the project’s completion.


TEACHING FROM THE HEART, AND NOT THE TEXTBOOK: Spending less time on marking, less energy on entertaining students from the front of the class meant that we could invest more time and energy into guiding and facilitating a journey of discovery.


HAPPY, EMPOWERED STUDENTS: The one thing that trumps all of the aforementioned successes, is that our precious Grade 9 students loved this project and successfully coerced us into adopting the same approach for the rest of the academic year. Our students had fun, were less stressed and ultimately grew to love this new way of learning.

Teacher reflections

The vision

We did not foresee that this Path to Panem project would lead us, as students and teachers, on a path of discovery beyond any of our expectations. A number of colleagues told us that we were asking too much of our Grade 9s and that they would not be able to cope with this style of learning or the high level question posed to them. These people were wrong. The academic and emotional development of our students was tremendous.

ACADEMIC RESULTS: During this project, our Grade 9s blossomed beyond any of our expectations. When comparing the results from the same group of students between November 2015 and June 2016, we noted an improved academic average in each of the three subjects when assessed separately in a traditional examination context.

PERSONAL GROWTH: In addition to the group academic improvement, it gave us great joy to see individual students experience specific victories which the otherwise may not have. Students not only improved academically but holistically and have developed skills that they will continue to use throughout their lives.

Technology used

The vision

iPads and MacBooks 

G Suite for Education: Google Drive, Docs, Slides, Classroom

Keynote, Photoshop and Google Drawings for Poster creation 

Pixton for comic creations, Garageband / Quicktime for interviews

iMovie for video editing

Technology used

Closing thoughts

The vision

"As teachers, we are now wholly convinced that the future of education will not be built by teachers innovating in isolation but in radical, innovative and passionate cross-curricular collaboration." 

- Leigh, Lindsay and Louis


Want to learn more about PBL? Want to learn more about PBL?  Keen on Design Thinking?

Hop over to LaunchPad and complete our SACE-accredited Power of Project-based Learning and Design Thinking in your Classroom courses. 

Or bring us to your school or join us online for our Extreme Project Makeover or Breaking Down the Silos workshops.