elective final project

I have never done this before. Typically, final projects in my History class require extensive writing. For example, my freshman write a textbook at the end of their course. This time though, I wanted to try something different. These seniors had selected to take my elective on Genocide and War Crimes. As you can imagine this is a “heavy” course. Examining mass murder and violence is a complex and challenging program of study. All term the students read extensively, wrote prolifically, and questioned the events earnestly.  Now I wanted them to have to demonstrate their understanding through a project that required them to have a vision and a purpose.  Could they make a high degree of connection between project guidelines and their knowledge and perception of genocide in which they illustrate their craftsmanship and originality?  I took my previous projects on design thinking as inspiration as I sat and crafted the prompt (below): design thinking I & design thinking II.

The prompt:

Create: Please create a work of visual art (conceptual art?) that communicates your ideas about what you have learned about Genocide & War Crimes and how this knowledge can benefit the world.

Your visual art must meet these requirements:

  • There must be at least 3-5 teachings in your visual art.

  • No symbols

  • No words

  • No cliches

    • no peace, love,  dripping blood, etc

    • no sad kids, or famous images of perpetrators, or famous images of violence

Requirements for presentation:

  • 5-7 minutes

  • Your process:

    • Why did you choose to portray Genocide in this manner?

    • How does this piece of visual art teach others about Genocide?

    • Needless to say, each teaching must reflect sophistication and deep intellectual thought.

A few of the products I received:

Project 1: Photography by EW. Depiction of the Armenia genocide using a pomegranate (fruit of Armenia)

Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 11.27.42 AM Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 11.28.01 AM Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 11.28.21 AM Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 11.28.38 AM

Project 2:  Cambodian Genocide by NHS.

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 8.04.15 PM

Project 3: Darkness Descending by AF.

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 8.05.13 PMProject 4: Wood Sculpture by LL. Distressed wood forced and hammered into place.

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These projects and the presentation of their teachings on genocide really impressed me. If you are interested in the teachings that accompany each of the projects, please don’t hesitate to ask!

the museum came to us today…

The art teacher, Dave, carried the hulking box in from his classroom. Two feet by two feet, he propped his burden on the table just before my ninth graders came rushing in. Carefully, with caught breathe, we pulled the four prints out of their carrier one at a time. Unwrapping the thick parchment from the frames, I stood there silently. These prints were two hundred years old! We were not in a museum…we were standing in my 2:25PM class. We propped these commemorative prints up along the window and waited for the students to arrive.

It is funny how family history works. As my students and I began studying the War of 1812 together this week, a parent of the class reached out to me. “Did you know, that our family are direct descendants of Henry Ducie Chads?”  It took me a moment to place the name.  What?!?!  You are direct descendants of the Captain of the HMS Java which fought an incredible battle against the USS Constitution in the War of 1812 (a turning point battle that challenged England’s preeminence on the high seas and helped solidify the name “Old Ironsides” for the USS Constitution!!)  At first, I thought this was just an impressive lineage, but then she offered to help set up a private tour for the class to the USS Constitution since this year it is part of the 200th anniversary of the war and she asked if we would like to have 4 original prints commemorating the battle come to class for an afternoon. Oh and during our tour, she invited a descendent of the USS Constitution’s Captain Bainbridge to join us..and he said yes! SERIOUSLY!?!  I am going to nerd out here but I could not believe that an opportunity like this presented itself to my class!

So there we were today getting up close and personal with 200 year old history in our classroom. We learned about the prints origin, discussed why a British family would want to commemorate a battle loss, and narrated our way through the four chronological prints of the battle scene. It was SO cool!!  Next week we will be going to the USS Constitution during class time. I cannot tell you how giddy I have been over this connection, opportunity, and living history! Who knew history could be this exciting….well yes, I suppose I did, but it is so fun to see my students start to think that too!


final assessments

As a school with trimesters, the first set of final exams is upon us.  Classes meet for two out of the three terms making the month of February totally quirky.  Classes end, finals are given, but the school year is not quite over yet, huh?

As part of the school winds down, other classes gear up to start their second term. Balancing between the two is challenging. When I walk into halls, I often hear the infamous sound of the circus: Circus Theme Song.  Students run in and out of classrooms, teachers frantically search for time to meet one-on-one with students and I can almost image paper swirling through the halls and down the stairwells. No mater how we plan to manage the stress, reduce the workload, and help the students prep and organize for the finals, the stress and pressure hovers over the school like a dark cloud.

Finals in the history department are not traditional. Students do not come into class for a two hour sit down exam.  They are not asked to memorize dates, names, and events and then throw them down gracelessly onto a piece of paper. Rather, students are given a project to collaborate on which ultimately asks them to revise their course materials, remix their content, and use their own juicy brains to create something uniquely theirs within the parameters of the project. The first year of this assignment the student balked. Whining for the traditional sit down, they were reluctant to work on the project, to collaborate, and could not imagine that the time frame was enough to complete the task at hand.  Now, this project is a staple of the ninth grade year. Students look forward to their topics, believe in the power of collaboration, and are excited to “out do” their predecessors. While it is still hectic in the halls of the school, I like to think that this project is an oasis during an otherwise crazed time of year.

When they turn in their assignments after a  week of working together, they are so proud of their textbooks and I am so proud of their culminating work. It is always sad to watch this collective group of dynamic young minds “graduate” from our ninth grade history experience.

Your Task
Step One:

  • Write a one-page essay for each perspective on the event/conflict assigned to your group: 2 essays per event/conflict
  • Provide evidence (examples) to validate your perspectives
  • For each analysis of the event/conflict, make a connection with current events
  • Each student is responsible for writing 4 of the one page essays. Put your name on the sections you wrote & title your document.
    • For the groups with 4 students in order to have each member of the team responsible for 4 of the one page essays you will include a 1 page Introduction to your textbook and a 1 page Conclusion to your textbook
    • Also, two of the perspectives will need to be 2 pages in length instead of 1 page
    • Then all students in the 4 person groups will be responsible for writing 4 pages of writing each
  • Read, edit, and help your group members so the textbook flows together

Step Two:

  • As a group decide upon a title for this collection of differing perspectives on major American events.

Step Three:

  • Create a Prezi.com, iMovie, Website, Dipity.com, etc.
  • The Presentations should be within 3-5 minutes in length. Every member of the group must speak.
  • Present the evidence, facts, and arguments to support your perspectives: articles, quotes, videos, maps, examples as you pitch this textbook to publishers.
  • Be prepared to answer students’ questions.

Essential Questions: (Help you get started on writing each section)

  • How would your individual/group interpret the events and moments of each unit?
  • Which events would be most meaningful to your individual/group? Why?
  • Why would other events be skipped over by your individual/group?
  • What is your argument about the historical events you highlight?  How will you interpret them?
  • How can you connect the different events we have studied to a theme?
  • How can you present the different historical events we have studied through your theme?

You will present your textbook to the class on Friday, March 1 at this time you will also hand in to me your 12 page textbook.

Prepare questions to ask to the other groups about their perspectives

Assigned Groups, Theme, and Perspective:
Group 1:

  • Unit 1: Empire & Colonization:
    • Motivations for Exploration: Spanish Conquistador, & English (Jamestown/Pilgrim)
    • The Louisiana Purchase: Napoleon & Jefferson
    • Scientific Management: Factory Owner & Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
  • Unit 2: Conflict
    • French & Indian War: Native Americans & Colonists
    • Causes of the Civil War: Abolitionist & Pro-Slaver
  • Unit 3: Government
    • Great Compromise: Virginia Plan & New Jersey Plan

Group 2:

  • Unit 1: Empire & Colonization
    • Mercantilism: England & New England
    • Manifest Destiny: The Donner Party &  James L. O’Sullivan
    • Immigration: Jacob Riis & Vanderbilt
  • Unit 2: Conflict
    • Boston Massacre: Redcoat & John Adams
    • Dred Scott Case: Dred Scott & Supreme Court
  • Unit 3: Government
    • Constitution: Federalists & Anti-Federalists

Group 3:

  • Unit 1: Empire & Colonization:
    • Strategies of Explorers: British Settler & Native America
    • The Gold Rush: Chinese Immigrants & Mexican Immigrants
    • Industrial Revolution: Rockefeller & Lowell Mill Girl
  • Unit 2: Conflict
    • Declaration of Independence: King George &  Continental Congress
    • Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln & Davis
  • Unit 3: Government
    • 3/5th compromise: North & South

Group 4: 

  • Unit 1: Empire & Colonization
    • Regional Differences: Middle Colonies & Southern Colonies
    • The Alamo: Santa Anna & Sam Houston
    • New Technologies: Eli Whitney & Slaves
  • Unit 2: Conflict
    • Battle of Fort McHenry: Francis Scott Key & British Soldier
    • Union Strategy: General Lee & General Grant
  • Unit 3: Government
    • Electoral College: Founding Fathers & Opposition Today

Group 5: 

  • Unit 1: Empire & Colonization
    • The Triangle Trade: Slave & New England Ship Captain
    • Trail of Tears: Cherokees & Jackson
    • Industrial Consequences of Civil War: North & South
  • Unit 2: Conflict
    • War of 1812: New England Interests & War Hawks
    • 54th Regiment: General Shaw & African-American
  • Unit 3: Government
    • Constitution: Strict Interpretation & Broad Interpretation

doing debates

Two teacher posts within days of each other!?  I know this is not usually my style but David and I are eating left-overs right now so blogging about that is a little lacking.  Skye is coming over tomorrow for a new dish and should it be a yummy one, you can expect to hear about it soon.  Now back to the teaching post….

The history department is notorious for hosting debates in class.  Eleventh graders are pretty adept at them. Needing little prompting, they research, read, script, argue, counter-argue, and question. Two days later they are prepared to engage in a lively, researched, and thorough undertaking. Do they get bogged down in one cycling argument?  Yes, from time to time, they need to be reminded to move along, advance the debate. Yet, debates are an interesting way for the students to demonstrate their understanding of a topic by having to demonstrate the mental flexibility debates necessitate.

Freshman debates look and feel completely different.  Yesterday, in the middle of the debate on who was justified in fighting the French and Indian War, a student interrupts and asks, “Wait, what are we discussing? What is this debate about?”  Ah….time to stop the debate immediately, back pedal, and start from zero.  This happens often in ninth grade.  Two steps forward and one step back.

Loving lists, this class decided to make one to help them organize, focus, and target their debate topic and materials.

Things to do for a debate (according to my freshmen):

  1. Research:  What is the debate question asking you in your own words? Check with your team that they agree.  Research your topic.  Find concrete evidence and examples that support your argument.
  2. Offense: The best offensive is a strong defensive.  Research the opposition’s points and craft counter-arguments and questions.
  3. Logic: Use logic to have your points build off of one another… establish a “flow” of ideas and talking points.
  4. Don’t get personal: Try to avoid “I statements” if the debate is not a personal one, i.e. if you are debating about different sides of the American Revolution try to remember to be an objective historian.
  5. Stay focused: Stick to the topic. Get your points out and if you notice the conversation looping around and around the same point prepare a transition, “That is a good point, but I would like to raise a new one….”
  6. Listen: When you are not talking, don’t interrupt, and listen to what the opposition is saying so you are able to address them directly, thoughtfully, and well.
  7. Debates are most often lost rather an won: Ahh…I love this point and often write this on the board prior to a debate.
  8. Be respectful to your teammates and the opposition: no eye rolling and watch the body language.
  9. Tweak your argument in the debate as your process through the materials and answer counter-arguments….don’t just totally switch arguments in the middle….rather finesse it!
  10. Have some fun, laugh a little, keep it light.  Debates should be enjoyable, refreshing, and an opportunity for you to showcase all of your pre-planning.

Using their homemade debate guide, I grade this one and look forward to the next debate…and to their debates in the eleventh grade most of all.