While the beginning of the year can be stuffed with baseline assessments, introductions to procedures, etc, I like to begin with a group project. It’s a fun way to build culture, introduce a few year-long concepts, and learn about my students. I really enjoy seeing what they can do before I set goals for the year and map out how to accomplish those.
The core concept behind the project is this: America in 2018 is divided and frustrated, so we should travel back in time to capture a President from the past, and return them to unite Americans and lead us forward!
Students first did some background reading on a few great Presidents, and then they identified which characteristics they found to be most important for a great President. After being grouped with classmates, those groups set norms to guide them through collaboration, then began sharing their characteristics to find some common ground. Once students had their characteristics, they could decide which President matched those characteristics. This is where I learned lesson number 1: how resourceful are these students? Resourceful groups/students efficiently used their time to find websites and articles which covered a range of top Presidents. A few even used a – gasp – library to find information!
Once students selected a President, they began to collect research on them. Lesson number 2: can students differentiate between meaningful evidence and “noise?” Sometimes students will simply collect facts, and not connect them to a purpose. Examples of this would be saying things about a President’s family, where he was born, etc. The best groups found information about a President which directly related to their characteristics. For example, if they chose George Washington because he was brave, they found an example of how he lead troops across the Delaware River leading into the Battle of Trenton. It’s also a convenient time to build my expectation for citing your work.
Students initially used this document to organize their research:
Students then used this document to organize responsibilities and revisit their norms:
Armed with Evidence, students began their campaigns! Lesson number 3: can we balance evidence with enthusiasm? So many kids thought outside the box and took a risk, and the best groups did that while keeping the spotlight on evidence. Ultimately, students presented an advertisement, produced posters, and gave a speech to rally the crowd to vote for their candidate. The project culminated with a day of campaign rallies and a vote in each class.
Ultimately, these kids did a nice job on their first project and we’re on our way to a great year. I’ve got some crucial observations from watching them work (way more lessons than I can list here), and most importantly, began nurturing a culture where students are encouraged to take risks, have high expectations to utilize evidence, and where collaboration is crucial to success. Looking forward to a fun, productive year!