So, I’ve been thinking about history and history projects. Projects that not only require knowledge of facts and events, but that ask students to think about a particular historical time period and how those in it would relate to our lives today. I know that when I taught ancient civilizations in 5th grade it was easy to get caught up in the time period, learning great stuff, having good discussion, etc. and then move on without connecting it too much to modern times. I mean, we were supposed to be studying ancient civilizations, so that is what we did. My concern is and was that the kids were left with the idea that these ancient places might as well be on mars for the connection they had to us. We did talk about inventions and ideas that have been significant; however, I think I could have, should have, done more. I tried a few different things, but was never all that satisfied with any of them.
What got me thinking about this again was a book that I picked up in my school library in the graphic novel section. It’s called And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman who is an illustrator and author of numerous kids’ books. In an early chapter she is writing about her interest in Abraham Lincoln and talks about where she would take him based on what she infers were his interests.
Ok, I think this is a great idea! And, how fun would this be in class?! It could totally be leveled up or down depending on knowledge base etc. Conversations could be imagined, itineraries planned, photo journals written. The possibilities are endless. It could be adapted to be two different people in the past, but from different times or places, you name it. To do a good job would require a real understanding of time periods and/or places. I think as a teacher it would give you a good sense of who “got it”–a great way of seeing who could connect the dots. (I just watched this TEDxYouthBFS talk by Seth Godin in which he asked, “are we asking our kids to collect dots or connect dots?” Although I didn’t agree with everything he said, I think this is a good question. I also understand that there will be some dot collecting too, even it is involuntary.)
If I’m going to collect and grade a project or piece of work, not just evaluate informally and give feedback, then I want to be sure that the item being graded does a good job of giving me the information I want. I think a project inspired by this idea would do just that.
(Calvin Trillin wrote about the restaurant tour he would plan if he got to drive Mao around NYC for a day, called “Mao and Me” from Alice, Let’s Eat and also included in The Tummy Trilogy. His essay was more about food than history, but also worth reading.)