My kids kind of hate DBQs now. When I first started doing them they were at least somewhat novel. Students found some joy in analyzing historical documents, discovering hidden truths and arguing their position. Now, we do that nearly every day. As a result, when the "big" DBQs come out I get tons of (justifiable) groans. DBQs really just feel like longer labs that don't have any of the engaging trappings of our daily activities. Hey, at least they are collaborative...
So, I got to thinking - what would Disney do? Disney Imagineers are the coolest people in the world. They design experiences to make people happy. If there is anyone who knows about engagement it is them. They have the incredible ability to have you visit the same stores, eat the same food and ride the same rides all day long and leave their parks having loved every minute of it. Though Matterhorn, Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain are all essentially the same ride they don't feel like it? Why not? They have engineered each experience to stand on their own. They've done the same with shops and restaurants throughout the park. The core experience of each is the same - it's all in the set up and presentation.
Could we imagineer a DBQ to feel new and exciting? Oh yeah, we do could that.
Enter Latin America: Where Am I?
I had a slide that a colleague shared with me before we went on break. It was an animation of a jungle canopy fading away to reveal Tenochtitlan. He wanted the students to feel like they were Spanish Conquistadors seeing the city for the first time. It was a cool slide but I wasn't quite sure how I'd use it. I played around with it a bit and found that I could make it look like you were actually walking through the trees as they opened up. I still wasn't sure what I was going to do with that effect but I knew I wanted to use it somehow. It was simple, quick and would have my students engaged in an instant.
I decided I'd start building one of my Day in the Life labs like I had for Rome and Medieval Europe. The jungle walk slide was immersive and I felt that would be a good place for it. As I did so I realized I didn't have nearly enough other visual and audio information to make for a complete lab. I typically have around 25-30 slides on those Day in the Life presentations and this one only had like 6. I put it aside and kind of gave up. Then this intro idea hit me.
I was talking with a colleague about how to more deeply integrate our metagame (The Fracture Crisis) into our daily activities this semester. We talked about how we wanted to find a way to make our presentations look like they were Fracturing from time to time. I played around with making a glitch effect in Powerpoint and concluded that it was basically not going to happen. What I did find though was that I could do it my video files using Adobe Premiere. That led to the idea of a glitched out attempt at time travel. Now I had a full narrative structure for my lab but I still wasn't quite sure what to do with it. At least now though I knew I had to figure it out. I wasn't going to let that sweet video go to waste.
While searching for more pictures to use for a Day in the Life I came to realize that the Internet is very confused as to what temples are Mayan and which are Aztec. Frequently a search for "Mayan Temple" and "Aztec Temple" will turn up the exact same images. This is also the case with their respective calendars, ball courts and writing systems. I've toyed with using "What makes a culture unique?" as my compelling question for my Latin America unit and this reminder that most people just lump all of them together solidified that.
That's what led me to realize this activity could take the place of my DBQ. I would take the students on this journey through an unknown Latin American jungle with the purpose of them writing an argument as to where they thought they were. With this model I wouldn't need nearly as many locations or experiences as I would in A Day in the Life. In fact, I had to cut some of the locations to help focus the documents a little bit better.
So, I revamped the story, added some artistic flourishes, created a soundtrack and wrote the student guide to go along with it. I now have what I think is the coolest DBQ my kids will ever do. They'll be solving a mystery that uses sound and visuals to immerse them in the narrative. I believe, as a result, that their concluding arguments will be more thought-out than any they've done before.
I'm excited to try it out and excited to share it with you.
I hope you enjoy Latin America: Where Am I?
Of note, if you know any Imagineers, I'd love to meet them!
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