Top 10 Lessons of 2014-15 Part 4

posted Jun 3, 2015, 1:53 PM by Kevin Roughton   [ updated Jun 3, 2015, 1:59 PM ]
6. Charlemagne, Bias and Movie Trailers

This was my second year doing this lesson and it just keeps getting better. In it students read a seemingly unspectacular account of the life of Charlemagne. On the surface there's no tricks here. No amount of close reading would allow a student to read between these lines. So they read it and then make a judgment on whether Charlemagne should be seen as a hero or a villain.

Then the real fun begins. 

We start to share out answers and I act flabbergasted that students could read the same thing and come to such wildly different conclusions. I ask them to raise their hands for a class vote. Invariably the right side of the class voted villain and the left voted hero. "There's only one possible explanation for this," I explain. "You weren't reading the same thing."  You see, there are two different documents. In one he is shown as a hero and in the other a villain. Both are factual accounts. In one I just omit some of the less flattering events of his life and in the other the heroic ones. I change up word use here and there as well. I purposely inject bias into both of them so students can see how much bias can change the validity of a source.

That would probably be enough but I close class by watching some movie trailers and their accompanying parodies. I start with the regular (and quite hopeful and happy) version of the Finding Nemo trailer. Then I show one of the many Youtube recuts that completely change the feeling like this one. This further drives home the understanding of how a simple changing of which events we highlight can completely change our understanding of a story. This is a great introduction to bias and a lesson I adore. 

I spent a ton of time last summer putting this one together. I knew it would be one of my first lessons for my 8th grade class and I wanted to show my students what they were in for. I read a couple massive books, listened to a few different lectures and watched multiple documentaries. I wanted to nail this one. For the most part I think I did. The theme, which came to me late in the project, is perfect. What better show than Lost to use as my narrative frame? The story itself is very interesting as well. 

The only reason this isn't higher on my list is that it was my first year doing it. As always there are some updates to be made. The exhibits, while mostly strong, have some tweaking to do. A couple were just too long despite my best efforts. I feel that they are pretty well balanced but somehow not every part of the story made it through quite like I wanted. Still, it was a great lesson that started my year of U.S. history off right.