Top 10 Lessons of 14-15 Part 6

Post date: Jun 5, 2015 4:28:36 PM

I've mentioned before how I've started to see my (and our) role as teachers changing from that of information delivery to experience creation. Google dispenses information far better than I ever could. It does not dispense context and experience, however. Well, not yet at least. I've always seen experiences as key to learning but now more than ever. So, it should be no surprise that most of the lessons on this top 10 lists are experiences. The top 2(ish) are no different!

2. The Siege of Vicksburg

I wrote at length about this in another post so I won't go into too much detail here but this lesson really did turn out great. It was modified from a lesson made by TCI (a feature it shares with my top lesson) but very significantly. It was an experience quite unlike any I've ever created for my classroom. From the physical experience of crawling around in "tunnels" to having 3 different audio sources around the room it really felt like a ride. At the time of the lab I wasn't sure if all the bells and whistles had paid off. I mean, to be fair I was competing with our end of the year knott's trip the next day and the end of the year only 8 days off but still I felt like it didn't quite hit the kids the way I'd hoped.

Then I read their final letters and more importantly their Civil War DBQs. The letters written at the end of the lab seriously reflected the horror of living through war as a civilian. The kids really did get the point. They showed an empathy that I really hadn't see in them since our unit on slavery. On their DBQs many kids noted that the Civil War was a negative event for America because of how it affected the civilians. They specifically mentioned the challenges faced by those in Vicksburg.

They will remember more about Vicksburg and life during the war from this lab than they ever would have by reading a page on Wikipedia. I'm excited to use this format more next year to truly immerse kids in history. I'm not sure where yet but I'm feeling like a trip through a Roman market might be in order...

1. Feudalism Sims

I did two Feudalism Sims this year. The first was Feudal Europe and is a pretty direct adaptation of a lab from TCI's History Alive. The second was Feudal Japan and follows the same structure. I've written about the Europe one many times. Each student is given a random role sheet as they enter class from King down to peasant. They play out their roles over a series of steps until they are attacked by Vikings (me, in a ridiculous helmet and beard.) It's fun and boy is it memorable. More students every single year mark this as their favorite lesson than any other. Most importantly, they really learn from it. They constantly reference back to the activities in this lab throughout the year - making connections that they would never make just by reading in a textbook.

Since that one worked so well I built my own for Feudal Japan. It plays out similarly but with obvious tweaks. There is a Shogun, for example, who constantly overrules the Emperor. There are two peasant classes this time around with farmers being shown more respect than artisans. The samurai train differently than the knights by practicing both archery and poetry. When the final attack comes this time it doesn't come from the outside. I play it up as if I'm going to attack (I play the Mongols this time around) but it is the ninjas within each camp that then jump up and assassinate the daimyo. The twists are great and open up great discussions on the two variants of the system.

One thing I like about the Japan version that I want to add to the European one is that it has an overarching narrative. This narrative, along with the presentation, helps to add more "breathing" time for me as the facilitator and allows for a more cohesive experience.

These three labs are excellent examples of the kinds of experiences we should be aiming to create. I'm sorry but the "I taught, it is their job to learn it" attitude needs to die. If all we do is teach information why do we exist? Why not just give each kid a print out of the standards and a laptop at the beginning of the year? As teachers, we need to aim to be irreplaceable. We need to design and facilitate learning experiences.

Part 5