Tag Archives: seventh grade

The Book + Summer Break

It’s been over a month since I have posted!  Madness!  The last month of the year can be a bit hectic, so I unfortunately did not get around to my regular posts.  However, I wanted to give you guys a heads up of a big project that we did to finish up the year.

So around the middle of the year, our curriculum assigned the students to complete interviews with an adult.  The instructions were a bit vague, and we thought that we could use that to our advantage.  I did some research and found a great project on PBLU.org, a great resource for project-based learning.  The project, entitled “Back In the Day”, laid out a unit in which students interviewed family members, turned the interviews into narratives, and published a book.  I took the framework and fitted it to our curriculum, tasking the students with writing about an immigration experience in their family history, as we were studying immigration in our Social Studies unit.

The process went really well.  The students had to determine what kinds of questions would be important to ask and how to properly use follow-up questions.  In addition, they had to figure out how they would record their information during the interview.  Many students were able to utilize new technology tools, which I am always pleased by.  Once they interviewed, the students had to create their introductions, narrow down the content, and check each other’s work to be sure that it met all the criteria we laid out.  We (the teachers) gave some feedback, as well, and after a few weeks, each student had a great interview that they then transformed into a biographical narrative.  Some students found the transition difficult, resulting in some near replicas of their interviews.  Some students, however, got very creative and were able to skillfully use flashbacks and dialogue to enhance the stories.  

Once the editing process was complete, we were ready to assemble our book.  This was my favorite part, as it was great to see the students really get into the project.  The students did almost everything.  They finalized the editing, assembled the order, picked fonts and layouts, designed the cover, and even picked out the website for publishing our book.  When a staff member in the office was placing the order on Lulu.com, we actually brought in one of the students to guide her through the process.  All in all, it was a fantastic process.

Two weeks after placing our order, fifty copies of a great looking 100 page book came to our classroom.  Each student was able to get 2 copies – one for themselves, and one for the person they interviewed.  The books cost about $100 with shipping, which we found to be fairly reasonable for the satisfaction that the students received of seeing their work come together.  

I plan to use the same plan next year, though I will probably work to ensure that each student is aware ahead of time how the interviews will be turned into stories.  Many were about extended periods of time, like several years, which kept them from successfully becoming narratives.  A few other minor tweaks will help the project go along more smoothly.

Well, it may be a while again before I post, as I quite enjoy my summers.  For my avid readers (all none of you), I hope you enjoy June and July, and I will be back on a regular basis in August.

Project-Based Learning: Ellis Island

Wow!  It’s been super busy lately.  So much so that I haven’t been able to post in a few weeks.  Anyways, I’ll try to make it up with a super high quality post this week.

Last Friday, we finished up our Social Studies unit on Immigration with a simulation of Ellis Island.  Before I get started telling you what I did, I want to give credit where it is due.  The basis of my plan came from Bringing History Home, who developed this activity for second grade.  While I heavily modified it, I want to thank them for giving me the idea.

Now, this was not a simple “walk through, get a stamp, keep moving” simulation.  Our simulation was a three week long process that impacted how the students learned about Immigration in America.  At the beginning of the unit, we split the class up into two groups: immigrants and immigration officials.  During each activity, the students were asked to take the viewpoint of their role.  For instance, when we did some research on immigration from Cuba, the immigrants were told to consider the perspective of a Cuban refugee, while the officials were asked to take the role of someone already in America.  By having these opposing viewpoints, we were able to get differing perspectives on issues on which the students might normally agree.

So throughout the unit, the students worked together to collect information on what immigration would be like in 1910.  Immigrants collected data on what countries people came from, where people from certain countries moved to, what kind of jobs these people had, and more.  This data was compiled and shared among group members.  Officials, on the other hand, found facts about Ellis Island itself – its layout, its process, the forms that were used, and anything else they could find.  As the simulation drew closer, the students also began to create alter egos for themselves.  The immigrants had to create a fake background for themselves, covering all details from family, jobs, reasons for leaving, and where they would move to.  In addition, they had to create their own passport, as well as fill out a few “official” forms.  The officials began to create alter egos that would explain their behavior during the simulation, such as grudges against various people groups or reasons for being crooked.

During the simulation itself, the officials transformed the gym into Ellis Island.  They created a check-in station, a baggage area, an information desk, a medical area, passport checks, interview station, deportation area, and a ticket purchasing area.  All of these areas were staffed by students, who had to do research to determine what role they would play in these areas.  The immigrants brought along baggage from home, filled with clothes and “family heirlooms”.  They also had to determine how much cash they would bring along with them, based on the job they had and the country from which they came.  Some immigrants were first class passengers, getting specialty treatment due to their status.  

We had a few different tweaks added.  The immigrants had to roll dice about a week before our simulation, which told them what sort of disease they had.  The doctor then had to make sure that they spotted any diseases that should not be allowed into the country.  In addition, the officials created forms that were written in Latin, which simulated a form being in a language other than your own.  However, some people were immigrants from English-speaking countries that were given English forms, and they were allowed to help those who did not speak English.  We occasionally put in communication stipulations that kept some people from talking to each other, but in the hopes of eventually finishing the simulation, we were not very strict.

All in all, the simulation went very well.  There were a few officials that were a little to gung-ho about deporting people, as well as a few immigrants that were… difficult.  However, the point got across to the students of how hard it would be to be an immigrant coming in through Ellis Island.  A big discussion afterwards helped the students to realize how hard it was to get through, as well as how difficult it must be to manage that many people.

For execution, we needed more time.  We took a little under two hours from setup of Ellis Island with the officials and the “boat ride” for immigrants all the way until we had to stop.  Two to two and a half hours would have been great.  In addition, more clear expectations for the students would have been nice, making sure that the officials knew that they needed to do their job properly.  Finally, I would have liked to have the immigrants work a little harder on creating their plan for when they got to the States.  They “bought tickets”, but there was no real connection with this part.  

All in all, this was a great way to start an activity I hope to do for several years to come.  Here’s to next year and the improvements that will come.


Source of Lesson Plan:

“Ellis Island Simulation.” Bringing History Home. Bringing History Home, 2007. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.

Classroom Activity: Teaching Communism with Chocolate

Since the beginning of January, my students have been learning about the Industrial Revolution.  In the past few lessons, we have had a discussion about capitalism versus the rise of socialism and communism.  Often when students read about communism, they think either think it sounds fantastic, or go off of the few extremist views of communism and say it’s the worst thing ever.  These opinions are almost always accompanied by a lack of true understanding.  As a teacher (and a person in general), one of my biggest goals is to impress upon people the need to have intelligent thoughts behind their opinions.  So, in order to provide my students with an up close and personal experience with communism, we played a little game.  Now this activity has been published in several places, so I don’t feel all that comfortable giving credit anywhere, but a quick Google search should find you with several other sources.

First, I gave Hershey’s Kisses out to all of the students.  Some of the students were given more, to simulate how capitalism can sometimes provide some people with advantages before they are even born.  The students were then told to play Rock, Paper, Scissors against each other.  Each time you won, you took a piece of candy from the loser.  Play continued until we have a handful of people without any candy, as well as some people who have quite a collection.

Play is then stopped, and we make the comparison that the game was similar to the free market.  Some people make money, some people lose money.  In the process, many people become completely broke.  In a truly capitalistic society, no one is there to give you a handout if you lose everything.  Now, there were a few people who would give their friend one of their pieces, and these we compared to charitable organizations.  We heard many people asking for candy from others, and other people being very greedy with their candy.  We pointed out these sentiments so that students could see some of the problems with capitalism.  We then polled the students on whether they were happy or not with their results.  The class was split about half and half, with the majority of those who were happy being the ones that still had candy.

We then enforced socialism, saying that everything needed to be fair.  We took candy from those who had lots and gave it to those who had little or none.  We then polled the students on their satisfaction with this scenario.  The results were about the same but opposite, as those who now had candy were awfully happy.  We even got to see some of the shortcomings of socialism – complaining among those who had candy, even some of the students hiding candy in their desk so they didn’t have to share.  

We then went on to question the students about their interest in playing the game again.  Most people said no, which we said symbolized the goal of socialism:  for people to be happy sharing what they have with others.  We pointed out, however, that some students were still greedy and were actively looking to take from their neighbors.  These people, we said, would cause the whole system to collapse.

We then made comparisons to the current economic system in the US, mentioning things like welfare, Social Security, and more.  We even got into a little discussion of capitalism in our country and how those that have a lot (Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, etc.) have so much more than we do that it’s hard to comprehend.  While we are not economic experts and didn’t go into too much detail, it did give us a great opportunity to make some connections to some very important ideas, as well as mix in a few current events.

This is a great activity, and if you teach anything about communism or socialism, it should happen in your class.  The students stay incredibly engaged, they get to experience true emotions that help them to see the benefits and faults of the various systems, and they get candy at the end.  What’s not to like?