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Tuesday, August 02, 2022

My Manifesto: The Culmination of a Year of Learning

 This is an updated version of the project described here. We (me and Tara) have been working on iterating this project over several years and have gotten it to a pretty cool place this year.

Photo by Krists Luhaers on Unsplash

The Manifesto Project is the final project our students do in grade 8. It is the culmination of year's worth of work, and combines everything students have learned about themselves and the world through their engagement with texts and ideas in English Language Arts throughout the year with everything they've learned about worldviews through the case studies we do in Social Studies that examines how different cultures shape their worldviews and what happens when worldviews come into contact and conflict with other worldviews.

The end goal of the Manifesto Project is to create a one-minute video manifesto that articulates the student's thoughts and ideas about what it means to be a human living a good and meaningful life. 

Throughout the year, our students keep Commonplace Books. We gift each student a small notebook like this. We introduce these at the beginning of the year, and students add to them throughout the year as they come across good quotes and bits of wisdom in the things they read, listen to, and watch. More purposeful use of these Commonplace Books throughout the year is something that's on our list of things to work on this coming school year.

We begin our Manifesto project by "stuffing their Commonplace Books." Students spend some time on Slide 7 of our slidedeck in the choice board, watching some of the inspirational examples of manifestos and inspirational speeches and videos. As they do so, they add phrases and quotes from the inspiration to their Commonplace Book, making sure it's good and full of inspiration.

From there, they choose an essential question from a big list of good, deep questions, or write their own question, and find quotes and ideas in their Commonplace book that connect with the question. Then, they use a planning document to work through Pre-Production for their film: plan out their movie, create a storyboard, and write a script. We had different graphic organizers for the different kinds of manifestos that we included in our choice board.

We set a requirement that students needed to include two or three of the "Exhale" strands of Language Arts: writing, speaking, and representing. We might consider requiring them to include all three next year as those videos that didn't include speaking became a bit monotonous to view. 

Then, students moved into Production. They got out there and record their footage, audio, and b-roll. After that, they began Post-Production, using software like iMovie or CapCut to put it all together. Some students opted to do animated videos, and for these students the Production phase and Post-Production phase sort of melded together into one. It was important for us to be flexible in each case as the methods and technologies used by each student were quite different.

The project ended with a big gala celebration where we rented out the local movie theatre to screen their films. We invited families to come and join us, had some popcorn, and enjoyed an hour and a half being blown away by the incredible wisdom of these 13-year-old philosophers. You can view the final movie here. Next year, we are going to have more students and will need to think about how we will adapt this so the final movie doesn't end up being too long - an hour and half was already pushing it. But celebrating the students in this way was really worth it and we will for sure find a solution to this problem.

A couple of things worth noting about this project: First, the assessment "checklist" we used that's a part of the student's assignment sheet worked really well. We signed off on each step as the students completed it, and students could move through this project at their own pace, though we did have internal mini deadlines when things should have been completed by

Our students are very practiced and skilled in coming up with their own ideas through our Room to Breathe work, and the ideation part of this project was nothing new to them. For students who are less practiced at this, more scaffolding of that step may be needed.

Timing-wise, we loved being able to devote double blocks of class time in the month of June for this. Double periods (so around 100 minutes daily) were lovely to give them time to sink into this creative work.

We're happy to share the resources with you so you can try this project too, or hack it and make it your own.

If you decide to try this project, reach out and let us know how it goes!

Jam or Not a Jam

When our students enter our classrooms at the beginning of Humanities class, we do a routine we call Jam or Not a Jam (Tara loves a good acronym and calls it JONAJ). Jam or Not a Jam was inspired by a segment CBC Music did a while back where they played a song for some celebrity and the celebrity would decide if it was a Jam - a good tune - or Not a Jam - not such a great song. It works the same way in our classroom. 

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

We play a song as students enter the classroom. We usually choose a theme for the month or for the week, and each song connects with the theme. Each student has a magnet with their name on it, and there is a taped-off section of the whiteboard with the headings "Jam" and "Not a Jam." All the magnets start the day in a separate part of the whiteboard. As they enter and listen to the song, the students "vote" with their magnet as to whether the song is a Jam or Not a Jam. We have shared this with other teachers who use tech for this purpose and have student names on a SmartBoard that the students move on the SmartBoard as they enter.

Jam or Not a Jam serves a few purposes. First, it's a beautiful calming routine that transitions students from wherever they just were - home, another class, lunch - into learning mode. In this sense, it is a Social-Emotional Learning strategy (SEL). It gives students 3-4 minutes to get themselves organized, find the materials they need for class, and connect with friends. By the end of the song, they are expected to be in their seat with everything they need for the class. 

Second, it's an easy way to do attendance. Once the students have all entered the classroom and moved their magnets, it's easy to see whose magnets haven't been moved from their starting location to "Jam" or "Not a Jam." The students whose magnets have not been moved are the students who are away. If using for attendance purposes, it's important to reinforce with students that they must never move someone's magnet except their own.

Third, we like a good excuse to do a little Rock & Roll 101 with the students and teach them about music from decades gone by. We like to bring in some lesser known stuff to share a little music history with our students!

Fourth, as the year progresses, we used it as an opportunity to do some literary analysis. We start with opinions. "Why did you think it was a Jam?" or "What did you not like about the song" and progress to lyric analysis later in the year. In April, we replace songs with poems for National Poetry Month and the literary analysis really takes off. We use the JONAJ songs and poems as little opportunities to look at an artist's process, message, and form. It's a great place to point out literary and poetic devices, too.

Here is a year's worth of songs for you. You will need to change the date on these slides for the current year, but these slides are a great starting point if you want to try Jam or Not a Jam in your classroom too.

  • September JONAJ: Introducing Jam or Not a Jam
  • October JONAJ: Music Through the Ages
  • November JONAJ: Hits of the Decades
  • December JONAJ: Winter and Holiday Songs (whereby we fully recognize the Eurocentric Christian worldview these songs represent - a great talking point!)
  • January JONAJ: New Beginnings
  • February JONAJ: Black History Month
  • March JONAJ: Songs About Something
  • April JONAJ with accompanying student handbook. We give each student a copy of the text of the poem to annotate as we listen to the poem, which helps with discussion. Please note: there are a couple of poems in our selections that include a coarse word or two. We always check with our students before we play the recording to gauge their comfort level with these words. If there is discomfort, we forgo the recording and recite the poem ourselves, omitting the swear word.
  • May JONAJ: Spring Potpourri - Mental Health Week, Nostalgia songs
  • June JONAJ: The Final Countdown

If you decide to adopt JONAJ into your classroom routine, we'd love to know what songs you choose!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Redesigned Bocca al Lupo: A Game to Learn about the European Renaissance

Updated Summer of 2022

As a part of our regular practice, my teaching partner Tara and I systematically reflect on our practice. This reflection practice holds us accountable: to our students, to best practices in task design and assessment, and to ourselves.

We designed Bocca al Lupo in 2019 (click here to view a previous post about this game). Bocca al Lupo is a card game that we co-design with our students. It was initially designed as a card game that was a kind of mashup between Pokemon and War. We thought what we designed was pretty good. In essence, the students participated in "levels" where they chose a Sosantivo (Italian for "noun" - so a person, place, thing, or idea) of several possibilities and then created a card highlighting this Sosantivo's strengths and weaknesses. The students learned so much about the different ideas that emerged from the European Renaissance. They were also super engaged in the process. In our reflection practice, though, we realized that though they learned a lot, what was lacking was the big picture view of the changes that emerged during the Renaissance, and were missing the connections to broader ideas and trends that are so significant to our modern Western worldview. 

With social studies, we always want our students to come away with a bigger picture idea. Why do we learn about history? Learning about historical significance helps us understand why some ideas become so important to a culture's worldview while other ideas don't. In thinking critically about historical significance, we can look at our society now and understand why we behave in the way we do, and trace these roots to ideas that shaped our past. The study of the Renaissance is really about looking at the origins of a Western worldview - a worldview we can recognize here in North America today. 

So, we redesigned the game. Because we wanted this to be about making connections between ideas, we swapped the Pokemon/War game mechanic for another one: dominoes. The game of dominoes is all about making connections. This is a perfect example of why game-like learning fits in teaching and learning. We can use analogous concepts from games to help us reach our educational goals. For Tara and I, game-like learning isn't about gamifying - associating extrinsic rewards like points or avatars to traditional learning tasks. It's about borrowing concepts from games to design tasks around, leading to learning experiences that are intrinsically motivating and fun

The redesign is centred around the concept of "Powers." These are big ideas that emerged from the Renaissance or were a significant idea during the Renaissance that endure in some way today. The Powers we decided to centre on this year were: Competition, Democracy, Ethnocentrism, Feudalism, Hierarchy, Humanism, Imperialism/Colonialism, Monarchy, Monotheism, Oligarchy, Rationalism, Republic, Secularism, and Urbanization. We don't think we've quite hit on the perfect combination of Powers yet. Some worked better than others, which is kind of the point in that it makes the game more challenging as some concepts are more difficult to connect to. But others are hovering close to an idea that would be more appropriate, we think. 

In the 2021-2022 school year, we added minilessons to teach about these Power concepts. We taught one minilesson per day for the first seven days of the project. 

As they complete each level of the project in preparation for gameplay, the students create a card with a different Sosantivo. On the card, they draw a sketch of the Sosantivo, identify strengths, and make connections to Powers to which the Sosantivo relates. They complete seven levels, each one focused on a different aspect of the Renaissance: Arts & Culture, Math & Science, Religion, Trade & Travel, Politics, Technology & Innovations, and Philosophy. The student works through some research to learn about the Sosantivo, its role during the Renaissance, and use inferential and critical thinking to connect it to the Powers.

After the seventh level, the group has a full deck of cards and they're ready to play! Gameplay begins with the random drawing of a Power card, which is placed in the middle of the table. Then, each team randomly draws five cards from their full deck. To play the game, the team must play their cards, making connections to the Power Card or to other cards that have already been played. If they cannot play, they must draw another card from their deck. The object of the game is to be the first team to play all their cards. 

Students will be more successful in the game if they have a good understanding of the connections between Powers and Sosantivo. Because each student focuses on completing a singular card during each level, collaboration is essential for success in the game. The more the students on the team collaborate with one another to learn about each Sosantivo and deeply understand the connections between then, the better they will do in the game.

One of the key principles we kept front and centre during the design of this game was that students should have multiple opportunities to demonstrate a skill, and feedback should help them move their learning forward. We made another change this year to how end-of-level assessment worked. Whereas in the past. assessment took place in a group discussion, where we talk about the Sosantivos, their connections, and the big picture ideas they are noticing during the level, this year we shifted this to a simulated round of gameplay with the group. We chose a Power Card or two and played a sample round, where each student played a card and connected it to the concept or another card. As we progressed, we added a challenge of them having to play a card they did not create.

An iteration we made in 2020-2021 was to give each student a feedback tracking sheet, which they kept in front of them during these assessment conversations and gave them a place to record feedback. We were very explicit in these conversations about what specific changes they could make in the next level to improve their progression towards our standards. We noticed that this feedback tracking sheet really helped students know what they needed to do to improve. Most students were hitting all the standards by the end of the seven levels.

We're happy to share our resources with you. Use them as-is, or hack them. If you do, we'd love to hear how it goes! E-mail us to let us know: and

Here are links to Google Drive files with all the necessary files. If you'd rather just go to the whole folder, here's the link.

  • A slidedeck to guide the game creation process
  • An instruction manual to play the game
  • A flowchart that shows the process of a level
  • Player One Ready, the notecatcher students complete during research, as well as a modified version for students who need more structure/guidance.
  • The Levels folder, with handouts for the research pages to help them complete the Player One Ready sheet.
  • Levelling Up, a notecatcher for the students as they prepare for their end-of-level conference
  • Powers Sheet, to help students keep track of each of the Powers and their definitions
  • Minilessons on the Powers.
  • Assessment Classlist, for the teacher to use during assessment of each level
  • Feedback Tracking Sheet, for students to use to collect and track feedback to move their learning forward
  • Links to folders with all the cards in Photoshop file format: 
    • Student Cards, which are the cards to play the game
    • Power Cards, which are used to begin the game
    • Boost Cards, which are awarded to the group at the end of each level based on their collective ability to make strong connections
    • Judgment Day Cards, which are awarded when a player challenges another player during the game, where students can object to a weak connection. A mini debate is then had, which the Questmaster (teacher) judges and awards a card based on the strength of the argument
    • Quest Cards: If a student completes their research before other member of their team are ready, they can complete a Quest - a short challenge that extends and deepens their understanding. The reward is a Quest Card, which is a valuable card that can be used in gameplay.
Please reach out if you have any questions or to share your ideas with us! The whole point of this post is to explore how reflection helps us iterate to be better, so we welcome your ideas to help us do that!

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