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Friday, August 16, 2019

Warlords of Japan

This is going to be the trickiest project to post about because it's based on a simulation that's copyrighted, called Warlords of Japan. We used this simulation as a starting point for ours, but made some considerable additions and changes. After all, this simulation was published in 1991, and pedagogy has changed quite a bit since then (there were a lot of regurgitation-type activities in it). The game also touched on just under half of the curriculum we needed to teach, too - it focuses only on the time period in Edo period Japan when the Emperor closed its borders to the Western World. Our curriculum also asks us to address the period of rapid adaptation in Japan following the Perry expedition to Japan when US sailors basically forced Japan to open its borders to the West. That being said, the core game structure had definite merit, and I'd say this project was probably our students' favourite out of all three games we played with them this year.

The game worked like this: Students were placed in a goningumi (which is a traditional Japanese concept where groups of five households were held collectively responsible, and were rewarded and punished as a whole), or clan. Each goningumi was assigned a territory of Japan where their home castle would reside. The goal of the game was to take control of the most territory to become the shogun of Japan. The game play took place using a map of Japan. Each goningumi was awarded koku (a traditional Japanese unit of measurement that equated to 350 pounds of rice, enough to feed one adult for a year) based on how many territories they occupied. We needed a LOT of coloured map pins to play this game. Have a look at the game board below. I feel like I cannot post the rules of the game since we used the copyrighted rules without many adaptations.

The actual purchase and movement of troops was only part of the game. The more important piece came through the roles that students played each game day. Students rotated and took on one of several roles each day, which included: 
  • daimyo: the leader - the one who makes decisions about purchasing and moving troops
  • banker: the person who does the accounting based on the previous day's work and decisions to figure out how much koku the daimyo can spend
  • artist/calligrapher: this person did a task related to art or calligraphy based on that day's focus
  • cartographer: this person would create a map related to the day's focus
  • historian: this person would complete a task related to a historical event or occurrence based on the day's focus and record it in a notebook called the History Book.
  • culture minister: this person would create rituals or traditions for the goningumi based on real Japanese cultural traditions. The culture minister also used a criteria sheet to assess the group's collaboration each day.
One final role was mine: Emperor.

Each day, each goningumi would be given a roles sheet, with specific instructions for each role. Here is an example:

Day #2

Your assignment is to design and create a samurai war mask on paper which reflects the values and colours of your region. 
Your assignment is to create a blueprint (aerial view: looking down from the sky) of your Home-Castle. Make sure you include all necessary buildings (such as sleeping quarters for your head positions and armies, a trading centre, supply sheds, wells or water access, storage for weapons, gardens and food storage, areas to grow rice, areas for sewing, silk production areas, kitchens, latrines (bathrooms) that are away from your food and water supplies, and any other vital building structures). Also place defensive walls around your city, watch towers, gates and other methods of defence. Create a legend which explains the symbols used on your blueprints.

Using your knowledge of the social structure during Edo Japan you gain from Reading #2, you will write two personal letters from two people in your region within the feudal hierarchy: one at the bottom and one at the top. 

Your first letter should  be written from the perspective of a low-class member of society who is unhappy with their position in the feudal hierarchy. In your letter, discuss their frustrations and provide some recommendations for improvement that would make their lives better. Your second letter should be a response from a person higher in the hierarchy. Both letters should be about a half a page. 

This assignment should be written from the first person perspective where you are pretending to be in each person’s shoes. 

Read Reading #2 about Feudal Japan with the Historian. Develop a set of rules you will follow in your goningumi regarding the different roles that exist in your group. For example, your Daimyo might have special privileges as the highest ranking member of your goningumi. Consider things like dress, language, seating, privileges, etc.

Because we developed most of the role assignments ourselves, I feel fine sharing these role sheets with you. Each day progressed through some historical events related to the time periods we were learning about, following the required events from our program of studies. As the days progressed, the focus changed. We went through feudalism, isolationism, a focus on the Dutch traders at Nagasaki who were permitted to stay during isolationism, Perry's expedition, opening the borders, and rapid adaptation. To help students understand the historical context of these and to help them with their role assignments, we also created a daily reading for the groups. We created most of these ourselves, too, and so feel fine sharing them as well. 

We assessed the work of the group at the end of each day. This is something we need to consider iterating next year, because although it was really good to see what each student was learning and able to do each day, the assessment took a long time (with six groups in each class, and two classes, I was spending 1 - 1.5 hours after school each day assessing this project). However, in doing this, we also awarded moves. The total moves each goningumi earned were how many available moves (how many pins could be moved) during gameplay. So, essentially, if individuals in the group completed their role, the more moves the goningumi had the next day to play, and the better the goningumi would do in the game. 

One clear advantage this game has is its possibilities for differentiation. Each role could earn up to 4 moves, and this allowed us an opportunity to modify or differentiate for each student's needs. It would be possible, therefore, for a student who is following a heavily modified program, to earn 4 moves based on the individual expectations for that student. In essence, then, each student had a pathway to excellence that was personal to their own learning plan. And what this meant was that in groups that were heterogenous and teacher-assigned, success was possible and probable for each group. No student could feel that their group was letting them down if they followed the pathway to success that we laid out for them. 

I would fill out a moves tracking sheet at the end of the day, which the next day's banker would use to figure out how many moves they had to use.

Moves Tracking Sheets

The CULTURE MINISTER assesses the group at the end of each period.

Members stay with the group and do not wander.
Members remain seated with their group.
The group’s volume is not excessive and does not detract from the classroom setting.
Positive language is used and the group refrains from negative or inappropriate speech
Group is on-task and working on the given assignments.
Finished members are supporting and helping group members or working on chapter questions and are not serving as a distraction to their goningumi or the class.







The EMPEROR completes the following assessment based on how well each person fulfills their role and completes their work:















A brief note about the social expectations part. I am a teacher who believes strongly in the intrinsic motivation of students to create a classroom where everyone can learn. I spend significant amounts of time establishing, developing, and reinforcing classroom community. In reality, though, sometimes this doesn't always end up working. Especially in May and June. Which is when we were doing this project. Because a lot of my time during the work period was spent running the gameplay, the social expectations piece was designed to remind groups of the social expectations of being a part of a group, as well as give them a mechanism to self-police themselves to make sure they were living up to them. I took every group's self-assessment here at face value.

We played the game for nine days before declaring the shogun. The goningumi that had occupied the most territories became the shogun of Japan. Because during Edo Japan, the Shogun was the one who called all the shots (the Emperor became more of a figurehead), we spent the next day, as a class, in adopting the traditions and customs the winning group had developed through the first nine days. Following one day to live according to the culture of the winning goningumi, I declared war on the shogun (mirroring what happened historically, which was that the Emperor and his allied forces attacked the Shogun and his forces to restore power to the Emperor, which became the Meiji Restoration), and re-established the control of the Emperor.

We watched this video to ensure we all understood the historical context:

As a final assessment piece, we asked each student to choose one of four questions and create a brief written response. Our four questions were:

  • How did time and geographic location shape Japanese worldview?
  • How did Japan’s worldview foster the choice to remain an isolated society?
  • How did Japan’s models of governance and decision making reflect their worldview?
  • How did Japan’s worldview shape individual citizenship and identity?

We were pleased, when reading their responses, to see that most students had a solid grasp on understanding the role worldview played in the isolation and adaptation periods of Japanese history.

Resources Shared in this Post:

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Build a Better Board Game: Spanish & Aztec Style

After we did a teacher-created game for our Renaissance case study, we decided to put the game design into the hands of our students for the Aztec and Spanish study. The Aztec and Spanish case study looks at what happens when two worldviews with very different technology, disease, and worldviews collide. In essence, the Aztecs, though they had a dominant empire in the Americas, were slaughtered and effectively eliminated when the Spanish arrived in Central Mexico.

 We started this project by playing games! We were able to buy a bunch of different strategy games for our lunchrooms. We aimed for games with different mechanics but always a level of strategy. Some favourites were Machi Koru, Santorini, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, Coup, Letters from Whitecastle, and the classic Catan

Before we played, we did a quick intro to game theory, so the students would be able to identify things like the core engine, game mechanics, and different kinds of games. My student teacher Adrienne created a notecatcher so they could keep track of the terminology. As they played the games, they worked with a group to identify some of the mechanics and core engines of the games they played. They knew, at this point, that they would be creating their own board game and the purpose of the game play was to learn more about possibilities for their own games. 

We used a modified design thinking process to structure our time for this project. The Discovery/Empathy phase was when they played other games to figure out how games work and what makes them fun (and on the flipside, NOT fun!). Students made many observations during this phase about how the best games are easy to learn and play (they decidedly did NOT enjoy the critically acclaimed game Root, because it was too time consuming to learn to play). They made observations about which rules were easiest to follow. They noticed that games were not fun when people were eliminated because then people are sitting around watching until the game is done, which is boring for them. 

After having played several games (we aimed for each group to play 4 - 6 different games) - we played for a whole week, which felt like a long time, but we really wanted them to have a chance to play many different kinds of games. From here, we had the students work through some brainstorming about their own game, and they filled out a Build A Better Board Game organizer. We were really inspired by the Institute of Play's Gamepack resource, and borrowed pieces of them for our process. This part of the process aligned with the Ideation phase of design thinking frameworks. A note here: the result of the conflict between the Aztec and Spanish was known. We did not want their games to present alternate histories (so, if the Aztec won the wars with the Spanish and the history of the Americas would forever be different), but the Spanish did not have to "win." We talked a lot about how there could be different goals for the Spanish and Aztec players: In some games, the students had the Spanish working towards God, gold, and glory, and the Aztec could be aiming to survive for a certain number of rounds. Others decided to focus on one group only: all the players were Spanish, or all the players were Aztec. As I'm reflecting on this now, there's something uncomfortably colonial about this... and I'm not sure what to do about it.

Anyway, they began prototyping their game following ideation. They used lo-fi materials to prototype in the beginning: paper and pencil. They created paper stand-ins for a board, meeples (did you know the little figures you play with on board games are called meeples?? Until this project, I did not!), cards, and rules. We spent just a couple of days creating these lo-fi models, because after this, we had them do a playtest. Groups switched games with another group, and they tested the games to see if they would work, and to see if they would be fun. They used the Playtest Reflection Template on page 31 of the Institute of Play's Game Design Pack to give the group feedback.

Following this, they iterated based on feedback. They changed rules, worked on the clarity of their rulebook, and altered game mechanics. Then they began working on a hi-fi version of their game. They used all kinds of materials like cardboard, paint, clay to make meeples, and our 3D printer. And then they played each others' games! They used the playtest feedback form once again to give the groups feedback as they played.

As we did with our Renaissance project, we used an assessment sheet to keep track of progress towards outcomes as they were working through this process. We once again wanted students to have opportunities to improve throughout this project, and so re-assessment was possible at any point during the work time they had for their game. I think in future iterations of this project, I would simplify the assessment sheet as it had too much to focus on and made mastery more difficult. 

Though it seems simplistic, the amount of content knowledge the students needed to know in order to make these games was quite astounding. They needed to make it historically accurate, and the outcomes had to reflect what really happened. Being able to create within those creative confines enabled great creativity - as you can see, each game is very different. Project-based learning can tend to go one of two ways: frontload the knowledge, and then have students create something to prove they know it, OR craft a performance task that gives the students a reason to find out the knowledge. The second type of project are the kinds I tend to gravitate towards. It works! This project proves that it does!

Resources Shared in this Post:

This project was co-designed with Tara.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Boca al Lupo: A Game to Learn Historical Significance and the Renaissance

Boca al Lupo
Italian, "from the mouth of the wolf"
An expression, often used in theatre, to wish someone good luck.

When it came time for us to begin our first major case study about worldviews, a look at how ideas spread during the Italian Renaissance, and how a Western worldview emerged, we were totally stuck. We looked at things other people had created, and projects we'd done in the past. One huge problem with this interesting, yet very history-focused curriculum, is that many teachers tend to focus on content (what happened) rather than phenomena and significance (why it matters).

We knew we wanted to focus on the latter. We had a couple of frustrating planning meetings with our Humanities team, which consisted of my incredible team partner Tara, and my student teacher Adrienne. Finally, a conversation that took the form of plussing happened - where we took an attitude of "yes, and" and added on to another person's idea. We were talking about games and principles of game-like learning, and the seed of Boca al Lupo was born. Boca al Lupo is essentially a smashup of Pokemon cards and War.

Here's the premise of Boca al Lupo:

  • Students are organized into teams of 5-6 people, called Guilds. The students give the guild a name, a motto, and a coat of arms (after a little minilesson on European heraldry).
  • There are seven Levels in the game creation. Each Guild works on one level at a time, in whichever order they want. The levels are: Arts/Culture, Math/Science/Health, Philosophy, Political Systems, Religion, Technology, and Trade/Commerce/Competition. We created a package for each level, in which we found grade-level information about topics and people of significance in that area during the Italian Renaissance. For example, in Arts/Culture, we featured Christine de Pizan, Humanism, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buanarotti, The House of Medici Patronage, and William Shakepeare.
  • The students worked through each level with their Guild. Each member of the Guild was responsible for creating one card for their deck of Boca al Lupo cards. They each chose one of the people or topics from the level to research and create a card for. They used a graphic organizer called Player One Ready to organize their research. We had a complex version and one that was a bit simplified for our students who needed it. We also had a sheet called Leveling Up! which I'll talk about in a minute. We borrowed many of the concepts on the Ready Player One sheets from the Historical Thinking Project. Here's the sheets:

  • After each student was finished their Ready Player One sheet, the group would get together to complete the Levelling Up sheet together. They would share what they learned about their own person or topic with the group, and then assess the level of historical significance together, creating a kind of ranking of the topics or people in terms of how historically significant they were. The group would have 200 Health Points (HP) and Damage Points (DP) to divvy up when they got to their hard creation, and this ranking would help them do this. It also ensured that people in the group were familiar with all the topics in the level. We wouldn't want someone, for example, not knowing what humanism was all about because they'd researched William Shakespeare.
  • After this point, the group would call their Questmaster (which is what the teachers were called during the game. I wore a cape. It was amazing) over for an interview. We used an assessment sheet to keep track of how each student was doing during the level.

I want to break here to talk about assessment for a moment. One of the principles of game-like learning is "Feedback is immediate and ongoing." Feedback is one of the reasons why playing games is fun. You get instant and continuous feedback about how you're doing. We wanted to make sure this was part of the way this project worked, so we developed the interview. This made sure that groups were getting feedback before they went to create their cards. It gave us time to check for understanding from each student. We talked to the group about what they'd learned about, and made sure they knew the historical significance. It gave us a feedback loop in case the students had missed something pretty important. If they thought humanism wasn't particularly historically significant, we could give them some feedback about what else they needed to read or research to get a more complete understanding of the topic. We did one interview per group per level.

This meant seven opportunities to check in on the learning for each student. This meant seven chances for a kid to show their progress on each stem (we use our report card stems in a very similar way to how you'd see standards or objectives used in standard-based grading and objective-based assessment). The content would be different for each attempt, but the skills are the same. We were looking for growth for each student over time, and kept a master record of each student for each level as we did the interview. I used Checkmark, Checkmark Minus, and Checkmark Plus symbols to note which students had strong understanding and more tenuous understanding for each skill. If a student did not meet the objective at a basic level, he/she was given feedback and asked to continue working on their research and then we'd have a follow up interview to check for understanding again. As a result, no students were working below grade level on this project.
  • When the interview was complete, and all students had at least a basic understanding of the objectives, students were given two things: a boost card (worth 2x, 3x, or 4x the Health Points) based on how well the whole group understood their topics, and blank card templates.
This is where the 200 HP and DP come in again. The group had 200 to distribute amongst the group's cards. They could decide as a group how to do that, but they had to be able to justify their allocation. They gave each person or topic two strengths and a weakness. For example, a strength of the Black Death might be "Kills 2/3s of all human cards" or "Kills nobility and peasants equally. Roll a dice. If you roll less than 3, your card is automatically killed." A weakness could be "Demolishes the feudal system. All lower class cards increase their HP by 30." They combine their knowledge of the historical event or person, and bring in elements of gameplay to have the card influence the play. In the box at the top, they'd also draw a picture.

  • At any point in the level, if they finished their job earlier than the rest of their guild members, they had an opportunity to do a side quest. Side quests were an extra task for them to do, adding an element of enrichment for those who needed it. Quests would be things like, "Learn the meaning and context of 5 Shakespearean insults and then write one of your own, to be used during game play" or "Research one-point linear perspective then use it to create a drawing of a hallway or room in the school." Quests would give the group a bonus card that would benefit them during gameplay. The quest cards were made by Tara using a website called MTG Cardsmith!

  • Once all the cards were created, then the group could move on to the next level, and start the process all over again.

Once all groups had progressed through all seven levels, then they had a deck of cards that they would play the game with. Gameplay looked like this: We created a double elimination tournament bracket so each group would play at least twice. They would put five cards down on the table as their "bench," which is how Pokemon works. Then they'd turn the cards over in that order. Whatever was written as the strengths and weaknesses was applied. If neither card was eliminated, it went down to HP and DP to determine the winner. The winning team kept both cards, and could use them in future gameplay. Sometimes, there were disputes about a card having an unreasonable amount of power for its historical significance. At that point, they called a Questmaster over to hear the arguments and make a decision. This turned out to be a great chance for students to use persuasive skills and logic to present an argument. 

The final game came down to these two cards: Humanism vs. the Printing Press. We had to call it a tie.

As always, we have some changes we'd make next time. Most importantly, we need to figure out a better way to differentiate for students who have unique learning needs. Though we did create modified versions of the graphic organizers, students who needed modified work struggled with this task more than they should. All students should have pathways to excellence, and if a student didn't do a great job on their card, the card wouldn't be very useful to the group. We need to create a pathway to excellence for all students in this game. We don't yet have an idea for how to do this, but it's a definite redesign next time.

We'd also do a trial game early into the process, maybe after two levels, so the students can see how the gameplay works, which will give them feedback about how to improve their cards. We were kind of figuring this out as we were going through it so we didn't do this, but this would be an easy thing to incorporate next time.

Overall, we were happy to know that each student understood factors that shaped the Renaissance and the emergence of a Western worldview and were successfully able to employ historical thinking to determine historical significance.

The two Questmasters, debating a challenge

Resources Shared:

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Me: A User Manual

We started our year in our grade 8 Humanities classes with a design challenge, with a couple of purposes: First, to help us learn about each other, and secondly, to set students up for success in the kind of collaborative work we knew we'd be doing all year. Enter, Me: A User Manual. The idea was for students to create a manual that would help other students know how to best collaborate with them.

I feel like I read about another teacher who did something similar, but after exhaustive Twitter queries, I came up empty. So I don't claim to have invented this idea, but I don't know who to give credit to. If it's you, let me know and I'll credit you!

The design question we aimed to answer through this project was:

How might we communicate so we might bring our best selves in collaborative situations?
We started with a reminder from Brene Brown about the difference between Empathy and Sympathy.

Then, students got into groups of three to do an interview for empathy.

The purpose of the interview for empathy was to learn about what gets the person excited, and what they're doing when they are their best selves. We did this in threes so one person could be a notetaker while the interviewer focuses on really digging deep. We had the notetaker use an empathy map to take notes with:
You can find this on Slide 6 in the slidedeck
Next time, I might have the notetaker just take jot notes and then have the interviewer sort those notes and organize them into the empathy map. I think it was a bit too much to pay attention to for the notetaker and the quality of information suffered.

After this, we invited students to bring in an object that they cared deeply about for a show and tell (Note: Eighth graders are AS excited about show and tell as Kindergarteners are). The idea here is that by bringing in a physical object that matters deeply to them, students would be able to drill down into what really matters to them most. We had students again get into a group of three (different from last time), and used a circle protocol for them to share their object. A circle protocol is a method gifted to us by many Indigenous cultures whereby each person has a chance to share, and the rest of the members of the circle witness their testimony silently, without interruption. After they shared, they wrote a quick 3x3 to summarize the object and its importance to them: three lines, with three words each, and it doesn't have to be grammatically correct.

The next day, we did some improv. We wanted to nurture camaraderie, and I'm forever indebted to the dSchool's Stoke Deck, a set of cards with improv games sorted into categories for what you need, be it to energize a group, create focus, get personal, communicate mindsets, or, in our case, nurture camaraderie. We reflected afterwards in our journals about what we learned about ourselves by engaging in these activities.

After this, we honed in on the concept that self knowledge is self care. We used an edited video from School of Life, which you can find on slide 14 in the slidedeck. It introduces the idea that our behaviours sometimes say something that can be misinterpreted by others, and that life would be so much easier if we could come with a user manual that would tell others why we were malfunctioning and how they could troubleshoot this. This is where we first introduced the concept of creating a user manual for ourselves.

We focused first on strengths. We used a beautiful video called 30,000 Days to focus us in on what makes us special, and an accompanying document called the Periodic Table of Strengths from the organization who made the film, Let it Ripple.

They chose a few of the strengths in this table that they felt they demonstrated strongly, and gave examples of how they demonstrate these strengths. We started focusing in on collaborative situations, too, and asked them to think about what strengths they show most strongly in collaborative work.

Then, we reflected on needs, and asked them to think about behaviours they show during group work, why they do them, and what might help troubleshoot this behaviour. For example, "Behaviour: I might not jump in with ideas right away because I need time to process and think. Solution: Give me some time to think about things before asking my opinion."

Then, we had the students look at a bunch of actual user manuals, using post-its to list what they noticed about language, about visuals, and about format. From these noticings, students created lists of features they'd include in a user manual about themselves. Then, we speed-dated to ideate, where the students shared ideas of things they'd include with each other, and added to their own lists based on good ideas they got from classmates.

After this, they prototyped a low-fi version of their manual, which they shared with a group. Then we had them collaborate with this group on a task related to another curricular area, and tested how the user manuals worked to help make group work meaningful. They spent some time reflecting on what they learned through the test, what they needed to add and iterate, and then they started working on high-fi versions of their manual, using this success criteria that was aligned with the standards (stems) we needed to assess:

  • Communicates personalized likes, dislikes, and preferences for working in a group. (Stem 7)
  • Communicates potential challenges and solutions (troubleshooting) when working in a group. (Stem 7)
  • Is formatted to reflect the look and feel of a user manual. (Stem 2)
  • Language and word choice is formal and appropriate to the genre of a technical manual. (Stem 2)
  • Uses visuals and diagrams to support and enhance the text. (Stem 10)
  • Reflects on and articulates the learning process, particularly in how information was evaluated and decisions were made to curate the final product. (Stem 3)

There are some big iterations needed in this project next year. I think this project would be a lot more purposeful and meaningful if we started by looking at user manuals, what and how they communicate meaning, and then did the design thinking process, stopping after each exercise to build out a page of their manual. Our hope was that the discovery/empathy work they did by interviewing each other, exploring treasured objects, doing improv, and identifying strengths and areas of need would transfer over into the actual manuals, but this was not consistent amongst our students. We underestimated the amount of scaffolding some of our students needed to be able to do this successfully. The building blocks to this project are good ones, but they needed to be built out bit-by-bit, as Angela Stockman would say. We needed to define what the blocks of a user manual are, and then create within them. That's work to revise for next year.

Another big change I'd make would be to purposefully use the user manuals in collaborative work for the rest of the year. This was the intention, but it didn't end up happening. I'd take the time to print, laminate, and bind the user manuals and would incorporate them into norm-setting activities at the beginning of any collaborative project from that point forward.

Resources to share from this project:

Note: Once again, this project was developed with Tara, my amazing teaching partner.
Tuesday, July 09, 2019

A Personal Manifesto Final Project

I find it tricky to carve the time and the will to blog during the regular school year, which often amounts to several posts recapping the projects from the year during the summer. This is both good and bad - I often forget details when telling the story of something from long ago, but it also gives me the time and space to be truly reflective. For the best of both worlds, I think I'll start at the end, and then jump back to the beginning in future posts.

At my school, we have the luxury of doing final projects instead of final exams. In grade 8 this year, we actually planned out of final project way back at the beginning of the year. We teach in a Humanities approach, blending Language Arts and Social Studies. I see each of my two groups for two double blocks each day, which lets us play with time, as well as meet many of the outcomes of both programs of studies within one learning task. The Social Studies curriculum for grade 8 is a study of worldviews, and focuses on three case studies: The Italian Renaissance and the emergence of a Western worldview, the conflict between the Aztec and the Spanish, and the isolationist and subsequent rapid adaptation in Edo and Meiji periods of Japanese history. Through all of these, worldviews is a throughline: how people create meaning and make sense of their worlds. The common threads we wove through our study of these societies were: geography, economy, values, beliefs, society, time, and knowledge.

At this point, I need to recognize and publicly declare my absolute gratitude for my team partner Tara. Tara and I have this wonderful scholarly friendship where we can push each others' thinking in the best kind of way, resulting in thoughtful task design and a seamless grade 8 experience for all our students. We co-plan everything, and everything I'm going to write about in the next few posts is 50% me, and 50% her.

The focus on worldviews led Tara and I to bring in an integrated focus on philosophies, wisdom, and making sense of our own realities and worlds as they relate to grade 8 students. Things came into focus when I came across this blog post, from author Ryan Holiday, about Commonplace Books. Great people through history have keep commonplace books, where they collected wisdom and quotes from wise people they read, met, viewed, and heard about. In this post, Holiday outlines his own method for collecting wisdom, which we adapted to suit our thirteen-year-olds.

We introduced the concept with our students, and then read Holiday's blog post, annotating it. We made a class list of what we took from this article. Here's one of my class's notes:

We gave each of our students their own box and stack of index cards, and post-it flags. One of the routines in our classroom is 15-20 minutes of free reading at the beginning of our first block together, and we encouraged students to write quotes from the books they read to the box. Several times throughout the year, we checked in with how they were doing. We also spent some time looking up quotes from other sources, too. The internet is full of them - at this point, we taught the importance of finding the source of the quote, teaching strategies for tracking down authors when the author of a quote is listed as "unknown" or "anonymous."

In reflective mode, Tara and I both recognized a need for even more purposeful time spent adding to commonplace boxes - with more frequency and deliberateness. If something is important, you carve time for it. This is important. We wanted these boxes to become a treasured object for our students and were dismayed by how many students destroyed their allegedly indestructible boxes, and how many ended up in the recycling bin at the end of the year. Perhaps more deliberate time spent on them would increase the likelihood our students would treat them like the priceless collection we know they could become.

In the last two and half weeks of school, we focused in on our boxes, and undertook a simplified design process that helped our students pull meaning from the quotes they'd been collecting throughout the year. Our end goal was two personal manifestos: the first, a personal essay, in the style of ever-impactful "This I Believe." The second was a visual or audiovisual version, inspired by the Holstee Manifesto's print and video versions, as well as other examples of meaningful personal manifestos, which can be found in our slidedeck. Each day that we worked on the project, we started by listening to a "This I Believe" essay and also looking at an example of a visual or audio-visual example, drawing on them as mentor texts for our work. Students annotated a printed copy of the "This I Believe" and we discussed what stood out to them about how they author communicated his or her message in a short amount of airtime. We also discussed the visual or audio-visual examples. The rest of the double block was for the students to work through the scaffolded approach below, which had them curating their commonplace boxes for the quotes that held the most meaning for them, and to really reflect on what's important to them.

The results were phenomenal, especially in the second part, the visual versions. If they didn't cherish their commonplace boxes, I sure hope they cherish these manifestos in years to come. What an incredible gift for young teenagers to really articulate the wisdom they possess and the wisdom around them. One of the shared texts we read this year was The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and one of the themes my students really latched onto was the idea that children possess such wisdom and creativity that the structures and demands of adulthood sometimes eat away. This project was sure proof of that. Have a look at a few examples my students created below.

They were so good that I decided to print their manifesto and frame it for them as a year-end gift.

As a final curatorial act, I asked each of them for their best line, and we created a class manifesto. I think I'll print them out big and put them in my classroom as advice for my next year's group of grade 8s. Here are the class manifestos for each of my groups:

A recap of the resources shared: