Thursday, September 29, 2011

A New Home

Social Studies 10, early Canadian history... yesterday and today we used a simulation/role-play to explore what life in Upper Canada might have been like in the early 1800s. Most of this activity I borrowed from other teachers (like Rob) and an old print resource -- on paper it looks corny and old school, but for some reason the students buy in immediately and will keep it up for hours. After figuring out who was rich and who was poor, they were scheming how to raise funds for building a school, how to set up a shipping system for exporting goods, wealthy folks offering land in exchange for monopolizing skills of the poor (e.g. exclusive rights to the cobbler's services), lots of marrying and deals. One of the students whose role card said "judge" has built a courthouse and is now granting land on behalf of the colony in exchange for promising contracts to improve life for the colonists. Of course, he ended up with controlling interest in two sawmills and share of the profits from a railway project. Others were arguing over horses and what a broadaxe could do, defining "clergy reserve" and "grist mill." Churches were built ("hey what's a presbyterian?"), docks and bridges were stretched across the river, and roads cleared. Gender and race came up, as did wealth, distribution service to community, and representation. Somewhat surprisingly, environmental issues did not come up much -- almost all were content use every scrap of resource, to log off their land grants and mill the wood ASAP. I was really quite something to see two classes of teens being very excited to imagine and act out a different time and place for two hours -- no props, not prep, no fixed rules. This is a nice little shared learning experience that helps gel a class and anticipate the big questions and learning outcomes of the course. It gives them a phenomenological foundation and embodied empathy for the challenges of pioneer culture, setting the stage for their own heritage inquiry further into the course. Many asked if they could "keep the game going" tomorrow -- one girl thought we had switched into these roles for the whole course and would make our way through the curriculum in the first person. What an intriguing idea! I asked if she thought she could handle being in character for 4 months and she said "why not, its a great way to learn." Needless to say I'm thinking of the next opportunity to (re)introduce a role-play.

My plan is to have them synthesize in a narrative what they learned/did in the last two days with what they have been studying from text/teacher/library sources about British North America in the 1820s. I've done this activity and follow-up for a few years, trying to add to the simplicity and joy of the role-play with a little bit of relevant/elegant technology. Now if we had a wireless network or working computers I could get them to video-journal their experience and send it to me as an assignment and self-assessment. Too much to ask, I suppose -- what was accessible, easy, functional, and progressive from 2003-2009 is now out of reach... can someone explain to me how that is moving forward? The mac I had set up for video-journalling has been removed, as have the computers at the back of my class, but have not been replaced. We have a secured wirelesss network that we're not allowed to use, and the public wireless has not yet arrived. Cellphones and email are still blocked (in terms of policy), and virtually every one of the district-level supports for innovative use of technology has been undermined or axed. I suppose the kids with smartphones can work around the deficit of technology, but there are many that will have to wait out the "21st Century Learning" possibilities of this activity until our school gets its act together.

I'm not frustrated, though. This activity was about movement and problem-solving and creative engagement, and most of the students will be happy to write up their stories on paper or a computer and submit them to me and the class. The video option is powerful, though, so I may try to figure out a Plan C for getting the students in front of a webcam to talk about life at their "New Home."


Thielmann said...

alright... no need for me to be so cynical... the students that wanted to express what they had learned digitally have found an outlet, and most were happy as clams at high tide to write their stories. Funny, I remember more reluctance to write when I taught English some years ago -- these students were keen to write, and hungry for editing tips and suggestions for improvement. Maybe I just lucked out with great classes, or maybe the investment of identity and embodied knowledge guarantees engagement (duh... it's both!!).

yoyo said...

new owned the rich got richer and the poor just got by