Saturday, October 12, 2013


For educators and others: this post is intended as a beginning, a draft for a Gr. 11 student project design. Your feedback is welcome, particularly about communicating these lofty ideas to students so they can understand it, managing steps in the project so they don't get lost, assessment suggestions, and weblinks to examples of similar projects appreciated. I'll also be seeking "critical friends" feedback at Mumbleypeg 2013, an annual meeting of the Pacific Slope Consortium. Virtually all of the students at my school have conducted Heritage Projects or Echo Projects of one flavour or another in Social Studies 9, 10, or 11. This means that they have spent considerable time gathering evidence and stories about past cultures and locations, mainly ones within their own family. For my current group taking Geography 12 and English 11 together in the Language and Landscape Program, I want to provoke them to examine the role that geography played in those stories, and to engage in writing and other creative expression to deconstruct these narratives. We will be assigning a significant number of our learning outcomes to this project, and working through it off and on for about two months.

Enough preamble; here it is:

GeoNarratives: Cross-curricular Project-based Learning about People and Places

Each of us has rich stories in our past, stories that woven together with places. For some, it is the tale of our ancestors as they endured challenges that we can only imagine. For others, the people, places and stories are more immediate, still present within our lives. In all cases there is direct and indirect evidence hiding in language, food, and song, and written into physical and cultural landscapes. 

This project will require building a “geography” and creating a “narrative” -- specifically:
  • heritage inquiry: taking the stories from your personal and cultural background and examining patterns, geographic relationships, and significance -- applying critical geographic thinking to an authentic context 
  • creative non-fiction: writing and creating narratives based on research -- perhaps there is some short cross-over into historical fiction and personal myth-making, but at its heart is the telling of a story that connects to your heritage 
  • embodiment: putting your senses, your artistic side, your physical presence into your research and presentation -- creative expressions of the parts of your research that you find most compelling 
 Aside from the critical thinking and creativity involved, some specific skills will be developed:
  • careful use of technology: placing a digital stamp on this project -- use of an online portfolio, use of technology for research and/or expression, experimenting with something new 
  • literature review and wordtake: surveying the reading and media that relates to your inquiry and using some of it to explore Self and Other, or global issues that impacted your own backstory
This is a broad framework created by your teacher, but it is important that you design the questions that will allow this to be meaningful to you. As your teacher, I can provide as much structure as you think you need to be successful with this project, including narrowing down your topics, suggesting courses of action, and helping you embed “benchmarks of geographic inquiry.” With all this in mind you are free to take this project in new directions, as long as we consider certain learning outcomes that are basic to English Language Arts and Geography, including a high standard for writing.

GeoNarratives at a glance -- considering the impact of geography on the stories from one’s past

The final presentation of your GeoNarrative will take in four parts:
  1. sharing the part of your portfolio that shows your heritage research, literature review, and critical analysis (the conclusions you have made about both the topic and your learning)
  2. sharing some or all of the creative non-fiction (or historical fiction) that you have built around your research 
  3. sharing a performative piece that you made to express or symbolize the deep part of your learning during this project 
  4. use of at least one effective of digital technology in the process of project creation or presentation 
Project Steps (not always in this sequence):
  1. look at and assess example of creative non-fiction, heritage inquiry, and “geographies” 
  2. develop questions and designs for your project 
  3. accumulate primary and secondary evidence and conduct a variety of research 
  4. co-develop aspects of your project and evaluation criteria with student groups and the teacher 
  5. create the pieces that make up your project 
  6. prepare the pieces for sharing, including presentation 
  7. share and present your project 
  8. reflection, celebration, and evaluation 
Examples of stories that would work well as GeoNarratives:
  • immigration experiences, so different depending on location and time period 
  • wartime from civilian or a soldier’s perspective 
  • grandma’s garden, grandpa’s workshop; practicing bygone skills and trades 
  • working on the land; pioneering and homesteading 
  • outdoor lifestyles, a tradition of hunting or fishing 
  • managing a farm and family, homemaking in the past 
Examples of global issues that could be examined within your project:
  • a study of racism/tolerance, language acquisition, or labour market among new immigrants 
  • evolving role and treatment of women in various places, cultures, and time periods 
  • aboriginal ways of knowing and relationship between First Nations and the broader society 
  • the power of wealth: studies of “class” and differences between rich and poor 
  • citizenship, rights and democracy: how much freedom or “agency” did historic groups really have 
  • the idea of sustainability and the relationship that different peoples have with the environment 
  • grief and hope: how did historic groups cope with challenges (could tie in to religious studies) 
Examples of evidence that would support a GeoNarrative:
  • non-fiction, documentaries, history books and websites, academic studies 
  • novels, short stories, works of fiction and poetry from the time period and place that you are examining 
  • artwork or crafts such as paintings, architecture, sketches, sculptures, carvings, jewelry, tools, heirlooms 
  • primary evidence, journals, memoirs, recollections, artifacts, photographs, recipes, travelogues, interviews 
  • genealogical websites, graveyards, government records, family history books 
  • existing “human geography” connected to your topics (studies that parallel your inquiry), historical atlases
Examples of a performative piece:
  • musical creation (e.g. write a song), interpretive dance, historical re-enactment, water colour painting, original poetry, food creation, a model or diorama, puppet show, simulation, class activity, video reflection, narrated slideshow, interactive display, build something
Examples of a digital stamp:
  • use of QR codes to link to key evidence, like a reader’s guide for someone to understand your work 
  • creating an attractive space in your digital portfolio to display some of your work (lots of applications to try for this one) 
  • using video or computer animation for part of your project 
  • conducting interviews via Skype and archiving part of it as portfolio evidence 
  • use of social media for “curating” (assessing and organizing) research or telling/sharing a story
Examples of a projects that put together many strands of inquiry:
Note on the image at the top: this is a map of the Molotchna colony -- home to Mennonites who left Prussia to settle in this part of South Russia from the 1780s onwards.  After WWI and the Russian Revolution, many of these Mennonites fled to North America, including all four of my grandparents. One of my own GeoNarratives is very much connected to this time, place, and people.

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