Stepping Back in Time – That 70s Project

We have concluded our three day tour of the 1970s in US history. Students chose an issue of Time magazine from that decade to read. They read the articles and the ads (sometimes initially confusing the ads for articles), posed questions to investigate and researched the answers to those questions. As a culminating event, students generated discussion topics and held an Edcafe. I could see that kids were enjoying the mini-project, but I wondered how much they would take away. I asked my classes to blog about something that resonated with them about the project.

Even though they each read about different episodes, in their Edcafe sessions students were able to learn from one another, make connections between issues, and note comparisons with the present. The conversations were lively and interesting, unfortunately stalling when I walked over, as students looked to me to take over and provide definitive answers. I did clarify and deepen a few discussions, but for the most part I tried to back away and listen from a distance.

The blog posts are substantive and thoughtful. Several students noted how much they liked having choice. Others referenced topics they learned about from their classmates. Some kids used the opportunity to talk with their parents who lived through the 70s. One girl noted that the issue she chose was written at the time her father was the age she is now. What a great connection for her to make. Lots of kids reflected by comparing some aspect of the 70s to today. Nearly all of them did the blog post, on time, even during a very busy week.

The energy in the room and even in the hallways as students were perusing each other’s magazines in their free time was positive. I can get irritated when students leave their stuff lying on the tables in the halls, but in this case those magazines left sitting for a period or two allowed others to pick them up and browse. Next year, I hope we can extend it a bit, so students learn more of the history. I am confident that what they learned, they learned well, but I would like to see a broader base of knowledge and understanding that could be had with a little more time. With issues from the 60s, we could reach back to that decade as well.

As happy as I am with the success of this project, I am trying to think about how to transfer this to other units of the year. There was something the students got from leafing through the magazine itself that cannot be recreated on a screen. The next step for me is to work with my teaching team to discern what elements made this so great for so many kids, and then see how to incorporate those elements into work earlier in the year. I welcome any ideas or suggestions.


Old School Meets New School – Best of Both Worlds?

I inherited a complete collection of Time magazines from 1960-1982 when I took over my current position three years ago. They were nicely organized into boxes that I shuffled around the storage room attached to my classroom, until this spring. At some point in the past month, I was clobbered over the head with the most obvious idea – we should use these primary sources to help the 11th grade US history students learn about our more recent past. We started by using a cover story about the Cuban Missile Crisis to help the kids see what the public would have learned in 1962. Then, we decided the magazines would make a great basis for a project.

For the past two days, students have been browsing through the magazines from the 1970s, learning about the decade. They each selected an issue to read. In fact, my classroom has been like a newsstand, as students come back and look at the issues again and again, swapping their original choices out to look at others. I have had kids ask if they could take more than one. They are picking them up on the tables in Junior Hall and reading, then talking about what they are finding. Class time has been a combination of quiet, focused reading time and spontaneous conversations when students just cannot help sharing. They are drawn to the ads, but also interested in the stories.

Students are compiling a list of questions that occur to them as they read their issue, and then they will research the answers to those questions in order to deepen their understanding. The next step will be an Edcafe where they will generate the topics and questions from the decade that they want to discuss and then run the sessions. The final step will be to write blog posts about their insights and observations from this project.

Old school meets new school – students read through magazines, flipping the pages leisurely as they might have done back in the day. They research to learn more about the stories they read, probably using computers. The class discussion piece will be organized by them in an Edcafe style. Finally, they will blog. I expect to be able to tweet out some of those posts.

I admit to having brought three or four magazines home in my bag for the weekend. I plan to go start reading them after I publish this post.