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.


2 thoughts on “Stepping Back in Time – That 70s Project

  1. Interesting to hear you say there was something about actually leafing through magazines. I think this makes it more like being in the history, and activates that “time machine” aspect of history study in a way that looking at an artifact on a screen can’t. An artifact on a screen is always refracted through a 21st century technology, but when you hold that artifact in your hand, you can imagine being that person in the past, and that historical imagination is, I think, an important part of studying history,

    Overall, it sounds like an engaging project. To me it raises, again, the usual series of issues. For example, breadth vs. depth. This is a great chance to students to kind of experience the 70s first hand; on the other hand, their view will necessarily limited by the magazines they happen to pick up. And if you have only three days, it’s a tough trade-off (these days I’m leaning towards depth…but ask me again tomorrow). I think you allude to that yourself when you say you would like to see a broader base of knowledge. I wish I had a good suggestion of how to combine breadth and depth–in three days!

    Or another, related trade-off: student-directed vs. teacher directed. I’ve been doing an activity in class which really allows the students to relate to the history on a personal level, by making their own connection, and I think it’s great. On the other hand, it means we may not “cover” in that class all the points that I, as teacher, might deem relevant. For now, I’m OK with it–but what happens when they get to the exam in two weeks? It’s tough.

    Hope the comment’s not too long! I guess I liked the post.

    • Thank you for not only taking the time to read my post, but also to provide an incredibly thoughtful response. I think we all wrestle with the issues that you raise. I always seem to come back to the idea that variety is what works best. Students loved the magazines because it was a new way to view history. Also, they were able to connect with a reality that their parents experienced. It got them to think about the issues but in a way that allowed for personal connections. The project fostered all kinds of dialogue.

      In terms of breadth and depth, again I think that balance works well.There are times when I really do want to whole class on the same page, but there are other times when I am fine with them finding their own path. There are valuable skills to be learned in both. I try to remind myself that I do not want to think of my class as the last history class my students will take but one that inspires them to take more. That’s my goal, anyway.

      I also like to ask a combination of specific questions and open-ended questions on exams. The open ones allow students to use whatever they researched to answer.

      Wow – hope the reply’s not too long!

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