So, being the high minded individuals that we are, my co-conspirators in 9th grade project based learning at WSHS decided to attack racism. Hit it head on. Just tear that sucker down!
Of course, we’re just 3 white dudes working on an Indian Reservation with a student population that is 60% American Indian and 30% Latino. Maybe that was our first mistake, I don’t know.
Actually, the meat of the project went pretty darn well. Kids enjoyed the learning, were engaged and handled a prickly issue with class and grace.
In Biology, my piece of the puzzle was to teach them genetics and some evolutionary biology to help them understand what race is (and isn’t), where we think it comes from, and how genetically similar we humans really are.
In World History, the students learned about Hitler, Nazis, WWII and the Holocaust.
In English, they read Maus and wrote various essays about it.
Our common project pieces were meant to be a Public Service Address campaign including an announcement (to be read over the school’s intercom), a poster (to be displayed on campus) and a video (to be shown to fellow students).
Here is where the problems really begin.
We had students call my Google Voice number to record their announcements. These were mostly not very good. They were unfocused and -frankly – just plain boring. Somehow, they mostly managed to have both too much and too little information.
The posters turned out okay, although they took way to long to do. For the amount of time we put into them, they were underwhelming at best. Kids made these in PowerPoint and then we printed them with our school’s large format printer (these are awesome, by the way!).
The real debacle, though, was the videos. These were filmed with Flip Cameras (RIP, Flip!) purchased through DonorsChoose.org. We thought we had very clear expectations for the videos. The kids went through a process of brainstorming –> storyboarding –> drafting scripts –> filming. All should have been well. They were engaged. They were excited.
Videos were filmed and then the problems began.
We used JayCut for editing. The site is really slick but uploading video to it took hours. We had some editing glitches (mostly just learning the program) but some groups lost whole videos and had to re-upload (hours wasted). Then we found out that finished videos could not be easily shared on our network (internet filter strikes again!).
The project dragged on. And on. And on. A tight 5 week project became a bloated 8 week nightmare.
That wasn’t even the worst of it.
My aforementioned colleagues and I assembled one day after school to view and assess the videos. 13 of our 15 student groups had submitted video.
They were awful. < Cue trombone playing wah – wahhh>
At least 3 groups dedicated large chunks of their videos to fight scenes.
One or two groups actually seemed to be promoting (or at least making light of) racism.
The only group that kicked out a strong product totally cancelled that out by tacking on a 5 minute rap song at the end full of F-bombs (and not relevant to the project) and accompanying images making light of the holocaust and black stereotypes.
Finally, with the exception of maybe 5 groups, there was little relevant science actually integrated into their product. Most of the rest just threw in the psuedo-fact that “genetically, we are all 99.9% the same.”
Part of this is due to the epic disaster that was our attempt at a drosophila genetics lab. We lost several populations of drosophila to rotting media. This was ironic because the media was not supposed to rot. Well it did. It rotted HARD. One student described the smell in the room as a combination of vomit, urine and sharpie pen ink. He nailed it – that was EXACTLY WHAT IT SMELLED LIKE!
All that being said, I know the kids did learn a significant amount about genetics based on my other assessments. It was just REALLY frustrating to see a project that took so much hard work (on our part and theirs) turn in to a steaming heap. In a lot of ways, this project was a great example of an assessment FOR learning but not an assessment OF learning.
And, yes, in the end, all I really care about is their learning. Except I also really want them to do beautiful work. Work that they are proud of. Work that CLEARLY demonstrates their learning. This did not happen here.
So my questions to you, dear readers, are:
- What did we do wrong?
- What should we do differently next year?