Common Core Idea for English: Genius

Post date: Apr 30, 2013 6:13:31 PM

We started our state testing this week and my site draws it out over one month. This means I have block scheduling a lot. I'm not really trained for block schedules and I bore myself during our 2 hours together. This year I had to mix it up or we may just go down in flames. A project, I think to myself, something to keep them sustained and busy for at least two weeks, but what? And then it hit me. Design. The old fashioned way.

I've spent a good part of two weeks interviewing elementary school teachers for input in my pet project 20 Time in Education. Many of the teachers I interviewed did not have any technology in the classroom or school and were brainstorming ideas for 20 Time that only required art supplies. One of the teachers, Natalie Parsons, thought about allowing her 1st graders the opportunity to create a small 3D city. The city would allow those students interested in nature to design the landscaping, others could do architecture, scaling, transportation, animals, people, etc. Each student would be creating individual parts of the city to create a whole class project. Genius right?

Yep. My seniors began designing a city today. Not just any city. The city of London in Brave New World. I didn't stop there. While one class is designing London, another class is designing the Savage Reservation, while the final class is creating and designing the sports that are mentioned throughout the story like Obstacle Golf and Escalator Squash (of course we will play it too).

I was pretty nervous to introduce the project. I even ran the idea past a few of my colleagues: Is this too childish? A resounding no came from all of them. Forcing my students to analyze the novel, work together, and create using their own interests is an activity that is appropriate at any grade level. I'm adding grade appropriate requirements like propaganda signs and requiring that everything they add can be directly found in the novel. So how did it go? Freaking awesome. I honestly didn't expect the engagement and participation that I saw today. I didn't even have to guide much (although this is probably because I teach seniors). I showed them the cardboard box that would be their base and within 2 minutes had teams for:

  • Planning: How tall? How Wide? Which buildings? Scale of people to buildings
  • People: What do they look like? What will they wear? How many and where should you place them?
  • River: The Thames River is a central part London so a whole team got this one. What will it look like? How many bridges? What about the boats?
  • Landscaping: Children's gardens, trees, grass, birds
  • Transportation: Design? How many? What is important?
  • Buildings: Which are important? Where are they located in the city? What will you use to create them?

After about 10 minutes of intergroup discussion, I saw members going to the other groups and asking questions: "Hey, I read here that there is a grassy circle between London and the suburbs, will you guys be including that in your part?" "I need to know how wide the river will be so we can plan how big the bridges will be, do you know yet?" Wow. The collaboration was amazing. The communication was never-before-seen. The creativity? Off the charts! They are using everything from modeling clay to pipe cleaners to origami to milk cartons. The critical thinking? Key. Is this building important enough to be included? How should we design this Savage Ceremony for great visualization?

The best part? Parent help. I sent a blanket email out to the parents and asked them to scour their old art supplies and craft bins for anything they'd want to donate. Now I have a huge selection of random supplies: popcycle sticks, model clay, scrapbooking supplies, ribbon, poster, paper, glitter (a lot of glitter), pipe cleaners, squishy pom-pom things, etc. The students have the supplies to be as creative as they want.

I'll post a post-reflection with finished products in a couple weeks.