Five days

Tick, tick, tick. Five days. That’s how long  until our Holocaust Exhibit opens. There are moments I want to panic; But most of the time, we’re busy, and on track.  But to be honest, when you haven’t done anything like this before, you don’t really know. By the time this exhibit opens, most students will have invested anywhere from 30to 50 hours in it, some probably more.

And it’s coming together.  My students are excited because it is assembly week.  I have a feeling this next week is going to be one of the most rewarding of my career, thus far.

We’re working on “face two”.  This is the real deal of what occurred during the Holocaust. I have 3 students who are painting a map of Europe on a 4′ by 6′ canvas that includes pictures of Hitler’s invasion of each country.  And something about Modge Podge.  It’s been at least two decades since I’ve Modge Podged anything, but one of the things this whole journey has taught me, is that my students have skills and talents that I do not. And they’re using them.

My students have also learned what real research looks like.  For many things you can’t simply research it once, from one source, and you’re done.  No.  My students did their initial research, to become familiar with the project.  Then we designed the exhibit.  And then they realized the huge gaps in their research.  Everyday, at least one student, usually more, need to supplement the information they’ve already gathered, often it’s images to support their documentation. But many times they realize they’ve missed significant information as well.

My students have also learned some real practical lessons that many teachers learn the hard way, such as, if the laminator is not hot enough, the plastic won’t stick together and it has to be done again.  They’ve also learned that if  you’re not careful, it can re-roll on you, jam, and whatever you laminated is destroyed.  Then you start again creating the entire picture from scratch.

When you teach topics like this, you never really know what’s going to make the biggest impact. For my students, it’s the fact that most inmates lived, or died, on 300 calories a day.  My students talk about it when they’re at McDonald’s.  They talk about it in the hallway. They tell their peers in other classes. Many of them have begun to check food packages to see if what they’re about to eat is more than 300 calories.  I’m shocked at the new found knowledge my students have of the caloric content of food. This is the exhibit piece we’re designing tomorrow.

My favourite part of student-centred learning is that I don’t sit there and watch, or walk around listening to their conversations and making sure they’re on task.  I’m part of it. I help create, research, and problem-solve.  I’m also a co-learner.  One of my students explained to me that although the Jewish people wore yellow stars, the Nazi’s had a plethora of colours that delineated who different people were. I didn’t know that.  So today, she was the teacher; I was the learner.

Shouldn’t our classrooms be more like this?  The bottom-line is  can you think of your students as partners with different skill sets? Can you see alternatives to lecturing, telling, and explaining to all? Are you ready to leave the stage?  Take the leap.  It’s worth it.

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About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. I am currently a PhD student in the area of Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is play-based learning in high school, and it's impact on brain development.
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15 Responses to Five days

  1. I look forward to learning more about the outcomes of you and your students’ work. I never knew the caloric intake, either. I can see why it resonates.

  2. ktenkely says:

    Incredible Shelley! I often sit back and marvel the same way. When we let students be the center of their learning it takes them in directions we wouldn’t have even considered. It resonates with them in a deeper way.

    Are they presenting this to the school? Will parents be invited to see the learning?

    Thank you for sharing!

    • We are going to be sharing to different classes in our school, parents, and relatives. I’m also going to be inviting people from the board office, so they can see the power of collaborative and project based learning. And I think we might invite other classes in our division who are studying the Holocaust as well. My students are both excited and nervous, as am I!

  3. Lindy says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this process. I have to admit that I have been waiting for your next post to read the exciting developments of your students. I would love to be able to visit your museum to experience the wonders your students have created. Great work, and thank you again.

  4. Melissa says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I would love to try something like what you are doing in my school. I believe that there are many, many learning opportunities built within what you are doing-some of which you won’t even realize until you have completed your project. I am impressed. I want to see more and hear more! This is awesome. You go, girl! And please tell your students how lucky they are to have this opportunity!

    • Hi Melissa,
      Give it a try! It doesn’t necessarily need to be this big to start with. Our next unit will have smaller student-centred projects. I have to say I’m completely sold on collaborative and project based learning. I think students learn far more than they do the traditional way.

  5. lori dobler says:

    You inspire me on a regular basis! Thanks

  6. Shelley, it sounds as if the project is coming along really well and you have helped your students through the struggle they were having with synthesizing their research information. You may have been right in thinking that they weren’t used to creating something new with their information. Often, I think, students know that the teacher has a “right answer” he or she is waiting to hear and their job is to guess/regurgitate what it is. When there is no “right answer” students are at a loss. The type of critical/creative thinking needed in your project is definitely a skilled that must be learned (or a natural instinct that must be relearned). How did you help them overcome this particular hurdle?

    • To be honest, I had to sit in silence a lot, until they learned I wouldn’t rescue them, and then they had to start taking risks. At one particular point, we sat down in a circle and I asked them what they needed. It turns out it was clarity. They needed to understand what each other was working on, sketch it out, and then they began to catch the vision. Once that happened, the project took off!

  7. Judy Enns says:

    Wow! This sounds like a great project. I have just started my grade 10’s on a group research project on the holocaust. Each student is researching a different aspect of it and then they are going to put their information together in a powerpoint or creating a bulletin board. They started today and every student was totally engaged in what they were doing. I look forward to seeing how your exhibit turns out.

    • Another great option that my students love are Prezi’s, which allow you to embed picture and video. They love the fact that you can hide them, and no one can see them, until you hone in on that part of the presentation. But I think Holocaust research, however you do it, can be incredibly powerful.

  8. Pingback: Shared Resources for the Week of April 11 « EdTech @ SIAST

  9. Hope Adams says:

    I’m not a teacher but I work in higher Ed and before that I spent 15 years in social work at a children’s home so education is of great value to me. I heard about your blog during a keynote address and I must say I love it! Your style of teaching reminds me of my 7th grade social studies teacher who made history come alive through her interesting projects and all these years later I still believe that engagement is the best way yo get a person to want to learn. I also love your use of technology and your approach in that class…your students are lucky to have you! I look forward to following your teaching adventures.

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