"History is our story. What will your chapter be?"
I ask my students this on the first day and throughout the year. The U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, voting and our legal system are a big part of the 8th grade curriculum so we spend a lot of time talking about citizens' rights and responsibilities.
My students are 8th graders in a diverse community.
Unfortunately, families in this area are still recovering from the economic downturn. There are still a lot of underemployed or parents working several part time jobs to make ends meet. Over 90% of students receive free or reduced priced lunches. In the last 2 years, we have had to rebuild twice because of tornado damage and now we are facing a crisis of civil unrest. Families, businesses and the schools have always come together to rebuild but often there is little left over for extras like computers in the home. My students are so curious about the world around them but have had little opportunity to experience it. Websites like National Archives, Constitution Center and Smithsonian bring that world into the classroom. You wouldn't believe how excited they get to see the actual Constitution and point out the actual signatures! My goal is to get them a class set of Chromebooks so they can research right in the classroom.
This year is a little different than past years. Typically we learn about the Constitution and Bill of Rights second semester. A large amount of our time is spent discussing current issues and how the Bill of Rights applies to each event. Students create a chart, categorizing these events under particular rights at work in the situation. Due to the crisis in our community, my students will have questions about their rights, the justice system and government from Day 1. Additional computers will help me to help them find those answers. Of course, it won't be used for government only. History will come alive by viewing pictures, journals, documents and artifacts. My students will be able to make connections to the past, apply them to the present and not only see how quickly things can change but also discover themes that are common to all humanity, in every age, in every culture. Through this, it is my hope they will appreciate our differences yet realize how much we are the same.
This project is so important because access to historical documents and artifacts brings the names and dates in a textbook to life.
They will analyze these items and practice critical thinking skills such as point of view and motive. My students will learn of their rights and responsibilities as citizens and immediately see the impact of these ideas in current events. My students will develop researching and problem solving skills as they learn to distinguish reliable sources.
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