Student Voice Drives Curriculum

Reading the U.S. Constitution is not a priority of my 8th grade students. At this point in the year their genuine interest has built about the Constitution, but the actual want to read a document written in 1787 is not on this
“Must Do” list.

This year we have the extra challenge of students transitioning in and out of my physical classroom, students that have been virtual all year collaborating together and growing the skills they will need in their future academic careers.

Giving students a voice

When planning for a new unit, I’m usually on fire. The ideas flood in. I fill my walls with post its and notes. My hands can’t move fast enough. My brain buzzes and the unit writes itself.

Not this time.

I don’t know if it was the impending holidays, the exhausting of teaching on multiple platforms or just the early winter drag, but I could not formulate a fun, engaging student driven project. At all.

This is where I employed my secret tools. Ask the kids.

This is always the best answer, and yet sometimes I forget what a valuable resource they are.

I posed the question – How would you like to learn the Constitution? I outlined my learning goals and must haves in terms of content and skills. Then…. I shut up.

Within minutes a torrent of ideas came from my students. Then one voice rose above the rest.

GAME DESIGN.

Suddenly all of the voices converged and excitedly chattered about how to design a game. The entire group of 8th graders were now developing their ideas. They actually begged me to let them design a game based on the Constitution. 8th graders…. about the Constitution Unit. It was magic.

The Spark was Lit

What if we created a game out of the Constitution? What if the Constitution was a game? What if our classroom was a game? What would it look like to make progress visual? What are the prizes in the era of Covid?

As the questions bounced through my mind, the answers arrived just as easily. This was the unit designing I loved.

What keeps kids engaged through hard and complex content?

Competition.

What 21st century skills could be embedded?

Design Thinking.

My students swooped in and saved the day!

Writing the Unit

Once the spark was lit the unit basically wrote itself.

The unit would start by exploring the 6 Big Ideas of the Constitution. Once the students had a firm grasp of these main ideas they would be tasked with finding them in the content of the Constitution.

To ensure that students thoroughly read the Constitution and did not glaze over the text they will sketch note every section and clause. This has been the basic framework on my Constitution unit for years. The sketch noting forces them to really think about what is being said, pull out the main ideas and transform the words written by men in 1787 into pictures. It also helps them understand the abstract systems that were designed in order to create our government. More on that later….

The game will kick off with an in person game. Students will self-select groups of 2 – 3 people. There will be a game board on the wall and students will compete to turn in expertly done activities and tasks. The first group that turns in work earns 25 points, second group earns 20 points, all the way down to 5.

Students will explore the entire Constitution, plus other activities. I even included an “Extra Point” section where students could read article, complete activities and deep dive into topics that are not covered in class.

Results?

The game launched last week and already the competition is fierce. Teams are working at break neck speed to read and digest the Constitution. Extra credit work is being handed in in piles.

As soon as doors open in the morning students flood in to look at the game wall. I overhear them in the hall discussing strategy. They are prioritizing work, managing their time and completing work at break neck speed.

Tomorrow is our first “Competition Day” where students take their knowledge and synthesize it into a new medium. The acquisition of knowledge will be tested then and we can assess how well the individualized path to learning is working.

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