Monday, April 18, 2011

Trying to Figure out Civil War Issues: Design a City!

Last week was the week before spring break and I was at a crucial point in the 8th grade. We had just finished up Western Expansion/Manifest Destiny (American Imperialism as many of my students argued) and seeing that we only had a week I didn't totally want to dive in the Civil War. I came up with this idea to introduce the context of America leading up to the Civil War. Students were given exclusive rights to plan a brand new city in the Kansas territory. In planning this city they had to think hard about some of the following questions

-Where is it and what type of economy? (More Northern looking or South looking)
-Will you be pro or anti slavery? Will you allow your citizens popular sovereignty to decide?
-Will you support the Underground Railroad? Will you support the Fugitive Slave Act? How would you deal with slaves like Dread Scott?
-Will you allow for abolitionist groups? Even if they are radical like John Brown?
-What will be your stance on women’s rights?
-Will you be Democrat or support the new Republican party?

From day one students were looking up important concepts, definitions, and ideas both online and in their textbooks. They were pouring over maps trying to find streams, lakes and rivers that would support a new town. Many of them were asking great questions like what if we give citizens popular sovereignty and they vote for slaves? I told them the whole notion of popular sovereignty makes that possible. Quickly they figured out that they would just say that the townspeople had already voted for or against slavery and that settled that. 

Something I tried a little different was that I had no expectations, no rubrics, and no real standards for the mini project. I gave them a rough skeleton of things to do to help them finish, but I thought those were minimal. Day one was looking up terms and concepts, day two was discussing issues and questions, and the rest was devoted to making some type of presentation or model of the city. I just wanted them to make a town with a mind to some of the issues that people dealt with in the build up to civil war. The lack of defined structure really made them creative and willing to take chances. I even had one group build a town based on slavery and plantations. They assured me they were against slavery and just wanted to see the "other side". I thought that was awesome and it lead to some good discovery. 

Students also discovered new ways to build these cities. As they were not expected to show off their city in any particular way, the students found some real innovative tools. A couple of groups (totally unprovoked) found Bekonscot, which is a online site that easily allows you to build virtual villages. Other groups experimented with google sketchup (just not enough time). In short, it was a fun week in which students were excited to learn and made great connections. Here are some of the examples:

The student's town "Promise Land"

Some notes on Promise Land:
We called our city in Kansas the Promise land because it is like the Promise land in the Bible where the slaves become free like the Israelites. We have the most Underground Railroads. We are anti slavery and we treat the slaves as normal people. In our virtual city, we used a railroad to symbolize the Underground Railroad. We put a  river to show we let people pan for gold also they use it for transportation and a food source. if slave owners from slave states come to our state we will send them to jail. We will support the new Republican Party because they are Anti slavery. We will  have Popular Sovereignty.  we will give women rights to some extent. 

Other towns
Student City Glog Example 1
Student City Glog Example 2

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