The 8th grade Humanities class kicked off the school year with a dynamic, collaborative learning experience: Native American Conversations. The objectives of this weeklong project were multifold: 1) practice personal responsibility and critical-thinking skills; 2) practice cooperation/participation and teaching skills; 3) explore a wide range of Native American “fascinating facts” across 500+ years of history; 4) ask questions, make inferences, and develop a multiple-perspective understanding of Native American cultures in North America; 5) personalize and aim to put into real-world action what was learned.
The students first partnered up in four “expert” groups to critically analyze four distinct sections of information. Each section included a range of topics, from “Young People Then & Now” to “Diverse Languages” to “Native American Creativity” to “2016 Dakota Access Pipeline Water Protection Protest.” The students worked together in their expert groups to ensure individual understanding of the material by reading closely, taking notes, asking questions, sharing ideas, and making connections (i.e., “big picture” inferences). After this research period within the context of the expert groups, the students split into “jigsaw” groups, which comprised experts from each group. Here’s a visual (each letter represents a student): Expert Groups: AAAA, BBBB, CCCC, DDDD. Jigsaw Groups: ABCD, ABCD, ABCD, ABCD.
Each student then assumed the role of teacher. So all the A’s taught everyone in their jigsaw group what they learned about the “A” topics. The B’s did the same, and so on. In this way, all of the students had to take on the challenge of being both teacher and student—and everyone was responsible for engaging with every single topic.
After each teach-in, the students wrote reflections to articulate what they learned (observations/information/inferences), how they learned (self-analysis of how their brains connected the info and ideas), and what they’re now going to (try to) do in their personal lives with what they learned. These takeaways are where you can really see the impact of what you’re bringing into the classroom.
Here are some standouts: 1) “I will now be more resourceful and less wasteful with what I have to show more respect for the Earth.” 2) “I will now be more grateful for everything that I have.” 3) “I will stand up for what I believe in and vote when I’m able to.”
This project is an ideal introductory activity to get the students comfortable with the expectations and responsibilities of 8th grade Humanities. It brings them together as a class and demonstrates the power of solidarity. It’s also a perfect intro to the Cultural Geography Project, which is already challenging—and rewarding!—the kids in similar ways. Onward…