Friday, October 06, 2006


Chris promised that I'd have something interesting to say about this, but my brain is fried. It's 6:30 and I'm still at work, and it's been a really long week.

What's really, really exciting, though, is that we're finally starting to plan our first social studies unit. Here's what I'm thinking -- if you have any suggestions, let me know:

So, the eighth grade social studies teachers decided that they would have a yearlong focus on labor, dividing the year into three long units: slavery, industrialization, and 20th century social movements. My thought was that the "essential question" for the year could be "Why do we work?"

For the slavery unit, that could translate into "What were slaves working for?" This is a question that has a lot of answers -- slaves were obviously working because they were forced to, but on a different level they were also working as part of a bigger economic system. On a different level, some slaves were able to work to save up money to buy their own freedom.

To me, the most important things for students to understand about slavery, when looking at it from a labor perspective, are a) that part of what made slavery so bad was that your labor belonged to someone else; b) that slavery was part of a bigger economy that united the North and the South and also reached across the Atlantic; c) that some of the ways slaves resisted oppression was by denying their labor to the slave masters.

How will we know if students understand these things? At the end of the unit, they will have to complete a project in which they pick one individual who we've discussed in the unit, and answer the question, "what was this person working for?" The final product must include a written piece (maybe a narrative?) and some kind of visual (map, illustration, etc).

Now what I have to do is lay out the structure of the unit -- what exactly will we do to get students to the point that they can complete the final project? A lot of resources and ideas come to mind for use in lessons: the cotton gin (maybe a lesson where students look at graphs comparing the number of slaves used in the south before and after the invention of the cotton gin?); work songs; maps of the triangle trade routes; narratives recalling examples of foot-dragging; looking at black soldiers during the Civil War -- how was their labor different?; auction posters; looking at what whites were saying about labor at the time (I've been reading a lot -- too much -- about yeomen farmers recently).

I would love to hear any feedback, suggestions, resources, etc. you may have. It's the first unit I've ever planned that will actually be carried out by students, so don't hold back, please!

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