Thursday, May 9, 2013

Breaking News! Earthquakes & Time Travel!

Problem: Slightly less than half of our 8th grade middle school team students are out of the country on a French trip to Quebec.  What do 3 teachers and 2 paraeducators do for two WHOLE school days with 66 adolescents who resent being in school while their friends are on an adventure in another country?

Solution: Time Travel... Yup.

One of my missions as I spend one year teaching 8th grade, with the opportunity to work with a team of teachers who specialize in different subject areas, is creating as much interdisciplinary work as possible.  So, since the two subject area teachers remaining at school during the 2 day experiment were the science teacher and me, I saw an opening.

I teach medieval world history, including imperial China.

She teaches earth science, including the movement of tectonic plates and earthquakes.

Hold on to your hats, people, I have an idea!

You see, in imperial China people believed the the emperor had the right to rule because of the Mandate of Heaven.  The blessing from the heavens was presumed as long as nature and people lived harmoniously and happily in peace.  If people were suffering or if natural disasters (earthquakes) struck it was believed that the emperor no longer had the Mandate of Heaven.  He could be rightfully overthrown.

Perhaps not coincidentally, there is a major fault line in China and so it has suffered some devastating earthquakes throughout its history.
In the 12th century - Evidence for a Tang-Song Dynasty Great Earthquake Along the Longmen Shan Thrust Belt
In 2008 - Why the China Quake Was So Devastating
In 2013 - Over 189 Dead in China Earthquake: “We lost everything”

What if our 8th graders researched the recent and medieval earthquakes and reported on the differences between the modern scientific and medieval superstitious interpretations of these events?

The 66 students were divided up into groups of 22.  They were further subdivided into groups of news anchors, reporters, and people to be interviewed.  Some were expected to act as civilians and others were to be experts in various fields.  We also had set designers, camera people, and film editors.  Every had a job and everyone was busy all day for 2 days straight.  Here is the handout the students received about the roles. They chose their roles based on those descriptions.

They had to do some research and they were a little suspicious at first.  We made that part easy and provided them with links to high quality resources that were on their reading level.  Once they figured out how devastating these natural disasters have been and the stark difference between science and superstition, they were hooked.

They researched and wrote the scripts.

The designed and created backgrounds and sets.

And by the end of the two days, each of the 3 groups of 22 students had created a 10 minute time traveling newscast!  Here is one of them. 

They were proud of their creations and eager to show them to their friends who had traveled.  If you are interested in pursuing this interdisciplinary project, let me know.  All the resources you need are included in this post, but I can give more detailed advice on coaching colleagues, rearranging the schedule, and motivating the usually unmotivated students.