Every time I hear this song it reminds me of a lesson I did on Forrest Gump. I asked the students to share what they thought were the 10 most important events in history. This is something that others may have done so nothing really new here. However I asked them to play the role of Forrest Gump as they shared the stories of these events. In the movie Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks recounts some amazing historical events. What is unique is that he is able to discuss each and every event from his own personal experience. He was there for each and every moment. I wanted students to explore the historical events not from a textbook retelling of the event, but from a first person account. I wanted more than a journalist reporting the events. We watched a few clips from Forrest Gump, talked about the attributes of his stories and asked them to select 3 events from their list to examine from a first person perspective.
I enjoyed the project, and have some really good examples, but in retrospect I needed to do more modeling of the skills necessary to complete this task well. Not all of my students were good at transitioning to the role of first person observer. Some struggled with exploring the significance of events. In the end I found there were gaps in my instruction to make this a success for my students.
Over the past few months I have been hearing the Lukas Graham song 7 Years and each time I find myself hearing the story of someone's life unfolding in front of me. I also think how can I leverage a popular song as a learning opportunity for teachers and students? Here are my thoughts on using this song in the classroom.
The song chronicles events of someone's life. In history we explore timelines of events that shape the past and the present all the time. The song 7 years is an example of a timeline that can be a model for students and turned into several different learning opportunities.
Personal Narrative or Timeline
I often find that providing students opportunities to create products that are connected to their lives or their interests prior to assigning content helps them better understand the project we are working on.
Ask students to chronicle important events in their lives. You could provide them with ages or events to begin with. Once when I was 1 year old... I learned to walk. Once when I was 5 years old I learned to swim. Or you could flip it and share some moments they might include like learning to read, throw a ball, drive a car, etc. depending on the age of your students. They key to make this successful especially for younger students is to allow them to record their ideas using audio or video recorders. Don't worry about writing this down or grammar at this point. Allow the ideas to flow and see where it takes them.
If there are limited number of milestones for students especially at a young age, explore other parts of the song where he looks to the future. Ask students where they want to be when they are 20, 30, 40, etc. Or when do they see themselves having a job, getting married, or other life events. Also allow students to brainstorm to help those who might be struggling for ideas.
What you have created is an opportunity to get to know students. You will learn about their early life and their goals for the future. If you have students who are more musically inclined, they could possibly write their ideas in a way that matches the original song and perform it if they are willing.
This is the beginning step of unlocking the possibilities. You have allowed students to examine their own timeline. You could them have them plot out their time lines on paper, Google Drawing, a mindmeister or other graphic organizer, or a timeline creator. Let them see their events unfold in a visual.
Advice to themselves
The song is also filled with lots of advice, one example is "Go out and make some friends or else you'll be lonely." Allow students to play the part of the wise sage giving advice to others. This could be giving advice to their "Younger Self" or to their "Future Me." In either case it would be interesting to hear what students think and the pearls of wisdom they have.
This again can be a great way to connect with students. They could share out the examples of advice they are comfortable sharing with members of a small group or the whole class. This could lead to some really good conversations about the best advice each person has ever been given and how it impacted their lives.
I taught high school social studies for 15 years, so I realize some of my ideas are more applicable for older students. With that in mind, I thought about the extension of the previous lessons to someone the student knows with more life experience. This could be done in conjunction with the previous ideas or as a stand alone idea.
Ask students to choose someone they want to interview who they feel has had some interesting life experiences. This could be a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or they could seek out neighbor or family friend. Together the class should think of some interview questions and times or topics that all students should inquire about. Much like the first example where students examine events like learning to walk, talk, etc. the list could include childhood, teenage years, 20s, 30s, and more. It could include a variety of topics depending on the individual being interviewed. You might be talking to someone who served in combat or is a veteran, or someone who lived through the Great Depression or 9/11. The individual might be a first generation immigrant whose early life experiences would be unique when compared to someone who grew up in America.
I also think opening the conversation up to advice from the person being interviewed could be a powerful experience for students. As I am writing this I am regretting not having done this with my grandmothers who have passed. I will never hear the stories of their lives. Nor will I know the amazing events of my grandfather's life if I don't take the time to have the conversations. There is a rich history waiting to be revealed.
The last aspect of this lesson would be to discuss the cause and effect relationship between events. What lead to certain events, and what are the outcomes of others. The story of an individual's history or timeline is a complex web filled with decision and consequences of those decisions. Students through their conversations should begin to see these connections. This could be a powerful conversation with students as they share their interview experiences.
I think our students have the opportunity to be real historians and chronicle the lives and times of those around them. The SHOAH Foundation has set to work on recording the stories of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Unfortunately time is running out for all of the stories to be documented. The same maybe true of the stories of those in our own lives. This could be one of those life changing lessons that help make the study of history come alive for our students. If they can see history through the eyes of individuals and not complex ideas they are more likely to relate.
Exploration of Historical Figures
Now it is time for the application of their historical skills to historical figures. They have the skills to analyze what is important, have discussed cause and effect and explored personal narratives. The students Students have done the prep work and are now ready to delve into applying their historical skills. They have explored the events of people in their lives and hopefully seen similarities in the events between people they and their classmates have interviewed.
With historical thinking skills in hand, students will now examine the life and times of historical figures. We often examine historical figures from the point of view of what they accomplished. We often overlook the events in their lives that helped shape who they would become and what they would do. I still remember the story of Adolf Hitler's failed attempt to become an artist. I think how the history of the world would have been different if this had been accepted to art school. What if students looked at the events of historical figures lives that helped us better understand the how and why they are seen as important historical figures. What if students explored the watershed moments of an individual's life that lead them to the path of historical significance? Students would have to identify the watershed moments (most important events or decisions) and present why these moments were turning points in the person's life. What would have been different if they had made a different decision or if the event had unfolded differently at this point?
Exploring the life of and times of a historical figure could shed light on the fact that so many of the people we study in history or celebrate their accomplishments were ordinary people. Ordinary people who made decisions or reacted in situations that allowed them to accomplish memorable things. They might also find in their research that they come across incredible individuals whose stories haven't been told. There are so many interesting people in history who are often overshadowed. I think opening the door to students to explore lessor known or less frequently studied individuals could open the door to amazing learning opportunities.
Students have done the work to learn about individuals in history or people in their families. What should the final product look like?
While in the classroom I didn't spend a lot of time with timelines, but I think this project lends itself well to the creation of a visual representation of the chronology of events. A timeline doesn't have to be a simple paper and pencil document.
Bring the timeline alive by using technology. Students have created their visual representation of the events, now it is time to add depth of knowledge. This is where you can create magic. Let students create multimedia products that help demonstrate their mastery of the individual's life.
Product ideas -
1. Paper and Pencil Timeline with QR codes at various points that connect to student created products.
2. Digital Timeline or Graphic that has links or QR codes included
3. Thinglink - After a Digital timeline is created upload the image to Thinglink and add links to student created products
4. Google My Maps - create pins in various locations that represent important locations or events in the person's life. Add information, images or student created products to enhance the presentation.
Student Created Products
The four ideas above are basically containers for your ideas. They serve as a foundation for the presentation of student creativity. They are a place where others can access the multitude of products the student may create that demonstrate their mastery.
What are some examples of ways students can demonstrate mastery and depth of knowledge?
Students could create a variety of audio/visual products that provide the audience with the details that correspond to the events listed on the timeline. The following are some examples of items that could be included on your timeline.
1. Video or audio clips students find that represent the event. Show students how to access archival materials from Library of Congress and other sources that store multimedia resources.
Presenting student work
Please don't make every student sit through a presentation from every other student in the class. I am sure we have all done this. I used to have 4 or 5 sections of world history with 25+ students in each and did this. We spent days presenting and listening to these presentations. The students got bored and so did I. There wasn't any dynamic learning happening here.
Instead have students share their work with you in a way that you can share with the school. What does that mean? If students do paper products hang them in the hallways. If they are electronic projects, create QR codes that link to student projects and again put them in the hallways. Have students go into the hallway and view their classmates projects. Assign each student to look at say 6 projects. I say assign because I want all students to have their projects viewed. If students get done with their 6 early, they can look at friend's projects. They will then be required to provide feedback on the ones they viewed.
Student Feedback -
Have students provide feedback to their peers. This could be done via a Google Form. The form could include categories such as Best Overall, Best Content, Best Story, Most Artistic, etc. Make it more an opportunity to share out the positives. Then compile the results and hold an awards show where you present students with a certificate, trophy, etc. that acknowledges their good work.
Pulling it all together -
Students have viewed several examples of the projects so now what? I used to test them on facts about the various projects, but this was factoid knowledge. This didn't get them to engage or do apply what they have learned. It didn't pull together their knowledge and show their understanding. I liked to ask them a question that required them to take the information they learn and apply it to answer a question or perform a task. This could be something like what common themes, events, or ideas did you see in the presentations you watched? What were the most unique experiences you learned about? Whose life experience would you most or least like to have experienced or who would most/least like to trade places with?
Questions like these work on the skills of comparison and analysis rather than memorizing facts. Students won't remember all the details about the lives of the various people long term, but the skills of analyzing and supporting their conclusion are universal skills that will last a life time.