All our students know people who work, but they might not necessarily be aware of the conditions under which the people closest to them are employed or how these conditions differ between industries and have changed over time. To learn more about this, our 6th graders set out to explore the world of labor during their first semester expedition.
At first, the students eased into the topic by discussing crucial questions such as, Why do we work? What are working conditions, and why do they matter? They analyzed case studies from significant phases in the U.S. labor movement. Their first case study centered on Frederick Douglass and how he used his oratorical skills and his Narrative to criticize the institution of slavery. The second case discussed how laws were passed to protect child laborers during the Industrial Revolution. The example of the formation of the United Farm Workers of America helped students to understand the role of unions as well as the experience of migrant laborers in this country and it followed into the fourth case about modern-day garment workers.
The expedition’s comparative approach helped students to understand how workers brought about change and what they did to advocate for improving their rights as workers and as humans, but at the same time it also made them aware that despite all progress, much more needs to be done.
The contrast of different eras and cases, as well as the 6th grade’s intention to seek out themes that would be significant to 6th graders, successfully spurred the students’ interest and lead to many classroom discussions where it became clear that deeper learning had taken place. For instance, “student discussions raised several important questions,” noted Ms. Hua. These questions included, “Which groups of workers are given fewer rights? How does an education help us secure ‘good’ jobs and what is a ‘good’ job?”
Through this expedition, 6th graders gained an understanding of workers’ rights, the importance of fair labor conditions and the value of working every day.
Different fieldwork and classroom activities enhanced the students’ learning experience. The group visited the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and the Baltimore Museum of Industry to support the slavery and Industrial Revolution case studies. A classroom activity focused on the introduction of the assembly line asked students to collaboratively build a replica of a 1914 moving van. After learning more about the harsh working conditions that slaves, child laborers and migrant farm workers were subjected to, the students conducted short research projects on working conditions in the garment industry.
Students interviewed the Organizing Coordinator of the Garment Worker Center in Los Angeles to gain insight into modern day issues. This allowed them to make connections between the past and present and seek out change in their own community.
Students read a variety of texts about garment factories around the world and in the United States to build additional background knowledge. They created brochures to build public awareness by synthesizing informational texts, organizing their notes from fieldwork and expert visits, and finally citing their sources to justify their claims. “The research project was complex and rigorous,” noted Ms. Hua. “Students persevered to complete the project.”
The expedition concluded with student-generated presentations for their peers. They created visual displays and brochures. Some students even decided to research specific companies and displayed their information on T-shirts, seen in the above photo.
“Injustice,” said 10th grader Ashley, “is when someone is treated unfairly, and no one else is there to help them."
She continues, "because that person is too scared or doesn’t feel it’s important to help them.” The focus on injustice, timely given the current events in and outside of our country, was the subject of the expedition for 10th graders in their English and World History classes this fall.
As part of this semester-long expedition, students engaged in a project focused on immigration rights. Through the Injustice Project, students interviewed immigrants in the U.S. to understand the diverse array of reasons why someone may flee his/her country and to then tell their interviewees' stories. “It brought a real face to the issue (of immigration and injustice),” said Ms. Monét Cooper, 10th grade English teacher. “They also learned about advocates, those who sit at every seat of the table (of the issue) from lawyers to social service providers and translators.”
We “wanted them to have a sense of not just the problems that exist in the world,” explained Ms. Cooper, “but also that there are solutions, and that you have to dedicate yourself to solving those challenges.”
Through the Injustice Project, students gained 21st Century Skills as they learned how to be professional when asking for and carrying out an interview. “The students’ voices need to be heard, and they are learning how to be heard in a professional setting,” said Ms. Cooper.
After interviewing their experts, students developed written and photo essays to share what they learned and to express the message they wanted to share about the hardships their interviewees faced. In Ashley’s team’s photo essay (quoted above), all of the photos were pictures of their interviewee, Josue, who had fled his country due to threats against his life. “There are parts when he’s remembering part of his life and there are parts where he’s laughing,” said Ashley. “He’s showing how even though he’s not with his family now, he can have a new life and be happy about it.”
This year, students had the unique opportunity to present their projects to Washington Post staff members at their downtown office, thanks to Kathryn Tolbart from the Post. “By having the audience at the Washington Post of professional reporters and photographers who care deeply about these issues and are able to provide our students with feedback, we were preparing them for the real world,” said Ms. Cooper. “It’s helpful for our students to receive authentic feedback that can improve their work and broaden their perspective.”
“Expeditions are a huge endeavor,” continued Ms. Cooper. “It’s a learning process for the teacher as well as the student. Human rights are a universal right, but through this study, students understand how much a privilege it is. Just because it’s a right, doesn’t mean that we have all the rights associated with it that we should. Students realize that it is ultimately their responsibility to take care of each other.”
Fourth Graders focused on three places: Mali, the District of Columbia, and Capital City to discover what makes a place great.
According to 4th grader Sara, “Capital City is a great place because the teachers make the hard stuff look easy and fun to do.” Sara prepared this elevator speech about Capital City as part of her culminating project for the 4th Grade Expedition on “Great Places.” During the first semester, 4th graders focused on great places “to tell a story by connecting time and space rather than thinking about different places in isolation,” said 4th Grade Teacher Elizabeth McNamee.
Students had to connect the dots and think very deeply about the nature of a “great place”, allowing them to intuitively dig deeper into their learning. Through research and discussion, students realized that culture, government, music, art, trade/economy, and food all contributed to a “great place.” Over a long process of collaboration, students recognized that Mali, DC, and CCPCS all possess these attributes. “So much of this work was inquiry-based and student-driven,” noted McNamee.
Key components of any expedition is fieldwork that takes students out of the classroom and experts who visit with students; both opportunities expose students to experiences that enrich their learning. For the “Great Places” expedition, students visited the Kreeger Museum and engaged in intensive work by studying modern art and made color and form studies. They then compared their work to the geometric patterns found in Malian mud cloth to help make the connection between Mali and DC.
Students also met with a drummer who used traditional African instruments; and Diane Macklin, a local storyteller who works in the tradition of West African jells (sometimes known as griots), who shared stories to help students with writing and sharing their own personal histories.
For the final case study, students examined Capital City with a keen eye to detail. “They explored the facets that make our school ‘great’, and did reflection and research to synthesize their thinking about Great Places,” said McNamee.
In order to make learning authentic, expeditions often include a student-produced product that is then shared with the community. The purpose of the product is to allow students to synthesize their knowledge and work collaboratively to complete a project that is of value and service to others, To finish the 4th grade expedition, students produced a documentary about why Capital City is a great place.
“Students did all of the hardest work!” shared McNamee. “They worked in content area teams with each person having a role such as interviewer, writer, story artist, videographer, or photographer.” Over the course of several weeks, students developed interview questions and conducted interviews, planned, filmed, took photos, and wrote/recorded voiceovers.
Most rewarding for McNamee and her fellow teachers was to see students “have the freedom to negotiate the direction of their work and make connections on such a grand scale between time and space.” Students began to look at their school in a new light. Once they made the connection that all of the attributes of a great place are present at CCPCS, they had a renewed sense of joy and an admiration for their school! Fourth grader Jailin learned that “Capital City is a great place because it means everybody goes to college, and we all go to field trips to have lots of fun.”
The final documentary was shared with families and the Capital City community. “We are excited to share the documentary with guests to our school,” said Pamela Daley, Grants & Communication Manager. “Our students are the best spokespersons for our school, and it’s a treasure for me to share their work with the wider community.”
On March 20th, a team of eight Capital City High School students competed in the rigorous Aspen Challenge.
This unique seven-week challenge began at the Opening Form on January 30th when students were asked to create a solution for one of the six challenges in a creative, engaging, and original way.
Capital City’s team chose to leverage technology to communicate with students from around the world in a meaningful way, the challenge from Chris Plutte, the Executive Director of Global Nomads Group.
[caption id="attachment_6451" align="aligncenter" width="420"] PEACE members pose with Chris Plutte of Global Nomads Group during the Aspen Challenge competition[/caption]
In a very short period of seven weeks, the students developed a website to encourage cross-cultural communication through interactive video chats and game features. Their website – PEACE (People Exploring Another Country Every day) – also includes a calendar that allows users to add events that are important to them, be they personal or country-specific.
The Team established a partnership with Colegio Centario, a K-12 school in El Salvador. They decided to focus on establishing communication between schools to increase the opportunity for curricular connections. The school in El Salvador was a perfect fit. Many Capital City students have families from El Salvador and the partnership provides an opportunity to deepen this connection and break down stereotypes. Also, all Capital City students take Spanish, which aids communication.
The Team surveyed Capital City teachers and high school students to gauge their interest in cross-cultural communication and comfort level with using technology. Students found that 68% of teachers had never used global communication. However, 76% of teachers expressed interest in providing students with such opportunities. They found that 100% of students were interested in having this opportunity.
As one team member, Kevin, noted in the team’s presentation at the Challenge event on March 20th, “Not every student can afford to travel abroad to learn about people from other countries. This website will allow us to learn about them (youth from around the world) without money being an issue.”
[caption id="attachment_6450" align="aligncenter" width="384"] At the competition, PEACE team members share their Web site with the Aspen Challenge moderator, Dr. Eric Motley.[/caption]
While the team was not one of the top three selected to present at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado in June, the team still walked away from the event as winners. “My experience with the Aspen Challenge made me realize that, as a group, my peers and I can actually create something that will LAST and help out my school and community,” said senior Leideen.
The group plans to continue their work to ensure a lasting impact of their project. Students plan to establish a student club to steward the project and there is interest in establishing connections with additional schools in other countries.
[caption id="attachment_6464" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Team members created an interactive display in which visitors shared which countries they would like to know more about.[/caption]
Fourth grade students produced this documentary highlighting why Capital City is a great place for their 1st semester expedition.