Getting ready to start a new PBL project on genocide building off from the imperialism project that we will be completing this week where we asked the question “What if _____ ruled the world?” Students studied imperialism and then will write a creative essay exploring how the world would be different today if a culture other than Europe dominated.

I would like to share my outline of my next project and beg ask you all for some feedback. First of all we will discuss slavery, the beginning of racism, imperialism, and genocide. For an entry event I am working on having a couple of different groups come in to present what it is like to be a victim of genocide. I am working with a local group of Native American educators, refugees, and a pastor who is one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan. I would like students to interview refugees and explore the history behind the conflicts.

Kosovo refugees from United Nations Photo

Their final presentations will be short documentary videos about the refugees. Today I got the idea of introducing Kiva to my students. Then I thought that students could have a premiere showing of their documentaries and charge admission to raise money to donate to Kiva. I am excited about this concept except for one thing: it is all my idea. I really would rather that it came from my students. So I am trying to think of a way to introduce the big concepts to students that might allow them to come to similar ideas themselves. I don’t want to force it on them either in a fake way.

My conundrum is how to do this in an authentic way. I want to tell them about Kiva because most/all have probably never heard of the concept. I also will be planning the visits of our guests and outlining documentaries as the final product. I may try to end my input there and see what students will come up with on their own. Maybe something even better than my ideas!

I know that at least one class is ready for action because a girl made a comment this week that my class is negative and depressing because of all of the negative aspects of history we have looked at so far. I definitely sense that they are ready to do something positive to make a difference in the world.

Finally my driving question for this project needs some work. I originally had the driving question of “Why do people hate?” but am not sure that is specific enough to genocide. I have also considered “Where does racism or hate come from?” but still feel like that is too specific.

So now it is your turn. How would you introduce these ideas to students with enough freedom for them to make up their own minds about what to do with it? Also can you suggest a better driving question or do you like some variation of mine?

10 thoughts on “Genocide

  1. Bryan

    Hey Michael,

    Sounds like a cool approach, and one you’ll probably be able to invite the class to collaborate on without too much trouble (or lacking any authenticity). I think some of the most exciting things that have happened in my classroom have been when I have taken the framework of an idea to a group and had their ideas influence the direction of the work.

    Instead of trying to plan the activities as such, what would you say are your desired outcomes for the project:

    – Digital media tools to communicate a perspective or story on the topic / individual

    – Background context for modern genocide & different manifestations of hatred

    – Connection to immediate issues & human stories

    Whether these are your outcomes are not doesn’t really matter, but if you have this as your framework, and an idea for the product, why not involve your students in planning *how* the project happens? How will they research or learn the context material? How will you assess their knowledge? Who will fulfill what roles and when within the learning process?

    Look forward to seeing where it goes!


  2. Jose

    Hi Michael,

    I would consider showing the PBS Documentary, “On Our Watch” about Darfur,

    It outlines how genocide still happens today, to give the students relevancy… but the documentary also shows how people used the internet and social media to create attention/awareness of the genocide to do something about it.

    If you focus on that aspect of the video and guide your students in that direction, it could be a good transition to ask them if they think the community is aware of their neighbors who have survived and experienced genocide? This is where you can guide them to the Kiva website… or not. Sounds like there are a lot of great ideas out there, I would focus on just executing one really well- documentary/video projects in-themselves can be handfuls.

    Driving question… how do we as members of this Michigan community, use online resources to create awareness by making a documentary of genocide survivors that helps us understand the impact of “hate.”

    Hope this helps! Feel free to contact me at or @mrmartinezcsa on twitter

  3. Julia

    Hey Michael,

    I love being able to follow all of the impressive thinking and work you’re doing with your students!

    Have you heard of Facing History & Ourselves? Check out their site at

    They cover a lot of content now in addition to genocide, but they really started their work and training with the Holocaust. They have a fantastic resource book called Holocaust and Human Behavior:

    Anyways, something I find fascinating about how they engage students in incredibly depressing content is the human and personal lens through which they explore it.

    Their overarching themes for exploring something like genocide are: The Individual and Society, Human Behavior, We and They, Bystanders vs. Upstanders, Judgment Memory and Legacy, and Choosing to Participate.

    There may be something here for your project. 🙂 I wonder if the way you craft your driving question could ultimately serve as a catalyst to helping students come up with active ways of advocating against the type of events their interviewees are refugees because of?

    What about something like, “How can we be upstanders in a world of hate?”

    Good luck!!!!

  4. Brandon Bolton


    Let me start off by saying this: I am an student at a New Tech school. I had a project that revolved around the Kiva foundation. We had to research a way to help them out and pick one person – although we ran into the problem of people donating money to them before the project was over – and do a case study on them and their life story.

    I recommend looking into the Nation History Day competition ( ), two years ago we had to do an project on decadent lifestyles. We had the freedom do pick any medium of presentation we liked. We even had a group compete at state level.

    Now, I like your driving question of “What if ____ ruled the world,” only fill the blank with hate and greed. I know a few kids what would have a field day with the driving question of “What if hate and greed ruled the world.” You could even just show them what Genocide is and most of the students will incorporate that in their project.

    Like Bryan said before me, you could show them the background info for modern genocide and different manifestations of hatred. I love the idea of having the interview. That would allow them to get a first hand account of what happened. When we were learning about Genocide we had survivors from the Genocide in Rwanda come to my school and give a speech. I believe it was from there, well, anyways it was a real eye opener that Genocides never did stop occurring.

    Even if you wanted you could touch on the idea of slavery in the modern age. Seeing how there is more slaves in the mordern age than at any point throughout the history of the world.

    Well, sorry for jumping all over the place.

    I hope this helps,


  5. Jason

    Hi Michael.

    I love the ideas. It looks like your students are ready to move on based on the young lady’s comment. I wonder how you can see if her concern is more prevalent in the classes, and then ask them what some next steps might be to address some of the issued you have been addressing, or how they could make a difference when it comes to genocide. I love Jose’s idea about Darfur as it is more recent and a little more relevant.

    I am wondering what grades you are teaching, and if you can partner with a literature teacher. I see a pretty cool partnership to look at genocide based literature specifically dealing with WWII and/or Native American literature. I also think that the movie Hotel Rwanda is one of the most powerful I have seen on the topic.

    I think it is important that you allow the students to find their impact, though you can definitely guide them to something like Kiva. One of the techniques that my partner teacher and I often use to help with discovery is a short, individual task that involves exercising pretty basic research skills. We have group members (we teach in a singularly cooperative environment) individually find different subjects. They then present their finding to the group, and the group chose which one they want to represent. We then do an all-class share out so that there is on overlap. That way the maximum number of options is discovered by the students.

    As for your driving question, I wonder if something more like “What happens because of hate?” (or something like that) might be closer to the mark. Or maybe even a Shakespearean quote that covers both the genocide part and the make a difference part. “Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.”

    Here are some resources a friend of mine has worked with on combating genocide.

    Good luck. Hope you can pull some meaning from my blather.


  6. Brad

    How about this idea for a driving question:

    How does hate become systematic? How does hate move from a person minds to a systematic approach?

  7. concretekax

    Thanks all for the great feedback. Special thanks to Brandon. It is great to have a student comment on this topic. I have been bragging to the other teachers at my school about the comments I got here. I also have been exploring all of the great resources you all have shared with me.

    I have decided to stick with “Why do people hate?” as my driving question. The most important part of a driving question to me is that it is engaging to draw students into the project and I feel that one is the most relevant and powerful to them.

    I am not going to do “Knows/Need to Knows” but instead have students look at a bunch of slides about the topic and generate their own essential questions. From that we will talk about making documentaries and I will mention Kiva.

    Where it goes from there is going to be up to what students decide to do with it. I have reservations about some of my freshmen being ready for an open ended project but others are ready to soar in this. To be continued…

  8. Angela Pitts

    My name is Angela Pitts, and I am a student in EDM 310 at the University Of South Alabama. I like your idea of introducing your lesson with the simple question “Why do people hate?” This is a simple question that can be a springboard into more detailed responses and discussions. I think introducing students to real victims of genocide and allowing your students to interview them will give them first-hand impressions of this problem within society. The assignment of the documentary videos as their final project is a brilliant idea. Your students will be able to go in many different directions when creating their videos to make them their own. As they are learning about this issue through the interviews and research, I bet your students will be able to come up with ideas of their own on how to help victims of genocide.


  9. Anonymous

    I am glad to see that the topic of genocide is being covered in the classroom. I would like you to consider using examples and statistics from North America (both US and Canada) about the genocide of First Nation Peoples. Information is available on these topics from many organizations including Amnesty International.

  10. concretekax

    I have been in touch with a local group of Native American teachers and am working out a schedule for them to come in and talk to my students. It is important but will probably be emphasized more next year in American History vs. World History this year. I feel a constant tension on what to emphasize with this topic as unfortunately there are so many genocides to choose from…

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