Imperialism in my classroom today

I wanted to introduce imperialism and colonialism to my students in a way that would make an emotional impression so I had my principal and IT people come in and take away all of their laptops. We are a brand new school that is 1:1 laptops and the students love them.

I told the students that there was a board meeting and they decided that one of the new programs in the vocational school in our building needed them more than we did. So because of budget cuts our students were losing their computers and might get new ones next year.

It worked wonderfully. Some of them got mad. Some got emotional. Some started texting their friends or parents about it. Students choose to come to our school from 20 districts in our county. So many of them said “why should we even come here?” or “I am going to go back to my home district.” One of my favorite responses came from a student from a rural district who was very upset, “I am a farmer and this is the only technology I have. You can’t take it away from me!”

Once they were loaded on a cart and taken away I tried to continue teaching but the students kept interrupting with questions and complaints. I then asked them how it would feel to go home and have someone meet them at the door and tell them this was not their house and to leave. I then asked them how to think about how it must have felt to be Chinese, African, or Native American and have Europeans do just that.

In one class a few students had some hints that it was not real and refused to turn in their laptops in “protest.” There were two groups of protesters. One group sat on the floor in the middle of my room, but when I called them out individually they all turned in their computer. The other group was off to the side of the room and refused to give up their computers. This led to a good discussion afterwards of protesting and how they have been trained by schooling to be obedient and compliant.

When I revealed that they were getting their computers back some students just thought it was a joke. I think they got the connection after we talked about it as we gave them their computers back and specifically talked about colonization. We then looked at this slide and did “Knows and Need to Knows” (part of the PBL process).

This is where I have one question about the PBL process. The students were so excited after the simulation but by the time we got done with KNTK’s I felt like they were almost lulled to sleep. To me we lost all of our momentum as a class and went from excited to bored.

My plan is to try to re-capture some energy tomorrow by scrapping my planned mercantile simulation and instead leading a “research session” on Libya and Quidaffi. I am hoping the spontaneity of it will generate some enthusiasm because I don’t know where we will end up and want students to pursue it however they choose to.

6 thoughts on “Imperialism in my classroom today

  1. Angela Pitts

    Mr. Kaechele,

    My name is Angela Pitts, and I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. Your lesson on imperialism and colonialism was perfect. Great way to make a point by using something that your students relate to teach a lesson. Your strategy with the laptops gave your students a real-life example of how their life could look like in an imperialistic society.

  2. Stephen Lazar

    I’ve certainly experienced that loss of energy before between the hook and the project. I’ve wondered if it has something to do with moving from a student centered moment to a teacher centered moment. What it instead of moving from hook to “need to know”, you jumped straight into students generating inquiry questions. Then, your “need to knows” would come as a response to their questions.

  3. Mike Kaechele

    I think you are right Stephen. For my next unit I am going to move away from a formal KNTK’s into an informal conversation about what students want to pursue in their learning goals. Definitely feel it is too teacher centered.

  4. whatedsaid

    I read your post earlier and loved the hook you used with your students. I was thinking about what had ‘gone wrong’, came back to respond with my thoughts and saw Stephen’s comment above, which is just what I was thinking. I don’t know the formal process of PBL, but I work in an inquiry school, and we often find that a powerful provocation (what you call the hook) will lead students straight into inquiry questions. I wonder how it would have gone if you had just put up the slide and asked for responses. Your hook provoked all kinds emotional reactions and then the KNTK was completely intellectual (and teacher centred, as you said). Are you familiar with the project zero thinking routines? There are some excellent ones that promote different kinds of thinking and understanding. A simple one like ‘See, Think, Wonder’ might have worked well at this point.
    I’m wondering if you’d like to join Inquire Within, a collaborative blog about this kind of learning and share your journey there with other teachers thinking about this kind of learning.

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