Empower your students to “Be the Change” with the “Power of One” project
27. Mindful Time with Brian Aikens – My Best Lesson: Social Studies
I know what you might be thinking–this is supposed to be an interview, not one of just me–well, sorry, you’re stuck with me. I figured it was time to put my money where my mouth is & to talk about my own best lesson in Social Studies. Truth be told, this episode was the result of two factors; my desire to share one of my favorite projects, and my inability to make schedules match with a few of my upcoming guests.
This “lesson” is more of a unit and I call it “The Power of One: Be the Change.” A number of years ago our middle school worked with Dr. Nancy Doda to enhance the effectiveness of our teams. While the opportunity to make profound changes was presented to us as a staff, not all of us took full advantage (myself included). However, I did take a few things from our time with Dr. Doda, not the least of which was the idea to center my third quarter unit of study (the Industrialization and Urbanization of the United States) around the idea of the power of single people, places & events in history. It was out of these discussions with Dr. Doda that the idea for The Power of One project came to life.
This project evolved over the course of a few years and, ironically enough, the main source of inspiration behind it was the series America the Story of Us from the History Channel. During the third quarter, our students are learning about the industrialization& subsequent urbanization of the United States in Social Studies while they learn about power and work in science classes. A meeting with Dr. Doda got me thinking about how we can use the idea of power to draw ties between the two classes and, while we did not come up with some amazing interdisciplinary approach, it did get me thinking about how I can implement the thoughts behind the Rube Goldberg projects the students do in science into my class–that’s when the “Power of One” was born.
Many of my students love watching America the Story of Us. For some, it’s because of the off-the-wall celebrities that appear, for others it’s a break from “doing” so much in class and, for many they find the videos to be engaging and interesting. Each year, we would watch the episode called Cities, and I would ask my students to evaluate and rank the contributions to society made by key individuals like DeWitt Clinton, Colonel George Waring & Thomas Edison. You’d actually be surprised how engaging this was for many of my students, but I wanted something more–I wanted an authentic connection to themselves.
And so it was, The Power of One was born. The Power of One is the idea that it only takes one thing to have a major impact. Just like in the Rube Goldberg projects the students were creating, it often only takes one action to start a chain reaction of events that can have profound impacts on society and history. In the first iteration of the project, the students were asked to tell me how individuals had contributed to society as seen in the project to the left–however, that wasn’t enough for my students or for me. Anyone that teaches students (especially middle school students) knows that they are often self-centered (through no fault of their own), and things must be relatable to them–so I knew I had to make this project more personal.
A number of years ago I was fortunate enough to take a course on Project-Based Learning taught by a phenomenal educator from Lancaster, Pennsylvania named Anne Schober. Anne had recently published a book called Heart Prints in which she detailed her on life story as an educator. In both her book and the class, we learned of some amazing projects that her students did in Lancaster (like building playgrounds and starting teen-help phone lines) and it inspired me to get my students “doing” rather than just learning. Now, instead of simply telling me how other individuals did change society, my students work in small groups (or alone) to design & implement community service projects to bring about positive change in their own communities. Listen to the episode above & check out my Hyperdoc here.