Of all the units we had planed for the year, this was the one I was least excited about. When we planned the course, we had some great essential questions laid out to inquire into key content areas, and this unit was created to deal with the content that didn’t fit in anywhere else. I really think the debate tournament could revolutionize how I approached “coverage” units in the future. Our goal was for students to engage with a lot of content in a short amount of time, while keeping the classroom as student-centered as possible. We accomplished this goal. However, the success of the unit went beyond this, because the format of the debate forced students to be much more critical of so-called “golden ages” than they would have been normally. Having students evaluate others’ golden ages, turned the unit into one not just about cultural achievement, but also about inequality within powerful civilizations. The unit also was a nice end to the first half of the course, as it built upon students’ earlier understandings of geography and belief systems to help them see how those contributed to advanced societies.
Things We Got Right
- Using China as an all-class model and introduction to the idea of a Golden Age worked very well.
- Students took ownership of their Golden Ages and with few exceptions, became very knowledgable about their topics.
- The debate-tournament went exceptionally well, forcing students to recognize both the positive and negative aspects of the various Golden Ages.
- By making 50% of the debate scoring about counter-arguments, students learned nearly as much about the other Golden Ages as they did about their own. This also naturally forced students to focus on issues of inequality, specifically around gender.
Things We Got Wrong That Are Easy to Fix
- Having the individual component of a map, vocabulary, timeline, and multiple-choice questions did not work out well. Vocabulary should have been integrated with the rest of the research and presentation. Multiple-choice questions should have been written as a group, which would have forced students to discuss what the most important information for their topics actually was. The maps and timelines should have been a teacher-led all class activity either as a review or an introduction.
- We should have had students practice their presentations, perhaps on video to self-analyze how they did.
Things We Got Wrong That Need to Be Redone
- We need to re-examine how to get students ready to do better presentations with better visual aides.
- We need clear guidelines and rubrics for the presentation and powerpoint.