Creating Choice Through the War of 1812

I recently read a quote from Innovator’s Mindset that has stuck with me the past 2 days. The quote reads, “Schools should not be where answers go to die, but where questions come to life.” When I read this quote, I couldn’t help but think about it in the context of Room 303. During my recent blogging quest, 8th grade learners are maintaining blogs from the perspective of a Federalist or Democratic-Republican. They learn about decisions that President George Washington made, or President Thomas Jefferson made and blog about their feelings. Each quest has a mini-lesson built in that varies. Examples include: a hyperdoc (I love hyperdocs btw), a simulation, a digital story book, a “guest speaker” comes in, or retelling stories with legos.

So far, I have provided the questions to the students throughout each blogging quest. As a result, my questions are getting answered, but the answers quickly die (and fall off the face of the Earth). Before the learners begin blogging, I feel two issues are being created from this situation:

  1. The learners are having trouble relating the content to the blog posts. There posts are coming out as regurgitated, informational essays.
  2. The learners are not connecting with their character’s perspective.

In the most recent quest with James Madison and the War of 1812, I decided to try something new. I gave the learners a choice board. This particular choice board has 2 rules: 1) you must do the middle square 2) you must go in a tic-tac-toe format. Other than this, anything goes.

When I first introduced this, looks of confusion ensued. A mutiny was in the works. The first question came soon after, “Where do you want me to start? Where do I find this information?” This led me into having a quick class discussion that went something like this……

“Let me explain the meaning behind this choice board. Too often you go through school and you are provided questions through worksheets, tests, forms, etc. You might ask a question based on something I said you need to learn. You’ll come up with the answer, but are you remembering that answer? Or thinking about why that was the answer? Ultimately, when do you create your own questions about the things you want to learn? When do you find the answers to your own questions? So, this board allows you to explore the War of 1812 in your own way. Yes, The middle square is needed to provide background information. However, from there, you can explore battles, the Star Spangled banner, the burning of Washington DC, famous general that became presidents, or statistics about the war. This gives you guys a choice, and a voice, to form your own knowledge and opinions about the War of 1812.”

It was only the first day, but I already see creative thinking in the works. For example, the middle square said make a visual time showing causes of war,  Battle of Tippecanoe, burning of Washington, Battle of New Orleans, and the Treaty of Ghent. A particular student pointed out that it was difficult to show causes on a chronological timeline. I responded with, “What can you creatively think of to make this work?” I checked back in 5 minutes later and she figured it out – she put the causes in a textbox next to a timeline with the battles, the burning, and the treaty. Another example of creativity that impressed (for you history people, this is not some War of 1812 pun – click the link if you don’t know what I mean) me – the amount of visual timelines on paper, google drawings, and other forms of tech that students are familiar with. I’m not getting the same, monotonous thing over and over. 

Granted, this was my first day, but I was impressed.  Will this lead to better blogs and more connection to the perspective of the character? Time will tell. But one day in, I already see questions coming to life.



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