This week I am wrapping up a project with my 7th graders that is about traveling to Texas in the year 1800. All of my design students take either French or Spanish and I have them in corresponding “delegations” with a student governor. Within the delegations are groups of students (3 to 6 in a group) who are working together as a sort of travel company.
Their task is to create a diorama of a settlement for a certain number of people that will be going on a trip from a country, of their choosing, to somewhere in Texas. They also are creating a presentation where they are to “sell” this trip to the rest of their classmates.
Tasks they must perform include figuring out how many people they will take (including their skills) and the number of ships that they will need to transport these people to the New World. They have researched where the ship will land in the New World and how long it will take to get to the place they plan on settling from the ship landing.
Throughout this task I have been bringing it back to the importance of building empathy. The latest paper I had them write me was to tell me about a young person who is planning on taking their trip. As this person, they have to describe their home that they are leaving; how long it will take to get to the ship; what it will be like on the ship (including what they plan on doing to keep from getting bored); and what it will be like when they first get to Texas. I want their character to be about their own age.
My students didn’t have much of a problem doing basic research and calculating things like speed and distance. They had a harder time with calculations of scale for their buildings in their dioramas. But when they had to write that empathy paper there were some fun thoughts shared with me by these young folks.
While the majority of students told me of one room, broken-down, huts that they were leaving, several told me about these huge multi-room mansions that they were leaving. And one student told me all about the apartments he would be moving into when he got to Texas.
When it came to getting to the shipyard most walked or rode on a wagon but several said they would take a taxi – (what, no Uber or Lyft?).
The ship ride for most students was cramped with not much to eat. But many of my students planned on having 3 meals a day provided by the captain. And a few had very nice accommodations – “Better than the bed they had at home!”
It is interesting to see students struggle with understanding of what life was like prior to 1980 – never mind what life was like in the year 1800! I’m only hoping that this process will help them with their Texas History class that they are taking at the same time.