Crawford eighth-graders draw on history and fiction to create ‘Perfect World’
Two teachers at Crawford Middle School challenged a group of eighth-graders to design a “Perfect World” using what they had learned from U.S. history and from a modern novel – an assignment that fit well with the school district’s mission of preparing students “to excel in a global society.”
“To excel, students must understand how a society is created and what components a successful society possesses,” said Heather Kirchdorfer, whose Advanced Language Arts class recently presented their projects. “Ultimately, I want them to understand how our communities are developed and what it take to make a community function effectively. They need to really understand where we all fit in a community and how it’s always evolving.”
The eighth-graders proposed a wide range of utopian societies. For instance, Delainey Hite designed a natured-focused community with only basic technology. “It definitely opens your eyes as to how hard it would be to run your own country,” she said. Classmate Nikkita Espy, who situated her nation on a Mediterranean island, considered myriad factors to make it realistic. “I used to want to be a president, but it’s a lot of work to please people and keep the environment clean,” Nikkita said, adding, “It was a great learning process.”
Kirchdorfer partnered with social studies teacher Sara Green on the “Perfect World” assignment, in which the students drew on what they learned about the formation of the United States and from “The Giver,” a 1993 young adult dystopian novel by Lois Lowry. “Through history, many communities have tried to establish a utopia or at least a very highly functioning civilization. Students read a fictional account of this attempt in ‘The Giver.’ In social studies, students have been studying how our own country was created and how the Constitution functions,” Kirchdorfer explained. In addition, the students read excerpts from the historical novel “Chains,” written from the perspective of a young slave girl. “We wanted to find a way to really demonstrate how to connect these fictional stories with historical elements, and the students asked some great questions,” Kirchdorfer said.
In preparation for their projects, the students each developed 12 key societal components such as systems of government and education, family structure, housing options, and recreational opportunities. Some students delved deeper into certain areas, researching divorce laws and child-custody issues, for instance. “Because they were incorporating a fictional novel as background, they were given a little more free rein. But their country had to be hypothetically possible,” Kirchdorfer said. “It’s a good hybrid between what they’re interested in and what they understand about local and global communities.”
Green also deemed the assignment an effective cross-curricular experience. “They learned about what the words ‘We the people, in order to form a more perfect union’ mean in the context of our Constitution and the desire of our Founding Fathers to try and create a representative democracy,’ Green said. “When students applied the knowledge that they learned in Social Studies along with text of ‘The Giver,’ they were able to stretch their understanding of governments, society, and their own imagination for deeper analysis of these themes.”
The assignment had three requirements: an essay, a 12-sided 3-D model of their multifaceted community, and a five-minute oral presentation in the Crawford library. “I’m really proud of this project,” Kirchdorfer said, noting, “Students learn better when you help them put all the pieces together. All of the skills intertwine to allow students to become successful.”