Alicia Calcagni, GBP Student
Survey says: Greater Boston Project: 100 points.
This week we got the opportunity to recreate Family Feud in our classroom. Our “families” were our CAP project groups, and playing this game was a great way for us to bond and get to know each other. As many of you know, an important aspect of The Greater Boston Project is collaboration, and this class always makes sure we are learning how to collaborate in a fun and exciting way.
At the start of class, all of the students filled out a ten question survey containing questions that related to our life in and out of school. These questions were the survey questions for the game. Right off the bat, the game became very intense. Each group was given a piece of paper to write down their answers for each survey question. If you looked around the room after the show host (Mr. O, of course) read the question you would see all of the groups huddled around a piece of paper quietly whispering, so another group would not hear them, ideas of what would answer the question best. In other words, you would see all group members collaborating to determine the right answers.
Creating this competitive environment, made getting to know our group mates a lot easier. The CAP project continues for the rest of the year, and we will need to be able to effectively communicate and make decisions with the same people for the next four months. It is extremely important to be able to problem solve as a group, and challenge or support different people in your group's opinions to make the best project. It may be surprising, but playing Family Feud helped us develop those skills as a group. For example, One question was, “Name different suburbs of Boston, not including Needham.” I was thinking, “Oh no, our options are endless.” The groups were faced with a challenge: picking five suburbs out of a lot that would reward them with the most points. For a while my groupmates and I discussed back and forth what suburbs should be on our list, and after erasing, rewriting, then erasing and rewriting again we finally all agreed on what we thought was the perfect list.
Looking back on the game, the skills we used to answer the questions are the same as the ones we will use to succeed in our CAP Project. This was a great way to kick off our project and get to know our peers in a easy-going environment.
GBP students compete in their CAP groups for Family Feud glory (Photo by Ms. Tincher).
Ben Retik, GBP Student
With half of the year already gone, most students have fully adjusted to the different way of doing things in GBP. One of the largest challenges that new students face when beginning GBP is public speaking, a skill that is utilized in other more traditional classes. It seems odd to me that such an important skill and one that is extraordinarily useful in life beyond high school had not been a part of education until I enrolled in GBP. With public speaking and oral communication in general being a rather new skill for most students, it inevitably takes time to develop.
Throughout the course of the year, Current Event Discussions or “CEDs” have been the basis of our oral communication practice. Current Event Discussions consist of each student choosing a story that relates to Boston and presenting it to the class. The first round of CEDs were a bit shaky, but I was impressed by how well many students performed given that oral communication had not been emphasized in the school curriculum up until this time. Though many people had inconsistent eye contact, fidgeted while they spoke, or had long pauses in their speech, overall the presentations were better than I expected.
Still, since those first CEDs every students in class has had ample opportunity to improve their oral communication skills. Numerous in class presentations as well as three more Current Event Discussions have provided space for students to hone their skills and work on specific aspects of their communication that they need to improve. From my experience in GBP, the only way to really improve one's communication skills is to practice. GBP has given its students the opportunity to do just that. With the ability to get feedback from your audience and then attempt to correct your mistakes in the next presentation, students have shown significant improvement from the beginning of the year.
We are now on our fourth round of current event discussions and all students have improved a lot. Feedback from the audience allows the presenter to be very aware of what they need to improve and the many public speaking opportunities allow students to practice improving the weakest aspects of their oral communication.
GBP students discuss and roleplay issues from the Lowell Mills (Photos by Ms. Tincher).
Sophia Korostoff-Larsson, GBP Student
When was the last time you were able to make the words in your history textbook come alive? In today’s school system, so much of what we do is read textbooks, take notes, and memorize the information simply to be regurgitated on the next test and then forgotten. Well, in the Greater Boston Project, we make sure to do the exact opposite. We find ways to learn and understand the history of the Greater Boston Area in different fun and engaging ways.
Recently, we welcomed historians from the Lowell Mills Museum into our classes. The class was split into two groups in which we were each assigned a role of a person who was actually involved in the Lowell Mills during the Antebellum Era. There were people of all different types of jobs: mill workers, mill owners, overseers, lawyers, journalists, small business owners, and boarding house keepers. We were asked to impersonate this individual and take on their emotions and opinions of the time. The historian then facilitated conversation amongst the different characters. Through this conversation, we saw the varying opinions of all the different people living during this time periods. We saw that some Lowell Mill girls complained of the long hours and poor working conditions, and went on strike against this lifestyle. At the same time, other mill girls were just glad to have a job to contribute money to their families, so they didn’t actively do anything about the conditions. We saw that many of the mill owners and overseers didn’t seem to care about the treatment of the workers, as they were paying them, and if the workers complained or went on strike, the owners could simply hire new immigrants to work for a smaller amount. However, there were a few members of society that supported of the mill workers. There were lawyers and journalists that wanted to expose the mills for their poor working conditions and poor treatment of the workers. Throughout the facilitated conversation, we were able to see all of the different views and how they contrasted with one another.
What was especially interesting about the roleplay was how invested our classmates got in their roles. Although each person did not necessarily agree with what their character believed, everyone embraced it and fought for what they “believed” in. This made for a very interesting and intense conversation. As people would immediately respond and contradict what others were saying, there was a growing sense of tension. At one point the historian even said, “Don’t worry girls, he’s just acting,” as one of the boys acting as a mill owner said that the girls could live through the harsh conditions. Because of this aspect of our conversation, we were all able to completely comprehend the difficulties and conflicts that existed during this time period regarding working conditions. If we had simply been reading a textbook, we wouldn’t have been able to get this complete sense of what life was like.
Maddi Terry, GBP Student
There are only a handful of books that resonate with individuals regardless of the time period, content, or genre. These famous works of art are seen to outlast shifts in culture and societal norms, changes the composition of our nature as humans, and even what we value as a community of human beings. Often times the author of the book is the source of the fame and success, but sometimes the book is so well written, so diverse in nature, that it is able to resonate with individuals over a wide span of time. From Moby Dick to The Great Gatsby, from Hamlet to The Odyssey, these works span a wide range of genres.
(Image from Black History 101.)
Among this great collection of books is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a story written in the 1850s about slavery in the South and Stowe’s perception of the slave industry. Unlike the majority of people of her time, Stowe was against slavery and the ideas that it stood for and was willing to publicly share her opinion. Being a woman in a time when women were financially and socially powerless under men, it was unusual for Stowe to publish a book, nevertheless go against one of the most prosperous industries in our nation’s history.
As we read and discuss the book as a class, we have begun to uncover the many controversial topics that make this book so well known. One aspect of the novel that stood out to the class was the way Stowe narrates the story by interweaving third person and second person voice. For example, when the author is writing about a slave named Eliza having her child taken away from her Stowe relates this idea to the reader by saying: “...such tears, woman, as you shed when you heard the cries of your dying babe. For, sir, he was a man,—and you are but another man. And, woman, though dressed in silk and jewels, you are but a woman, and, in life's great straits and mighty griefs, ye feel but one sorrow!” (Stowe 103). The use of second person creates a bond between the reader and the slave characters that was not found in any other published book at the time.
Another major idea that we have identified throughout the book is that Stowe uses Christianity and faith in God to connect the reader and the characters, similarly to how she uses second person. The significance in this connection between the two communities is that it merges the gap between the white and the black people in the story and puts the white slave masters in the slaves’ shoes. For example, the character Eva stands as a icon for an angel that sees the good in people despite their race. When talking about a slave to her aunt Eva says, “But, mamma, isn't God her father, as much as ours? Isn't Jesus her Saviour?” (Stowe 773). During our group discussions we were able to come to the conclusion that Stowe purposefully uses a young, white character to be able to relate more to the readers. By having the white child say that the two races share the same God it relates to the reader while challenging the general opinion of slavery.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin has helped us to understand the views of white people at the time of slavery, and has showed us how the beginning of the end of the slave industry was sparked.
Gwen Marcus, GBP Student
The biggest and most exciting aspect of GBP is the Community Action Project, otherwise known as the “CAP”. After proposing our own topics and voting on those that we were interested in, we finally received our CAP groups just over a week ago. In that week alone, we’ve already made many discoveries about our project.
My CAP group, which is focusing on improving the graduation rates at Chelsea High School, quickly started our research, and were surprised to find demographical data that differed from our preconceived thoughts. For example, we originally thought that the cause of the low graduation rates was the quality of the schools, but our early research has already showed that, depending on race, graduation rates can range between 50 and 84.5%, which completely changes our ideas for solving our issue. Now, we have to take the research we've done and use it to change our plans in order to better achieve our CAP goal; we're focusing on finding more possible reasons for the graduation rates, rather than jumping in based on an original assumption. Based on this experience, I wouldn't be surprised if other groups find out that their problems are also caused by different things than they imagined. To me, this was a clear indication of how quickly we should dive into our CAP -- it hasn’t even been two full weeks, but we already have so much more information to research and consider than many originally considered.
As the research goes on, the more exciting the CAP gets. Each person gets to put their strengths to use by doing different types of research (like math/statistics, social issues, background info, etc), and the result is a very well-compiled and in-depth set of information. In my group, I focus mostly on researching and analyzing statistics (like historic graduation rates, poverty rates, and other demographics about Chelsea), while the other members focus more on contacting people in Chelsea, finding out offerings of the school district, and compiling all the information together in an organized manner. It's also exciting in the sense that we are getting closer to solving a real world problem, rather than just researching for a typical school project. With CAPs, even though we’re not even two weeks in, the research is already interesting and feels purposeful.
Josh Shapiro, GBP Student
As seniors finishing up our first semester, it is on all of our minds. We’re trying to keep grades up through the end of the term and waiting on acceptance letters. While the short term goal of getting into college is the focus of most students in GBP, the teachers know that we need to be prepared to handle college-style classes once we get to college.
Throughout the year we have focused on skills like collaboration, research, writing communication, and more. In one of our recent classes the teachers helped us prepare for college lectures. In high school we have small class sizes and teachers that will stop and let you write down what is on each slide. However, in a large lecture hall, the professors will often talk without slides outlining the key information. Unlike in high school, college professors won’t slow down if you are falling behind in your notes and sometimes they don’t even have slides at all.
Last week, as a class we first brainstormed important things to do before you even start taking notes. It may seem obvious to keep an organized place for notes or to know what the lecture is on, but, to be honest, I usually forget to take out a notebook until five minutes into a lecture in high school. We covered other clever note taking tips, such as using abbreviations (Bos for Boston or ppl for people) and only writing down the important points. It is impossible to record everything the teacher says and it doesn’t help having a dense wall of notes that cover the entire lecture. The teachers drilled into us only to track the core parts of the lecture that are relevant to the larger goals of the class. With all of these new tips to keep track of we started the lecture.
Then, Mr. Brooke took center stage and gave a lecture on Irish immigration to Boston in the antebellum time period. This is a history that many of us knew of, but lacked most of the details of the immigration process. GBP usually takes a more dynamic and interactive approach to teaching, but this was college prep. Gone with the games and activities, we said hello to an endless effort to listen to Mr. Brooke and record all of the important details.
Without even knowing it, I have been trained to find the important pieces of the lecture. Having spent so much time exploring cultural change and identity and perception, two of our main learning goals, it was instinctive for me to keep track of the causes, methods, and results of Irish immigration. I found that the lecture went through these topics in a logical order and I was able to organize my notes because of it.
At the end we analysed our notes and learned what to do with notes after we finish taking them. I went back through my notes and with the power of digital note taking, I moved around my bullet points to fit into different categories that I gave headings to. While this lesson was more stressful than most days in GBP, I was able to walk away with skills to handle my first lectures in the fall.
This course, in addition to teaching the rich history of the Greater Boston area, has been training me for college. Instead of looking at a class as a singular subject, like math or English, that focused on a topic, like statistics or American literature, GBP took a topic and used the different subjects of math, history, and English to reach the learning goals. College is built in the same way. Courses are about an idea and use whichever tools are necessary to cover the material. Seeing the connections between the different subjects in school gives me an advantage as more and more schools trend towards interdisciplinary learning.
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