China and CCS Videos Part 6: Student Responses

Read from the beginning: Setting the Stage

Here are the results! I administer a reflection at the end of each unit using Google forms.

Check out the all the responses here.


Did you enjoy learning about China?

My thoughts

I’ll take a 75% approval rating any day of the week and twice on Sunday.


Sample student responses

Did you like the China project? Why or why not?

It was fun working together as a group and completing each phase of project together (teamwork and cooperation).

I feel like it was a lot of fun to create pictures of what happened and China. It made it easier to grasp the concept of what we were learning.

I enjoyed the project because we got to be creative and take a break from homework everyday, but the downside of this was that we only got to learn about one topic.

It was fun and stressful at the same time.

It was ok I guess.

My thoughts

Most student responses indicated that they were happy to have a different kind of assessment and enjoyed being able to work with peers. However, a valid point is that by focusing on one topic, students basically do not get to explore other topics of interest. I try to mitigate this by screening all of the videos after the project. That way students can learn about the topic from their peers.

What was the most challenging part about completing the China video project?

Getting all the pictures in the right order and not messing up.

Condensing everyone’s facts to make a solid one and half page script and keep the video over two minutes and under three minutes.

Taking notes was difficult for me but I am glad that I did it because now I can use these note taking skills in other classes for different projects.

When doing the video I got a little nervous.

Making sure everyone has completed their goal so we would be ready for the next day.

My thoughts

Editing, especially collaborative editing is quite challenging. This is a bit by design within this project when I set the length restriction at 2-3 minutes. Only one or two groups have trouble meeting the minimum length. A lot of groups struggle to fit within 3 minutes. This is a noticeably more difficult process for high-achieving students. I try to make this a safer process for them in that everyone gets full credit for completing a script and video. They don’t have to worry about losing points for leaving something out. I also try to reassure them that it is in fact quite challenging to remove valid information for to make a cleaner argument. I have found that students feel  more confident about making tough decisions when they understand that it IS a tough decision. By that I mean that, I have found that when students encounter a challenging task that they think should be easy, their response is to think that they are doing it incorrectly (i.e., they are “dumb”) rather that it is difficult even though they are smart and capable.

What advice would you give to future students to help them do well on this project?

Make sure everyone is on task and understands what to do.

Manage your time well in class because even though it seems like a lot of time it isn’t.

I would tell them to be a good team member and do the work that needs to be done so that your group succeeds.

Get work done earlier if you can, because the more time you have to rehearse and get comfortable with your script makes the overall grade better.

Accept your topic and just do it.

My thoughts

Time management. Group cooperation and collaboration. No surprises. The last comment is instructive because no matter how much I try to take student preferences into account, I cannot create working groups for this project and also give everyone their first choice topic.


Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 1.28.32 PM


My thoughts

Strong time management and clear goals. I am happy with these results because those are my priorities while facilitating the project.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 1.28.43 PM

My thoughts

Frankly, I view artistic direction as the least important job for me on the list…particularly since students are not scored on artistic merits of their video. Otherwise a mixed bag. The research component continues to be a work in progress. One skill I should address more directly for next year is how to evaluate a website for quality and reliability.

Final thoughts

I really like running this project, and generally get positive feedback from students as well. On a multi-year timeframe I can easily picture swapping this out to a different unit to keep it fresh for me, but otherwise it feels good to have a solid activity in the toolbox.


What did you think of the project? Have you done similar projects? What could I do differently next time? Tell me in a comment!

KWL: Student reflections

Following the completion of our French and Indian War Unit, I  gathered self-report data on student experiences with generating their own questions.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Due to time constraints, I only assigned the reflection to three of my five classes. A total of 65 students returned the reflection, and 50 agreed to let me use their data for this post. To facilitate analysis of the data, I transcribed all students responses to spreadsheet and coded them.


FIWar Fav

 Sample student responses

Choice  “We got to really learn what we wanted to.”

Deeper learning  “I was able to answer my own thoughts and learn more than what basic information tells me.”

Getting my own questions answered  “We got to have our own questions answered. Our curiousity still happened even when the questions did not get answered.”

Making up my own test questions “I was able to show my actual questions for the test rather than answering general questions.”

More interesting  “Having my own questions made me more interested and curious about the French and Indian War.”


FI War LFav

Sample student responses

Pay attention more “I had to do a lot more work and put in a lot more effort.” 

Hard to make good questions “I didn’t like that sometimes I was unsure if my question was effective or not.” 

Too many questions “It was hard to come up with a lot of good questions, because I only had a couple of ‘real’ questions.”

Questions weren’t answered “Sometimes my questions were too complicated or too confusing to find the right answer.”

  FIWar Most

Sample student responses

Causes and effects “The end of this war started a spark that became the Revolutionary War.”

George Washington “George Washington had a hard road before he became president.”

How the British won “The British were losing at first, but then they won the war.”

Individual battles “Individual battles have a large impact on the war.”

Strategies and weapons “The French learned the fighting style of the Native Americans.”

Who fought in the war “The Indians played a huge roll in the war. The Indians greatly helped the French in many battles.” 

  FIWar Walpbest

Sample student responses

 Effective “I liked how he teached this unit, I feel like I really know the war and understand it.”

Videos/Visuals “Mr Walp picked a good video!”

Organization “Mr. Walp worked hard to keep everyone together with the PSSA schedule.”

Student-centered “Mr Walp built his lessons around us and what we wanted to learn.”

Variety of resources “By letting us get information from multiple resources.”


Sample student responses

Answer more questions “Mr Walp didn’t answer some of my questions.”

Give examples “He could have given us examples of questions for people who aren’t good at coming up with questions.”

More activities “Maybe use the questions for a debate?”

More lecture “Could talk more in depth about important things.”

Test too long “Very big test with lots of writing.”

Too many videos “Relied too much on videos that were confusing.”

Too much focus on making questions “Don’t make the questions such a big part next time.”

Too few videos “More videos!”


My thoughts:

General Coding data is always an interesting learning experience for me…and one with which I am never 100% fully satisfied. But I think that is just part of the process. How finely do I want to parse the data? For example, when looking at suggestions for my improvement, was it really necessary to separate “more videos” and “less videos” into different categories, especially considering there were only two respondents for “less videos”. Couldn’t I just make one code for videos? What about responses that are unclear, or don’t seem to easily fit into any of the other emergent themes? What about responses that fit more than one code theme? Dealing with these issues is part of the art and science of action research. Above all, I want to respect my students’ voices, but I cannot, and frankly should not, completely remove myself the equation. I too am part of the data.

Favorite things: In no way do I want to I want to minimize these results, but at the same time, there were no major surprises here. As I expected (hoped), student-generated questions led to a sense of empowerment, greater engagement, and a deeper understanding of the topic. I think there is clearly enough evidence to support continued use of this strategy.

Least favorite: I feel like there are two main strands in these data. One is related to student’s internal experiences with generating their own questions. For example, although many students enjoyed making their own questions, it was challenging for them to do so. The second is related to my facilitation of the strategy. I am still on my own learning curve with how best to integrate this strategy. For example, I asked students to create 10 questions from a video, but many students commented that was a particularly challenging task for them. Also, I suspected that I had not devoted enough time to answering student questions, which was confirmed by student feedback. I did try to compensate by allowing students to ask me a question on their test, but I still need to devote more time to it in class.

Most important: I was super happy to see so many students talking about causes and effects of the war, particularly the connection to the American Revolution. Not surprised that students thought George Washington was important, but it was a good reminder for me that a biographical approach can be a powerful method of engagement. I WAS completely caught off guard by how many students were confused about the difference between a battle and a war…which is actually a pretty important concept.

What I did best: I won’t lie, I always minimize good feedback about myself. I feel like, for me, that is the dark side of critical reflection. However, it was nice to read the positive comments, particularly about student-centered instruction.

How I can improve:

If I am going to have students make their own questions, I have to invest more time to make sure I answer as many as possible. I won’t commit to answering them all though. There’s not enough time to do so, AND I think it is also important for students to realize that we don’t always have all the answers.  History is not fully known and understood even by experts.

The test was too long, I’m going to pay for it with amount of time it will take to grade them all. Another trend of mine…my third quarter tests are always the most ambitious, and then I ease up a bit going into the fourth quarter. I don’t think I need to change that, but it’s probably important for me to be aware of it.

More videos. Less videos. The debate rages on… The main problem is that the video was hard to follow at times because it bounced back and forth between different theaters of the war. Next time I’ll need to use more editorial license to make it more easily digestible.

It’s weird…I am always so focused on writing process, and students discovering their own information, that I almost have an aversion to simply lecturing once in awhile. But everything has its place, and sometimes direct instruction is the best, and most appropriate, way to tie everything together and provide context. Of course I am on my third curriculum in three years, so I am also dealing with my own learning curve in the content and pacing.


Comments and feedback welcome!

Slavery Unit Reflection

The results are in. These data are based on surveys the students completed at the end of the unit.  Just over half of my students agreed to let me use their responses (I included an “opt-in” checkbox on the survey).


Slavery Most Effective

Sample student responses

Modern Day Slavery

“I think the most effective lesson in my opinion was Modern Day Slavery because it made everyone realize this is still happening in front of our eyes and around the world”

“Modern Day Slavery because I learned so much about what is going on in our world right now that I had no idea about.”

“Modern Day Slavery because even though other lessons were powerful, this really prepared us and got our emotions  show through before we start it.”

Middle Passage

“Middle Passage because I felt so much empathy toward the slaves.”

“The most effective lesson in the slavery unit was the Middle Passage because it taught us how they got here and what happened before they were in plantations.”

“The most effective was the Middle Passage because I really felt bad about how the slaves were taken from their homeland and it spoke to me.”

Slave Codes

“The Slave Codes because they really outline what we were learning and it talks about the treatment of slaves.”

Narrative of Frederick Douglass

“Frederick Douglass was the most effective because it was his words telling how horrible it was.”

“Frederick Douglass: I liked hearing an actual opinion or ideas from someone who was physically involved in slavery and knows how hard it was.”

“The story of Frederick Douglass gave us a first-hand account of the brutalities of slavery. Seeing how much disrespect for human life the slave owners gave their slaves made me absolutely appalled.”

My thoughts

I was very happy with the students overall emotional connection to the topic across multiple lessons.  I definitely invested more in the Modern Day Slavery and Frederick Douglass lessons. I think a lot of students preferred the Middle Passage unit because we watched a video. I knew the slave codes was the weakest component even as I was planning it.


Slavery Least Effective



Sample student responses

Modern Day Slavery

“Modern Day Slavery because we didn’t spend a lot of time on it and there wasn’t a lot to learn.”

“Modern Day Slavery I thought was the least effective because it did tell us what was going on today with slavery, but it did not give information about the past, and we were studying the past.”

“The topic of Modern Day Slavery was the least effective because we did not see the disrespect given to the slaves as much as we did in the other topics. Mr. Walp should still keep this lesson in to show that the issue of slavery is still alive.”

Middle Passage

“Middle Passage because we were just told about it, we didn’t get to hear about it from someone who experienced it.”

“Middle Passage because I already knew that the slaves came to America with terrible conditions. I didn’t learn much new stuff.”

“The Middle Passage because I can’t comprehend what it was really like.”

Slave Codes

“Slave codes. I think the stories and actual examples were more impactful and meaningful than the slave codes themselves.”

“The Slave Codes because you did not get any emotion in that.”

“Slave Codes because it was more the political side, and sometimes numbers and cold hard facts don’t sink in as much.”

Narrative of Frederick Douglass

“Frederick Douglass because it only showed the view of one slave.”

“I feel like the least effective lesson was about Frederick Douglass. I didn’t like this lesson because it’s ending was short and there weren’t a lot of details.”

“Frederick Douglass because we already knew all of that from the slave codes.”

My thoughts:

Modern Day Slavery – Overall very solid. The point of the lesson was not to go into high detail about modern day slavery, but to build empathy. I think the evidence strongly suggests that it accomplished that goal.

Middle Passage – This lesson didn’t have a focus on one person, but it was a video so it was easy to visualize. I was this close to including primary source excerpts from Olaudah Equiano but I was concerned that it would be too overwhelming (in terms of workload) when combined with the Frederick Douglass narrative.

Slave Codes – Why oh why didn’t I include some runaway slave advertisements?  That was definitely a lost opportunity. This lesson was a classic example of knowing that it wasn’t quite right, but not sure how to fix it at the time. I think that the Virginia slave codes lesson was fine, but I overreached on the broader timeline of slavery. The main concern is that I don’t want to just focus on Virginia, it is important for students to realize that slavery was legal and enforced everywhere during the colonial period, not just the South. I think if I revamp the timeline and add some runaway slave ads this will be much better for next time.

Frederick Douglass – Looking back, I actually wasn’t super clear that this reading was supposed to represent the general condition of slaves, so it is easy to understand how some students might have thought it was too specific. Happily, several students were upset that we didn’t read the entire autobiography! I am totally interested in doing that next year. We could read the whole thing still do close reading for a few passages.


Comments and feedback welcome!

Survivor #50595

Our English classes are studying literature from the Holocaust, and today Holocaust survivor Julius Jacobs came to to tell his story to our entire 8th grade class. In addition to visiting our school for the past ten years, Julius has spoken to dozens of other schools, churches and civic groups.

I’ve took Holocaust studies as an undergrad, read survivor autobiographies, and I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in D.C., but I’ve never personally had the opportunity to hear a survivor account in person. Of course, it’s just different…more powerful. Basically, I got to have the experience that I wanted my students to have when we looked at modern day slavery.

It was particularly crushing to see and hear the Julius’s anguish, even 70 years later, as he recalled the last time he saw his mother and father at “the selection” in Auschwitz. Julius was actually selected not once, but twice for selection himself, and both times was saved by good fortune.

The last question Julius took from the a student in the audience was, “Why do you keep telling your story?

Julius’s answer was elegant and heartfelt. He swore to God that if he survived, he would spend his life telling others what happened. He wants us to never forget what people are capable of if they are governed by fear and hate. Do not judge others for their differences. Our differences do not matter. We are all one people.

Sometimes life just drops a teachable moment in your lap.

When we got back to class, I asked the students to consider the similarities between experiences of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, and experiences of the African slaves. Here are some of the comparisons they came up with.

Both Jews and Africans were:

Killed in the millions.

Forced to work as slaves for the benefit of their masters.

Mistreated or killed by their captors for any reason…or no reason.

Allowed barely enough food, clothing or shelter to survive.

Died from starvation, disease and suicide.

Forcibly separated from their families.

Persecuted simply for belonging to a certain group.

Treated as “other” or “less than”.


Julius Jacobs dedication page

Comments and feedback welcome!

Student Responses to Modern Day Slavery

These are a sampling of student response to our lesson on Modern Day Slavery. All quotes are printed with permission of the authors.


“We are all living on the same earth, and we are supposed to all be equal importance, but still people are enslaved without choice.”

“The whole idea of stealing someone’s life to benefit your own makes me wonder what people think justifies their actions, and how they can go so long staring at people break down in front of them.”

“It angers me that there are still so many people that are slaves. Every single human being has rights, so why do some people treat them like they have none? The word that comes to mind when I think of slavery is captivity. This is because those people are held against their will, but they know nothing else. They are literally like animals in a zoo because of the way people treat them.”

“It is very upsetting to know that people in the land of the free are still in slavery. How are we letting that happen anywhere, even more so in our own country?”

“I don’t understand how people could have slaves. It is so wrong to have somebody else do work that nobody should go through just to make your life better. There should be more people that are educated about slavery so we can end it. I think we all take the way our lives are for granted, but so many of us forget about all those who have no choice in how they live their lives.”

“When I saw the images on the video, I was so angry, screaming inside, that this should be illegal. The children had to work so hard, and I thought that school was hard. I think that the U.S.A. should help and donate. Then again, I think that if we donate money and food the slave owners will just keep it for themselves and not tell the slaves. If I could, I would donate anything to the slaves personally.”

“I feel disgusted at myself. 5 years ago I would cry if I didn’t get the toy I wanted, but 5 years ago there were children even younger than me being killed over money. Most of the older slaves are slaves who have survived the harsh conditions from a young age. Once you are a slave you can’t ever be free again. Those young children will be working forever. They won’t have a life. Looking back on it, I have taken so many things for granted. A house, school, bed and food are all things slaves don’t receive. They will probably never have the chance to be a normal human being.”

“I am disgusted by the slave owners. It is disgusting that some people have the mindset that they are more important than other people; that some people are unequal to them.”

“I am just so angry and upset that people can be so cruel towards other humans. They don’t have the decency to treat them right. People are more focused on money than morals and doing the right thing. I’m just ashamed that parts of our society has come to this. I was very upset that young children will not have a real life or good future, but will have to endure the trauma. I think we need to help make a change and we all can try. This just made me really thankful for my freedom.”

“I am so disappointed. I can’t believe no one is doing something about this. If I were those girls I would be scared and alone.”

“I don’t understand how this is even possible to happen in such open areas. Why can’t people stop slavery? I feel so stupid and helpless because I can’t do anything to help stop it, because we don’t even know when or where it is going on.”

“I can’t believe that slavery still exists. I had no idea until today. No one should be treated the way those people are. People who have slaves are wasting so many lives. I hope that one day slavery wouldn’t exist. I feel so bad for the people who can’t even drink fresh water. I take so much for granted.”

“I think that we should end slavery because it is not fair that they have to do physical labor their whole lives without getting paid and having no education. They should get the same chances that we get like to go to school and get a job.”

“Not am I just angry, I am furious. This is unfair that this is happening to these people. Why are we not freeing them? Why are we not giving them the life that every human deserves? Why do so many people sit back and not even think about this? People should stop worrying about money and actually focus on the real problems in this world.”

“I think that it’s really depressing that an issue that involves so many people, not as many people know it’s going on. I think it’s unfair that some people are free their entire lives and some are trapped forever in a never-ending cycle, never to escape and waiting for someone to come help. Some people never have happy endings.”

“I think that I am so selfish for being sad because these people have no clue that there is even a life out there for them. That’s their life…working. They don’t even know they are slaves, they think it is normal because they have no way to know. They don’t deserve that.”

“A crushing feeling. One that reminds you that it was there every time you breath. There is no way to explain it, but I suppose it is guilt. I feel guilty because I know with every breath I take, someone that I never met is taking their last because we, as a society, didn’t do enough.”

“The world is crazy it is all about money and politics. But no one pays attention to the people who need it most.”

“The people who are enslaved are trapped and can’t escape, and their lives are ruined. It’s scary to think about not having any possible chance of a bright future when we are making a big deal about our high school classes.”

“I can’t believe that these things happen to innocent people. I feel ashamed at our world and what people do. Slavery is absolutely the worst thing ever. Now I think what if that was me? I can never stand to do that.”


Comments and feedback welcome!