A Utopia Project for Home-Schooled Students
Creating a World:
What kind of world do you want to live in?
Why do you want to live in it?
How can you make that world happen?
These are questions that are particularly important to middle school students, as they are just becoming aware of themselves as people who make a society.
There is a world that I want to live in and create. In it, children know and spend time with their families; the home is a safe and joyful place, and people work together to make a community that they want to live in. There are also strawberries, lots of strawberries, and they are sometimes served on a bed of arugula with fresh goat’s cheese and a balsamic reduction. Other times, they are eaten with shortcake and whipped cream.
I am creating an online program for home-schooled middle school students. The big project of the year is called the Utopia project, in which the students will plan and create a model of the world or community that they want to live in. I have done this project with students in my classroom many times, and I think it will work well in an on-line format.
Each week, the students will explore a different idea about some aspect of culture. For example, how do different communities:
– decide what is fashionable or attractive?
– teach their children to behave?
– play games and have fun?
-make and enjoy music?
After thinking about these different ideas from different points of view, the students will think about how they want their own community to interact with that idea. The students will then create a piece of art work or writing to show how their ideal society would work. At the end of the year, the students will have developed a cohesive and informed world view. Imagine what the world would be like if all young people saw themselves as creators of a community, and thought about what that community could look like! I imagine there would be a lot of strawberries, growing everywhere.
The possibilities are endless. When discussing how different groups of people support and create standards of beauty, the class could think about the question: “What is a healthy and beautiful female body?” How is that for a juicy and engaging question? The students would get a lesson in which they learned about the ban Vogue Magazine recently placed on emaciated models, as well as the research that shows what fashion magazines do to women’s self esteem. Their writing could investigate the difference between healthy standards of beauty that support and help create a world in which they want to be in, and unhealthy standards, that create a world that makes people feel bad about their bodies. They could then create an ad campaign promoting healthy, strong bodies.
While discussing health, the students could read about the restrictions on large soft drinks in NYC. Rights are so important to young teens. We could talk about if such a ban infringes upon their “rights.” This would lead to conversations about the constitution. The students could then, over several lessons, create their own constitutions and bills of rights.
I have been thinking about what the lessons are going to look like. I am exploring videos as a way to convey ideas. I just had a demonstration lesson on WizIq in which I learned how a video can be shown simultaneously to a group of learners, and the instructor can stop the video for a discussion whenever she wants. Allowing students to burst into discussion favors students who are confident and quick, even when they are not reflective. As a teaching practice, I always allow students a few moments to formulate and organize their ideas. With WizIq, the teacher could prepare questions ahead of time, and then have the questions appear on the screen during pauses in the video. The students could answer the question in writing, and the instructor could read their words. This would also give everyone a few moments to organize their response. The teacher could then select comments or ideas to share from what the students have written. There could be some time for conversation, followed by some questions for reflection.
We make our roads by walking. As kids and their grownups build their own Utopia in theory, they can also be creating it in practice. In my utopian society, and in my actual life, families eat dinner together, often with food from their garden, and talk about their day and the ideas that they encountered. Homes are a place for people to process new ideas and experiences with people who love them. Helping our children to see that we are creating a world for them, and they are creating a world for themselves, is the best way to will a saner world into existence.