On Friday, we were fortunate to be part of the contingent from our school attending the Capitol Area Progressive Schools (CAPS) conference! The conference was held at another area progressive school and teachers and staff from seven other progressive schools were in attendance.
We were excited by the prospect of sharing our simulations and curriculum with local schools as the possibility of continued collaboration is so much higher when you are in the same city! Our workshop centered around the social justice work in our classroom, with participants actually experiencing two activities we created ourselves: our drawing activity that highlights internalized stereotypes and our pom pom simulation.
As always, our participants brought their own unique perspectives, responses, and reactions to our activities. During the drawing simulation, multiple people mentioned they were consciously trying to "resist stereotypes," which is an illuminating exercise on its own.
During the pom pom simulation, one participant interpreted her instructions for collecting pom poms her own way to make sure she was successful (and she did end up in Group 1!), while others noted how quickly they decided that one or two pom poms was "enough" to show that they made an effort. Group 1 (the wealthy and powerful) worked together creatively during Round 2 (making "baskets" of paper balls to increase your group's wealth) to put all of their paper in the basket, and then sat down to be out of the way so the two other groups could continue to try to gain more wealth. After a few seconds sitting down, one of them realized that by standing at their line they were blocking the other groups, so he stood up again to get in the other groups' way! One of his group members quickly joined him. They reflected afterward how as soon as one other person acts, it gives you the opportunity to follow without worrying what others will think of you.
While the group dynamics and self-realizations were (and always are) fascinating, we also had a productive discussion about how this is applied in our classroom and how it could be applied in other situations. One teacher asked about how to support students who are in the minority so they feel like part of the discussion, but not targets of the discussion. We talked about checking in with certain students before or afterward, and having everyone respond to prompts about their own experiences (and NOT their classmates'). Another participant asked about how to modify these activities for younger students, which is something I have always thought about as a former first and second grade teacher! My initial ideas were making the drawing activity into more of a story or narrative (without providing details related to gender, race, background) and asking the students what they imagined or "knew" about the character in the story or having the students illustrate the story and compare their illustrations. Simulations can be confusing or misleading for very young children, so the pom pom simulation would need to be rewritten and crafted in a less abstract way.
We also now have two potential visitors to our classroom! We are hoping to welcome them sometime this school year. They also invited us to visit their schools. We are excited to see them at work and hear more about the things they are trying out in their classrooms.
I also attended a workshop about incorporating debates into the classroom. Our students really synthesized their learning after our Columbus Day debates, so I loved the suggestions of using debate to analyze characters and engage with literature. Stay tuned as we will be trying this out soon!