Each year our 5th graders take an entire day to explore the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Each year, the students become more and more removed from the topic because they weren’t even born at the time of the tragedy. The events of September 11 and the impact they had on our war on terrorism are part of the 5th grade social studies standards, but we also spend a great deal of time at our school on social emotional learning and how we support one another in a community.
Each year I write a blog post about how we teach September 11th, and each year there is a new addition or a new angle in which to explore the day. This year, students opened the day in their classrooms by talking about everyday heroes. They shared where their own families work and how each of us can be an everyday hero.
Then, students split into 4 groups and rotated through 4 experiences every 30 minutes which were facilitated by me and the classroom teachers.
Experience 1: Haiku poetry. With Ms. Mullins, students learned about the unlikely heroes of the day including dogs. They studied the poetry form of haiku and how a brief 3-line poem with 17 syllables can magically express a feeling or an image. They focused their haiku on heroes. They didn’t have to specifically write about the heroes of 9/11, but many chose to.
Experience 2: Response to tragedy from afar. With Ms. Selleck, students looked at how people around the country and the world responded to the tragic events of 9/11. It was a time that people wanted to take action and do something to help. Children wrote letters, drew pictures, and made cards. The Maasai people of Africa offered 14 cows as a gift for America. Ms. Selleck shared Carmen Agra Deedy’s story 14 Cows of America and students considered how people who weren’t even in our country wanted to help. This posed an interesting question of how we might respond to the tragedies taking place every day in other countries.
Experience 3: Heroes of 9/11. There were so many heroes that stepped forward on 9/11 and many of those heroes lost their lives in the process. At this experience, students took a look at many example of heroes and read the story Fireboat by Maira Kalman. Students learned about this old fireboat first launched in 1931 and how it was called to duty on 9/11 to help pump water to fight the fires. Students designed a drawing to represent the many heroes that took action on 9/11.
Experience 4: The events of 9/11. This is the most sensitive of the experiences for students because we all react differently to seeing the tragedy of 9/11. Over the years, I’ve developed a pathfinder of sites that explore 9/11 from multiple angles. There are interactive timelines, eyewitness accounts, actual video footage of the day, oral histories of memories from victims’ family members, virtual tours of the memorials, and cartoon videos explaining the events in kid-friendly language. We start with a video:
This video frames that on 9/11 we remember but we also take action to create good in the world. I invite students to view the various resources and reflect on what they might do to create good instead of evil. At the bottom of the pathfinder there is a padlet where students can record their actions that they want to take. During this experience, I always tell students that they don’t have to watch any of the videos. They can also take a break at any moment if the tragedy just becomes too much to handle.
This year, 2 new pieces were added to this experience. First, Gretchen Thomas, a UGA teacher in instructional technology, brought one of her #EDIT2000 classes to support students. This was a piece that I’ve always felt was missing from the pathfinder experience. September 11th is such a heavy topic, and I do worry about how kids are processing the information. With these UGA students, we were able to pair every 5th grader with a UGA student to have reflective conversation about each website, video, and story that students experienced. UGA students shared their own understanding of 9/11 as well as their own memories of being in elementary school when it happened.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about global thinking, global collaboration, and global perspectives. This year, I decided to make a Flipgrid well in advance of today. Through social media, I’ve been sharing the Flipgrid in the hopes that multiple people will share their own perspectives of 9/11. While there wasn’t an overwhelming response to share stories, the stories that were shared were powerful. The students in Gretchen Thomas’s class shared their own memories of being in elementary school at the time. These stories included very personal connections to the tragedy such as family members who were in New York on the day of the tragedy and a student coming into New York on a plane from another country and being diverted to Canada. Several librarians stepped up to share stories as well. Beth Miller of Georgia shared her story of working in the World Trade Center during the bombing in the 1990’s and how she had family and friends who were in the towers on 9/11. Her family made it but several friends did not. Elissa Malespina of New Jersey shared the story of her husband being in New York on 9/11. He was on one of the last trains coming into the city. It was chilling to think how many people have been affected by 9/11 in very personal ways. Even if you don’t have a personal connection, there are many stories about where people were when the tragedy happened. I wish that I could talk about every story on this Flipgrid because each one is meaningful in its own way. Please take time to listen to these stories and feel free to add your own.
This Flipgrid was a part of the pathfinder but it was also a place that students recorded their own thoughts at the end of the day. Students spent some time reflecting in classrooms. Then, they came out into the 5th grade hallway with iPads to record their reflections on the Flipgrid. Another of Gretchen’s UGA classes came to assist with this process. I had instructions typed up with the Flipgrid code and we got as many students recorded as possible at the end of the day. Students loved collaborating with students from UGA to create their videos.
I think that this project has such potential for a global collaborative project. What would it be like if students in another country shared the tragedies taking place in their own countries? What would happen if our students in the US considered how they could respond to the tragedies taking place in other countries? What are people’s perspectives on 9/11 from other countries around the world? What do everyday heroes look like around the globe?
My hope is that this project can continue in some way this year. If it doesn’t, I hope that next year’s layer that gets added on is developing a more global perspective on tragedies around our world and how we respond to those tragedies as a global society.