It’s been 100 years since the 1920s, but eighth-grade American studies teacher Mary Jo Marker believes the nuances between then and now have never been more relevant.
An interest in the parallels in time inspired Mary Jo to create a centenary project for her eighth graders in which she broke students into small groups and asked them to create a magazine based on the 1920s. Each group was asked to choose an overall theme for the magazine—this could be anything from fashion to politics to technology—and, within that theme, to focus on one aspect, like makeup or the stock market in the 1920s.
“I thought it might be interesting to have the kids explore the 1920s more in depth,” explained Mary Jo, “and to do that in a more creative way that gave them voice and choice in how they approached their research around the 1920s.” To the students, this concept of voice and choice is invaluable when it comes to learning—it not only empowers them to be independent but it also builds engagement and allows them to broaden their interests and skills.
After deciding on their groups’ themes for the magazine, the students were instructed to each write a 1,000-word article on their particular topics, each of which would appear in the finished publications. “One thing they all did really well,” reflected Mary Jo, “was meet the thousand-word limit, which was really a challenge for them.”
When students are granted creative and academic freedom, they can produce some truly wonderful results.—Eighth-grader Milo B.
When it came to the magazines’ details, Mary Jo asked the students to use the Library of Congress to find advertisements, letters to the editor, and political cartoons to add to their projects to round them out and create end products that looked like actual magazines. Eighth grader Milo B. excelled in this project and credits much of his success to the great deal of creative liberties Mary Jo allowed the students. “When students are granted creative and academic freedom, they can produce some truly wonderful results, like the magazine,” Milo reflected. “Ms. Marker did a fantastic job in managing this project.”
When all was said and done, the eighth graders delivered some truly impressive pieces. Upon perusing the display of their work on the second floor in the Middle School, it is hard to not be blown away by the variety of topics and the immense creativity each group brought forward in both their design and in their writing.
“It was great to see the personality of all the groups come out,” said Mary Jo. “I was really proud of them. I set a high bar, and by and large the majority were able to meet the learning targets and goals of the project.”
And in doing so, the students were able to recognize how history can be reflected in our own modern world by highlighting connections between society 100 years ago and today. The work the students created reveals a lot about their work ethic, creativity, and the outstanding guidance they received from Mary Jo, but it also reflects the collaborative nature of the Middle School—both among students, and between students and faculty.
“I think this project reflects the willingness to be vulnerable and take risks to really set a high standard and work to meet it,” reflected Mary Jo. “This goes across the board, in the Middle School for students and adults alike.”
Mary Jo also noted how it is worth remembering, when looking at this project and future projects, that kids will rise to whatever occasion you set for them, so we mustn’t forget to create challenging opportunities for them to aspire to.