Confucius, the great Chinese teacher and philosopher, once stated, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
This quote has been on my mind throughout the year and as we approach the midway point of the school year. As one of the 8th Grade U.S. History teachers, I feel as though our class in particular lends itself to students experiencing what they are learning.
Betsy Allen and I are constantly trying to find ways to transform our students into colonists, Revolutionary War soldiers, and founding fathers. Whether it was our taxation activity, which almost sparked an in-class rebellion, or a Revolutionary War edition of “capture the flag,” these lessons have been long-lasting and meaningful, as students develop empathy for those who lived before them. This approach has not only improved our students’ understanding of how our ancestors lived, but forces them to work through issues and solve problems with one another, a skill that will surely benefit them in their future.
Equally exciting as our emphasis on experiential learning is the fact that some of the best ideas about teaching history have come from my students. It is so refreshing to work at a school like Randolph where students are eager to invest themselves in their learning experience.
Thanks to our students and the School’s culture of learning, every now and then, we have aha moments where a light bulb goes off and a new idea is born. Let me describe one to you.
Two weeks ago, in midst of a discussion with my A-block history class about how our government turns bills into laws, one student used an analogy of changing rules at Randolph with the approval of Mrs. Robb. The idea was born.
This student was creating an understanding of the legislative process through a personal example. I immediately thought, why not create the legislative process at Randolph? Thus the “Randolph Hill” project, a play on words for Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hill, was born.
Over the course of the next few weeks and months, 8th grade students, along with teachers and administrators, will be involved in the “Randolph Hill” project, with every 8th grader representing a member of congress. There are 92 students in the 8th grade: 74 of them are members of the House of Representatives and 18 of them are members of the Senate. While the numbers do not match up to our national government, the proportion of members of the House to the Senate is exactly the same. Within the legislative branch, the 8th graders selected a Speaker of the House (Lau’rent Honeycutt) to lead the House of Representatives, and a President Pro Tempore (Spencer Laue) to lead the Senate.
Every congressperson has constituents: citizens they represent in our national government. Each 8th grader has his or her own constituents, 5th through 7th grade students and teachers. Students and teachers who are not part of the project can bring ideas to their representatives in Congress. What makes this project unique is that it directly involves the entire Middle School, students and faculty.
The goal for the 8th graders is to try and pass legislation through the legislative and executive branches to make it law. The executive branch is led by President Robb, with yours truly serving as Vice President. The judicial branch is represented by nine teachers (justices) who may be called into action if a law is deemed unconstitutional. There will also be a press secretary and journalists involved, covering all the action on Randolph Hill. (Be on the lookout for updates on the Randolph website, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and the tag #randolphhill.)
Since introducing the project last week, the 7-8 grade hallway conversation has shifted from the Iron Bowl and Justin Bieber to the process of enacting new laws at Randolph. I am constantly overhearing students say “The President won’t support that bill,” or “We need to get more people on board to try and pass this law.” We have just started the “Randolph Hill” project, and we are already seeing the benefits.
As I was writing this article, an 8th grade congressman came into my office to discuss the pros and cons of changing some study hall “laws.” He felt as though the current structure of study hall did not benefit all students. This discussion sparked my question: “Well what are you going to do about it?” He proceeded to tell me that he would need to get fellow representatives with different perspectives on board, and also put serious thought into what President Robb’s views on this would be. He ended the conversation by saying, “The bill will need to appeal to a number of people.” Sharp insight from a fourteen-year-old.
Mrs. Allen and I have high hopes for the project, one that does not have a start or end date. It will be ongoing. We are ready, willing and able to let the students take off with the project. This is one of the great benefits of teaching at a school like Randolph. Here, we have the flexibility to let our students create and own their learning, to “do” it as opposed to simply “hear” it. We don’t need to fret about losing time to cover content when our kids are unearthing a deeper understanding of how our government works firsthand.
Every year at this time we introduce the essential question in our Government unit: “Are compromises necessary for a successful and open government?” In launching the inaugural Randolph Hill project this year, I have a feeling that this question will take on a new meaning for all of our students.