Middle School: Reflecting on Fantasy Stories

It is important for students to pause and celebrate their successes – big and small! Particularly, during these weird and sometimes bleak times, we need to encourage students to see their triumphs and accomplishments. Recently, the middle schoolers finished writing their fantasy stories and we took time to reflect and celebrate their hard work. It took the class several weeks to complete the whole writing process – brainstorming, planning, drafting, revising, and editing. During our writing celebration students got to share their stories like real world authors would during a book release. By the end of the unit the students felt incredibly accomplished and proud of themselves! Way to go middle schoolers!

Technological Overload

With the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves in an unprecedented time and more reliant on technology than ever before. If it wasn’t clear before just how far we have come along from a technological standpoint, there is no question that we are all on the same page now. Our society has shifted dramatically over the past year and technology has now become a coping mechanism.

In our Information and Communication Technology in Business class, we were examining the legal, social and ethical issues of technology, privacy and security. In order to unpack some of these issues, we watched Netflix’s The Social Dilemma documentary film.

Below is a list of quotes from the film selected by students thought to be the most interesting or powerful:

“If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.”

“There are only two industries that call their customers “users”: illegal drugs and software.”

“Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.”

“It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception that is the product.”

“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or loney or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves. That is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.”

“The way to think about it is as 2.5 billion Truman Shows. Each person has their own reality with their own facts. Over time you have the false sense that everyone agrees with you because everyone in your news feed sounds just like you. Once you’re in that state, it turns out you’re easily manipulated.”

The purpose of this film is not to scare people into thinking technology is bad for us and should be avoided. Instead, the point is to inform and educate people that technology can be addictive and manipulative. Even when there are genuinely good intentions behind a design, there are oftentimes adverse and unintended consequences. For example, when Facebook created the “like” button, it was meant to spread positivity and love. However, when you look at it today, you can see teens getting depressed because they don’t have enough likes or a political polarization which has fuelled endless hate comments.

The Social Dilemma shows us that social media is intentionally designed to be addictive and manipulative through subjective algorithms that determine what you see and the psychology of persuasion that is built into AI technology today. In essence, technology is now created and designed to use you and having that knowledge doesn’t necessarily make your need to fulfill your cravings less susceptible. This serves an important reminder to teens and adults alike that technology is extremely powerful and it ultimately comes down to us how we choose to use it.

Intersectionality in Gender Studies

There are lots of topics and concepts to cover in Gender Studies. One of the earliest, and most important, concepts we covered was “Intersectionality”. “Intersectionality” is a framework used to help understand the many intertwined, complex identities that make up an individual. It also provides insight into how these identities may open individuals up to certain levels of privilege or discrimination. This privilege or discrmination can occur on an individual level and/or at a more institutional, systemic level.

One of the first activities our Gender Studies class did was called “Identity Signs”. Using a Google Jamboard, there were 7 questions that required students to reflect on where they stand and have stood in reference to privilege, discrimination and their multiple intersecting identities. When the questions were asked, some students immediately knew where they were dragging their post-it note! While others took their time and thought for a minute about it. It was really interesting to see where students moved and there are even some questions where many students shared the same feelings. Students were invited to share their “choice” if they wanted to, which some did, but no one was forced to. This kind of activity can be vulnerable and open students up to reflections and feelings that may not come up on a regular basis. All students participated and were incredibly honest, patient and kind towards their peers.

We have used the framework of intersectionality to better help us analyze events in class. Most recently, we have used the framework to discuss the shootings in Atlanta, where 8 people were murdered and 6 of them were Asian women. We also applied the framework to try to understand why there are thousands of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Children in Canada. Intersectionality will come up in class again and again and the hope is that this framework will help students analyze events, especially where race and gender are involved, long after the class is done!

Edo Period Japan: Political Intrigue Role Play

Welcome to Edo City, Japan during the 1580s. After centuries of civil war, the lands are united under the military control of the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Edo period is an age of high art, purity of tradition, strict cultural stratification, and rigid codes of behaviour. The Imperial court is a place of spies, plots, lies, and hidden dangers. This is the world that the Adventures in World History Class has become immersed in.

The role play game takes place during the historical setting of the Early Edo Period, with key figures from history ranging from Tokugawa Ieyasu, Hattori Honso, Takeda Shingen, Araki Murashige, and Ando Morinari. Even though the setting is historically accurate, the plot of the game, and some fantastical and magical elements are fictional. The students have taken on the roles of Samurai, Yamabushi Mystics, Doshin Law Enforcers, Matagi Hunters, and Ninja; making up a rag-tag team of investigators tasked with uncovering an assassination plot targeting the Emperor.

Throughout the role-play game students are confronted with challenging social situations, difficult power dynamics, complicated castles, beautiful landscapes, dangerous combat, and legendary creatures straight from Edo period literature.

Through conflicting goals, and situations requiring cooperation, the students use their imaginations to navigate this complicated world. Knowledge of Edo period castle features, courtly etiquette, period-specific legends, and cultural understandings from the period are key to the success of the team in uncovering who is behind the plot.

Vikings and Videogames

The Grade 12 Adventures in World History class traveled through time to take on the roles of Advisors, Seers, Seafarers, and Warlords to the Norse King, Harald Hadrata. Using the video game Civilization VI as an experiential medium, students helped expand the Norse trade networks, explore the western seas, settle new lands, and conquer Scotland and northern England. Through the game’s complex mechanics students learned about the Vikings as more than raiders, but also as traders, farmers, shipbuilders, poets, artisans, and clothmakers.

The ultimate goal of the game was exploring as far west as Vinland, and establishing the first European settlement in what would later become Newfoundland. Students dispelled myths about horned helmets, and learned of the notable contributions of key figures like Harald Finehair, Egil Skallagrimson, Eric the Red, and Harald Hadrata.

While videogames can sometimes be a dubious learning tool, Civilization VI includes detailed historical information about the buildings, units, scientific discoveries, and cultural developments relevant to the period of study. Through their roles as Advisors, Seers, Seafarers, and Warlords, each group had a set of goals to work towards regarding trade, religious development, military conquest, pillaging resources, and scientific advancement. Each turn gave groups a variety of options to choose from, with many opportunities for student groups to find cooperation, conflict, and compromise. In the end, the students successfully developed trade routes to Denmark and Sweden, conquered the Scottish city of Dun Breatann, raided the Northumbrian capital of Eoferwic by land, pillaged the coasts of Wessex and Frankia, explored Iceland and Greenland, and sent a Eric the Red to explore and settle Vinland. The victorious cheers of the Viking students echoed over the waves.