This post is part of my Professional Growth Plan documentation on how I’m using Design Thinking in my classroom
One Grade 7 assignment I have done the past few years is a trial set during the Industrial Revolution, where students must answer the question: Should children be allowed to work in factories?
The assignment reads:
We are in Industrial Revolution England and the country is growing at an incredible rate. The advancements in technology and the rapid urbanization of the country have lead to drastic changes. But not everyone is benefiting from the changes. Young people are being asked to work in factories, for long hours and low wages. Now the country is debating whether the welfare of children is more important than the economic and technological progress occurring in the country.
You will be assigned a role in a trial we will be having in class. Some of you will be witnesses and other people will be lawyers. There are two sides being debated and you will have to persuade people that your position is correct for the time period during the industrial revolution.
I’ve always liked this assignment. I like how easy it is to differentiate the roles for different students. I like the fact that students are introduced to primary documents and have to use them to formulate an argument. I like the fact that students dress up for the trial and they get into the spirit of the trial and have fun. I also really like that students are forced to think about a perspective that they might naturally think is wrong; namely the position that people would argue for child labor.
Trying to understand new, different, and abstract (i.e historical) perspectives can be difficult for grade 7 students. This year, I added a formative assignment prior to introducing the trial: an empathy map*. An empathy map is something used in Design Thinking,” to help you synthesize your observations and draw out unexpected insights”. Often used to understand a customer or client’s needs, an empathy map is being used in more classrooms as Design Thinking makes the move into more academic settings. Suggested by Adrian Baker, an empathy map is an excellent way for students to gain insights into historical figures. For this assignment, I used an empathy map to have students think about what life was like during the Industrial Revolution for children, factory owners, and campaigners.
It turns out I had to be away from school when my students were working on their empathy maps. So I made a video explaining what they had to do.
And because I was out, I made another one explaining how important empathy can be in understanding a historical figure.
When I came back to school (after Spring Break), my student pulled up their empathy maps and immediately could remember the perspective of the person they read about. I could immediately assess their understanding of primary sources. And they could immediately get to work at formulating questions for the trial based around what they observed and synthesized on their empathy maps .
There is no doubt that doing the empathy map has strengthen my students’ understanding of the issue of child labor during the Industrial Revolution. It is a seemingly simple tool that allows my students to make their thinking visible and to gain a deeper understanding of historical perspectives.
Hard to feel bad about that.