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We are in the midst of a unit on the War of 1812.  This week we talked about the Battle of Fort Mc Henry and the writing of the Star Spangled Banner. You know that song that you have to stand-up for at sporting events…what the heck is a rampart anyway?  After learning about the battle we examined the words of the song and the kids interpreted the first verse.  Last night I gave them a question to answer, “Should the Star Spangled Banner be the National Anthem?”  The kids came in today and presented their answers.  The kids all had such good answers and reasons and details to back up their answers.  One of the best lines might have been, “If it’s too hard for Christina Aguilera to remember, it’s too hard for rest of us.”  I am not sure if his argument for dumbing down the words so that everyone singing it could connect with the lyrics would convince Congress to change the song, but it sure made sense to the class.

On the whole the kids did pretty well, but many just laughed and and some just offered up silly alternative songs.  For many of the assignments I had tears in my eyes.  Because they are still in middle school, I tend to be a bit forgiving, but maybe I am not being rigorous enough. After reflecting on their presentations today, I do wonder about whether I am setting them up for trouble in high school.  I can imagine the kids coming in with the same type of assignments next year and the teacher saying “this is unacceptable.”

Check out below the homework this kid handed in…he hand the nerve to write his answer on a basketball.  He didn’t tell us why, until someone asked at the end.  Something about how the new anthem should reflect the competitive nature of our country and the same spirit that millions celebrate as they reverently cheer on their favorite sports teams.  He said he wanted to use a symbol that everyone would understand. I picture him walking into a class in the future, in line to hand in his homework, everyone putting their papers into a folders, and he steps up to try to place his ball in, but it just doesn’t fit like the rest of them, and he hears the teacher say, “This is unacceptable.”


I think a lot of the kids just did not take their assignment seriously…end of the week, one little question for homework, just throw something together for an easy “A.”.  I could tell who is thinking that immediately after handing out the directions, they are always the kids who ask, “Can we do it in a group?”  You know they only ask so they could do the work of one person split amongst three.  I tried to answer without being an Ogre… “But you only have one night to do this, you can’t expect to get together and organize something that would be quality work in one night.”  After teaching for twenty years I know that any group project that gets done in a rush outside of school in one night usually is a mess.  The greatest examples are those videos of kids messing around, full of horseplay and laughing. I had one group of three kids attempt to get it done in one night and they played a video for the class that is a perfect example of what happens when kids get together.  Of course, two of them left before the project was finished and so didn’t have access to it when their friend texted them saying she was sick and couldn’t come to school—yep, first period, first group called on.  What a way to start.  They had to sneak a cell phone call in front of the class to have their sick friend guide them to the right url on youtube. Good thing I didn’t see it because we have a no cell phone policy and would have had to confiscate it.  Check out these kids fooling around in this video and not taking their work seriously as they try to answer “Should the Star Spangled Banner be the National Anthem?”

I picture them walking into a class in the future, in line to hand in their homework, everyone putting their papers into a folders, and they step up to the teacher and ask them to open up youtube so they can show their video to the class, the teacher tells them they can’t watch it, their work needs to be in the folder like everyone else, so they drop their flash drive with a back-up copy into the folder, but it just doesn’t fit like the rest of them and falls out onto the floor.  As they walk away they hear the teacher say, “This is unacceptable.”

What am I going to do with these kids? I gave them one night to answer a simple question and instead of getting papers I could just place into a folder and grade when I got home, I received songs, poems, court cases, videos, role playing shenanigans, and someone made a cardboard TV and stuck his head through it while doing some acting with mustaches drawn on his fingers. It took us THE ENTIRE PERIOD to get through them.  I can’t seem to get them to take their work seriously, follow my directions step-by-step, and understand that in order to be successful in the future they need to pass in work that fits in with everyone else.

I hope when they leave me they continue to do “unacceptable” things. I hope they live their lives not accepting the staus quo. I hope they keep pushing the boundries of the directions we live by.
I’d accept that…would you?


  1. I would love to be a student in your class–to be encouraged to not only tap into your creativity on occasion, but to be encouraged to ask it to dance in public! I work with 5th graders and while they are silly and goofy from time to time (OK, pretty much all the time,) often they are too concerned with the “norm” to be willing to really question, think, or act outside of the box…even when I remind them that the only box visible is the one they put there.

    1. Lisa~
      I too work with 5th graders and try every day to get them to stop being robot students! I think they lose their creative minds the day they walk into Kindergarten these days. I think by the time they walk in my 5th grade classroom they’ve had too many teachers not willing to question, think or act outside the box.
      Glad to hear you are in the same boat with me! 🙂

  2. I think this was a wonderful opportunity to think outside the box. I am so glad that you encourage them to spread their wings and move out of their comfort zones. These are the future leaders of the world and they will need to be creative when they are solving the problems they will face! (As for the national anthem, I am a believer in tradition and that if things are too easy, we take them for granted. After taking a 30 day tour in an oppressed country, hearing our national anthem brings tears to my eyes. I truly appreciate this wonderful country more after seeing what other countries are like!)

    1. Didn’t sound like they were “moving out of their comfort zones”. On the contrary, writing a paper sounds like it is outside their comfort zone.

      I think that a good class has a mix of creative projects and formal ones. This is a good example of a creative project. Can we also see a good example of a formal one?

  3. “…writing a paper sounds like it is outside their comfort zone.” Ouch.

    I actually thought about attaching some of the formal writing that they handed in, but I didn’t ask ahead of time. One girl in particular handed in a great essay.

    One of the things I always worry about when posting some of the work my kids do is that to an outside observer, it does not reflect the work that went into it. I can think I one video that showed a girl doing an interpretive dance. I can see many folks saying that sure she can dance, but what about the content…can she write? A video like that does not show the research and writing that went into the effort. Now the assignment above was a very, very simple one. The girls had two points, a new anthem should reflect more of the struggles we have gone through as a country, and it should be an anthem that people can easily connect to. This was not a research intensive project, again, just a give me your quick opinion. Kind of like if you just happened to pop the question to your class during a discussion. Behind every “creative” project is a very formal research process, most ending in a writing assignment. The creative projects are usually an extension of the formal piece, and usually express more of the gist, rather than all of the details in the formal product.
    I can assure you that getting almost anyone to do something like this is out of their comfort zone. I have had kids who have had many hours of stage experience, but would cringe at the thought of doing something dramatic in school.
    What shouldn’t be lost is how doing something “creative” impacts their approach to formal writing assignments and research. They are more likely to see things from a different perspective, more prone to be “creative” in their research, and more likely and willing to develop a unique conclusion based on their research.

  4. Wow!! How awesome that they are so creative!! Keep on motivating them to think outside the box. Glad you are still motivated to do that after many years of teaching.

  5. I think another issue we have sometimes, I know at least I fall into the trap is we call something unacceptable and then we accept it anyways. Kids, at some point need to be taught when it is okay to be creative in this way and when to reign it in. I don’t know that 5th gradevis when that should happen, but it sounds like your kids get a good dose of both.

  6. Paul,

    I tried to watch the video but it was already “removed by user”. I really wish I could have seen it.

    Perhaps you could satisfy this desire for a “formal” assignment by having a standard structure that everyone begins with. For example, some sort of written project proposal where everyone answers the same questions like: What is your main idea? How do you propose to communicate that idea?

    I’m particularly intrigued by the notion of video as a literacy. Anyone who produces professional quality videos know there is a ton of preparation and research that goes into producing a polished piece. Video communicates in powerful ways that written words cannot- yet we still refuse to accept it as “formal” communication. Perhaps video is not viewed as “formal” by some, but as Elizabeth Daley wrote in “Expanding the Concept of Literacy” it is indeed the language of the vernacular.

    By breaking the rules, your students are ahead of the curve.

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