This group of 8th graders is a very odd and challenging one. They are reasonably polite and very pleasant, but generally speaking, refuse to do any work. They - for the most part (there are exceptions) - are perfectly willing to take bad grades as a consequence of not studying or completing projects.
These students aren't dumb, nor are they lazy - most of them are on sports teams or passionately involved in some sort of activity. They just refuse to do school work - seemingly on principal.
It can be very frustrating.
So this project seemed like a really good solution to this challenge - let the students themselves decide what they wanted to study and how they wanted to present their research and they would certainly rise to the challenge. I scaffolded the heck out of the project, with regular check-ins and a lot of help available.
Without going into too much detail (it's just too depressing) - this idea did not work. I did not get awesome projects. I barely got projects at all - most of which represented, at most, a day's worth of work. (They had a month to work on these.) The students cheerfully admitted to blowing off the assignment. They were clear that it was nothing personal - they like and respect me, but they just don't DO that sort of thing.
When I filmed my blogpost a month or two ago, laying out my big plans, I made sure to include some self-deprecating humor. I even referred to my attitude as "hubris". Ironically, that's exactly what this was. It was the height of arrogance for me to assume that I could single-handedly overcome their culture of non-participation. That I could accomplish what other, exceptionally gifted teachers had not been able to. That I could "fix" my students.
Whatever my students' issues are, whatever the problems are that face us as a learning community, they certainly require something more respectful and interactive than a slick idea.
This does not mean that I've given up on these guys. It does not mean that I'm shrugging my shoulders and abandoning my goals of involving them in sophisticated and meaningful historical thinking.
It just means that I have to try something more nuanced.
Something more difficult to wrap my head around.
Something more respectful.
I think there is a fine line between humility and humiliation; hopefully, I'm on the right side of that line.