3 Project Ideas to make Thanksgiving more Meaningful
PBL game changers this fall
By Breanna Morsadi and Chloë Fraser
Turkeys have started to abound in every shape and form: paper mâché sculptures, window clings, costumes, finger puppets, and other decorations indicate that Thanksgiving is fast approaching. Meanwhile, Black Friday looms in the distance, with all of the commercial extravaganza it entails. While few holidays rival the traditional American harvest feast in historical significance, it is rare to see students deeply reflect upon the subject. Interested in some project based learning (PBL) game changers this Thanksgiving? Here are 3 meaningful PBL project ideas related to economics, history, and anthropology to get you started.
Project idea 1: Let’s talk turkey & economics
46 million turkeys are devoured each Thanksgiving in the United States, according to the National Turkey Federation. That’s almost fifty million birds born, fed, killed, packed, sold, and consumed in just a few weeks’ time. It is a sense-defying economic phenomenon. Thanksgiving is the perfect case study to explore economic concepts such as supply and demand, profit margins, and bulk production. It is also a great way of studying the environmental impacts of the food industry or the effects of different transportation methods. Whether it be making their own documentary about the meatpacking industry, crunching numbers about production and depicting them through artwork, or creating an app that calculates one’s Thanksgiving carbon footprint, there’s a wealth of meaningful PBL projects to be implemented surrounding the economics of Thanksgiving.
Project idea 2: History & honoring the less known narrative
Few people remember that the First Thanksgiving was a harvest feast shared between Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag people in 1621. Today’s consumerist society is completely different — some stores start their Black Friday sales at 6 pm sharp on Thanksgiving day itself. But studying the origins of the holiday means diving into the traditions of the first colonists and the melting pot dynamics of the United States. Consider if students planned their projects around the First Thanksgiving as a historical community dinner with the right food, decor, costumes, and context (Throwing in a bit of historiography, too). Students could research the Native Americans’ perspective and the events which preceded and followed this feast. Based on this, students could also write a play or create an exhibition to inform the public of this less known narrative. While we might celebrate the mainstream narrative every year, it is important that we position students to understand that there are multiple perspectives we should honor around the holidays, and meaningful PBL initiatives can help us achieve that.
Project idea 3: Anthropology & ritualism behind harvest feasts
Of course, Thanksgiving may be celebrated in different ways across the US, but we shouldn’t limit our learning to just one country. Thanksgiving or similar harvest feasts are also celebrated in Canada, Liberia, Japan, Vietnam, Brazil, Germany, amongst others. Such diversity means that you can help your students become more globally minded by helping them apply anthropological terms to their own experiences, terms like cultural relativity, ethnocentrism, or naive realism. Your students can explore further with driving questions centered on harvest feast celebrations around the world, and can plan performance pieces with theatre, songs, and poems about gratitude and community. For a more short-term project, ask your students to team up and create two-voice poems with well-researched differing perspectives from two different countries. To take on an anthropological perspective in PBL means deepening the students’ reflection process and pushing them to improve their critical thinking about a holiday they might celebrate their entire life.
Approaching Thanksgiving from economic, historical, or anthropological perspectives means teaching your students new ways of thinking which they can then apply to any other topic they encounter. The bottom line is that students actually want to understand the deeper truths of life so they can help bring about positive change in the world, whether it be for their families, local communities or for the global village as a whole. By better understanding our own behaviors, rituals and traditions, we can better observe and measure who we are against who we want to be… and that’s exactly what deeper learning is all about.
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