Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The #TweetingAztecs Project

Over the course of a week in November I embarked on a little project with my senior Ancient History class. We were doing a unit on civilisations of Meso-America, and focused on the Aztecs. A few months ago I heard Simon McKenzie (@connectedtchr) speak at the TeachMeet sessions at EduTECH about what he had done with his class with a study on Pompeii. I contacted him a few months ago and he graciously shared some of his resources and gave me some advice.

We had concluded a lot of theory work, covered the background about these 
civilisations and the Spanish arrival in the Americas. I introduced the project as a role-play where we would look at some of the people involved in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.

Step 1: Explain the Project with an outline and instructions
I had a handout prepared with some instructions, with  a guide and questions to use to develop their characters. Below is an extract from it and a link to the document.

#TweetingAztecs Project 2014

Social Media is now taking a key role in breaking news worldwide. Significant events, including natural disasters, are often reported on Twitter or other platforms before they’“break’ on traditional news services. The premise of this project is simple; to give the Aztec people of Tenochtitlan an opportunity to report the events surrounding the Spanish conquest of their city via Twitter. A few students will be Spanish conquistadors marching on and into Tenochtitlan.

The live tweeting will be conducted across three lessons with each lesson corresponding to a date as indicated below.
Main Focus
Tweets Required
28/10 Period 2
(40 minutes)
A normal day in Tenochtitlan.
November 7,
1519 AD
30/10 Period 2
(40 minutes)
Around midday the Cortes arrives in Tenochtitlan
November 8,
1519 AD
31/10 Period 1-2
(80 minutes)
Spanish in Tenochtitlan and the Cortes seizing control
November 9-14, 
1519 AD

Here are the instructions given to students: http://goo.gl/ASYLhg

Step 2: Students assigned different characters

I had created a list of possible characters; ranging from priests, market vendors, officials, advisors, soldiers. Moctezuma II would be the teacher that directed the events and scheduled tweets over the course of the classes and the week. The students debated over who they wanted to be, and had to justify why they want to represent the individual.
(Here is a link to the blank copy of the characters that we started with: http://goo.gl/TFu1BV)

The next step involved guiding the students through setting up a Twitter account for their character. Most of them had never used Twitter before, but they were all quite adept at setting it up quickly. They found an image to represent their character and wrote a brief description. Here is an example:

Step 3: The fun begins
We had a slow start, but the tweets started flowing and soon they were having conversations with each other. They had to do research as they went along to make sure what they were tweeting was historically accurate, and made sense. Most of them were immediately engaged, and they loved the interactions. There were a couple that struggled, mainly because of their personalities and they struggled with getting into it. By the end of the 4 days there had been a couple of hundred tweets, a lot of humorous hashtags created and a lot of learning that had taken place.

Here is a link to a sheet that contains some of their tweets and more info on their characters: http://goo.gl/fh9CpF

Step 4: Reflection
At the end I had them complete a survey on what they liked, what they had learned, what they did not enjoy, and what can we do to improve it the next time. I love getting this feedback from students to help me reflect on what I do and how I can improve the learning opportunities. 
Some of their comments on what they liked:
  • Having fun, and making the funny hashtags. But also bantering with the different characters, trying to be historically accurate.
  • The cunning hashtags and references to the history
  • Learning about the history of the Aztecs, especially from a first-person experience. 

The #TweetingAztecs was extremely fun and engaging. It was a great learning experience and enjoyable historical activity. Students love trying new experiences, and I'm very proud of the way they took part in this project.  I look forward to our next adventure in 2015.

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