Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School’s ‘roots and branches’ culture project
Posted: 10 August 2018
“Roots and Branches” was a global project developed by an elementary school writing teacher at Holy Innocents’. The project encouraged students to explore traditions around the world and understand the role they play in creating both unique and universal cultures by fostering an exchange with their peers at other Round Square schools. Students’ learning outcomes were shared in a concluding paper and celebratory event.
Author and position: Erik Vincent, Director of Global Studies
School: Holy Innocents‘ Episcopal School (HIES) is is a college-preparatory day school in Atlanta, Georgia, United States for students aged 3 through to 12th grade.
Participating schools: Vivek High School, Colegio Gran Bretaña, Transylvania College
“Roots and Branches” was a global project developed by the late Jim Barton, who was an elementary school writing teacher at Holy Innocents’. The project encouraged students to explore traditions around the world and understand the role they play in creating both unique and universal cultures.
By partnering with their peers at three Round Square schools, the project helped fifth-grade students gain a deep understanding of personal, family, and community traditions, along with their origins, meaning, and impact. These learnings enabled them to identify and deepen their appreciation for their own traditions, find connections between their own and other cultures, gain a new perspective on what it means to be part of a global community, and better understand the meaning and importance of culture.
Students were provided with a wide assortment of reference videos and print pieces for the Roots and Branches project describing traditions at home and around the world including:
- Bill Lepp: Writer and professional storyteller
- Carmen Deedee: Writer and professional storyteller
- Dr. Swann: Writer/teacher – “Truth to Fiction”: How to create stories from experience
- Atlanta History Center: explore local and regional traditions
- Introduction: Students and partners met through an initial written exchange of personal profiles
- Students met via video (Skype, Facetime, Marco Polo), first as a group, then individually
- Students then began the core inquiry of the project by asking one another to…
Describe an important personal, family, community, or national tradition in your life.
- Where does this tradition come from? Family? Nation? History? Religion? Necessity? Convenience? Survival? Myth/legend? Servitude? Conflict? Other?
- Where/how/with whom is this tradition practiced?
- What are the accompaniments of this tradition? Clothing, music, artifacts, liturgy, ceremony, etc.
- What does this tradition mean to you, your family, or your community?
- What is the purpose and impact of this tradition?
- How is this tradition passed down?
- How is it similar to and different from personal or native traditions?
Partners then had the opportunity to exchange:
- Ongoing personal communication, hopefully forming a genuine relationship
- Physical artefacts associated with these shared traditions
- Interpretations and depictions of these shared traditions
The students were provided with a series of questions to help them explore the concepts of culture and tradition in more depth and to reflect on their origin’s purpose, meaning, and impacts. Through research, students deepened their understanding of what “culture” means and the role traditions play in creating both unique cultures and global commonalities.
Sample Essential Questions:
- What is tradition and why is it important?
- What is the difference between tradition, custom, ritual, and routine?
- What are the common origins of traditions? Family? Nation? History? Religion? Necessity? Convenience? Survival? Servitude? Conflict? Myth/legend? Other?
- What are the similarities and differences between traditions around the world?
- What is culture?
- What role does tradition play in creating and maintaining culture?
- What is a community?
- Does culture create community, or does community create culture?
- How can different cultures exist in a single community?
- How do traditions provide a personal connection to culture and community?
- How are cultures connected globally?
- What is the student’s role in culture and tradition, both locally and internationally?
After obtaining this information, students analyzed, contextualized and elaborated on them, finally “adopting” them and presenting them through first-person narrative and a wide variety of live, artistic, and digital media.
Sample Exercises Used During the Roots and Branches Project
Family Tradition: Describe a tradition in your family. Where did it come from? What does it mean to you?
U.S. Tradition: Research and describe a U.S. tradition. Where is it practiced? Where did it come from? What does it mean?
Global Traditions: Research and describe traditions from other countries in the world. Where are they practiced? Where did they come from? What do they mean?
Invented Tradition: Describe a made-up tradition and build a fictional culture around it.
Geography: Where are the partner countries and what in their human and physical geography contributes to the development of traditions?
Tradition Narrative: Write a first-person fiction narrative depiction of the shared tradition
Tradition Illustration: Illustration in choice of mediums depicting one ritual, aspect or impact of the shared tradition
Storytelling: Present these narrative tradition depictions in live storytelling presentation to be videoed and presented on line for cross-divisional evaluation
Similar Local Tradition: Students identify local traditions (family, community, U.S.) and compare them to those from other countries, including rituals, origins, and meanings
Blog: Used to record and describe partner profile, country, and traditions: Profile of partner, description of partner country and community, video of partner greeting, text description of partner tradition, text of narrative interpretation, video of narrative presentation, and photos of any artistic tradition interpretations.
Creative interpretation of partner tradition. Options included:
- Picture the Tradition: Draw a color depiction of the tradition using illustration,icons, symbols and superlatives
- One-act play depicting the tradition
- Musical interpretations
- Permanent record via digital/traditional instalment
- Video depictions & partner interviews
- Cultural and community constructs and analysis
- Clothing and artefacts presented as central to the partner tradition
- Artistic interpretations and depictions in various media
- Game show
- And many other creative depictions, interpretations, and expressions
Students were encouraged to reflect on their learning throughout the Roots and Branches project. The result of their research was collated in a final paper which addressed the following in a Final Reflection Paper.
How do these global traditions resemble our local or national traditions? How do they apply to our own culture? What we can learn and borrow from them? How do they help define a global community?
These learnings were also presented at a Roots and Branches concluding event involving all partner students and schools.
The two biggest challenges HIES students and teachers faced during the Roots and Branches project revolved around:
- Timing the live, interactive conversations over Skype, etc. Suggestion: coordinate a similar project with regional RS partners or secure permissions from relevant admin in the event that a facilitating teacher needs to pull students away from core instructional time to participate in the live session.
- Our hope was that each student would be paired 1:1 with a classmate at one of the other RS schools and that they would have sustained, meaningful exchange throughout the duration of the project. Some of the pairings were more robust and sustained than others. We accommodated by explaining the reality of differential access to IT and other resources and by re-assigning some of our students to other pairs to form larger groups.
As well as enhancing their global understanding, students developed knowledge in a number of associated curriculum areas such as Geography, Social Studies and Languages. They also furthered their academic and personal skills in areas such as writing across genres, artistic and dramatic expression, the use of technology, public speaking, interpersonal skills, empathy and understanding, interpretation and organisational skills.
We do not plan to continue the Roots and Branches project in this form in 5th grade writing class during the 2018-2019 school year but are going to investigate relocating a similar project to a co-curricular called “Global Faith and Service” (GFS) in 2019-2020. The project will likely be adapted based on faculty feedback from the 2017-2018 Roots and Branches experience and to accommodate the learning objectives for the GFS course. Interested schools should contact firstname.lastname@example.org to express interest in participating in our 2019-2020 experience.
- Secure firm commitments from partners – including assurances that they have permission to use time for the exchange and adequate resources, both IT and other materials.
- Planning time – Put in place adequate planning time for principal facilitators from participating schools.
- Planning process – Build time and structure around the virtual exchanges by engaging students in “pre-talk” conversations and “post-talk” debriefing.
- Reflection and analysis – Create a final reflection assignment or other deliverable and an opportunity for participating students to share out about their experience with members of the school community, including other students, both younger and older, parents, admin board members.