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Marching into the Millennium: Classroom Activities for the Year 2000

Talk about teachable moments! How often does a year end in three zeroes? At my count, this opportunity won't come around for another thousand years! Wise teachers will capitalize on this special time in history. This week, Education World provides you with the tools to do just that! Included: Four millennium-related online projects for students across the grades and online resources to teach about the new millennium and the new century.

"The last thousand years have brought us many important people who have made significant contributions to our history," Gerardo Barrios, a social studies teacher at Nobel Middle School in Los Angeles, will tell his students this week. Then Barrios will share an issue of Life magazine that includes a list of 100 of those people.

"You don't have to agree with the list," Barrios will tell his students. "It's merely an instrument for class discussion."

Then Barrios will challenge each of his students to select from the list an individual who intrigues them. The students will become that individual for the remainder of the semester!

"This means that you have to find out as much as you can about this person," Barrios tells the students. "At the end of the semester, you will put on a 15-minute oral presentation -- told in the first-person -- about the life of this individual, his or her accomplishments, and the impact he or she made."

Barrios used a similar classroom project for the last two years. This year -- the year leading up to the new millennium -- the project takes on a new dimension. Barrios has published the plan for his students' Millennium Project on his school Web page. Among the activities detailed in that plan are the following:

  • Read a biography -- at least 100 pages long -- about the individual.
  • Create a diary that the individual might have kept in his or her lifetime. At least three important events must be detailed in that diary.
  • Re-create three items that relate to the life or accomplishments of the individual.
  • Write a five to seven page research paper that includes a biographic profile, a timeline of important events in the person's life, footnotes, and a bibliography.
  • Create a Treasure Chest from a box with a lid and decorate it to reflect the individual. This Treasure Chest will be used during an open-house presentation and it will include the three re-created items (see above activity).
  • Prepare an oral presentation that includes the use of at least five audio-visual aids. For the presentation, you should dress in a way that reflects the person.
  • Write a cumulative article -- similar to those published in Life magazine -- about the ten people you feel were the most important figures in the last millennium.

Last year, student Soumyagit S. "became" Sir Isaac Newton for a semester. "I got much knowledge [about] my person and got to explore new, creative ideas in order to make my person come to life," Soumyagit told Education World. Kelsie W. became Joan of Arc. "The most useful thing [I learned] was about Joan of Arc's mistakes and how I could learn from them and apply those lessons to my everyday life," she said.

"In the past, students have made very realistic Treasure Chests, scientific tools, science models, and maps," Barrios told Education World. "Their oral presentations come to life with great costumes, home-made videos, even students playing instruments for a more personal touch."

The students spend about four months doing research, and they turn in different parts of the assignment as the semester goes along, added Barrios. Throughout the semester, he emphasizes to his students the importance of relying on primary source materials as they do their research.


If you're a K-3 teacher and your curriculum includes a "" unit, the Throughout the Millennium -- created by the kindergarten teachers at Germantown (Pennsylvania) Academy -- project would make a perfect project for you!

"In celebration of the millennium, K-3 students will investigate from their region of the country and the world," said Peter Waxler, one of the kindergarten teachers. "Students will select in their areas from two or three time periods over the last 1,000 years. We will post descriptions of the , along with drawings or photographs, on a class page on our Web site. Other classes are then encouraged to view the pages and to send e-mail messages with questions or positive comments."

If this millennium project sounds like one you'd like to be involved in, go to the site and register now. Registration for the project ends January 17. Materials can be submitted for posting until April 10.

"In the weeks ahead, the kindergarten classes at Germantown Academy will visit three in the Philadelphia area," said Waxler. They'll visit a Lenape Indian wigwam, which represents an area home of 1,000 to 500 years ago; a colonial farm of 400 to 200 years ago; and a Victorian mansion built about 100 years ago. After visiting the , students will write a group description of each home, including information about the

  • types and age of materials used in construction,
  • number of rooms,
  • source of heat,
  • source of light,
  • source of water,
  • type of bathroom,
  • way of washing clothes,
  • ways of cooking and storing food,
  • other interesting characteristics.

The Throughout the Millennium Web site includes a long list of Internet resources that teachers can use to introduce the evolving history of , added Waxler.


Stacey Hoppenstein is the instructional technology specialist at John R. Good Elementary School in Irving, Texas. There she mentors the students who are members of the school's Multimedia Masters Club. Last year, club members created the Millennium Masters Web page.

"My fourth and fifth graders developed this project," Hoppenstein told Education World. "The kids came up with the idea after participating in another online project. They decided they wanted to share their own ideas about the new millennium and find out what other kids think."

Visitors can take a look at some of the MM Club Detectives predictions about the future; and students in other schools can add their own predictions to the site's Millennium Mystery page. The best prediction submitted each month earns that student a Millennium Mystery T-shirt and a certificate!

v This year, Hoppenstein took the students' work to the next level. She added a Master the millennium lesson plan to the site. The lesson was created for third to fifth graders but, Hoppenstein notes, it could easily be adapted for use in middle or high school. The lesson challenges students to study a special "invention history" Web site and to use what they learn there to create their own inventions for the future. After students create the inventions, they use a Web publishing program to build futuristic newsletters to announce, describe, and show digital photographs of them. The first of the student-created invention newsletters will be posted on the Web page soon!


What problems face our world at the turn of the millennium? What advice do you have that might help "fix" those problems?

Those are the questions teacher Catherine Peterson asked her sixth graders in Salt Lake City, Utah. The result is a lesson plan called Manifesto for the New Millennium, which Peterson and her colleagues Cathy Miller and Gail Wright have posted to their district's Web page. The lesson challenges students to generate a product to express their ideas for solving world problems.

"The possibilities, and their ideas, are endless," Peterson told Education World. "The students get really excited about the difference they can make. They are enthusiastic and willing to overcome obstacles to get something done."

The students' products can take many forms. The lesson plan's suggested products include essays, poetry, allegories, and songs. Other products might be posters, dioramas, sculptures, or paintings. Students can also write plays, perform dramatic presentations or dances, make models, write research reports, make time capsules, create puzzles, produce computer presentations, make games, or create photographic displays.

"The students I have worked with have really come up with some great ideas," said Peterson. "They've created inventions to make recycling easier, peace roundtables at the local level, pollution reducers, youth initiatives to share the wealth and end poverty, music written with peace themes."

Peterson's students began the lesson by brainstorming problems and creating a manifesto, or governing principles, that would guide them as they created ways to solve those problems. The students' list and the principles they established are posted on the Manifesto Web page, along with Sample Student Work.

"The Manifesto for a New Millennium is really an idea starter, a call for students to pledge to make a positive difference," Peterson commented. "Teachers can adapt the plan in nearly every subject area to meet their needs. It can be a simple project, or it can be used to extend out to the community and the world in many ways."

"I hope that teachers recognize the possibilities for using this unit with all age levels," added Wright, district technology curriculum integration coordinator. "I have worked with middle and high school teachers to implement this unit. Each teacher implements it differently. One teacher broke the students up into groups. They used Inspiration software for brainstorming and computer-aided-design software to design a solution."

Teachers can submit student-created products to Peterson via email at [email protected]. There is even the possibility that the work might be published in book form in the year 2000!


The Web is full of millennium related teaching activities -- if you know where to find them! We've searched the Web and come up with ten more ready-made activities for use across the curriculum and across the grades. Take a look at what we found!

Home Activities
January 1, 2000 -- So What? For people of many cultures, January 1, 2000, is a nothing date! That's because their cultures use calendars different from the one with which we are most familiar. Figure your birth year using the Hebrew calendar and attempt challenging activities that explore the Japanese, Islamic, Chinese, and Indian calendars in a series of December 1999: Y2K Celebrations, Calendars, and Time Activities from PBS's Mathline.

Art 2000. The Imagination Factory is offering a Mail Your Art 2000 international mail art show for children ages 12 and under. The theme of this art show is "Living in the Mirror."

Learning in A.D. 999 The year is A.D. 999, and you're at the turning point of a new millennium. Students will role-play the parts of present day teachers and students during the Middle Ages in this activity, It's 999 A.D. and You're the Teacher, from Encarta Online. Encarta provides the resources for students to learn about life in Western Europe at the time. For additional lessons, see the Encarta Millennium Lesson Collection.

Time Zones and the New Year. The Time Zones and the New Year lesson from PBS's TeacherSource will help students connect geography, time zones, and the new millennium. Each child is assigned a time zone. The student selects a city in that time zone and uses selected online resources to learn more about the city and how people there might celebrate the dawn of the millennium.

Explorers of the Millennium. Look at this student-created Web site, one of the winners in this year's ThinkQuest Jr. competition. Click on the Timeline link on Explorers of the Millennium to see which explorers the students included. Display some of those explorers around a map of the world. Challenge students to research and nominate an explorer who is not on the list. They can even submit their nominations to the kids who created this award-winning site. Each student will then write her or his own report about that person for display around the map.

JumpStart 2000. Students work in teams of four to solve real problems facing their communities and the world in the JumpStart 2000 contest sponsored by Parade and react magazines. Resources at this site include guidelines and entry forms, a problem-solving tip sheet for student teams, and tips for teachers as they coach students on their projects. Six top winners will receive national recognition as well as $500 to create a demonstration of their innovative solution to a problem.

Beyond 2000. Will watches have video displays? Will cities float? Will cars drive themselves? What are your predictions for the next millennium? Students can read a few predictions from the pages of National Geographic's Beyond 2000 Web site and then submit their own predictions.

of the Future. Twenty years from now, where will you live? What type of family will you have? How will you be connected to the world? What will your house look like? The Unreal Estate activity from the Newspapers in Education arm of Long Island Newsday challenges your students to design their future . The activity is one of many activities from the newspaper's Our Future lesson plans page.

Twenty-First Century Time Capsule. In this activity, students think about, discuss, read about, write about, research, formulate, and evaluate ideas related to developments in the 20th century. The activity opens with a discussion of which item -- a cordless telephone or cell phone, a television, a CD player, or a personal computer -- would be most difficult to live without. Then the class is divided into groups to brainstorm and discuss what students believe is the most important technological development of the 20th century. Each group gives a brief argument for its choice. Then the class debates the different choices and votes for one development to represent the 20th century. After the debate, students will prepare a time capsule to be opened in 100 years. created the entire Twenty-First Century Time Capsule activity -- including student handouts.

Picture the Future. The Picture the Future interdisciplinary learning project will engage K-12 students. Working in teams with educators, community leaders, and professionals in many fields, young people will weave the arts, sciences, and humanities into an exploration of their own communities. They will learn about the best of the past and present and apply it to the future. The result: a new community that is scientifically sound and offers a high quality of life, in which they would be proud to live. The U.S. Department of Education, NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the J. Paul Getty Trust developed this project.


  • Millennium Mania: A Hotlist on the Millennium and Y2K Masters Academy and College has compiled one of the most comprehensive millennium-related resources on the Web.
    • Let's Celebrate the Millennium What is a millennium? What's going to happen in the upcoming century, especially the next couple of years? There are problems -- some big ones. Solutions are available, though. This site explores problems and solutions concerning the environment, computers, food, space, and more.
    • Project Millennium Family Fun Guide Find timeline activities, word games, and other printable activities related to the millennium. You'll need the Adobe Acrobat Reader, which you can download from the site.
    • Our Generation, for the Millennium Something about major historical milestones makes human beings want to communicate with the future. People want to capture and convey a sense of who they are now to people who will follow. As the millennium approaches, give your students the chance to use this high-tech time capsule project. This activity from the Microsoft Teacher Network also sharpens students' history skills and teaches them volumes about working together.
    • MidLink Magazine's Millennium Issue Take a look at several interactive projects in which middle level teachers might involve their students, including Virtual Time Capsules and Stepping into the New Millennium.
    • Y2K Cartoons, Banners, Clip Art, etc. offers a long list of resources relating to the millennium.
    • Yahooligans' Millennium Directory Look here for links to many millennium resources on the Web.
    • Everything You Need For The Millennium Teacher Colleen Gallagher offers these millennium resources from her Teaching Is a Work of Heart Web site.
    • Life in the Year 1000 Students can read about 20 chapters from a Canadian Broadcasting Company's radio series for kids about life in the year 1000. Chapters explore such questions as What did people eat? How long did people live? Did people celebrate the turn of the millennium? What was life like in the large city of Constantinople?
    • Nominate Your Best Teacher and Random House Children's Books join together to recognize outstanding teachers across the United States. Who is more qualified to nominate those teachers than kids in classrooms?
    • Greenwich 2000 This site includes a clock that counts down time to the millennium, a page of quotes relating to the concept of time, and much more.
    • The Billennium School Curriculum Library Here you'll find teacher and student activities and lesson plans to better understand and appreciate the turn of the millennium. Prepared by teachers from all over the world, the curriculum is appropriate for all different levels of learning. (Curriculum for elementary, middle, and high schools must be unzipped to view.)
    • Teaching About the Millennium This collection of teaching resources from ERIC includes millennium-related Web sites.
    • Battle of the Centuries From the Library of Congress, this site summarizes the debate over when the millennium actually begins.


    • Turn-of-the-Century Child These interdisciplinary lesson plans use historic American photos of children taken between 1900 and 1920.
    • TIME 100: 1990 vs. Now Look here for resources from Time magazine and a link to the TIME 100 poll results.
    • The 1900s This timeline of the last 100 years includes music clips, famous speeches, and other noteworthy sounds of American culture.
    • Time Capsule Enter a date in the box to see a page of information related to that date. Most dates between 1900 and 1997 are available.
    • 20th Century in Pictures This site provides some of the more than 2 million photos that Corbis offers online.


    • Y2K for Kids From FEMA, this site takes a kid-friendly look at the Y2K problem.
    • What You Can Do About Y2K The Girl Scouts of America offer a site that adds new meaning to the motto "Be Prepared."
    • Mr. Pea and the New Year 2000 "It was New Year's Eve, 1999. The whole world was out having a party, but not Mr. Pea. He went to bed early so he could wake up before the sun the next morning. He wanted to see the first sunrise of the year 2000. He set his digital alarm clock to wake him up early. It was a magnificent digital alarm clock, with a bright red display on the front that showed 9:00 pm, Friday December 31 1999." However, Mr. Pea's alarm clock wasn't prepared for Y2K!
    • The Year 2000 Crisis by Editorial Cartoonists See the humor in Y2K through the eyes of some of the world's most accomplished editorial cartoonists.
    • Teaching Y2K Information, discussion questions, activities, articles and more from The New York Times Learning Network.

    Article by Gary Hopkins
    Education World® Editor-in-Chief
    Copyright © 2000 Education World

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