“Walk a mile in my shoes” is a way of saying “see things from my perspective.” But shoes are also a status symbol and a marker of inequity. Dani thought these two aspects of shoes could make them the perfect entry point for a study of identity and diversity. To prepare, she and Anna listened to shoe songs, watched documentaries on shoe designers and extreme users, and planned reading material around sustainability issues within shoe production. Using the Teaching Tolerance standards, they were able to make their study of shoes a vehicle to teach about identity, empathy, injustice, and activism.
They launched the project with a mystery challenge — staff members contributed photos of their shoes, with snippets about where the shoes had taken them. The students needed to match the shoes to the people, learning and reflecting on their inference process and creating a collage of staff members that hung outside the classroom for the rest of the year.
Dani and Anna created an extensive reading list of fiction and non-fiction about shoes and also about identity and diversity. Reading was differentiated and students had a choice in what they read. For whole group reading and learning, the class read about Michael Jordan and the Air Jordan designer Tinker Hatfield, and about the Disney designer Mary Blair. One of the most intensive whole group reading and writing projects was a close reading and analysis of the Mackelmore song Wing$ — a first person story of a boy’s obsession with brand name sneakers and his growing understanding of the negative impact of the brand status of products.
This project was featured in the 2021 book Changing the Subject: Twenty Years of Projects from High Tech High. You can learn more about the book and the projects within by visiting the official website.
– To develop a strong sense of belonging
– To feel confident in voicing opinions about difficult subjects
– To develop a deep appreciation for differences among people
– To understand empathy and practice it
-To learn and practice the design process, including research, prototyping, testing, and revision
-To develop as readers, writers, and editors
-To develop critical and analytical thinking
-To apply data analysis techniques to multiple kinds of survey data collected (about shoes); to learn about mean, median, and mode, and standard and non-standard units of measurement
Throughout the project, Dani and Anna used many interactive exercises to bring the sometimes abstract concepts of identity, equity, and social justice to a concrete level that engaged third graders. The class demonstrated the concept of privilege by playing basketball, calling their shots “shots at privilege.” Students took a layup shot at life, a free throw shot at life, or a three pointer, and then made analogies to other kinds of “shots” or chances in life.
The shoe design process went through a number of phases:
The challenge was to take a plain pair of white sneakers and create a design for them that expressed the student’s individual identity. Students knew they would be limited to two techniques — airbrushing and vinyl transfer. They practiced and experimented with the techniques to see what was possible. The students researched various shoe designers, as well as do-it-yourself designers on ETSY. They created drafts on paper and gave and received critique.
The students staged a fashion show to exhibit their identity shoes and poses. In the process room, the design process and prototyping of the shoes was on display, as well as the writing components, and the musical analysis of Mackelmore’s song Wing$.