Thanks to the VCSS classroom mini-grant, Virginia Beach City Public Schools high school social studies students joined an international movement by folding 1,000 origami paper cranes for peace. Our social studies instructional specialist, Lisa Gibson, presented these student created origami cranes to Hiroshima, Japan as a symbol of peace and friendship.
During this project, students throughout the school division learned more about the Hiroshima & Nagasaki atomic bombs and their after effects. Through exploring the personal story of one survivor of the bombing, Sadako Sasaki, students discussed the concepts of symbolism, the significance of memorials, and experienced empathy through art.
Diagnosed with atomic-bomb disease (radiation-induced leukemia) at age twelve, Sadako learned of a Japanese legend that states anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes would experience peace and be granted a wish. In her memory and to honor all children affected by tragedy globally, people around the world fold a thousand paper cranes as a symbol of peace and good intentions. Inspired by Sadako’s story, VBCPS teachers and students were eager to participate in this peace building activity.
After End-of-Course SOL testing, social studies students created over a thousand paper cranes. Students gained a deeper understanding regarding the effects, both culturally and politically, of the atomic bombs and how societies engage in collective memory & memorialization. Learners connected the personal with the global, art with history, and made meaning of the past. In addition, they were able to discuss the significance of symbols and learn about various memorials in the world. Students formed and articulated their opinions about common elements of tragedy, connecting historical events of the WWII atomic bombings to more modern events, such as the Cold War and September 11, 2001.
The VCSS mini grant funded all material costs for this project. Fifteen social studies teachers were provided with a block of one thousand sheets of origami paper. One hundred finished cranes from each of the eleven high schools were collected and strung together to present to Sadako’s brother, Masahiro Sasaki, in Japan on July 2, 2015.
Serving as the lead teacher of the 1000 Paper Cranes for Peace project, I was able to see how my peers around the division incorporated Sadako’s story in diverse social studies classrooms: Va. & U.S. History, AP U.S. History, World History 2, Psychology, Sociology, AP World History, IB 20th Century History, AP Government, and AP European History.
At Tallwood High School, AP World History teacher Kate LaRoue made connections between the United States 9/11 tragedy and the dropping of the atomic bombs. “One or two students already knew of Sadako’s story, but for most it was a new thing. The seniors really got into folding the origami; some even purchased their own origami paper to contribute more. They liked the witness testimonies on the 9/11 website too because it showed the commonalities of the two events together. Students realize how countries respond to tragedy can serve to unify, give people hope, and work towards prevention of future harm. ”
Kempsville High School teacher Gabe Wetmore noted, “My Virginia and United States History students really enjoyed this project. Several of them took origami paper home to make additional cranes to contribute to the final strand. They enthusiastically wanted to do ‘homework for a cause’ .”
Melissa Porter, an A.P. European History teacher at Landstown High School, said her students were excited to have a piece of themselves (what they made) incorporated into an international peace offering. “Although it was challenging, it was pretty cool to learn how to make paper cranes and understand its connection to history,” stated one of Ms. Porter’s students. One of my students agreed with that statement, “This is fun! I never realized how much a paper crane symbolizes!”
As a first-year teacher, 1000 Paper Cranes for Peace allowed me to bond with learners on a deeper level and promote social-emotional growth in students. This symbolic project brought history alive for students as well as promoting compassion for something that happened far away and a long time ago. I encourage all teachers to apply for a VCSS mini-grant to help implement a low-cost, high impact lesson in your own classroom!
Photo credit: Gabe Wetmore
To apply for a mini-grant award, please visit: http://www.vcss.org/downloads.html