|English 730: Teaching Writing
Electronic Time Capsules
Over the course of our semester, I've talked about a variety of things that are important for effective writing teaching. Let me sum up a few of the key points for you:
I've designed this final assignment to tie together all of the above keys to good teaching. In addition, I hope this assignment helps model the type of writing task which works well with young students. In fact, I use a version of this assignment at the end of almost every course I teach.
Lastly, I hope you will find writing this assignment to be personally rewarding. If you don't, we're probably both wasting our time. But if you work with me on this, I think you'll find it to be a terrific way to finish off this course. This final writing assignment is for your future. What I’d like you to do is to create your own personal electronic time capsule.
What is a time capsule?
The idea of a time capsule is to preserve a record of today for people to look at years from now. You might have read about some time capsules that were created when we reached the year 2000. Time capsules often contain pictures and artifacts, such as clothing, jewelry, coins, and music. They also tend to include letters and written statements.
Sample Time Capsule
One good example of a time capsule is the one the New York Times Magazine created to celebrate the 2000 millennium. This time capsule contains information on the most important historical events from the last 1000 years as well as sounds and pictures. You can read about this time capsule by going to:
How does a time capsule work for our class?
First off, you’re going to create your own written time capsule for class. You get to decide what to write. You should write enough to make it worth opening your capsule later on.
I will not read your time capsule in any detail, so you can include some personal information if you like. I want to respect your privacy. I will check to be sure you have put some effort into this assignment. A full page of writing gets credit while 2 lines won’t. If you make any reasonable effort at all to do this assignment, I will give you full credit.
You will send your time capsule to me via email. I will store your email for 10 years (luckily, email messages don’t take up a lot of space). I will then send your time capsule message back to you by email. If that email comes back to me as undeliverable, I’ll try to send your time capsule to you by regular mail. This process isn’t perfect, but it has worked for most students I have had, and I have been doing this time capsule activity for many years now (I have lots of piles of letters and emails waiting to be delivered at specific dates). If all else fails, send me an email in 10 years and ask to get your time capsule back. I will keep all the time capsules on file until each one is successfully delivered, so write me back when you receive yours. You can always get my current email address from my web page (which will probably be at IUP or search for me on the web).
Your Time Capsule’s Contents
The interesting part of creating a time capsule is deciding what should go into it. The fun part is opening that time capsule back up many years from now and seeing what you put in. Often, you might not even remember that you created the time capsule until the day to open it arrives. I’m going to give you a few guidelines for how to make Your Electronic Time Capsule. You don’t have to follow these exactly, but they should help you create an interesting time capsule that you’ll enjoy receiving 10 years from now. As you write, you might find it useful to include section headings for each part. There are lots of suggestions here, so choose the ones that you think are most important. Most good time capsules are a couple of pages long by the time they are finished.
Write a paragraph or two describing yourself at this point in time. Include things like:
Also say something about your personality: are you a nice person, cheerful, outgoing, quiet, or what? How would your friends describe you?
You might even write about some of the relatives you do not like—maybe things will have improved in 10 year’s time!
Record what you like now, so you can see how your tastes change over time.
The Era You Live in Now
Your View of the World
Think a bit about your future and then record some of your goals and aspirations:
I hope lots of your dreams work out for you.
Things to Treasure
Send your time capsule on email to Dr. Pagnucci:
Subject: Time Capsule-Open in 2016
Body: Paste your time capsule message into the body of your email. Do NOT send your time capsule as an attachment since that will be harder to keep track of and access over 10 year’s time.
Delete Your Time Capsule
Once I receive your time capsule, I will send you a quick email confirming that I received it from you and that I have safely stored the time capsule away. This confirmation will be your verification that you successfully completed the assignment.
Once you get your confirmation, delete your own copy of the time capsule. I know that will be hard since you will have poured a lot of your thoughts and feelings into your time capsule. But, the key to any time capsule is that it cannot be opened ahead of time. If you keep your time capsule on your computer, it will only be a temptation. More importantly, time capsules are valuable because there is always a chance that you might not get them back. You are putting things away for the future, and we are never sure what the future will hold—it’s part of the fun.
The Power of Writing
So why do this activity as your final paper for English 730: Teaching Writing? It’s a chance for you to think about what is important to you and the act of writing can preserve some of those important things. Hopefully, by extension, you'll be prompted to think about how to help your students use writing to explore the things which are personally meaningful to them (and you are welcome to use this assignment with your students if you like).
This paper is also a way to communicate some of your most important values and beliefs to yourself 10 years in the future. One of the ironies of teaching is that for all the students you might help in a career, you don't get a lot of chances to teach yourself anything (at least not directly). But, with this time capsule, you actually get an opportunity to teach your future self what your present day self thought was important. In the future, the time capsule will also be a way to research who you were in the past. This time capsule will become an artifact 10 years from now that will help you look back to this time in your life.
If all those theoretical arguments don't persuade you this project is worth doing, then just consider that over the years most of my students have said this is a really fun assignment to do. That's probably reason enough.
I should warn you that when you open your time capsule in 10 year’s time, it might make you a little sad as well as happy. Some of the things you recorded that mattered to you will be gone. Other things you will suddenly remember, and you will wonder how you could ever have forgotten those things. If you write this assignment correctly, this time capsule will really matter to you, and you will want to get it back in 10 years.
I hope this last assignment, like others in this course, helps teach you that writing is the most powerful tool we humans have ever created. Writing can get to the heart of everything that matters to us as people. I also hope that your time capsule is just one of many important pieces of writing you will create in the years to come. Never forget how much writing can mean to you as well as to your students!
Dr. Gian S. Pagnucci -- Web Site Copyright Information