Live and Remote: 9/11 20th Anniversary Commemorative Project 

A trendsetting educator reveals a ‘tree’ of creative teaching ideas.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rose Reissman

In the midst of the 2021 live, remote or hybrid learning confusion, a school in Brooklyn’s Kensington neighborhood (District 20) is running authentic project based learning experiences for almost 300 students grades 6-8.   

At Ditmas IS 62 middle school students are developing a commemorative ceremony for the upcoming 20th Anniversary of 9/11 which they will author, curate, score and run on their own. The students who are participating, through 17 Ditmas educators who teach ELA, SS, ESL, Writing Talent and Special Needs, are excited to be curators, oral historians, illustrators and event planners for the 20th Anniversary.

The project is being run by Mr. Michael Downes remotely; Dr. Rose Reissman, the creator of the curriculum on site; and Ms. Amanda Xavier, head of the Writing Institute at Ditmas IS 62.

Time to Talk

Oral history is the first focus as the students take the time to talk with their adult family members and friends who experienced the events of 9/11. The students are using: recorders, flipgrid, videos, and written notes to do the interviews and then reflecting using key quotes on lessons they have learned from their oral history subjects about what life lessons these histories offer. 

‘The students are using: recorders, flipgrid, videos, and written notes to do the interviews and then reflecting using key quotes on lessons they have learned from their oral history subjects about what life lessons these histories offer.’ 

These histories of course reflect the multi-perspectives of the diverse families whose students attend Ditmas. A strong strand of these interviews has been the extent to which the Muslim families suffered not only the NYC tragedy of that day, but ironically still suffer the  perception that Muslims – anyone who “appears” to be a Muslim or wears traditional Muslim dress- are all terrorists. This perception of course had at that time for many student families’ serious emotional, economic, cultural, racist and psychological consequences. Students themselves—even at the tender ages of 11-14—stated that they and their families do not feel that this perception has gained strength over the last twenty years.

Remotely or On Site

Students have been immersed in the event remotely or on site by the viewing footage of the actual attacks and reacting to the HBO Documentary, What Happened on September 11This documentary is highly diverse-student friendly because it uses a target audience of NYC local students who visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum. It communicates their experience of the museum through their lens and features interspersed camera close-up reactions by the students to their learning experience at the Museum. 

The students speak with a survivor of 9/11 who worked for the World Trade Center. They experience the charred artifacts of fireman uniforms and a shoe as well as visit the reflection garden with the names inscribed. They build their own towers out of blocks. The relatable under 30-minute video ends with the students back at school creating in a warm school art program their own expressions of painting, illustration, do-it-yourself mixed media materials sculpting – to convey the 9/11 experience and its impact on this generation born after 2001.

The documentary plus other footage of 9/11 transports, through visible learning (Hattie, Visible Learning, 2008) the born 2008-2010 students to the anguished, heroic, horrific and shocking moments of 9/11. The video coupled with the introductory, often quite emotional oral history testimony from their family members, inspires the students to (like their peers in the documentary) create their own artistic—be it poetry, reflection, mixed media, painting, illustration or tower constructs.

Songs of 9/11

Michael Downes, the lead Ditmas teacher, juxtaposed two songs of 9/11 – Daryl Worley’s Have you Forgotten? and Alan Jackson’s Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turnin’ that September Day?). The students had to identify the lyric arguments made by each song and then decide whether they agreed or disagreed with them. Several students added voluntarily an artistic statement as well as their verbal response. Of course, the Downes’ song approach broadened the immediately accessibility of this project to include ELL learners as well as auditory learners. 

ELA Co-curriculum Developer and the head of the Writing Institute at Ditmas, Amanda Xavier, decided the artistic way to assure each of her students was accessed via visible learning to the 9/11 project was to have them develop their own research driven tri-fold poster board. To make this an equitable assignment for various learners, the board could combine: original art, research article printouts with student comments, student curated public domain images and student art or reflections. Paints, brushes, pipe cleaners, origami, twine and origami were made available to the students. 

In addition, inspired by the HBO documentary, Ms. Xavier and Dr. Reissman downloaded the World Trade Center Model 3D paper Cut Template. ELA teacher Dina Francis focused, for her intermediate ELLs class, on the photographs of 9/11 and the character traits of EMT workers. These images were reflected in the student poster boards.

Crucial Bridge to History

As schools struggle to return students and educators to the structure of the classroom community, at Ditmas IS 62 20 classes of students work on literally and metaphorically building towers which bridge their connection to immediate American history. They are being digitally contributing, responsive American citizens now. In not forgetting 9/11, they are authenticating 2021 restart- and resilience-building so crucial to education.

Dr. Rose Reissman is an ongoing veteran teacher educator who has paralleled her teaching with teacher research. Her writings have been published by ISTE, NCTE, ASCD, Corwin, Penguin, and Kappa Delta Pi. She is the founder of the Ditmas Writing Institute Program, based in Ditmas IS 62 K, which has been disseminated to almost 300 schools. Dr. Reissman earned a Trendsetter Award as part The EdTech Awards 2021 from EdTech Digest. Write to:

  • Angelo C


    I’m so happy to see students reflecting back on history. It is also so good to see all sides of an issue taking into consideration. I’d like to see how students reacted to this project and how it can be used in September 2021 as a lesson.

    Bravo for taking this difficult subject on. These moments in time need to be documented from generation to generation. Each has a unique perspective.

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