The “1619 Project” Project
Cheltenham High School, Wyncote, PA | Designing Teachers: Mark Hoff, Karen Shaffran and Avril Somerville

In the “1619 Project” Project, students explored the impacts of the USA’s history of race-based slavery on the social, financial, and political systems that underpin modern America.

Key Academic Skills & Content: Students read and listened to podcasts of selected essays from the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, published in October 2019 on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship transporting enslaved Africans to the US. Students created museum-quality artifacts based on historic events or figures featured in the 1619 Project, supported by a written piece explaining the artifact’s significance. Next, in small groups, students took a “deep dive” into one of themes explored in the 1619 Project, researching and contextualizing the lasting legacy of slavery on America’s national identity. This in-depth research ultimately became the basis for the quilt panels that students created.

Final products: Students created quilt panels, inspired by the AIDS quilt, representing their interpretation of slavery’s impact on one of 6 themes explored in the 1619 Project (Capitalism, Sugar, Music, Politics, Urban Planning, and Prisons).


Funding for the materials and equipment for this project was provided by a Teaching Tolerance Educator Grant


This project was created with the generous support of the Avalon Foundation.

Final Products: What the Students Made
Final Products: What the Students Made

Final Products: Quilts & Artist’s Statements

Every student created their own 2-by-3-foot mixed-media quilt panel based on one of the themes explored in The 1619 Project (Capitalism, Sugar, Music, Politics, Urban Planning, and Prisons). Six students made panel for each theme, so in the end, we sewed the panels together, making a set of six-panel quilts, each one representing a different theme.

A total of 39 students were on the team that did this project, leaving three more students than there were quilt panels. To deal with this, we had a three-student “documentary” team that documented the project from start to finish, instead of producing quilt panels.

Every student also wrote an argumentative essay on the topic of their quilt panel, inspired by the style and content of the essays in the 1619 Project.

The quilts were displayed on quilt racks at the district-wide Black History Month Event before traveling to other schools for exhibition. The quilts were displayed next to “Exhibition Posters” showing the names and photos of the students who made the quilt, along with the first paragraph of each student’s essay, and a QR code that visitors could use to read one of the essays.

Other Products: Artifacts and Artifact Descriptions

Early in the project, students made art pieces in the style of “historical artifacts” that illuminated historical events, figures, or issues that were described in the New York Times’ 1619 Project essays. The students also wrote accompanying descriptions explaining the significance of their “artifacts”.


Core Practice 1: Academic Rigor
Core Practice 1: Academic Rigor

The sophisticated writing and complex content of the 1619 Project essays were a stretch for all of our students. Before this project officially launched, the team laid the foundation for the challenging content by analyzing prose, poetry, films, conversations, and podcasts that examine the Black experience in America. To introduce the 1619 Project, we listened to the podcast of the opening essay as a full group while students individually noted the imagery, phrases, and ideas that “spoke” to them. After a socratic dialogue to debrief their initial impressions and questions, students each received a print copy of the opening essay, which they annotated to identify the historic figures and events found within. Students were each assigned one of these highlighted figures or events to research before creating museum artifacts that captured their significance.

In the next phase, students selected one of the topics developed in the 1619 Project’s supporting essays to deeply explore slavery’s impact on one of America’s societal constructs. Working in groups of six, they read, analyzed, and discussed the essay. They further extended their understanding by conducting additional research on a concept that was either indirectly or directly mentioned in their essay. They presented this research in the form of an argumentative essay in which they outlined a claim, support for their claims, as well as a counter-argument. Finally, they synthesized their learning into a visual representation in the form of a quilt panel. You can see examples of the argumentative essays and the quilt panels in the “Final Products” section of this toolkit.

Readings & Films:

Guide to the resources included below:

  • 1619 Project Timeline: This document lays out the step-by-step process that students went through in this project, from launch to exhibition
  • Opening Week Schedule: This document lays out everything that students work on during the first week of the project
  • “A toe in the water”: This graphic organizer provides structure for student to do their own research in order to learn more about people, events, and issues referred to in the 1619 Project essays
  • 1619 Quilt background Work: This graphic organizer provides a structure for students to record the key information they learned from a single source that they discovered in their self-directed research
  • 1619 Project Deep Dive Source Sheets: This multi-step graphic organizer includes an area for students to write down WHAT they are researching, describe their research process, assess the reliability of resources, record what they learn from each resource, and document the ideas that the resource inspires for their quilt panel.
  • Daily Schedule: This document summarizes what students are working on every day of the project (note: this is the actual document that the designing teachers used for their own purposes, and as such it may be a bit tricky for an “outsider” to decipher. It is included to give a sense of the overall arc of this project, from a teacher perspective).
Core Practice 2: Multiple Drafts and Critique
Core Practice 2: Multiple Drafts and Critique

Students went through multiple iterations and critiques before creating their final products. For their museum artifacts, students created either written, digital, or 3D prototypes and participated in round robin peer critiques within their 11th grade cohort. Next, we visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, where students took photographs with a focused eye on lighting, method of display, and the textual elements of exhibits that they were particularly drawn to (if you can’t get to DC to see the museum, you can still access their extensive online galleries). Students then incorporated their museum experiences into revisions of their artifacts before presenting them to peers in other grades for a Q&A session and verbal feedback.

For their quilt panels, students first drew their designs to scale (2’ x 3’) on paper , and provided written feedback to their 11th grade peers in the other thematic groups. This feedback focused on three areas: design elements, perceived message, and cohesion among the 6 panels of each themed quilt. Students incorporated this feedback into their second paper iterations, then collaborated with thematic partners on color palette and material choice before creating their final fabric quilt panels.

Guide to the resources included below:

  • National Museum of African American History and Culture Exhibition Reflection Slides: In the first week of this project, students visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. While there, they took photos of the exhibitions in order to gain inspiration for their own exhibition. This slide show is designed to help students organize their observations and ideas.
  • Artifact Prototype Rubric: This rubric is designed for a critique session early in the project, in which students were given a couple hours to make a first draft of their “historical artifact”, then critiqued each other’s work (you can see examples of the finished artifacts in the “Final Products” section of this toolkit
  • Prototype Quilt Feedback Graphic Organizer: Students started making their quilt panels with “prototypes” showing what their design would look like, without needing to sew together fabric. Students used this graphic organizer in order to take notes on their peers’ work.


Core Practice 3: Sharing Learning Publicly
Core Practice 3: Sharing Learning Publicly

Student products and writing were displayed at a district-wide Black History Month event, which drove the pace of the project and provided a high-stakes, authentic audience. Following this event, the quilts were transported to our middle school where the 11th graders spoke about the 1619 Project with 700 7th and 8th grade students. The quilts were displayed in the middle school’s Learning Commons for several weeks, and were then scheduled to be displayed at a district-wide open house before traveling to other regional venues.

Unfortunately, the “tour” portion of this exhibition has been postponed due to covid-19.



Resources included in this section:

  • Sample “exhibition poster”: The designing teachers made this mock-up of an exhibition poster in order to figure out what these could look like. You can see an example of a finished exhibition poster in the “Final Products” section of this toolkit.


More Interdisciplinary PBL Essentials: