Overview + Goals

Forget About It:

Memory and the World around Us

8th/9th Grade

Course Overview:

Memory exists all around us – in monuments and memorials, in history textbooks, in cemeteries and speeches. This course aims to completely rewire the way that students think about memory. We will start by building up a biological model of memory – what goes on inside your head to cause you to remember something? We will then investigate personal memories and what it means to forget. We will explore collective memory – how groups of people remember the past, heal from trauma, and write history. In our final unit, we will discuss cemeteries, memorials, and (controversial) monuments, and each student will design an original memorial. By the end of the summer, students will gain an understanding of memory from different perspectives and will discover a new appreciation for how the past exists with the present.

Learning Objectives:

    1. Students will learn fundamental terms related to neuroscience and will gain an appreciation for the biological basis of memory.
    2. Students will reflect on personal memories – the sensory elements, process of remembering, forgetting – and will connect these phenomena back to the molecular underpinnings of our biological model
    3. Building from personal memories, students will explore collective memory, how it relates to healing and how it controls the writing of history.
    4. Students will investigate memory landscapes – memorials, cemeteries, monuments – in the world around us and will gain an understanding of what makes a monument “good”.
    5. Each student will synthesize the course material by designing an original memorial and presenting a proposal for it.

Statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, VA, from above. Image captured by John Briggs.

Next stop: click on this link to access the course outline and progression of lesson plans.

Course Outline

Before describing the outline of the course, I want to highlight a few things:

  • All of these lesson plans are designed to be easily copied and changed so that you can transform them into your own lessons. While the resources are embedded on the following pages, in order to copy them and create your own versions, you need to navigate to the “Materials” link in the menu or click here.
  • Please leave comments under the lesson guides with your own suggestions so that when people visit this site in the future, they can continue to create better and better lessons for their students. I hope this can be a kind of community where we can help each other.

With that said, let’s talk about the course…

Week 1: Creating a Biological Model for Memory

Source: GeneticLiteracyProject.org

The first few days of the course are dedicated to building community and exploring how memory works. Lesson 1 gauges what students know, Lesson 2 offers a crash course on cells and neurons, and Lesson 3 puts it altogether to explain one current theory on the biology of memory.

Note: The content of Week 1 is totally modular. It can be taught on a spectrum between scientifically rigorous and more narrative. You may choose to shorten or lengthen it. Alternatively, you may remove it completely and focus solely on the other lessons about personal + collective memory. I hope that you will feel empowered to make the decision that is best for you and your students!

Week 2: Critically Examining Personal Memory

Source: iStockPhoto.com

The second week of lessons aims to get students to look at the process of remembering in a new way. Lesson 4 focuses on inhabiting memories, Lesson 5 analyzes memories as sensorial experiences, Lesson 6 pushes students to look at forgetting in a new way, and Lesson 7 tries to get students to relive memories from the perspectives of other people.

Week 3: Collective Memory

Source: TheNewEconomy.com

Collective memory describes the phenomenon when groups of people come together to remember moments from the past. In the process, a group consciousness emerges and individual memories are changed. Lesson 8 introduces those themes and Lesson 9 explores the importance of collective remembrance in processing painful and traumatic memories. Lessons 10 and 11 shift towards understanding how collective memory shapes our understandings of history in important ways.

Week 4: Memory Media

Source: Washington.org

The final two weeks of the course explore where collective memory operates in our world. Week 4 specifically focuses on the various media of memory. Lesson 12 focuses on the relationship, similarities, and differences, between photography and memory. Lessons 13 and 14 focuses on the objects and places that memory crystallizes, such as memorials. Lesson 15 introduces the course’s final project.

Week 5: Memory Landscapes and Conclusions

Source: TheGuardian.com

In the last few classes, your students will complete their final projects. Lesson 18 focuses on expanding students’ understandings of memory landscapes to cemeteries and the practice of burying the dead. During Lesson 19, students share their final projects and the class concludes on a reflective note.

The Final Project

Inspiration for the final project.

Over the course of a little over a week, each of your students will design a memorial from scratch. These memorials will commemorate specific events or movements from history that are personal to each student. This project will help your students develop research skills, critical thinking, a broader understanding of memory landscapes, and a thoughtful awareness of design aesthetics.

One-Time Elective Lesson: Photography and Memory

If you are unable to create an entire 19-lesson unit around memory, many of these lessons are easily adaptable to one-off elective classes. Linked here is one particularly successful 60-minute lesson. Feel free to work it into one of your existing classes if you think it would be beneficial to your students’ learning!

Day 3: The Biology of Memories

Here is the wrap-up to our whirlwind tour of neurobiology. Based on the capabilities of the students, this lesson explores depolarization, reflex arcs, and memory circuits. We then end on neuroplasiticity, the new frontier of neurology research.

Goals: to build a basic understanding of how memory works on a biological level.

Important note: this lesson can be taught on a spectrum between scientifically rigorous and more narrative/interpretive. Depending on your own comfort levels and the abilities of your students, please choose an appropriate level of depth. Especially if you are planning on going into more depth, you may also choose to cover this material over the course of two days. If that is the case, you may also consider introducing an additional activity such as having students create metaphors for how neurons work, something that they could use to explain it to their younger siblings.


  • I would recommend trying to include a more engaging opening activity, preferably one that involves small groups.
  • Again, consider your goals for this lesson and how deep you want to go into the material.

As a reminder, your comments and questions are always appreciated!

Day 4: Inhabiting Memories

The first lesson in our personal memory unit! We experience memories all of the time, but today’s class is about dehabituating those experiences and critically reflecting about what it means to remember and what it feels like. This is a really fun first introduction to these ideas!

Goals: for us to get a sense for what it feels like to inhabit a memory

Here’s everything you will need:


  • The small group storytelling circle is the most important piece of this class. Be prepare to explain it clearly to your students so that they know what is going on. It’s important that they don’t have much time to choose a memory before they start explaining it to their group. It should be a rapid ~10 second decision and then they should start sharing with their group. I would also suggest that you give students the option to opt out if they don’t want to share – you can always merge groups if someone in one group doesn’t feel comfortable sharing.

As always, please offer comments and suggestions in the comments below to help others who may want to use this lesson.

Day 5: Memory and Senses

Lesson 5 is an immersion into the different sensorial components of personal memory, specifically highlighting memories of smell, taste, touch, and sound. Through this class, you can expand the awareness of your students in their own remembering.

Goals: for us to gain an appreciation for the sensory experience of remembering.

Here is your guide:


  • As the course starts to become more discussion-based, think about how you want to conduct class discussions. Do you want students to raise their hands? Do you prefer doing small-group discussions or whole-class discussions? Do you want to lead more structured discussions or do you want to create a more free-form conversation space?

Day 6: Forgetting

Many people often assume that forgetting is an inherently bad thing. This class aims to complicate that assumption, posing specific scenarios and ideas to students that will hopefully push them to develop more complex understandings of forgetting.

Goals: for everyone to understand why forgetting things is necessary and also important.

Important note: before teaching this lesson, I would strongly suggest reading “Funes the Memorious” by Jorge Luis Borges.


  • The debate is the most complicated part of this lesson in terms of preparation and explanation. From my own experience, I would recommend only conducting a debate-style activity for 10th graders and older, being sure to thoroughly explain what debates are, what this one will look like, and how students should prepare in their groups for the debate (prepping their own arguments as well as counter-arguments against the opposing group). For younger classes, I would recommend potentially transforming the scenarios into slightly longer stories that students could read and discuss in small groups or with the whole class.
  • If you have extra time at the end of the class, consider showing the movie trailer for “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” linked in the lesson guide. There is one moment in the commercial where a character curses, so be prepared to mute the trailer during that moment.

Day 7: Memories from Different Perspectives

This is an important and really fun lesson that starts to bridge personal memories with collective memory. My students also seemed to really engage with the oral histories while offering thoughtful and critical reflections.

Goals: for everyone to understand what it feels like to experience a memory from someone else’s perspective.


  • Remembering and reflecting on 9/11 may be emotionally draining for you or for your students. If you would prefer, feel free to switch this to another kind of oral history. If you elect to listen to these histories, I would strongly encourage that you preface the activity by providing a historical understanding of the event, alerting students to the heavy material that they are going to engaging with, asking for thoughtful and respectful ideas, and giving students the option to step out for this part of the class.
  • The 10-minute discussion that happens after students listen to a few oral histories independently starts laying a critical foundation for students to understand the various threads of personal memory that get woven into collective memory. It is important for students to understand that much of what we know about the past comes from reconstructing many, many experiences from those times. Focusing on the different perspectives and what those perspectives reveal to us about a past event/time is very important.
  • Before the weekend, ask students to begin collecting potential building materials for their final projects. These may include recyclables, boxes, legos, etc. The project itself likely won’t begin until week 4, but it is helpful for students to start collecting materials now so they don’t have to buy anything.

Day 12: Photography!

This was one of my best lessons, I think because of the engaging nature of the material and my ability to get students invested in a question like “Are Instagram filters a form of lying?”. Ultimately, this lesson aims to show students that in many ways, photography is just as fallible as memory, just in different ways. It is sure to blow their minds!

Goal: to gain an appreciation for the similarities and differences between photography and memory.

Please include your recommendations and advice for others who might want to use this lesson plan below:

Day 15: Starting Our Projects

During class today, students will have time to really begin working on their projects, including identifying their topic (the event/movement their memorial will commemorate) and starting their research.

Goal: for everyone to decide what event or movement their memorial will be about and to begin their research.


  • These last few lessons will likely need more deliberate modification on your end so that students have enough time and support to complete projects that they can be proud of. See more recommendations/considerations for the final project here.
  • The neuroscience review activity can easily be moved to a lesson earlier in the class. You may also choose to cut it, especially if you feel that your students need more time working on their projects. With that said, I think it adds a nice full-circle moment of testing students’ own long-term memories that also subtly communicates to them the importance of being deliberate about what you remember.

Day 16: Project Work

Another work day! Depending on your class’s pacing and structure, your students may develop their memorial designs today, which is really exciting progress.

Goal: create a design for your memorial that meaningfully captures the message you want to convey.


  • See the guide.

Particularly in regard to the final project, be sure to comment your advice for organizing and structuring the assignment below: