First Meeting

August 28th was the first professional development day for Sandwich Public Schools for the 2012-2013 school year. As a new teacher in the district, I quickly saw a tone set by the administration. After the pledge,  national anthem, and speeches, each of the four principals in the district took turns honoring their employee of the year. Heartfelt stories of true passion for teaching, compassion for others, and dedication to work, were told by each principal while standing ovations were given by colleagues to honor outstanding educators. It was a wonderful experience to begin the year, and said to me something great about a district where teachers are heroes.

We then went to our department meetings. In the history department, we focused our discussion around five central questions:

  • What are key historical concepts students must know?

  •  What historical thinking skills must students be able to demonstrate?

  • What teaching strategies reinforce these concepts and skills?

  •  How do we effectively assess these concepts and skills?

  • What resources do we have/need to be more successful?

The discussion that followed focused on many topics, such as making differentiation more authentic, setting clear expectations for historical thinking skills vertically from grades 9-12, making the integration of technology more collaborative, reinforcing basic geography skills, and more. The caliber of experience in the room, along with a clear desire to strengthen and support the teaching of History and Social Studies, was obvious. It’s going to be a great year.

 

The Poetry Foundation

One of the best apps I have had the pleasure of enjoying this summer is from the Poetry Foundation. Their poetry app allows you to search and browse select poems from around the world and through the ages. All you have to do is select themes and topics on two sliders and spin them to get randomly generated topics, like nature and passion, or compassion and relationships. It’s a quick way to remember that language is an art still curiously understood.

How Twitter Helps Me Grow

Yes, I love Twitter. In 2006, I thought it would be cool to sign up for an account and share with the world my actions and thoughts…

One post.

Yes, that’s all I entered. I don’t really think I understood it at all. Why wasn’t anything showing up in my Twitter stream? Who do I ‘follow’? I had no idea. Then I decided to return to it in April 2011. I remembered a local teacher who I had heard talk about cell phone use in his class, found his webpage/blog, loved it, and then saw that he was on Twitter.

He was my first ‘follow’.

One thing led to another. More teachers began showing up. I followed them as well. Then I saw principals, superintendents, consultants, professors and (gasp) even students on Twitter. I learned really quickly how valuable it could be. I was invited to a local #edcamp (unconference) in Boston and then met hundreds of educators, all sharing resources, providing feedback, and collaborating together on different projects. It was like some kind of PD heaven!

So, on to tonight. I saw that there was an AP US History chat being moderated at 7PM EST and, yes, its summer. I had the time and really wanted to connect with APUSH teachers. We introduced ourselves and the discussion began: “How do we help our students in the beginning of the year without overwhelming them?”

Some ideas shared on Twitter #APUSHchat:

  • Get PSAT data from students and compare with a diagnostic US History test, then make groups 3-4 strong with middle and developing students in each group.
  • Ask students what they want to get out of the class and then pretest them to see what they know and where they are at.
  • Give students an organized day by day agenda so that they know what to expect and set deadlines.
  • Create a pacing/reading guide for students for the whole year so they can plan their schedules.
  • Identify class and personal goals, as well as reading and learning goals.
  • Sharing the ‘top 10’ pieces of advice given by last year’s APUSH class.
  • Using formative assessments on a regular basis to inform instruction. Here are some notes shared by one teacher: http://bit.ly/NfkBxq
  • Letting students know about (and practice) different note taking strategies, such as Cornell notes, The One Pager, Havard Outline, Dialectical Journals, Levels of Questions.
  • A learner profile and a technology survey for students.

We also discussed field trips and their logistics, syllabus design, Socratic seminars, edcafes, parent meetings, parent resources, edcamps, and fact vs. opinion vs. inferences. It was one hour of pure ‘teacher-helping-teachers’.

In my 16 years of teaching, I have definitely found this to be my strongest form of collaborative professional growth.

How to connect?

So, if anyone is interested in finding out how to use Twitter as a teacher, go to Twitter.com, create an account, click ‘compose new Tweet’ and send a message to @thalesdream (me). If you’d like to find other Social Studies and History teachers relatively quick, type ‘Hello, I’m new to Twitter and looking to connect with other history teachers.’ and then add #sschat, which is the chat channel for Social Studies on Twitter.

Here are some other really useful #sschat links:

 

Teacher Blog Recommends

Blogs are really interesting windows into how others create, share and reflect on their lives. I highly recommend using Google Reader, or some other RSS feed to follow the posts of some great educators: Vicki Davis (Cool Cat Teacher), Stephen Lazar (Outside the Cave), Terie Engelbrecht (Crazy Teaching) and Michael K. Milton (@42thinkdeep). Their posts give me the chance to learn more about pedagogy, sharpen my lesson design and implementation, share resources and overall, help me grow as a professional. Check them out!

Reflecting on APUSH Strategies

[notice]A colleague of mine recently asked me about teaching strategies for APUSH, specifically in regard to having students learn from their textbook and lectures. As I was responding, I thought it would be a good idea to share and reflect a bit more in depth on what worked and what didn’t. Here are some of the ups and downs I had last year.[/notice]

I began the year using a couple of different strategies. First, I made a pacing guide with each day mapped out for what students had to read. This meant that the topics we covered in class that day would come from the reading the night before. Quizzes could follow on that pace too. Kids actually loved the quizzes. It compartmentalized their studying. That has strengths and weaknesses, but overall it kept people on their toes.

I also used Schoology discussion boards in the beginning of the year to have students identify three strengths concerning the content and three weaknesses. I asked them to share them on the discussion board each week/chapter.

It was a graded assignment. Here’s how I framed it to students:

Knowing what we don’t know if the first step to understanding. Very simply, write three statements of topics in your reading so far that you understand well and then list three topics (events, issues or individuals) that you would like to know more about. We’re going to help each other study. Respond to students that you have a common strength with from the text, and help another student with an area that they do not fully understand.

Evaluation: You will receive 20 points for sharing a strength and 80 points for helping another student with a weakness. Thanks!

So, for instance, one student wrote: ‘Strengths- Early War, Anaconda Plan, War in the West
Weaknesses- Changes wrought by war, Homefront’ and another student responded:

‘For the Homefront, a big issue was keeping the civilian morale high during the Civil War. Both the Union and the Confederacy desperately needed the loyalty of the people living within their territories in order to win the Civil War. There were religious revivals during this time to help keep civilians enthusiastic about the war and loyal to their side, these revivals also helped people deal with the death of families members who were fighting and gave them hope to a wars end. Also during this time, newspapers and letters were being written and read more often by ordinary citizens who were trying to keep tabs on the war. For some lucky Americans, the war brought riches to them, and in the South those who broke through the Union’s blockade were able to make hefty profits from selling goods. Although some Americans made money during the war, most were deprived of resources that were given to the armies. In the North, the war opened up job opportunities for women and blacks, but the working wages were low and the inflation of money was high. In the South, there were a lot of supply shortages and many hardships for civilians to endure. Families had lost their slaves and homes, and food was becoming scarce.’

This worked fairly well for the students in the beginning of the year. They were helping each other understand the content, and because 80 points was the big ‘grade’, they needed to do so. 20 points for touting what you know well is only the icing on the cake. I called this whole thing ‘collaborative study’, and because it was online, it managed itself. I just had to moderate it and add follow ups and comments to facilitate a deeper discussion and answer some weaknesses that didn’t get responses.

Textbook discussion: Please post comments and questions here concerning the textbook, or any one particular part in it. This week’s topic is progressivism and there’s a lot that’s new here. Let’s break down and build up our understanding. :)

Monday Essential Questions: Scan the chapter. Everyone is responsible for creating one essential question. The EQ should focus on broad topics that provoke deeper thinking. For examples, look here: http://webs.rps205.com/departments/TAH/EQs.html. You don’t need to answer them. This isn’t an essay assignment. I’ll facilitate a discussion based on your questions. If I ask a follow up, please respond and jump in.

Tuesday ID/Vocabulary: First come, first served. Everyone will add 2 ID terms, with a definition that explains the content and context of the term. They do not have to be proper nouns, but they should be central to the chapter’s topics and themes. If you really need help, go to the flashcards section of MyHistoryLab.

Wednesday Primary Sources: Each student will add 1 image and 1 quoted document from the time period and content covered in the chapter. For each image, you must describe it fully and draw 2 inferences, fully explained. For each document, you must provide the link, quote a selection, and then draw 2 inferences from it, fully explained. First come, first served. No duplications. Use MyHistoryLab if you need help.

Thursday Q & A: Each student will ask 5 questions concerning the content in the chapter. Questions can be ones that you would like to know or about something you don’t understand. Each student will answer at least 1 question. I will answer some as well. Each question must be a separate post.

Friday Smackdown (Debate): OK. Here’s where we debate different topics, depending on the content of the chapter. Each student will take one position. They will have to defend it, using reason and evidence. They also have to respond to three others. Choose from strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose. The goal is to win the most supporters, and create consensus for your position. Try to win over others. This is first come, first served as well. Debate it over the weekend.

Towards the end of the semester, I asked students to do more weekly assignments (essays, projects, debates, etc.) and this broke them out of the mold of the daily assignments. To be honest, some of those after 10 weeks or so were becoming stale. The EQ were not as sharp, and the Q/A were formalities rather than authentic questions. I needed to shake it up.

I began to structure debates/discussions in the class around specific topics for greater depth. Here’s an example of the four corners approach on the 1960’s. It’s a pretty straight forward assignment, and its easy to do in class too (and often more authentic):

In this graded discussion assignment, you will take the positions of strongly support, strongly oppose, somewhat support and somewhat oppose. Each position that you take must have a primary source that supports your point, and/or provides context for the point you are making.

The Civil Rights Movement increased equality in America.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was exaggerated.

The Vietnam War was not winnable.

The Great Society was a success.

Choose two of the four above and take a stand. Please include your primary source documents as viewable attachments to your posts. Remember to respond to another student’s post to build a discussion on these issues, events and people. Greater participation in the discussion increases your grade.

This is a lot more work, and requires more preparation and content knowledge up front, but it produced some interesting results. Obviously, the statements have to be structured so that they are more open ended, able to be answered with different perspectives. Lots of kids strongly disagreed with the Cuban Missile Crisis statement. That one was too much of a softball from me.

I got a little more controversial (or engaging, depending on how you look at it) with the WW2 Support/Oppose statements:

  • The good of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
  • The Axis Powers had to be stopped, no matter what.
  • Killing civilians is a war crime.
  • All citizens must sacrifice when their country goes to war.
  • Hitler’s racism was worse than America’s racism.
  • Women won the war.
  • Stalin killed more people than Hitler. Allying with him was wrong.
  • Appeasement only makes the aggressor more aggressive.
  • If the US has the power to stop a genocide, it must.
  • America could have remained neutral.
  • When the war was over, women should give up their jobs to men.
  • The US must continue to use atom bombs until the Japanese surrender.
  • A draft is undemocratic.
  • Dissent is treason during a war.
  • The Jews could have fought back.
  • Winning the war means destroying the enemy completely.
  • Every NAZI soldier is guilty of war crimes.
  • Creating peace is harder than fighting a war.
  • Another World War is impossible today.

Howard Zinn’s Teaching Guide to Voices from a People’s History of the US (available on the Zinn History Project website for free) was also a great repository of ‘debatable’ conclusions on recent history. I used some of them the closer I got to the present. This set is from the 1970’s:

Please take a position on four of the following statements and provide primary source evidence to support your position. Remember to choose from strongly support, somewhat support, strongly oppose or somewhat oppose.

  1. Throughout history, those in power used a long-standing practice of “divide and conquer” to keep marginalized groups of ordinary people from demanding their rights.
  2. The voices of resistance from the 1960s are the direct consequence of historical social, political, economic, and ideological oppression.
  3. A counterculture comprised of persons and groups who are ignored and marginalized by society profoundly influenced United States politics in the 1960s and 1970s.
  4. Many of the counterculture social movements saw issues of oppression as being interlinked.
  5. An ideology of social control and punishment has dominated United States incarceration practices, rather than a philosophy of rehabilitation.
  6. The political, economic, and social ferment of the 1960s created a positive environment for the growth of the counterculture movement.
  7. Women of the 1960s united in many ways to give voice to their desire for liberation: demanding equality; legally challenging the right to make decisions about their own bodies; joining consciousness-raising women’s groups; and frankly discussing sex and sexual roles.
  8. Within the myriad liberation efforts of the 1960s, many people expressed a desire to unite against the “common oppression . . . of control and indoctrination.”
  9. Because the United States prison system was “an extreme reflection of the American system itself,” it was in need of the same dramatic reforms that the counterculture demanded for United States society as a whole.
  10. During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a “loss of faith in big powers” and a corresponding “stronger belief in self.”

Evaluation: Students receive 80 points for their positions and 20 points for a detailed response to another student’s post. Thanks.

Finally, as we were in April and the exam was approaching, I showed some of the PBS Presidents series on the American Experience. Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton… and we ‘crowd-sourced’ the videos. Students got out their mobile devices and texted into a specific discussion board. They were texting while watching and reporting out on anything that they thought was important. Quotes especially. We then analyzed them more at night for homework. I asked questions also during the documentary and students were able to respond.

Those are some of the strategies I used last year with APUSH. Thanks for asking. It got me to reflect a bit on what worked and what didn’t. Again, I relied on Schoology for the online platform for all of this, and it worked great. Kids groaned about the work at times (they formed a private FB group to organize the groaning!) but overall they valued it. I think the approach in general was much more interactive than reporting out the content. I’m thinking of repeating some of these strategies this year, with modifications. Again, this is just one way I explored learning. Its not the only (or even the best way). I’m also extremely open to other ideas. :)

 

Reading George Kennan

I’m beginning to learn the ins and outs of my new blog theme today, and this is something I really enjoy. I can post a brief status update without much effort. There’s plenty of times I’d like to record something on the blog, but not have to worry about the long writing process. So what’s going on right now? I’m into the beginning of my new biography on George Kennan by John Gaddis and enjoying it immensely. Back to reading!

Evernote: App Recommend

Evernote is an app that I use just about everyday. How’s that for a plug? Since I have it on my phone, iPad and computer, I can tag just about anything – whether its a picture, a website, a Tweet, a note I made myself or an audio recording. All of the notes are sortable and are easily accessible. I’m planning on using it for my students this year too. Here’s the App Store link and here’s the link for Evernote Schools.

Building Humanities

It’s been over 10 years, but my return to teaching World History is an exciting one. At Sandwich High School, freshman students have the opportunity to take a full year (two semesters) Humanities course that is team-taught between 9th grade English and 9th grade World History. This year, Sandwich is also rolling out a 1:1 iPad initiative for freshman and sophomore students. It will definitely be an exciting time! I can’t wait for the school year to begin! So, what is the course like? The Program of Studies states,

The Freshman Humanities program is a full year, 2 credit course which integrates English and history through a study of “The Human Condition”.  This is a team taught course led by a history teacher, an English teacher, and a special education teacher who interact with students on a daily basis. Students learn how to read, speak and write across two academic disciplines and will be evaluated on their ability to synthesize their knowledge of history with their understanding of literature through collaborative activities, creative projects, and individual problem solving. Specifically, the course exposes students to a wide variety of literary genres (including poetry, memoir, drama, short story, fiction, and non-fiction) and historical content from the age of ancient Rome to the Enlightenment. This full year team approach affords students the opportunity to improve upon literacy, integration of technology, grammar and vocabulary acquisition cross-disciplinary learning and the development of critical reading and thinking skills over the entirety of their freshman year.

Rome to the Enlightenment! I’ve been thinking all summer about ideas aligned to the themes of the ancient and Renaissance world leading up to the Enlightenment. There’s so much culture and art to cover in Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East, and Europe. There are horrific wars where men fought sometimes needlessly and on other occasions, for the most noble ideals. There are heroes and villains, artists and saints, philosophers and merchants, priests and madmen enough to make the stories come alive in a freshman class. The details come in structuring it.

So the basic structure of the course was determined around six units:

  • The Study of History
  • Africa, Asia, and the Americas
  • Greece and Rome
  • Islam and Christianity
  • Medieval Europe and Feudalism
  • The Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment

From there, I expanded on the units to create a pacing guide throughout the semester. It’s still a work in progress, but the foundation of the course has been laid. From there, I built on the work of others to come up with some essential questions for students. Meant to deepen the instruction, the questions should create curiosity and inquiry as we work through different problems to solve in the weekly topics and units to come. The central question for the class is, “What does it mean to be human?” and I could not think of a better way to explore these eras.

For the Chinese laborer working on the Great Wall, or a French mason helping to build the massive cathedrals, there might be a sense of other-worldliness in helping to construct something far greater than one’s self. For the priests of the Aztecs or the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, a thread of power runs through all decisions affecting both the mighty rulers or the most common peasant. For the Greek philosopher to the Islamic scholar, questions about our place in the world and our very nature must be asked, and written, for the ages to ponder. When a Crusader knight or a Zulu warrior picks up a weapon, he must wonder about his own mortality and weigh it against either glory or death.

These are some of the qualities of humanity that I am looking forward to exploring once my Humanities class begins.

Notes from EdcampNH

Session 2 (Assessment Standards) www.jcsee.org/ses 

knorris@plymouth.edu

How do we authentically assess students?

  • How do we know what students know? How is it measured?

Blended environments

  • How do we know who did what? How do you give feedback and manage?

Determining Averages

  • Formative assessments don’t count. How do we account for standards based performance when grades are weighted the same before and after the grades are in?
  • Eventually we are grading on competencies, but we are not there yet.

Analogy: Driving test. Everyone knows what’s on it. There’s value. Drivers Ed works on the formative assessment and help students gain the competencies so they are ready for the big test.

Q: How do we change this as a school community? How do we make sure change happens?

Session 3 (Critical Skills) @dancallahan 

We’ve been given a challenge of presenting in a group on critical skills and fundamental dispositions in a 21st century classroom.

So, we’re in 3 groups

Group 1: Official  website http://www.antiochne.edu/acsr/criticalskills/
Group 2: Unofficial website http://bit.ly/NBI346 and http://bit.ly/NBI9IT
Group 3: Article – From experience to meaning: The critical skills program by Laura Thomas.

We’ve been given 30 minutes to prepare to give a 10 minute presentation.
Now, we’re doing the presentation and breaking it down.

Session 4 (Ipads in School) @dancallahan

Songza (app) streaming music that gives you playlists according to different moods/styles.
50 Shades of Grey (ebook readers)
If you buy 20+ apps from Apple, you get them ½ price in bulk

Suggested apps:

  • Drawing pad
  • Toontastic
  • Doodlecast
  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • Paper
  • Skitch
  • Socrative
  • Nearpod
  • Subtext

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do we make effective use of the iPad?
  2. What is a good app? Bad app?
  3. What do we like about it?
  4. What do we not like about it?
  5. How do you provide apps and devices?

Session 5 (Paperless Classroom)

  • iannotate
  • dropittome

Smackdown

  1. Explain Everything (ipad screencast)
  2. mybrainshark (PPT to screencast)
  3. iannotate (app like skitch but better)
  4. book2cloud (open source books with questions)
  5. dailylit.com (books in 200 word bits/email)
  6. mendeley (PDF organizer)
  7. edshelf.com (tool organizer)
  8. whitenoise (app to tune things out)
  9. youblisher.com (embedding books in a webpage)
  10. xtranormal.com (dialogue creator)
  11. esri.com (express yourself with maps)
  12. visual.ly (infographics)
  13. easel.ly (infographics)
  14. infogr.am (infographics)
  15. songzu (music streaming)
  16. isleoftune.com (music synthesizer)
  17. airserverapp.com (stream your device)
  18. reflectionapp (device to projector)