Follow the Leaders

iStock_000001921470Small-croppedSome people are amazing. I mean, I’m not sure I know how they find the time to write, reflect, research, inspire and lead.  For me, a steady diet of their energy, through their blogs, is just the things I need to keep myself on the edge of something new, while still reminding myself of the reasons I do what I do. Here’s a few incredible educators who get me thinking (in no particular order):

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  1. Granted, and… Thoughts on Education by Grant Wiggins http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/ One of the most prolific names in education because of the UbD model, Wiggins writes often and deeply about different REAL ways teaching impacts students. I really find his posts always get me thinking.
  2. The History 2.0 Classroom by Greg Kulowiec http://kulowiectech.blogspot.com/ Greg is the first teacher I found on Twitter and I have been a big fan of his teaching and leading ever since. I really find Greg’s writing practical and authentic. He lives on the edge of teaching students (and now other teachers) and is always engaged in keeping theory ‘on the ground’ with the best interests of students in mind.
  3. Michael Milton’s blog http://michaelkmilton.com/ and Tumblr page http://michaelkmilton.tumblr.com/ Having followed Michael’s tweets on #sschat for a few years, I have to say that I really, really want to be in his class (one of the best compliments I think you can give a teacher). His ideas are so creative and fun that it might be easy for students to overlook all of the solid pedagogy until they realize, “Hey, this stuff has really helped me.”
  4. Angela Hamblen’s blog http://www.kyteacher.org/blog.html One of the most organized and thoughtful history teachers I have found online has to be Angela Hamblen. Whether its Pinterest, Livebinder, or Edmodo, whether its APUSH or APGOV, her resources, lesson ideas, and calendars are so useful that I just have to bow to the master. She’s really inspiring.

What do I learn from these blogs about me?

  • I get energized, like seeing someone running just a little bit ahead of me in a race, or seeing Rocky lifting weights and getting ready for the big fight (80’s childhood). I feel like I can be a better teacher from their modeling. It just might work!
  • I feel like I belong. My early career of teaching was a little lonely, and I don’t really mean that in the ‘feel sorry for me’ way. Reflecting on my practice just wasn’t something that I shared all that much. I could try new things, but without support or feedback, it wasn’t all that research-based. My practice didn’t have the push-pull of collaborative design either. Blogs help that, especially when I connect with my teacher heroes on Twitter.
  • I love ideas. I mean I really love brainstorming. When given a problem to solve, I am a happy camper. I like the idea of improving my practice, and given some shortcomings, there’s a lot to practice on. Maybe this is the confession of a constant tinkerer, but refining how I teach to learn (and learn to teach) is just something that I’m comfortable with. Being surrounded by the ideas of others, the patterns in pedagogy, and the purpose of practice, is good for me, and these blogs supply me with a full breakfast, lunch and dinner of ideas.

From Pandora to Spotify

Got lots of ‘thumbs up’ songs on Pandora that you just wish were on Spotify? The Google extension called Pandora to Spotify Playlist Converter is your friend. Got to say that its great. I’ve been a user of Pandora since the early days of the Music Genome Project, and Spotify is a really cool upgrade to the random mix side of Pandora. Taking my 2,000 plus Pandora ‘likes’ and importing them to Spotify was easy, and it allows me to click on an artist that used to come up randomly and listen to their whole album. Love it.

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Thinking Historically

Teaching history is very different from learning it.

…or so I thought. When I think back to some of my favorite history teachers, or when I read a book about Cold War nuclear weapon policy, for instance,  or a biography of Arthur Koestler, or an interpretation of King Phillip’s War, I immersed myself in the story. I listened to the teacher in class as a powerful story-teller. I wander in and out of the chapters and pages of books, following the arc. In between all of that learning, my mind is forming questions. Back when I was in school, mostly because I was a shy student, I didn’t ask these questions out loud. I would write them in the margins of my notebook, like a secret diary of the past, with no one to look at them. But I was beginning to think historically.

As I grew older, and discovered my love for teaching, I began a journey of trying to figure out how to teach the past so that questions would be more important than answers. I wanted my students to have a place and a voice for asking the same questions I tucked away into margins and kept to myself when reading a book. I wanted them to challenge the past to a fight, rather than eat their daily nutritional helpings of ‘textbook’ for breakfast and ‘handout’ for lunch. (Tests were always what’s for dinner.)

Within the last decade or so, more an more teachers have refined the research and practice surrounding the ‘historical thinking skills’ movement. The College Board began to redesign the AP US History exam (their bread and butter money-maker). They published a framework for identifying historical thinking skills. Stanford University freely published their Reading Like a Historian lesson plans online as well as assessments that measure historical thinking, Beyond the Bubble. Professor Sam Wineburg has written extensively on why historical thinking matters. Teachers like Bruce Lesh published books based on his experiences teaching historical thinking skills in US History. Others have blogged about the different between teaching facts and teaching historical thinking. Universities began to create historical thinking projects, standardize historical thinking skills, as well as develop and share lessons on teaching historical investigations. The American Historical Association published articles on what it means to think historically. So to did TeachingHistory.org, a site of resources and strategies from actual teachers and historians. The Wisconsin Historical Society wrote a book, created posters, and developed strategies for thinking historically. The National Council for Social Studies also published a report on how thinking historically can be supported in an inquiry model for college, career and civic success. Dozens of teachers have had discussions about thinking like a historian on Twitter.

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There has also been some opposition. Florida in 2006 passed a bill that included a passage, according to an article by the American Historical Association, that states, “American history shall be viewed as factual, not constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” Textbooks still have a huge hold on schools across  the country, making billions. Others, like education researcher Diane Ravitch, has called some of the Common Core lessons with historical content a travesty. Concern for compliance with the CCSS has also been a concern for many history teachers, as there are no nationally required history standards. On the other hand, some have woven historical thinking skills with Common Core standards. The debate continues, but with more support for the vertical articulation and measurement of historical thinking skills. Stephen Lazar points out that there is no more false dichotomy with the adoption of the C3 Framework. Grant Wiggins writes that standards are not incompatible with creativity. Overall, I believe the tide is turning to support teaching historical thinking, but the work continues.

For me, thinking historically is the way in which teaching history is different from the way I learned it. This is the direction I’d like to continue to move. It’s something that energizes me and gives purpose to my practice. Give me a deep question over a quick answer any day. I’ll dig out my historical thinking tools and get to work!

Companions

Ayla is a Bergamasco sheepdog and our companion. She’s almost 7 years old and a beautiful being.

Ayla as a puppy, smiling at the beach (pre-dreads).
Ayla as a puppy, smiling at the beach (pre-dreads).
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Ayla, in her truest element, the snowy yard.
Ayla, in the yard, never really still.
Ayla, in the yard, never really still.

Jess and I have had many companions over the years, and as I was reading some morning posts, I caught two reviews from one of my favorite blogs to follow: Brain Pickings. One was a review of the book, Lost Cat: An Illustrated Meditation on Love, Loss and What It Means To Be Human. The other was a review of The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think. Both offer an imaginative window into the lives of our companions, and the relationships we mutually form with each other, fully defining neither.

As I think about on my life with Ayla, Orso, Misty, and Anna, I can only be thankful that there is a mirror to reality in shared existence.  That’s more than enough.