Category Archives: Teaching

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)

Notes from EdcampCT

Session 1: Social leaders RT

Essential question: How do we move from a culture of isolation to a culture of collaboration?

Discussion introducing the work of Larry Cuban and his judgment on tech in schools. Does it actually improve learning? Is there evidence on this? No. Reference of Robert Evans, organizational psychologist and former English teacher. His point is that there needs to be institutional change but ones that focus on moving out of isolation. Also a reference of Mica Pollock and her work at oneville.org. She also used texting and eportfolios to improve instruction in a high risk community.

Examples: school websites, iPads, computers in the classroom

Comments:

  • There is a technology fear factor.
  • Teachers need time.
  • Schools have to create trust.
  • Does tech improve the practice?
  • Is social media creating a participation divide?
  • We need to invest more in human capacity than tech capacity.
  • Never use the term technology in the title.

Session 2: Building better questions

Introduction: Laura is a school librarian at Burlington HS and is frustrated that students don’t know how to design good projects. Too often the teachers focus their attention on descriptive information and kids just go to Google.

We then shared essential questions from different disciplines and Laura wrote them on the board.

References:

Comments:

  • Projects can’t just be written in a different form and called ‘creative’. Come up with different ways for students to create.
  • Building essential questions
  • Make learning relevant by helping students take positions on different issues.
  • Mary Johnson has a great format for helping students build their own essential questions.
  • How do we move students from trying to give descriptive answers to analytical positions?

Session 3: iPad PD

Recommended reading: Bill Strickland (Pittsburg) regarding classroom environments

Tom Maccord leads edtechteacher.org and he introduces 5 common mistakes that districts make in their pd concerning iPad integration.

  1. Failure to give a clear message and communicate to your stakeholders on why iPads are necessary. Failure to distinguish the benefits of an iPad vs a computer.
  2. “There’s an app for that.” is not true. This is s huge misunderstanding here. Subject specific apps are mostly drill and kill. (notability, explain everything, Evernote, GarageBand, iMovie – 4 apps that cross learning disciplines is a better pd approach for students and teachers)
  3. Shared iPads create challenges.
  4. iPads are bought, given to teachers, and there’s no pd.

Session 4: Game theory in the classroom

I led this ‘curiosity’ discussion on the nature of game theory in the classroom. I had learned a bit about this from articles and websites but not from my peers. As it turns, there were others at edcampCT that also were curious. Some had learned much more than me from the speeches and workshops of others. Others had been working on models of game theory in their own class. We talked about the advantages and disadvantages of competition as well as the authenticity of learning that is needed for intrinsic value. In the end, we did not arrive at conclusions but we did create more of an understanding.

What is it?

Is it a differentiation tool or a motivation tool?q

Is it just a new grading system or learning experience?

How do you apply it in the classroom?

Extrinsic vs intrinsic

Is all extrinsic a bad thing?

If everything is for points, is that a bad thing?

Game theory structure. What’s the best structure?

Identify 21st century Skills. The more skills used you get rewards. Accumulated xp equals privilege. Earning privileges vs skills.

Discussion:

  • Book, Enders Game is a fiction book that focuses students to play war games to fend off an alien attack.
  • Gamification of our society
  • No a reflection of critical thinking
  • Most game theories involve large scale projects
  • Game theory involves a new language and not everyone is familiar with it
  • Read 180 is a game system too
  • We learn through play, yes.
  • Martha Nisbaum and netricity. Nothing is real unless you assign numbers.
  • Is there a false belief in measurability?
  • Is there a way to build something that carcosonne into a class learning experience?
  • Can we make points a part of process instead of product?
  • The tasks have to be intrinsically meaningful.
  • The games have to be authentically experienced by students themselves.

Session 5: Schoology

Last year, I used Schoology as a classroom platform for online learning in all of my classes, but the most direct engagement I got was with AP US History and Multicultural Studies. This was in part because NBHS had been given 7 iPads as a donation, and I ended up with 5 of them for use in my classes. By sharing them, I was able to have classroom access to the internet for student discussions and online research.
Here in this discussion, my goal was to introduce the idea of a classroom management system…

Q1: What is it? What are its advantages?

  • LMS  content, assignments, discussion, assessments, resources
  • Grades, attendance, analytics
  • Collaboration. Colleagues, parents, students, administrators
  • Planning. Units, lessons, resources, all in one place and portable

Q2: How does it improve instruction?

  • Focused writing
  • Peer review, debate, discussion
  • All materials are in one place making studying easier
  • Classroom is portable on mobile devices, flipping is easier

Q3: What skills does this help students develop?

  • Networking and collaboration
  • Critical thinking, argumentation,
  • Effective writing
  • Presentations
  • Inquiry
  • Developing good questions

Smackdown

  1. Tour wrist
  2. Zite
  3. dark sky
  4. Paper
  5. Caffeine

Urban Science Blogging

[important]This is a guest post from my wife, Dr. Jessica Meade. For a few years, we had a teaching blog together, but since we are going to be working in different districts this year, we decided to split the blog. Her new blog is called Peaceful Teacher. Check it out! [/important]

This year I taught AP Biology and 2 Integrated Science classes.  In our urban, underperforming school, Integrated Science is for students who are either 1) not ready for chemistry 2) haven’t passed biology but there is no room in revisited biology 3) have an intense IEP and need a third science that is not too difficult or 4) it fit in their schedule and meets a requirement for a non-honors student.  I requested this course to teach while I learned AP Biology because I had taught it before and really enjoyed it.  This year had more challenges, but I learned more about differentiation and opening student interest than ever before.

Integrated Science in our school includes four basic sciences:  chemistry, earth science, environmental science, and physics.  My joy in teaching this course is that there is a lot of freedom in content and delivery.  We don’t have enough books, so it can’t ever be a text book centered course.  I start with chemistry to give them the foundation they need to take chemistry in the future if they choose to.  Many of them do not feel confident about taking chemistry and I can quickly teach them the first several units of chemistry in four weeks.  Then we move on to Earth Science.  This year something magical happened.  I was showing them the BBC video Power of the Planet (which is fantastic by the way), and they had an animation of how Iceland was formed.  I pause movies all the time because it helps to keep kids awake.  So I paused and said, “Hey, my mom is in Iceland right now.”  This concept was completely beyond my students’ understanding of the world.  People take vacations in places like Iceland?  Why?  What is she doing there?  Are there hotels?  The questions were endless.

I have always know that my students see their world as very small.  Many have never been out of state.  Some have never been out of our city.  Some students are from other countries but left them for a better life here – they would never go back for a vacation.  I had a light bulb moment:  My students should plan a vacation to an earth science hot spot.

When I introduced it to them, they were excited.  During our brainstorming session, the students struggled to hold onto the idea that it was a trip to see something in nature.  “Can’t I see the Eifel Tower?”  “Can I go see the pyramids?  Where are the pyramids?”  I quickly realized that my students have had very little experience with geography and that that would be a hurtle to undertake.  After brainstorming, I told them we would be making blogs.  Not one student of my two classes had ever made a blog.  Most had no idea what it was.  With this lack of information came resistance.  They tried to argue with me to make posters or brochures.  I tried to reassure them that it would be cool, that they would like it.  At the very least, they would gain a powerful skill on the computer.  I saw that students were truly very interested in gaining more skills even if they really did not want to.

Our computer labs have few working computers.  Many of the computers run very slowly or have obvious viruses.  We all accept these issues but it is frustrating.  Students could work faster on their phones than waiting for google to load.  None of the labs had a projector screen but my original plan was to walk the students through the blog set-up all together.  I ended up walking them through the beginning process orally, but I had to go around to each student to help them.  Then I quickly had a few student experts who could help others.  I chose to use Blogspot because it is a format with which I am very comfortable.

In terms of setting up accounts, I anticipated that some students did not have reliable email accounts for which they knew both username and password.  Most students have little use for email.  I was prepared to help them set up new email accounts and names for their blogs.  I did not realize how much they would struggle for a username, password, and name for their blog.  In retrospect, I would have done more brainstorming about the names of blogs in our classroom and help them to understand what the name should be about.  Some of the names were about their travel blogs and some of the their names were less applicable and more about personal expression.

Surprisingly, setting up the blogs took one entire block.  It was much more difficult than I expected.  Mostly because they did not understand what we were creating despite the examples I showed them.  Some of course had their blog set up in five minutes and were ready to go.  I had a handout which I will attach that guided students along the assignment.  The faster students began researching different locations.  I provided links to several travel websites and to obvious Earth Science hot spots – Hawaii, Iceland, Grand Canyon.  The first page of the blog was to be an introduction to their trip.  Once students had a spot selected, I helped them make their first post and publish it.  When students saw their blog with a post as an actual website, it was a magical moment.  Students said things like “I just made a website?” “Other people will see this and read it.  Cool.”  “Can I make a blog now about my own stuff too?”  It was very exciting.  Students were very motivated to make their blogs look good with pictures and design.

For my class, I decided they needed to have at least 8 entries including details such as how they would travel, costs, hotels, hiking guides, or tour guides to get to remote places, equipment needs, and whatever else they could think of, with many pictures to make it interesting.  They were required to explain the Earth Science behind the place they were visiting – in other words, how was that volcano formed?, how did that canyon form? and so on.  We also learned new words such as itinerary, we grew a real understanding of geography such as the difficulty of traveling from Arizona to Alaska in one trip, and students saw the range of costs of travel.  This broad set up allowed me to tell students individually exactly what I expected from them.  My class was supposed to be co-taught, but due to budget issues, I was on my own.  After the first day, I asked some student experts to sit next to students who were struggling to give them some guidance, and I am very grateful that those students were willing to help.

After the first few days of getting things set up, locations chosen, and research in motion, things became more exciting in the classroom.  Students were calling me over constantly, not for help, but to show me beautiful pictures or amazing hotels they found.   They were showing each other the beauty of the Earth and figuring out how to explore it.  One student showed her blog to her mother and they are now planning a trip to Sedona, AZ.  The student felt very confident in helping her mother to find flights and hotels, and knew how to get there from the airport.

In total, we spent 8 full blocks in the computer lab.  They were not consecutive days due to the difficulty of scheduling lab time in a large school.  Having non-consecutive days gave us time to reflect on our projects and time for me to continue teaching the basics of plate tectonics, volcanoes, and earthquakes.  As we worked, students were able to make connections between the content and their projects, and I saw evidence of this understanding in the final projects of the blogs.  I took half a block one day and gave each student a copy of a map of the world.  I showed a simple map of countries on my projector.  We spent time finding the locations of everyone’s trip.  Students also asked me to show them Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, feeling it was a safe environment to admit that knowledge deficit.  We filled in about 30 countries, and the students were completely interested.

What started as a rough lesson plan of a project developed into a life changing educational experience for many of my students.  They were proud of having a place on the internet, they were excited about travel and all desired to go to these places some day, and they were fully invested in learning.  Many of my students have at-risk qualifiers on many levels and our classroom is disrupted by their issues almost daily.  I can’t say that this project filled our classroom with rainbows and every student completed a perfect blog.  I can say that more students than usual completed a project and that the students who did complete it or even get a good start at it, were very proud of their products.  As a final project, students had to research an endangered species and teach us about it.  They could make a powerpoint, a poster, a research paper, or a blog.  All of the students chose to make a blog, because they felt it was such an easy way to present information.

Blogging is very powerful for our students, giving them a voice, creating a place to write and care about the message, and being a part of the technological world.  I have no doubt that in future classes, if given a choice, they will use blogging for a project.  Some teachers may feel hesitant to try a project like this in a class that is large, with many issues.  I encourage those teachers to try.  Blogging is not successful in the classroom because it is a nifty new tool.  Instead it is successful because it gives the student creative ownership and an online presence in a healthy, intellectual format.

 

Changing of the Guard

There is a wonderful episode of the Twilight Zone where an aging private school teacher faces his deepest fear: that of being forgotten, without everhaving made a difference in the lives of his students. He eventually convinces himself that it would be better to die by his own hand instead of living with his depression, and so he goes off into a snowy Christmas Eve night with a gun. He eventually wanders to a statue of Horace Mann. The inscription reads, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” But, before he is able to shoot himself, shades of his students visit him to share gratitude and appreciation for all of his work, care, and love of literature.

How many students have sat in each of these chairs? How many papers, homework assignments, essays, projects, ests and quizzes have I graded? When I am alone in the classroom, my classroom, whose voices do I hear? Whose smiles do I see? What angry glances are thrown my way with contempt? How many posters and pictures and projects have hung on the walls, or from the ceiling?

How many students have changed my life?

Around my classroom, right now, I see portrait posters of heroes and leaders, artists and scientists, writers and activists. I see student projects and conceptual art. I see dozens of places from around the world and read the poetry of Rumi. There are many complete sets of objects once called encyclopedias. I have a file cabinet filled with manilla folders, stuffed with lessons and printouts of really cool stuff I created well over ten years ago – long untouched. On the table in front of me is my Macbook Pro, my Dell M1330 laptop, my printer from home, my Dell XPS desktop, my Linksys router, folders, a stapler, a 3 hold punch, lots of unused power cords for laptops that could not be salvaged from obscurity. I have field trip forms for a trip to Boston tomorrow (Adams Historic Park and the Peabody Museum at Harvard University).

The homeroom bell rings… Another day begins.

My time at New Bedford High School has been eventful, to say the least. I have learned much about the nature of school politics as well as the ins and outs classroom  management. In one of the first weeks of teaching there, a student lit another student’s jacket hood on fire. I have seen more triumphs (big and small) than suffering, but both are present in an average day. To a certain extent, guns, gangs, drugs, violence, sexual abuse, police as the enemy, poverty, homelessness and broken families  have all sat in the seats before me as I try to teach the differences between Hamilton and Jefferson. On the other hand, dozens of students have entered the field of history, while hundreds have gone to college for the first time… all sitting in front of me from one class to the next. Many students have found love, purpose, identity, faith, and their potential in my time here at this school.

How does one measure a lifetime?

Is a teacher’s job a career? Is it a life? I keep thinking of how students who saw me in the summer were shocked and awed to see me in shorts. When I was a teenager, I found it hard to see a teacher beyond their job. My experience with them was limited to the give and take, the time from bell to bell. How could they be anything else?

So now, here I am. One lifetime ends. Another begins. I learned a lot about myself. I saw greatness in my colleagues, and more importantly, my students. I made mistake after mistake, sometimes too slowly learning how to improve lessons, pedagogy, and professionalism. In the end, within the pale blue walls with bright orange cabinets and closets that was my classroom, I changed… and nothing was lost.

Goodbye, New Bedford High School.

It was a good life.

Hello, Sandwich High School. A new life begins.

1960-2012 Timeline

The last 50 years are some of the most important ones in US History. What events, individuals or issues are the most important to be remembered? We’re going to find out by making our own interactive timeline of US History on those years.

Here’s where we’re going to focus:

  • People – Who  is historically significant? How do we know? What standards do we measure them by? As a class, we’re going to make a list and then stick to it when adding people to the timeline.
  • Events – What’s an important event? What causes it? What’s the impact?
  • Issues – What themes keep coming up over and over again? Race? Religion? Money?
On your timeline, please remember to include
  • An image
  • A title
  • The exact date (as close to possible)
  • A description in your own words (5 sentences)

Let’s get started! Click below…

 

 

 

 

OK Dipity kind of stinks…

Lets go instead to this timeline… Tiki-Toki

1) Go to the site here: http://www.tiki-toki.com/

2) Use the username: mreverett2012

3) Use the password: 4112mre

4) Click on US History 1960-2012

Go Tiki-Toki!

The Troubled Gatekeeper

The end of the school year is a rough time, especially for seniors. First, let’s be honest – there’s the prom to think about. Then there’s pressure about college. There’s uncertainty concerning summer work – whether you’ve got it, need it, or doing everything possible to avoid it. Finally, for many there’s a big black hole where the future should be.

Now put graduating on the top of the list. Lots of students don’t need to worry about it. It’s kind of like the end of a movie that you don’t like – but know is coming in about 15 minutes. You just sit it out. For others, graduating is like doing that last chore that you dread. It’s something that is just unpleasant, but you know all kind of people expect it from you, so you do it.

Then there’s the anxiety created for some kids who know they just might not make it. They see the gates that lead out to the ‘real world’. They see the light at the end of the tunnel, but… there’s one person standing in their way. It’s the last gatekeeper.

Sometimes that person is me.

I’m not sure how it works out this way, but it does. US History gets on the list of the classes you have to pass before graduation. Maybe they skipped it in sophomore year. Maybe they failed it 3 times. For whatever reason, I become the teacher that some students need to pass before they graduate. The problem is that ‘some kids’ don’t realize it until the last two weeks. Sometimes they don’t know it at all. Guidance counselors ask if there’s any way so and so can pass. “Can I have all my  late work now?” “Please” is sometimes optional, but that’s ok. It’s not about me at that point. I have to remember that.

What do you do? One student has a 48 average one quarter and a 73 for another. The school says that they have to get about 65 to get a D and pass. They’ve missed 27 days of school in the semester, including 16 in the last month or so. The numbers don’t add up. On the other hand, maybe that same situation needs some context. The step-father just died. The student has been making work up online by staying in touch with the teacher a couple of times a week. Maybe the IEP allows for alternative assessments and extra time to make up major assignments. What if a scribe is required? Or tutoring?

Do they pass through the gate, or not?

I hate that call.

Should there be exceptions for students that try? Should there be a different set of rules when the stakes are raised? Do I ‘hold the line’ against all that stand against me, whether its guidance, administration or parents? What if the school doesn’t want their grad numbers to dip? What if (gasp) I get overruled up the chain of command, after the fact? Yup, that’s happened.

I wonder what this says about me as a teacher. On one hand, I want to be fair and consistent. Numbers are numbers. On the other hand, I have bent the numbers from time to time because I’ve lost sleep over what is best for the student in the long run. Do I rationalize my decision by saying that they did actually learn things that weren’t reflected in their grades anyway? What does that say about grades?

Clearly, I am a troubled gatekeeper  – but at least I am reflecting on it. :)

Some do get the ‘None shall pass!” Others get a pat on the back and a tilt of the head as I move aside. Some get a well-respected handshake and well-wishes. I’ll still question my decisions each time, but not my intentions. At least I’m clear on those, and maybe that’s enough.

 

Hands Off the Wheel

What to leave the sub? That’s sometimes a dangerous question, but one every single teacher is used to. Since I’ve been out a large number of days this year, I’ve had a lot of sub notes to plan. I don’t have a lesson plan book on the desk in my classroom. In fact, I don’t have a desk in my classroom. I don’t even have one in the teacher’s room upstairs. I gave that one away to a new hire about 14 years ago, since I didn’t spend any time there. I don’t even remember where it was.

What I do know is that when I am out I still expect the class to go on. I write out what I think are detailed instructions and then… take my hands off of the wheel.

Because I am actually home today, and not at work teaching (oh, irony), I wanted to take this time to reflect on what I plan, how I plan it, and how I can improve. Here’s a list of my sub notes this year:

My observations focus on a couple of areas: 1) time, 2) effort, 3) content, 4) skills.

Time

I’ve noticed that it is very difficult to assess how much time students will need to complete the assignments when I am not there. Maybe my internal clock only works in  proximity to the classroom. Maybe I make many unconsciousness adjustments in the classroom. Maybe I just need to get better at focusing my out-of-classroom instruction on task management. Do I just kow-tow to the idea that students will take about 10-20 minutes of jumping around over an imaginary effigy of their absent teacher?

What’s the best use of time when I am absent? Is it realistic to expect students to remain studious for the 83 minute block? Should I buffer the classwork with about 10 minutes of talking time? For me, as I’ve looked over the assignments I’ve given to the sub over this year, I have moved in the opposite direction. I actually give more work than can be done in an 83 minute period, especially with limited resources in my classroom. So, since the assignment can’t be finished in the time, I am leaving students with the option of continuing (or rather, starting) their work at home, or handing in something that is not yet done. Clearly, this is something I have to improve.

Effort

Well, this is where the rubber hits the road. How many times have I come back to hear, “The sub didn’t give us anything to do!”? After looking over the work, I think about half of the assignments were creative in some way, while about half involved reading/recall. This is a bit surprising for me, because I had thought that more of my tasks were creative in nature and not based on something at the end of a chapter or handout. I personally feel that those kind of assignments are a bit devaluing. RAFT writing prompts have given me an ‘out’ in that area. Each answer has to be different in its design.

But the larger question is ‘How do I create a culture of learning, especially when I am not there?’ Is  it simply a function of culture? What about the stuff I can’t control, like the individual work ethic of the student? Then there are distractions, distractions, distractions. Depending on the substitute and their personal style (or lack of) classroom management, some of these factors may not even matter.

I think overall, though, its pretty clear that the beginning of the semester has to be focused on creating communities in the classroom that last beyond (ideally) my presence. In an urban school, where subs are more and more common for students, this is not easy. If there is a devaluing of learning overall, it is hard (but not impossible) to sustain one when the teacher is absent.

Content

After reviewing my sub plans, I’ve noticed that there’s almost no review, which makes some sense, and not much independent learning time, which doesn’t. A lot of the work focuses on supplementary tasks for the weekly unit we are on, depending on the class. Because I plan for about 18 weeks of instruction, and have lessons, notes, projects, essays, etc. for each week, it makes sense for me to try to ‘stay on the ball’ concerning the overall semester schedule. The hard part that I’ve always struggled with is selectivity, especially when I have been absent. What gets cut? Or rather, what has a lesser priority because I want to keep meeting my unit objectives and overall big understanding goals?

I’m not sure if there is an answer here. If I take each day I am out of the classroom and count it as a null-content day, I will never be able to get through all of the content I’d like to cover. Then again, how much understanding do I have to sacrifice to keep the content ‘covered’? It’s the age-old battle between content and understanding again. Inch wide, mile deep = understanding. Mile wide, inch deep = coverage. From a pedagogical point of view, I know which side of the fence I’d like to be on, but I still struggle with the idea that my students ‘need’ to know about this story or that issue.

Skills

Almost all of the work involves writing. I’m not sure at all if this is a good or bad practice. There’s so much that needs to be done with my students to help them develop skills as a writer that having students write ‘just to write’ may not help them in the long run. Still, is there any penalty to over-writing? My school’s 9th grade population has half coming into the high school reading below the 5th grade level. Their writing skills are also underdeveloped. So, if I am not there in the classroom, and I’m asking students to complete a RAFTS assignment, or defend a position, or analyze different perspectives, am I really helping my students?

Given that my classroom is relatively technology free (with the exception of donated iPads in the last 2 months of the school year), there is little I can do to monitor their work when I am out (assuming I am not sick and unconsciousness). So, is writing the best method? Should I focus on other 21st century skills for my students when I am absent? Reasoning? Negotiating? Collaboration? Creativity?

Mirrors are useful

So, how is this reflection going to help my students? First, I am going straight out to my online personal learning network of colleagues on Twitter and the net to get feedback and advice. Second, asking deeper  questions about my craft help point me in a direction – and I need to make sure that direction matches my vision for a culture of learning in the classroom. I guess the bottom line is that everything grows. Even sub plans.

Feedback is strongly welcomed! :)

The Swerve in the Classroom

I haven’t taught World History in about 10 years, and I miss it. Although there are times when I go back in the midst of teaching Multicultural Studies to the histories of different parts of the world, it just isn’t the same. There’s something about teaching the stories of hundreds of years ago in distant lands that almost makes me think I am dusting off some scroll somewhere.

That’s exactly what happened to Poggio Bracciolini in 1417.

He is the subject of a book I just finished reading called, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt. It’s the story of a papal secretary who, after having his boss jailed, takes his time scouring Europe’s hidden monasteries trying to find, copy and share the writings of the ancient world. He belonged to a group of thinkers called Humanists, who all shared the same goals. Well, in 1417, Poggio stumbled across a scroll written ages ago by Titus Lucretius Carus, a Roman philosopher. It was called, On the Nature of Things – and surprisingly, the author of this book (The Swerve) came across Lucretius’s work in almost the same way, in a used book bin one day.

Greenblatt’s thesis is that the poem, On the Nature of Things, helped catalyze the changes going on in Europe during this period by challenging basic ‘truths’ that were violently enforced by Church dogma. Once other thinkers also read this poem, they were forced to look at the world in a different way as well. This meme would shape the Renaissance. So…

What does this have to do with the classroom?

In my time teaching, I’ve often wondered what creates that spark. What memes cross from me (or our research, lessons, activities, projects, debates, etc.) to my students? What ideas have the longest lasting power? Which ones stimulate the deepest pondering? What stories connect personally to students? Where is the swerve?

The title of the book was chosen to represent a central theme by Lucretius in his poem. He points out that the universe is made of invisible particles that do not move in a predetermined order. The smallest variations, combined and recombined infinitely, create what we know as free will. This swerve accounts for all awareness and wonder.

So, in the history class, is it justice? Does that idea move through students to focus awareness and wonder? Is it identity that personalizes the events and issues in history through the eyes of different, unique individuals? Is it the concept of time, binding cause and effect in a seemingly endless cycle?

Well, I’ve got some questioning to do. The wonder has begun…

Controversy in the History Classroom

The American Historical Association has an online publication called Perspectives on History. I’ve discovered the articles there from scanning the RSS feed of AHA on Google Reader, and became very interested. Although its a cliche to say that engaging students in a history classroom focuses on current events and connections in history, I have always been interested in learning more about what is not taught from our past. Here are a few people who raise interesting perspectives on sex, Darwin, abortion, LBGTQ, and other issues. Here are a few quotes from the articles. All of them can be read here.

Controversy in the Classroom: A Matter for Debate by Pillarisetti Sudhir – “The modern classroom, forged to meet the needs of industrialization, was not meant to be a site for contestations and controversies. From one-room schoolhouses on the prairies of hinterlands to the crowded, redbrick halls of city-center ivory towers, classrooms were mainly locations for the transmission of knowledge. Students were expected, for the most part, to receive the wisdom of their teachers without questioning; and teachers, on their part, were supposed to steer clear of controversial topics. Social and cultural pressures, administrative fiats, parental reactions, and even, at times legislative measures, ensured that for a long time, classrooms, whether in secondary schools or in colleges and universities, remained uncontaminated by debate and controversy (with only the occasional flare-up over such matters as the teaching about Darwinian evolution in a place where it was forbidden by law). This was especially true, perhaps, for history classrooms, as long as the discipline of history itself remained an uncontested terrain. That seemingly happy situation was changed, and changed utterly with the advent of new historiographic perspectives and new histories that, yoked as they were to radical sociopolitical transformations, brought new groups into history books (and classrooms) that had, until then, remained homogenous and anodyne. History, long a subject that induced yawns of ennui and indifference, suddenly became a serious site for controversy, one in which the content of school textbooks became a matter of fierce struggles in locations as distant as India, Japan and Texas, or in which new interpretations of old themes were continually challenged or declared non grata.”

 

Teaching LBGTQ History: Two Situations by Vicki L. Eaklor – “Too often we historians “ghettoize” experiences of less visible or powerful people into the single lecture or two, but in doing so we reinforce their otherness even as we claim to be inclusive. To mention the debates over Lincoln’s (or Buchanan’s) sexuality, or women who cross-dressed to fight in wars, for example, is to show students something of the complexity of the past, and introduce the arguments over how and why history is done in the first place. I have found students as interested in the uncertainties of history as in yet another recitation of the “facts” they heard in high school.”

 

Taking the Court into the Classroom: Using Legal Cases to Discuss Controversial Topics by James Coll – “Prayer in public schools? Try Engle v. Vitale. The right to own a gun? Read District of Columbia v. Heller. A march by neo-Nazis in a predominantly Jewish Chicago suburb? Peruse National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie. Abortion rights? Study Roe v. Wade. The powers of the police? Analyze Mapp v. OhioMiranda v. ArizonaTerry v. Ohio, and so on; the list can be quite long.”

 

Beyond Morality: Teaching about Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide by James Frusetta – “Initially, I had asked students to think about “Why have ethnic cleansings occurred in history?” Now, I reframed this: we would try to answer the question, “Have ethnic cleansings proven useful to their perpetrators?” The intent was not simply to reframe the question in an amoral fashion, but rather to encourage students to think about questions of utility—and how such utility could be stripped away in the future.”

Please feel free to share your thoughts on these articles here.