Sunday Morning Scan


Browsing Twitter on Sunday mornings is a pleasure. Although the week’s Tweets are always useful, I enjoy taking the time to scan, check out websites, collect primary sources, catalogue different classroom strategies, read teacher’s blogs, and comment back to a great pool of educators, on Sunday morning. Here are a few ‘finds’ from recent tweets as well as old resources. Let me know if you find them useful!
  • EdCafes: I saw this demonstrated at last year’s EdcampBoston and thought it had potential for a history class. The creator is Katrina Kennett (Plymouth South) and the basic idea is that students become facilitaor/presenters on topics of their choice related to a theme covered in class. In their words, “An EdCafe is a way to structure class that promotes student choice and ownership over learning. The model was inspired by EdCamp conferences, where participants build the schedule and choose what sessions to attend. This bottom-up approach shifts energy, engagement, and opportunity for exploration to the students, and transforms the teacher into expert facilitator instead of gatekeeper/manager.” Usually, there are four presentations going on in one class, and presentations are scheduled up to a month ahead. There’s a heavy amount of preparation for each student presenter and responsibilities for the participants as well. Katrina teaches this model with an ELA class, but it can be applied to history easily enough. Her site offers an explanation of what an Edcafe is, ideas for scaffolding skills, standards and assessments, advice for students, and examples of Edcafes in action.
  • American History Madness: I’ve actually done this project on paper for a couple of years and many of you have probably heard of it. I originally got the idea from this article on applying the NCAA Final Four brackets to a history class. Other teachers have built many variations on this idea. Mine was usually a poster-board with groups of students defending different outcomes. The teacher sponsoring this American History Madness blog has incorporated Google Forms and student presentations and blogs into his version. Its much more interactive, and allows/encourages the public to vote as well. With the iPads in many classes, its easy for us to facilitate and publish student presentations online. Students are also expected to be able to debate their positions. 
  • PPT Palooza: If you’re like me, and have created 100’s of PPTs over the years, this site makes me sigh, but in a good way. Susan Pojer has created hundreds of PPTs for US and World History that are absolutely amazing. She’s also linked some from other teachers and students. Check them out. I use them all the time now, and they also make for great backgrounds to screencasts, which are teacher-made YouTube video lectures. Using sites like Screencastomatic and others, its really easy to record yourself on audio while walking your students through a PPT or website on your computer. If you have any questions about how to make these, I can show you. It’s really easy and allows you to give lectures for students to do at home, so you can focus more time in class on inquiry, debates, projects, and basically homework (applied learning). The new buzzword is ‘flipped class’, but it has its merits, especially when students have their own iPads and mobile devices. 
  • Zinn Education Project: Even though Howard Zinn’s speeches and politics were controversial, his application of critical thinking in studying history was not. I’ve used the People’s History of the US (annotated teachers edition) as well as Voices of a People’s History in my APUSH classes for years, asking students to support or oppose his non-neutral stance on US History with evidence. I didn’t really care which position students took, as long as they learned the tools of historiography in the process. This website has a huge amount of teaching material that is free. All of the lessons involve different levels of critical thinking and student engagement (many have role plays), which I have always found useful. The Facebook page for the Zinn Education Project has a new primary source document highlighted almost every day as well. There’s also a free downloadable full teacher guide to Voices of a People’s History available on their site as well. so is a useful feature. There are also videos of actors reading primary sources from Voices of a People’s History that you can play in class. 

The Convention Wordles

Being a history teacher, I just can’t stay away from the conventions. I love the drama, or even the lack thereof, on the convention floors. Most nights I would sit up and watch. Some nights I had headphones in listening the the live stream. But in the end, I wondered what had changed and what it all meant. So, I decided to put some of the major speeches into Wordle and see if I could discern the tea leaves. Here’s what I got:

Round 1: Political Wives

Ann Romney’s Speech

Michelle Obama’s Speech

Round 2: Keynote Addresses

Chris Christie’s Speech

Julian Castro’s Speech

Round 3: Nominee Speech

Mitt Romney’s Speech

President Obama’s Speech

What do you think? Patterns?

The 2012 Election in Your Classroom


The election is coming! The election is coming! 2012 is ‘one of those years’ in the classroom and it is a great opportunity for History and Social Studies teachers to focus on the choices that Americans make to determine their next president. For us, as teachers, there are a lot of bases to cover as we hope to inform our students about the process by which a person becomes a candidate, the social issues that divide and unite the country, the nature of political parties and campaign financing, the current state of the economy amid high unemployment, and the war in Afghanistan and our foreign policy in very important regions of the world like China, the Middle East, Africa and more. It’s a big plate.

I’d like to offer some suggestions and resources that might help facilitate discussion, depth and debate before November 6th rolls around. Many of these suggestions come from the great work done by other educators and found on Twitter. We all stand on the backs of giants.

  • From the National Constitution Center, adomatic.us gives students the power to create their own candidacy for the presidency by creating their own campaign ad. It’s an easy step-by-step process. Thanks to the great post by Gillian Nyla.
  • Facilitate a discussion with your students on the nature of the political parties and the issues that divide them into ‘left and right’ positions using this infographic. Infographics allow students to visualize complex issues. You can even have students create their own using sites like visual.ly, easel.ly, and infogr.am. For a great resource on 2012 election infographics, check out this intense Pinterest board on the subject. Have students fact-check and analyze as propaganda.
  • Watch with students, ‘The Choice’ by PBS Frontline with your students. It will air on October 9th and will provide a documentary on the biographies of the two candidates as well as an in-depth look at the issues that divide them and their leadership styles and personalities. Also check out their documentaries on the 2008,2004 and 2000 elections.
  • Explore the complex issues of campaign financing with your students using the transparency of OpenSecrets.org. Following the 1996 elections, the Center for Responsive Politics created the website to ‘follow the money’ in national and local elections. Role play with students campaign fundraising activities, re-enact the Citizens United Supreme Court case, or run an in-class election as if it was a presidential one to see how the money influences (or not) the vote.
  • Any US History teacher knows how complicated it is to explain the dreaded Electoral College. This under 5 minute video helps explain it all, including all of the oddities and complexities of the process. It’s great. You could show this to your students all the way through and ask them “Who got this?”, then go back and pause it along the way for deeper explanation.  Open a discussion about why this process exists. If its around Constitution Day, even better! If students still have questions, send them to the US Government FAQ page for the process.
  • FIguring out where the candidates stand on the issues is sometimes a lot harder than it looks. Sometimes there are subtle policy differences and other times its really hard to determine where the candidates are just based on general statements made in speeches. ProCon.org has a great webpage that takes the issues and parses them by the candidates own statements, along with analysis, by topic. It’s a great place for students to go to find out sometimes how similar and different the choices between candidates is. Have students create their own stump speeches, role play and debate each other, have a newsmaker interview with campaign staff, etc. and watch the subtleties fly! This website is also a good place to learn and discuss foreign policy, which hasn’t really been a front-page issue in 2012.
  • Here’s some great resources for students to see and build their own electoral maps from the New York Times, PBS Newshour, CNN and FOX. Have your students figure out how polls determine these stats. Help them conduct their own school and town/city polls. Finally, here’s another good one that students can use to build a map to 270 electoral votes, called 270 to Win.
  • The New York Times also has some great infographics from the conventions. This one explains visually how many times certain words were used in the convention speeches. Students can look at these and begin a discussion on who the audience is for each speech and what the candidate’s intent is. You could also use the website Wordle to cut and paste famous speeches in history into a text box. What happens next is that you get a visual ‘word cloud’ on the most commonly used words in bigger and bolder print. Here’s a link to convention speeches I put into Wordle.
  • Campaign commercials also say a lot about a candidate and their campaign’s message. We all remember the little girl counting while picking a flower, and then getting blown up by a nuclear weapon. This site, the Living Room Candidate, has hundreds of campaign commercials going back to Eisenhower. They make for excellent primary source analysis as well as a focus on propaganda in election politics. Here’s also a great site which provides a sample of 200 years of election posters.
  • There are many surveys and questionnaires you can give your students to gauge their positions on different issues. Here’s a brief list: Campaign Match Up,
  • Finally, here’s a list of some great sites with other teaching lessons and ideas for Election 2012:

I hope these resources help. Please feel free to leave feedback, and have a great time exploring these issues with your students on the road to November!

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!

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.