Authentic Directions

For over a year, social studies teachers at my school have been struggling with a new US History curriculum.  Having wrestling the Content/Skills octopod of unsolvable  arguments to the ground, we cobbled together an authentic assessment that would drive the main focus of the course, “doing history” rather than “learning history”.  We defined the skills of an historian, wrote rubrics for each and built into the curriculum a portfolio in which students would reflect upon their performance throughout the year.  It’s hoped that course work will assume a different character when students have to reflect on their own performance, identify what needs improvement and establish a process through which they can improve.

The problem (isn’t there always at least one?), was how to explain this task to them.  Asking them to reflect on their work after it’s graded rather than stuffing it into a backback or saving it for June’s ritual burning is hard enough. How are they going to understand what is expected of them if it involves several waves of reflections, rubrics and evidence?

The attempted solution is this video.  All it takes is PowerPoint, Snagit, Audacity, Camstasia and a script that you write.  Will it work?  We’ll see….


Just a quick conversation

If those who can’t do, teach, then those who don’t teach, blog. How else do they have the time?

As my Bloglines unread numbers all climb into the double digits, I not looking at anyone else’s blog much less adding to my own.

With two maternity leaves, a military leave and a retirement, I’m reviewing resumes and interviewing candidates to replace almost half of the social studies department next year. Add to that the continuing implementation of an entirely new assessment model, the race against less than fifty days till the AP Euro test, and trying to catch up with the school’s web site that went live before it was ready. There’s no time to catch a breath, much less reflect on it.

Nonetheless a time saver idea came to me the other day as I was helping a student with an essay. Writing conferences may be the most productive teaching we do, they focus on the most transferable skill we teach, it’s one on one, and it’s work centered. The trouble is, when you are trying to untie a Gordian knot of ninth grade writing it takes a lot of explanation. There’s no way marginalia is going to help the student. Unless they walk away from the meeting and write the second draft immediately, much of your counseling it going to be gone.

Unless, you have a digital voice recorder.

Record the conference and then attach the file to an e-mail to the student. Late that night, when they are re-writing the essay, they can revisit the meeting as if they were just there.

Amidst a million things to do, good ideas still stand out.

Teacher Collaboration in Action

It takes me a while to write something that makes sense, even then I’m not too successful. So the conspiracy of responsibilities that plague my schedule have found it easy to keep me from reflecting on them in this blog in the past couple weeks. Yet I had an experience yesterday that I am compelled to share. Knowing that I could only make my point by showing what happened, I’ve decided to use a screen shot video.

For years teachers have kept their work materials hidden in their file own cabinets. The nature of the school environment and class schedule prevented any real collaboration with their colleagues. Even in a high school with 2,500 students, a teacher could feel completely alone on the job, as if they were one person up against 125 students a day. Yet most teachers will tell you that they are thieves; they steal, borrow, re-write and re-configure lesson plans from their peers whenever they can get their hands on them. If a teacher is lucky, they will work in a school with colleagues that are always willing to share rather than those who seem to have a proprietary interest work materials.

Amidst all the talk about technology in education, we need to acknowledge the power of these tools to facilitate collaboration among teachers. Schools with teachers who maintain their work materials in a digital form and store them in a common environment provide their students with the collective energy, expertise and excellence of the entire staff. This two and a half minute video demonstrates a small example of this process in action. As much as some can dismiss this as inconsequential, the process itself scales easily. Although this is just an improvement of one sentence of a set of directions for a social studies lesson, yet it demonstrates what could be done with unit plans, the standard course of study and the entire curriculum.

That’s Entertainment?

“We have to cut through that cloud of information around them, cut through that media, and capture their attention.”

I’m hardly the only teacher playing music and videos as students come into class, but here are some examples and my rationale for doing so.

As students leave their previous classes and come to yours, they have to transition into the working atmosphere of your room. You need to get Spanish, math, science, and the sweat from gym class out of their heads to start clean in history. It doesn’t matter if you are a “meet and great” teacher standing at the door and trading banter with kids in the hall, or distributing homework and answering questions, it only takes a click to introduce students to the time period they are studying and subject of the lesson. Try this…..

YouTube Video – The Lego French Revolution (3:18)

Gimmick: Lego animation played with the music to Allen Sherman’s “You’ve Gone the Wrong Way Old King Louie”

Education Value: Not really, its just funny. We laugh at king Louie getting shortened “a little bit” and a guillotine made out of Legos.

Payoff: Every student is in their seat, they’ve forgotten all the gossip they just learned in the hall and they know they have to start dealing with the French Revolution.

TeacherTube Video – Cow Model Of Economics (4:17)

Gimmick: Just white text on black background set to the Beatles, “Hey Jude”. Each slide a variation of analogy of the dairy farmer’s cows to explain different economic systems.

Education Value: Not much, but some. You can make the link to the idea of “scarcity” which makes economic systems necessary.

Payoff: Music always sets a tone, and you may be adding to their cultural literacy by playing the Beatles. Keep in mind, we are not taking any class time to do this.

YouTube Video – opening credits “The Kingdom” (3:49)

Gimmick: High-def video in a torrent of outrageous graphics and historical footage, set against music and snippets of news reports.

Education Value: Students do not know about the little-acknowledged intimacy between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Now they will. They will also get ideas of how to use images to communicate, which they are required to do in an upcoming authentic assessment.

Payoff: Universal Pictures had to explain 80 years of middle eastern history in four minutes while keeping a modern American audience in their seats. Your students will be in theirs at the sound of the bell, guaranteed. Just as guaranteed are several questions about the middle east. How many times have you started a history class with the students asking questions that they wanted to know the answers to?

YouTube Video – Wizard of Oz/Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of The Rainbow

Gimmick: Capitalizing on the spooky convergence of Pink Floyd’s 1973 album “Dark Side of the Moon” and the 1939 film “Wizard of Oz”.

Education Value: This only works for a US History lesson using the American Quarterly’s 1964 article by Henry M. Littlefield “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism“. The gist is that Frank Baum used the children’s story as a metaphor to explain the political, social and economic conditions of the Gilded Age. So students are given selected quotes from the original book and asked to identify who in the book was William Jennings Bryan, the farmers, the eastern city factory workers, etc.

Payoff: Compare the odds that Pink Floyd’s 1973 music was designed to synch with the 1939 movie against the odds that the 1900 book was designed to synch with 1890s America.

Teacher made slide show of Industrial Age/Information Age Quotes (7:11)

Gimmick: Series of quotes from Bill Gates’ famous “640k ought to be enough for anybody” to Ken Olson’s There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home” played with Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine”.

Education Value: This leads to single question to start a class introducing the Industrial Revolution unit, “What do these quotes teach us?”

Payoff: You are stealing students’ class changing time and they don’t even know it. The prompts are the quotes, and the music and mood are just part of the teaser.

Teacher made slide show of 1920s pictures(7:11)

Gimmick: Slide show of images including Houdini, Ruth, Lindbergh, Clara Bow along with Model T’s, gangsters, flappers and radios set against a recording of “You’ve Got To Be Modernistic” by Clarence Williams and His Jazz Kings. You can get this music from Dismuke’s Virtual Talking Machine.

Education Value: Not much more than setting the mood, but you may find more than a couple students talking about the 1920s before the bell rings.

Payoff: The Twenties were the first decade with an identifiable “mood”. What makes this period “The Roaring Twenties”? Again – another class discussion based on prompts the students received before class started.

There are many things to play just for cultural literacy’s sake. Will this generation ever see Gene Kelly singing in the rain or Fred Astaire dance with a hat rack? Can they figure out how Busby Berkley helped some people forget about the Great Depression for just a little while?

Can they appreciate how Lyndon Johnson felt when he lost Walter Conkite? Can they appreciate how Archie Bunker felt when he was kissed by Sammy Davis Junior?

I hope that many of you can add to this list, there must be a ton of these out there.