Students Engage Each Other

As part of their cumulative project, students in my Upper School (all 11th graders this year) US History class are responsible for researching the development of a particular area of US History and then teaching a class period on the topic.

This year I’ve been impressed by the way students who are teaching have gotten their classmates out of their seats and participating in learning activities. I think that this kind of learning, so prevalent in the lower grades, tends to fizzle out by high school. I confess it can be challenging for me to come up with these sorts of participatory activities without them feeling cheesy. I think what has worked so well in these classes is students are the ones who are leading the activities. They’re a great way to break up the lecture and discussion that have made of the other parts of the lessons the students have taught.

In addition, students have effectively used video in their lessons. They’ve chosen clips that are usually around 2-5 minutes long as a means for spurring discussion. Definitely a departure from some of my high school classes where a teacher would pop in a video that lasted the entire class period.

Here are just a couple examples of the students’ good work from last week.

One student taught on the evolution of household appliances. As an activity, she split students into two groups and challenged them to make cream cheese icing. One group hand an electric mixer, while the other had a whisk and a butter knife. I was put in the low-tech group and can testify to our frustration as we tried to make icing with what felt like woefully inadequate tools 🙂


As part of her lesson, the teacher also showed us the following video, which gave us a sense of the novelty of electric appliances in the early 20th century.

Another student taught on the history of personal transportation. He created a homemade carburetor pressure monitor (it probably has a more technical name than this). He then invited other students to demonstrate how it worked by blowing on the two tubes that would have been hooked to the sides of a carburetor in the car.

As part of his lesson we also discussed the future of cars. He showed us a video of a Tesla, a new generation of electric cars that mirrors and even surpasses the performance of many standard cars.

Hope Realized

As a teacher, you have aspirations, values, and ideas. You try to infuse your teaching with these things, but I sometimes wonder, Do they see it? Are they getting it? Not just the content. Truth is I care about other things much more than that. I want them to love learning. I want them to be curious and to care. I want them to trust their voices and to be good listeners.

Occasionally, a teacher has the opportunity to see her hopes realized. Today was that kind of day.

This afternoon, four students from my US History blended learning class loaded into a school van and headed to Raleigh to present at the NCAIS Innovate conference. I offered the students no guidance other than to suggest that they should explain the basics of the classes and discuss some of the work we’d done in the class. I also offered to put together some slides once they’d chosen what they would talk about. As we were walking into the conference this afternoon, I realized that I had little more than a general sense of what they would say.

So when they started speaking, I was blown away. Throughout the hour of presentation and question and answer the students thoughtfully articulated the goal and experience of the class. I kept thinking to myself, I had hoped, but I had no idea. One of the things that was most gratifying was that the students spoke honestly, willing to name both the good and the challenges of the class. I also heard them speaking truth to power (albeit the benevolent, well-meaning power) by saying things like “Just because we’re students doesn’t mean we can’t develop an educated opinion of what we’re studying…” and “That’s not usually the way history teachers run their classes,” with the hastily added, “Sorry if there are any history teachers in the room.” 🙂

One of the students began her section of the presentation by saying, “So I’m not going to lie, history’s not my thing…” She went on to tell how the class had changed her view of history, one assignment leaving her so excited that she read her paper aloud to both her parents. Another said, “I don’t think I hate history, just the way we’ve always learned it…”

Matt Scully (one of my teaching heroes) asked the students if a different way of viewing class changed the way students viewed the world. I thought it was a great question, but I expected that the answer would be no. I mean it’s a class, right? I was just hoping it helped them feel more engaged in history and learning. Instead, each of the students offered some way that the class had affected the way she viewed or read the world.

While I’ve loved teaching this class, there have also been so many moments where I’ve felt doubtful about what we were accomplishing (or not) because so much of it is so new, with so many variables. Yet more reason that today I felt overwhelmed with pride and gratitude.

Lessons From the Lessons

We’re two weeks into the lessons for the shift project in my US History class. So far, students have taught classes on shifts in alcohol, drugs, transportation, race in sports, and social entertainment.

I’ve been impressed with the way the students have really owned the content that they’re teaching and cared about whether others are engaging with it. They’ve come up with interesting preparation materials (readings, videos, timelines, etc.) and questions that have sparked good discussion.

This is a good group of students, but I think the combination of a lack of strong adult presence and the sense of some senioritis setting in has proved a bit problematic. Nothing dramatic, but things like side conversations and lack of focus, which can be disheartening when you’re the person trying to teach. If this were a pedagogy class then I would have spent more time with students discussing strategies for managing a classroom. However, I’m more focused on whether students have learned the historical information and can convey it/invite participation in discussion on it than whether they can control the class. So I am trying to honor my commitment to act as a student and not intervene during class, but still address the issues. I’ve had some out of class conversations via email and face to face with students who I felt like weren’t respecting the leader for the day.

Shifting roles has been challenging not only for the students, but also for me. I thought I’d done a pretty good job of this, so I grit my teeth when I read what one student wrote on my participant evaluation for the class she led:

I like that she kept the conversations going and raised some good questions. However, she did ask questions I was going to ask so it seemed like she was still teaching.

I’m trying hard to listen first and then speak, a challenge for both me as a teacher and a super type-A student.

Having students complete teacher reflection, student evaluation, and teacher feedback forms has been an incredibly important piece of the process. Knowing that they’ll be evaluated and be doing an evaluation has kept participants on their toes, including me. I care deeply about the content and quality of the class, but I’m also competitive, so I want to get good grades and feedback 🙂 I’ve been impressed with the ability of those who’ve led so far to give feedback on specific behaviors and comments of participants in reflecting on whether participants “got” the day’s lesson.

After the trimester break, we’ll have classes on shifts in women’s roles, labor, children and work, baseball, healthcare, food, race and education, and dance.

Shift Project- Updated

I wrote in an earlier post about the final project for my US History class. Below is the final assignment. Students are posting their project choices on the class blog.

Throughout the year, we have been using a thematic approach to study American history. For your cumulative project (which will replace a cumulative exam), you will choose an area of focus and explore the shifts in that area from the colonial period to the present. Below are a list of potential topics, some of which may need to be narrowed. Feel free to suggest an additional topic if you’d like to work on something that is not listed. Your topic selection is due by Monday, January 10.

Race relations/Civil Rights
Role of women/men in society
Role of athletes/athletics
Education/schooling
Voting/suffrage
Agriculture/food
The arts in public life (music, visual arts, dance, film)
Transportation
Banking/finance
Commerce/shopping
Healthcare/medical treatment
Role and rights of children
Freedom of speech/press
Religion in public life

After you’ve done some exploratory reading and research about your topic, you will complete the following five aspects of the project. Unless noted, all components are due at the beginning of class on date listed. Further details about each component and checklists/rubrics will be emailed to you or posted to the blog in the coming weeks.

1. Create a timeline with important events in your area of focus. You must choose at least 10 events to illustrate your area of focus. In addition to a photograph, you need to include a 2-3 sentence description for each event. Embed your timeline in the class blog. Due Friday, January 21st. 50 points

2. Select an article appearing in a major newspaper in the last year related to the shift you’re studying. Post a comment (of similar length to comments for our blog discussions) in the comment section on the news site connecting the article to the past you’ve been studying. Submit a link to the story. Due Monday, January 24th 25 points

3. Set up and conduct an interview with an expert (someone who experienced the shift in your area of focus or someone who studies it) in the area you have chosen. Prior to the interview you must submit a list of 8-10 questions for your interview. (You will not be limited to these questions.) After the interview, submit either a recording or your detailed notes. Interview must be completed by Monday, January 31st. 25 points

4. Write a 1,750-2,000 word paper chronicling the history of the shift and predicting what developments there will be in the area in the next 20-30 years. You should incorporate information gleaned from the interview & current events article in your paper. Sources for your paper must include at least 3 primary sources and 1 journal article or scholarly text, in addition to other secondary sources. Rough draft due Friday, February 4th. Final draft due Friday, February 18th. 100 points

5. Lead a lesson for the class about the shift. You will be responsible for selecting prep materials (reading, video, audio, etc) and creating a blog post with this information for your classmates. Your post should include a prompt for discussion. This post should be similar in length and form to the prep assignments we have had in the course so far. Your lesson plan and prep post are due Monday, February 7th at 12:30pm. We will schedule the actual teaching for classes in February and March. (We will meet during our assigned exam block from 10-11am for one person to teach his/her lesson.) 100 points

Shifts Happen

For my blended learning US History class, students are doing a final project, instead of writing a final exam. You can see the rough outline of the project below.

My original idea for #2 was to have students “adopt” a Wikipedia article and make revisions/edits, but I’m not sure there’s going to be one that needs significant work available for all the different topic areas.

Thoughts? Other ideas for ways to students to contribute to ongoing collaborative scholarly efforts?

Final Project

Choose an area of focus and trace shifts in that area throughout the course of American history

Some suggestions:
Race relations/Civil Rights
Role of women/men in society
Role of athletes/athletics
Education/schooling
Voting/suffrage
Agriculture
The arts in public life (music, visual arts, dance, film)
Transportation
Banking/finance
Commerce/shopping
Healthcare/medical treatment
Role and rights of children
Freedom of speech/press
Religion in public life

(Topics might needed to be further narrowed after choosing)

Components
1. Create a timeline with important events in your area of focus
2. ?????Collaborative contribution ?????
3. Analyze an article appearing in the newspaper in the last year related to the shift you’re studying
4. Interview an expert (someone who experienced the shift or someone who studies it)
5. Write a paper chronicling the history of the shift and predicting where you think the shift is headed next. (incorporate interview & current events article
6. Lead a lesson for the class about the shift. Assign reading/prep work to go along with the lesson

Making of a Constitution

The first few weeks of November are even crazier than usual this year. Wrapping up the trimester. Finishing grades and writing 94 narrative comments. Presenting at NCAIS and NCTE. So not a lot of time for blogging, but I did want to post this PPT I made for my US History class to accompany a mini-lecture on the making of the US Constitution. (Partially because I spent more time than I should have creating it :)) I took multiple courses in college on the subject, so to try to boil it down to 20 min felt crazy. However, I think it did lay the groundwork for some good discussion to come. I’m looking forward to the Federalist v. Anti-Federalist smack down (aka debate) on Monday. We’ll be live streaming it.

Learning Differently

I’m presenting tomorrow to campus visitors about the Blended Learning Environment (BLE) US History class I’m teaching this year. I’ve posted a draft of the slides I’ll be using in conjunction with the class blog. I’m grateful to my students for providing me with thoughtful reflections on the class so far for the presentation.

I wish I’d had more time to blog reflections about the direction of the class so far, but the beginning of the year is always hectic. It’s definitely been a big challenge, but an incredible learning experience.