Saturday, October 26, 2013

Industrial Revolution Sources w/ Questions

Link to GDoc Folder
Please let me know if you have any issues accessing these files. Also, do you have sources you use when teaching about the Industrial Revolution? Please share :)  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Source Work and Essential Questions

This summer I participated in a couple of Twitter chats with Grant Wiggins (@grantwiggins). These chats focused on the idea of structuring lessons around Essential Questions. While I have structured my Western Civ ‘mini essays’ around big questions, I want to work on starting a unit with an Essential Question. Up to this point, I have only introduced the mini essay big question AFTER students have worked with sources.

Introducing the big question AFTER students have worked with sources, rather than before, goes against the best practices discussed by Wiggins and SHEG_Stanford.

Why have I introduced the question after the source work?

Part of the reason, I think, is that I am trying to incorporate source work into ALL, or most, of my lessons, often multiple sources. As a result, I am always finding, editing, and writing questions for sources that I want to use, often the night before a lesson. It is difficult to write an Essential Question (EQ) if you do not know the big picture of what sources you will be using.  And I find that it is much easier for me to write an EQ after I have looked at the sources. Curious to hear how others approach this process.

Now, for our next unit, I am thinking an EQ that emphasizes the varied experiences, both positive and negative, of different groups during the English Industrial Revolution.
What will be my question? One possibility: Who benefitted and who struggled as a result of the technological changes that occurred during the English Industrial Revolution?

What am I going to do to make this experience with an Essential Question more meaningful?

I definitely want to begin the unit with students thinking about the EQ, having them express their initial reactions to it and generating sub questions that will help them grapple with the larger question.
I will elaborate on this post when I finish grading...!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Napoleon Primary/Secondary Source w/ Questions

Corsica/Italy Campaign
Continental System
Peninsular War (will upload on Monday)
Napoleon's Invasion of Russia
Some Maps w/ Questions
New Constitution/Coup
Napoleon's Coronation

Curriculum: A major source of the problem.....?

One of the recurring themes in my posts has been my attempts to reconcile source work and inquiry with common tests that are focused primarily on student recall of facts about a topic, person, or era. In this environment, what are the first steps I should be taking when planning, knowing that there is a common test to administer where my students are expected to know X Y Z?

Up to this point, I have always examined the test and made a list of content that must be emphasized in my lessons.

When I first started teaching, I would typically examine the curriculum, making a similar, but longer, list of must cover content. In those early years, I would often teach without knowing exactly how I would assess all of the content that was coming up in class.
Back then, as I was still becoming comfortable with the content I was teaching, I would often ‘grade’ students in a variety of ways. Though I had absolute control over how students were assessed, I still taught history in ways that today I do not feel comfortable with. Why?
I have always taught in environments where really detailed curriculum documents prescribe tons of content to teach in a relatively short amount of time.
Sitting here now, having been teaching for 13 years, I feel that much of what happens in history classrooms that promotes coverage over depth, rote learning over meaningful learning, stems from how teachers view, and often shape, curriculum.

As soon as a curriculum document becomes a list of content that must be covered, much of what is meaningful about history education evaporates.

I have not spent much time examining history curriculums. What does yours look like?

I know many teachers may respond that curriculums look the way they do because of their state’s standards. This may be an accurate assessment, but I am not sure if that is true in my state.

I have actually never participated in the writing of a curriculum for a course. I have always been on the receiving end of thirty pages of well formatted “stuff” to teach.

When these documents are created, I wonder how much time is spent thinking about the following questions:

What does it mean to know a topic? For example, when we say students will study the French Revolution, how are we conceptualizing and defining student success?

What skills are students going to practice, refine, and master in this class? What do we mean when we say ‘cause and effect’ or ‘analyzing documents’? Are we focusing on too many or too few skills? How do we know?
Are we undermining meaningful learning if we list 40 sub topics that must be addressed in this unit on the French Revolution? And what is a unit any way? Are we sure we ought to be teaching a unit on the French Revolution? Might the French Revolution be better taught in a different context? Juxtaposed against other revolutions? Should we be looking to the textbook to tell us how to arrange our course?

I suspect the process of curriculum writing often looks and sounds quite different. Why?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

That moment when your 7 old seems to be cramming for a test...

This week my seven year old son brought home a list of definitions of geographic landforms that had to be learned for a quiz that he was having two days later. On the handout, the quality of the pictures of the landforms varied a bit. Overall, the images were what you would expect to see on a photocopied black and white sheet of paper. My wife repeatedly quizzed my son, trying to ensure that he was prepared for this Friday’s assessment. And I kept telling my wife to show him the pictures on the worksheet, so that he could see the landforms as he was trying to learn them. My wife was quite confident that the quiz he would receive would be definitions only, and she was concerned the pictures would only end up confusing him, especially since some of the pictures copied poorly. If the test was going to be definitions only, why should we clutter his mind with barely visible pictures, especially since the test was only two days away?

Turned out my wife was correct, at least about what the test looked like. The quiz my son received consisted of terms and definitions, no visuals. I kept thinking about all of the different ways a teacher could teach these concepts and all of the creative ways that student learning could be gauged. As a social studies teacher and a parent, I care deeply about how this discipline is taught and how my son learns to learn. I am sure most parents feel the same way. As a teacher, watching my son enter the school system has allowed me to appreciate better the experiences many of my high school students likely had when they were in the early grades. By the time they reach high school, a tremendous amount of conditioning has occurred regarding learning and tests.  

At the same time this was going on in my house, I was also prepping my ninth grade students for their French Revolution test, a test which similarly required students to learn large amounts of information so that they could answer multiple choice and short answer questions. My department gives common tests, and, as you might expect, it is quite a challenge to get history teachers to find common ground about what and how students should be assessed. As compromise breeds concessions, we all give a little (and some a lot) in order to create a product. And this product is supposed to capture a large amount of student learning. Does it?

As a parent, I feel like I have a responsibility to make sure that my son is not conditioned to think that knowledge is only about taking tests. As a teacher, I feel the same way. In both respects, it is a challenge to fulfill this desire. In fact, I am quite sure my son and my students often receive  exactly the opposite message.    
What is the most meaningful way that we can teach social studies to our students? What does effective social studies instruction look like? Ineffective instruction? When planning, more of our interactions ought to begin with these big questions before we start constructing assessments .