Friday, April 15, 2011

If You Were in My Classroom Yesterday, This is What You Would Have Seen

I had the opportunity to have education professionals from all over the country visit my classroom through the Blueprint for Educational Excellence National Institute yesterday morning.  The conference is sponsored in part and run in part by the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence organization.

Conference attendees who arrived from around the country were touring our school, Reading Memorial High School, to check out our teaching practice and technology integration.  I had visitors in an out of my classroom all morning.  The students, teenagers who LOVE to show off, were their animated, out spoken, fun loving selves in front of our guests.  (I'm sure the fact that those morning classes were the last in-school hours they would spend before a nice week long April Vacation was a factor in their restlessness.)  Teachers, administrators, and education leaders from as far away as Houston, Texas were walking in and out of my classroom at about 10 minute intervals.

What Did They See?
They saw everything from... analysis of the interactions between the British Regulars and American Patriots during the Battles of Lexington and Concord... an introduction to the Romanov family and Czar Nicolas II.

These are actual images that appeared on my SMART Board at the front of the room, and while these topics may not sound riveting, it is the integration of technology that made the lessons interactive and engaging for both the students and our visitors.

How Does Technology Integration Make History More Fun?
In the Lexington and Concord lesson, students read through short passages about the different phases of the battle, and then turned their attention to the front of the room and watched short video clips from Discovery Education.  Then we discussed the information from both the text and the documentaries.  This is the short clip they saw about Concord.
Did the facts in the text and in the video match up? If not, why does that happen when we study history?  Which provided more detail: text or video clip? What facts did they need help remembering? Ask each other! The students really ran the discussion and in the end everyone understood what happened.  The integration of the video clips and groups discussions made the lesson more interactive and more interesting than a typical classroom where the teacher is up front and the students are dutifully taking notes at their assigned seats.

In the Romanov Dynasty lesson, I was simply introducing the information, but the students would be charged with learning the content on their own and then sharing it with their classmates.  In this case, the technology integration came into play with the assignment.  Students were going to read and research various suptopics related to the Romanovs (like the Crimean War and the emancipation of Russian serfs) and then create a quiz for their classmates to take and help them learn the content for themselves.  The quizzes will be published on Google Documents for their classmates to access and take.  I even made and showed a video tutorial with SMART Recorder, which is part of the SMART Classroom Suite all teachers at my school have in their classrooms, that explains how to create, save, and share documents on Google Docs.

Yesterday was truly a typical day in my class.  I didn't do anything special because the tours were coming through.  These were simply the next topics I had planned to cover based on my curriculum.  Perhaps the lessons were slightly tweaked from last year, but they were not specially made for the Blue Ribbon occasion.

Since there were about 40 educators from around the country who got the opportunity to peek, I thought, "Why not give my blog readers the same opportunity?"

I hope you enjoyed it!

Image and Video Citations:
"Battles of Lexington and Concord, 1775." Map. World at War: Understanding Conflict and Society. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2011.
"Nicholas II and family." Image. The Illustrated London News Picture Library. World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2011.
Battle of Concord. Discovery Education, 2006. Video Segment. 15 April 2011. .

Friday, April 8, 2011

Turning History Students into Detectives

How can I turn my history students into detectives?
One of the most valuable skills we can teach our history students is to use evidence from the past to develop their own opinions about historical events.  One popular program that many high schools use is the DBQ Project.  Students use textual and visual primary and secondary scholarly sources to answer a question.  For example, my sophomores recently had a class debate based in the evidence from the DBQ entitled "North or South: Who Killed Reconstruction?" Essentially, students use evidence from experts and first-hand witnesses to solve problems, just like a detective would.  The program has a fabulous reputation and student essays that result are well-thought-out and evidence-based.  Unfortunately, one small pitfall of the program is that it requires a lot of paper and not much technology.

Why not combine technology with historical evidence analysis?
I found a great website that enables student to do the same kind of analysis in a webquest style environment.  Surprisingly, students are more enthusiastic about the same tasks when they can simply use a computer instead of doing the writing out with pencil and paper.  Historical Scene Investigation puts famous dilemmas from history into "case files" and asks students to solve the mysteries.  Students analyze primary sources, similarly to the DBQ Project, but the entire task can be done online.

Recently, my freshmen were finishing up their unit on the causes of the American Revolution.  As a review of some of the events, we spent two class periods in the computer lab where they chose to work on one of two case files:
  • The Boston "Massacre": Students read about the event, sifted through both American and British first-hand accounts, and decided whether justice was served at the trial where 6 of the 8 accused British regulars were acquitted.
  • Lexington and Concord: After reading both American and British first-hand accounts, students had to decide the historical question: Who fired the first shot?  Was it the Minutemen or the British regulars?
How should I introduce the website and assignment?
To introduce the assignment, I also used technology.  I used the SMART Recorder program, part of the SMART Technologies suite of software that comes with my SMART Board, to create an instructional video.  Students watched it in class, and, if they ever got confused during the process of completing the work in class or at home, they could reference the video anytime since it was posted on our class website.

What kinds of documents did students work with?
Then it was time to get down to work.  Students worked hard in class analyzing great sources like:
  • Paul Revere's famous engraving that started the use of the term "massacre" to describe the event, The bloody massacre perpetrated on King Street
  • The chromolithograph by John Bufford that dramatized the death of Crispus Attucks: Boston Massacre, Mar. 5, 1770.
  • Entry for April 19th 1775, from the diary of British Lieutenant John Barker swearing that the American provincials fired first at Concord: "...a number of people, I believe between 200 and 300, formed in a common in the middle of town; we still continued advancing, keeping prepared against an attack through without intending to attack them; but on our coming near them they fired on us two shots, upon which our men without any orders, rushed upon them, fired and put them to flight; several of them were killed..."
  • And of course a conflicting sworn account from 34 minutemen who reported that the British regulars fired first: " which time, the company began to disperse, whilst our backs were turned on the troops, we were fired on by them, and a number of our men were instantly killed and wounded, not a gun was fired by any person in our company on the regulars to our knowledge before they fired on us, and continued firing until we had all made our escape..."
So, how did the students do?
Well, when it came to the question over whether justice was served in the trial that followed the Boston Massacre, one student contended:
In Document D, created by John Bufford, it shows colonists are attacking, while others are getting slaughtered by the soldiers' guns.  In Document E by Alonzo Chapel, it shows colonists holding weapons attacking the soldiers.  In Paul Revere's depiction, it shows innocent colonists being brutally killed.  I believe that the colonists were not innocent.  They did somewhat attack the soldiers.  But shooting the colonists was not justified.  I believe that justice was not served.  How can branding someone's thumb be a justified exchange for someone's life?  All of the soldiers should have been put in jail and branded because they killed a group of people over a small conflict that could have been solved a different way.

In the case of Lexington and Concord, one student argued that the American rebels must have fired the first shot because:
The British had well disciplined soldiers who would not fire without an order.  This is clear as one British soldier commented on their intent not to fire and said, "we still continue advancing, keeping prepared against an attack though without attacking them."  This line clearly represents how the British did not want to fire on the Patriots.

It was satisfying for me, as their teacher, to read that these 14 and 15 year old students were combining their own opinions and reasoning skills with evidence from the past. Their number grade was based on a rubric I developed according to the assignment description and class standards we have developed throughout the school year.  Overall, however, I think they did pretty well, don't you?