Tuesday, November 26, 2013


I have the best students on the planet.  They come to my classroom every day and make me laugh.  They energize me and show real fascination when I tell them stories from history.  Plus, every day they do fantastic things for one another.  They deserve to be recognized.

I've started a new tag on Twitter: #thankateenager

Here a few of my earliest posts.

Please spread the word to teachers of teenagers that you know.  A little gratitude can mean a whole lot to a teenager.

Friday, November 22, 2013

How Should I Grade You?

We arrived at the end of our second unit of the school year.  My freshmen had worked heard and learned a lot.  Their blog posts proved it, too.  I didn't really want to give them a traditional test.  Rather than rewarding their hard work, it felt like the test would just be a way for me to stress them out.  Instead, I asked them, "How should I grade you?"

The lesson activator encouraged a class discussion of the purpose and value of traditional tests.

It seemed that we all understood that teachers give tests because they need grades, evidence of learning.  However, while tests are efficient for teachers, students felt like they rewarded those who were good test-takers rather than those who had worked hard and really learned something.  They were surprised when I posed the next question to them.
To help them decide I provided a few parameters:
  • It had to be worth the equivalent of a traditional unit test grade.
  • The assessment had to be something that could be completed in one 55 minute class period.  If they wanted to do some of the work at home, that was their decision and not my requirement.
  • It had to be fair.  Everyone in the room had to have the capabilities to complete the assessment they selected.
  • I gave them a list of the essential questions we covered. Everyone had to prove they had learned the answer to every question.  They couldn't split up the work.

They set to brainstorming.  First they did it individually, then in small groups, and finally the groups made their proposals to the class a whole.  I let them discuss it and decide democratically.  This entire process took 1.5 class periods.  The next day they set to work, after completing their self-assigned homework and preparation.

The final products were varied, but impressive.
They used Prezi...

...and Google Drive...

...they made textbooks...
...and wrote and took their own tests.
None of them were perfect, but they all proved what they had learned.  They also felt like they'd had some choice and control over their learning.  As students left the class, several said they wanted to do this at the end of every unit.  I really think they worked much harder than they would have worked to prepare for any test.  And get this: as I walked around the room checking in and listening in on them as they worked, the most amazing things were happening. 
  • They were talking about the essential questions of our unit.  
  • They were helping each other understand history.  
  • They were clarifying each other's misunderstandings.
I learned a lot through this process, too.  Once I just get out of the way and let my students learn... well, that's when I'll really get to see how great they are.  I already thought they were incredible people, now I know I was underestimating them.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Exploration: Then & Now

My freshmen are learning about the brave, and sometimes greedy and devious, explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries. It seemed like a perfect metaphor for teaching them to be brave, yet wise, explorers of the Internet as well.

I used three resources:
1. Google A Day Lesson Plans
2. Wandering Booknut
3. All About Explorers

The lesson activator was meant to get my 9th graders in the competitive spirit.
Of course, the first question I got as students buried their noses in the iPads and smartphones was, "Who is the expedition leader?"  Ha ha ha.... I looked at them knowingly, smirked, and turned away.  They were frustrated, but they were getting the idea.  About 1/3 of each class figured out the right answer in the 3 minute window.

Next I gave them some search hints.
By the end of the second timed session, the students who got it the first time were able to get it again almost instantly.  Of the students who hadn't been successful in the first round, about 75% were able to submit the answer this time.

Time for reflection and a little history lesson:

Now that my students had new searching skills, it was time to find out what they would do with the search results.
Earlier in our unit, I exposed the truth about Columbus and his actions once landing in the New World, something I posted about last month.  So I decided to challenge students to find a more heroic explorer to replace him in our calendar of federal holidays.  Of course, the challenge would require research and a bogus website on explorers was there to answer my call.  If you visit AllAboutExplorers.com you will find out that the creators are teachers and librarians looking to create a real live lesson for their students on the web.  You will also read that some of the articles, like the one on Francisco Pizarro, are accurate and others, like the one on Hernando de Soto, are just silly.  It teaches students to read through the information on the site, read about the authors, and investigate the sponsoring organization.  To evaluate the site, I used a protocol drawn up by EasyBib librarians.
Based on the criteria of this protocol, a website that earns a minimum of 16 points would be permissible for use in a historical research project.  I heard students giggling as they worked together and reading some of the ridiculous facts about the explorers receiving faxes and living on the Jersey Shore aloud to each other.

By the end of the 50 minute class period, they got the idea. So I gave them a follow-up assignment to check for understanding.

Samantha's post shows that she understands that all websites have their flaws, but as long as they meet certain criteria, they can be considered reliable.

Kyle's post demonstrates that he understood what made Columbus controversial and what makes a website reliable.

I'm looking forward to assigning a small research project soon to test their new found knowledge of reliability on the Internet.  Overall, I think it was worthwhile to spend one class period on a combination of history and web literacy.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

App-Smashing: A Revolutionary Way to Learn About Revolutions

App-smashing, according to Greg Kulowiec, is:

I'm just starting to venture into app smashing as my high school students become more familiar with a variety of iPad apps.  I don't think app-smashing is something that I could have feasibly done much before this point in the year because I needed to familiarize my students with a foundational list of the apps that we will use all year long. Once they have that knowledge base and experience, they can create all kinds of products!

The Topic
This past week my sophomores created videos about the European Revolutions of 1830 and 1848.  I wanted to do more than teach them the history; I wanted them to investigate a complex question.
We talked about what makes a revolution a success or a failure.  As a class, we agreed on how to design a scale of success and failure for political revolution.  You'll see these scales later in their final products.

Getting Started
First, they accessed the event summaries and primary source excerpts compiled for them on our class website using QR Reader.
Then, as they're analyzing the text and primary sources, they took notes and copied quotes into Evernote.  They sent their notes and analysis to me so I could check and approve them before they started scripting and story-boarding their videos.
I asked them to use the scale of success and failure we had decided on as a class to rate their specific revolution.  This meant students had to take a picture of the scale with the camera app and then edit to image to show where their revolution fit using an image editing app like Skitch.

Flipped Classroom
Next they searched for primary source artwork to provide visual elements for their movie.  In an effort to flip my classroom a bit, I asked them to split up the script and image research between them and assign portions for homework to one another.
I also asked to watch this tutorial from YouTube at home so that they knew how to use the Educreations app when they arrived in class the next day. Educreations allows teachers and students to create video lessons using the iPad.

Making Something New
The next day, they came in with images (some of which were cropped or edited to fit their needs), drafts of scripts, and a decent understanding of the app they would use to shoot their video on Educreations.
Script in Evernote + Edited Images in Skitch (exported to Camera Roll) = App-Smash in Educreations

Publishing to Each Other and the Web
Once their work was created, filmed, and saved, they sent the link to their final video to me via Socrative.  Once all the groups had shared  their links with me, I exported the links to my email in the form of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.  Then students were able to present their Educreations videos to one another big as life on the classroom SmartBoard and teach one another about their assigned revolution.
As groups presented to the class, students in the audience again took notes using their Evernote apps.  This way, their notes about their assigned revolution can be in the same electronic document as their notes about the other revolutions.
Finally, to check for understanding, I asked students to blog about the success or failure of 3 out of the six revolutions covered during the presentations.  Their blog post could include their own revolution, but also had to discuss two others.  Of course, they had to include a link to their Educreations and at least one image that helps explain the concepts.  My students use a variety of blog platforms since I decided to let them make the choice for themselves at the start of the school year.

The Results
Here are some of the results of their efforts!
Click here to watch their final video presentation.

Click here to watch their final video presentation.
A Reflection
After carrying out this project with my students I was reflecting on just how many apps we had used throughout the process.  It really boggled my mind and I started wading through some of my favorite edtech blogs to find out how other people had combined apps.  Coincidentally, Greg Kulowiec's blog, the History 2.0 Classroom popped up in my Feedly with a post on his presentation at Boston's EdTech Teacher iPad Summit and I finally had a name for what we had done!  Unfortunately, I missed the summit by a day or two.  But, now that I know there are resources out there to give me new ideas, I'm looking forward to exploring more app-smashing projects throughout the year.

Oh, by the way, the entire project was completely and utterly paperless, too.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Prove Your-Selfie

Question: How can you get your students to prove they have analyzed and understand a primary source?

Answer:  Selfies.

It's time to teach the Monroe Doctrine, the 1823 document that is still the basis of United States international relations to this day, to a classroom of 25 sixteen year olds.

Part 1: Monroe's Woes
There were three issues facing President James Monroe.

First Woe: Russia had staked it's claim on the northwestern coast, an area critical to America's Asian trade.
Second Woe: European superpowers were meeting to discuss a possible invasion of newly independent Central and South American nations.
Third Woe: Britain wanted an American alliance.  Americans still fundamentally distrusted the European mindset.

Part 2: The Solutions
I gave students three excerpts from the document.  In small groups, they read the excerpts and determined which of Monroe's Woes each applied to.  They also determined what the solution was.

Part 3: What Did the World Think?
Next, the sophomores had to determine what the international community would think of Monroe's declaration.  Should the newly formed United States of America be taken seriously by the well-established traditional European empires?  Students were assigned one of three perspectives: Russian diplomat, Latin American revolutionary, and U.S. Congressman.  In order to evaluate whether they understood the international mindset that existed almost 300 years ago, I asked them to use a very contemporary technique:


Students had to choose a short excerpt from the Monroe Doctrine.  Then they had to take a selfie while wearing the expression that demonstrates the reaction of their assigned international role.

U.S. Congressman reacting to Monroe's decision to avoid alliances with European powers:
Click the image to see Lily's full blog post.
Russian diplomat's reaction to the U.S. declaration that they would defend newly independent Latin American countries, which Russia and other European powers wanted to bring back under monarchical control:
Click the image to Gabrielle's full blog post.
The 20 minutes in class that I gave students to talk about, think about, and take selfies was really fun.  Kids were laughing at themselves and each other, making faces, snapping photos, and asking me really great questions about excerpted quotes from an 1823 document.

All in all, it was a successful lesson, Me Thinks!

Note: This lesson was adapted and adjusted from an original lesson developed by Kara Gleason and Caroline Allison at Reading Memorial High School.  I'm very lucky to work with truly scholarly historians who are passionate about history and education.

The idea to use selfies as part of a lesson assessment came from my experience in a class exercise in Expanding the Boundaries II with John Doherty.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Teaching 19th Century Ideologies with 21st Century Technologies

Some concepts are just hard.  They're hard to teach and hard to learn.  Every year that I've taught the History 10 curriculum to sophomores, one of those concepts has been 19th century European political ideologies.  Conservatism, liberalism, and nationalism have never really been pulled together into a lesson that excited me or my students.  We would work through it and we'd both be OK, but never enthralled.  This year I wanted to change that.

Part 1: What Do They Already Know?
I asked students to define and give examples of each term: conservatism, liberalism, and nationalism.  They used their understandings from a modern American perspective.  We talked it out and they wrote their examples on the Smart Board.

Part 2: How Was 19th Century Europe Different?
It was REALLY different.  Before going there, though, I wanted them to know what an ideology is.
The next step was to help them understand what these ideologies mean to 19th century Europeans.  I found a great resource and pulled excerpts about each one. Students then completed the tasks detailed below.
As the instructions mention, I approved their work every step of the way.  Did they really understand the ideology from the 19th century European mindset?  Did their Vine represent that mindset, rather than a modern one?  Were they using examples from the history we were studying rather than unrelated examples or something from today?

Now, I've mentioned Vine before just after it was dropped on us earlier this year and again last month when I used in in class as a review activity.  By way of a quick explanation, Vine allows you to create quick 6 second videos and then post them to your friends in a Twitter style social network feed.  Teenagers are all over it, and I think meeting them where they are is a great opportunity to make learning more relevant to them.  They also love any opportunity to used their smart phones, on our school's BYOD network, and our classroom iPads each day.
Part 3: Vine Throw Down!
Since there were two Vines produced for each ideology, we put them head-to-head and voted for the best representation of the ideology.  Of course, this required students to understand the ideology before they could cast their votes.  The throwdown was really student-run.  I found the Vines because of the #GallagherHistory hashtag and played them on the Smart Board, but the kids taught each other about the ideologies, explained their Vines, and showed off their work.  Class discussion about the ideologies and how well the Vines explained them ensued.  Kids were laughing, smiling... they were actually excited about 19th century political ideologies.  Crazy, right?

Part 4: Checking for Understanding
Thanks to the influence of Steve Olivo, all of my students now turn in their work via blog.  It is how I learn the way they have understood what I have tried to teach them.  I've already taught them that blogging is different from other writing because it is multimedia and it is put out to a broader audience.  This means they have to put each post in context and use the resources online to make their posts more interesting.  They've mastered adding relevant images to their writing, as this post from Ricky demonstrates.  I wanted to teach them how to embed video in their posts too, and this project was a great example because Vine provides embed code for each video.  So I asked student to write the answer to the lesson's essential question and embed their Vine into their post as part of the explanation.
I had to teach them how to use embed code.  This is where I flipped the classroom a bit.  Rather than use class time to teach it, I created a short video, uploaded it to YouTube, posted a link to it on our class website, and told the kids to figure it out.  I just used the video recording feature in our Smart Technologies suite of software that comes with our Smart Boards to create a tutorial.  

Over the next few days as kids completed the assignment at home, they came into class and reported that it was so easy.  The results weren't bad at all.  Their posts were short and sweet and, best of all, demonstrated that they understand 19th century political ideologies.

Andrew's post explains his group's Vine on liberalism.

Chloe's post explains her group's Vine on conservatism.

Isabella's post explains her group's Vine on nationalism.

Best Practices for This Lesson
  1. Figure out what they already know before teaching something new.  It's important to clear up any misconceptions they might already have.
  2. Manage their use of social media for academic purposes.  Make sure that your students' posts on social media for your class won't be taken out of context and damage their online reputation.  I insisted that they use the class tag (#GallagherHistory) so that viewers would know their post relates to a history class.  I also insisted that they caption the post with the name of their ideology. Also, if students did not have a Vine or did not want to use their own Vine, I let them use mine.  Finally, if they did not want to appear on camera, they could use props in to video instead.
  3. Flip the classroom when possible.  Since throughout much of the process they were working together in small groups, I gave them two 55 minute class periods to learn the material, plan and film the Vines, and have the throwdown.  But the blog posts were an individual task.  When I can use a video tutorial to teach a mechanical task rather than precious class time that could be used collaboratively, I try to grab that opportunity.