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.