Thursday, December 19, 2013

High School Students as Professional Education Consultants

Last week my students helped me explain how we use smartphones, tablets, and laptops in our class daily to learn in new ways.  I had to opportunity to present to a group of teachers and administrators at the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence conference in Disney World (where is was 75 degrees) while still at Reading Memorial High School in Massachusetts (where it was 12 degrees). Thanks to some fine work by many members of our technology staff, we were able to video conference with the professionals in Florida along with Jennalee Anderson's 7th grade classroom nearby in town using Cisco's Jabber software.

Nine of my sophomore history students helped me explain how we use devices in class every day.  I'm the one wearing green standing in the back.  Our library media specialist, Sharon Burke, is standing next to me in the middle.
My students used iPads, iPad Minis, iPhones, Surface tablets, or any other device they bring to school and use on our BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) wifi network.  They talked about how we used their devices in class the day before to learn about the Temperance Movement in the early to mid 19th century.

QR Codes: They demonstrated how they use QR scanning apps to access all the resources and links needed for the lesson.  This keeps our class paperless and allows them to access class materials anytime day or night.  There is no text book or handout packet to lose or forget in a locker.
Scan this code to see resources for our recent class on the Temperance Movement.
Skitch and Evernote: They showed how they upload primary source images to Skitch and then annotate them as they evaluate their meaning within the historical context.  Then they add that image to Evernote, which they use to keep track of everything they learn in class.  No need for a spiral notebook or three ring binder.  These are examples of publications created by temperance activists annotated by a student.

Backchannel: Students talked about online chatting, called backchannel, during documentary films in class.  They explained that it saves us time because we don't have to have a discussion after the film is over since we've already had it.  The discussion is much more lively than a typical teacher-directed classroom discussion. Also, they like it better than filling in a worksheet as they watch.
Click this screenshot to read the transcript of our backchannel chat while viewing part of Ken Burns's Prohibition.
Throughout our short presentation I was amazed at how well they spoke and demonstrated the apps.  They also understood how their learning had changed because of the activities the devices have allowed us to do.  I asked the participating students to write a short reflection about participating in a real world professional presentation to adults and how it made them feel.

Participating in the national conference was a really great opportunity. It was cool to be a part of something that may help other schools successfully integrate technology into their classrooms.

I enjoyed being able to share a bit of my everyday life to people who could make a difference in schools.

It was interesting to talk with other people who want to learn about BYOD. It was cool to see how the use of iPads had changed middle school classrooms. I wanted to show other people how our paperless classroom functions.

Demonstrating the benefits of piloting a paperless classroom to an unknown yet interested audience was a unique experience.  Being able to show teachers the advantages of using a device oriented curriculum will hopefully help transition classrooms into a more technology encouraged environment.  As technology use improves so can the quality of learning.

I was so impressed by a few things they recognized:

  • They were presenting to a broader audience and therefore indirectly making a difference in classrooms across the country.
  • Their learning has changed because of technology integration in our history classroom.
  • Not only were they presenting about BYOD, they were learning about other ways BYOD is being used in other classrooms.
I learned that I need to provide my students with more opportunities to share their learning with broader interested audiences. Perhaps a new year resolution is in order.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Yes, my classroom is paperless. No, you don't have to buy your kid an iPad.

My classroom feels different than ever before.  It's more vibrant.

My relationships with my students are different than ever before.  They're better.

I'm in the midst of my 12th year of teaching, and I have the idealism and workload of a first year teacher all over again.


Because BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) along with a few supplemental devices has empowered me as a teacher and my students as learners.  I'm planning everything I've taught before in brand new ways.  While we are in class for 55 minutes together, I'm doing less teaching and my teenage students are doing more learning.  And I don't use paper. At all.  Sound suspicious? Unorthodox?  Do you have concerns?

Concern #1: I know it seemingly goes against everything we've been taught as parents to take the plunge and purchase a breakable piece of technology worth hundreds of dollars and hand it over to a 14 year old.  They're irresponsible, distracted, and materialistic.

Response:  Use the opportunity to teach them responsibility.  Three of my students worked to earn the money to buy themselves tablets within the first three months of this school year.  They had jobs at supermarkets, worked as babysitters, or even toiled away at yard work for a neighbor (snow is here... shoveling is a distinct possibility!).  Because they were spending their own money, they researched and compared tablets, netbooks, and laptops.  Each student ended up choosing a different product, but they are confidently and proudly using their devices in class.

Concern #2: Some kids are too busy to hold a job and earn their own funds.  They are in three clubs and play four sports.  They carry 4 honors classes.  Maybe parents of those kids feel like they deserve their own electronics.  But schools are all about iPads, and iPads are the most expensive option out there.  Why does it have to be iPads?

Response: It doesn't.  Not everyone in my classroom has an iPad, iPhone, iPod, or iAnything.  And yet, we all complete the same tasks.  Sometimes we are all able to use the same apps, sometimes not.  But when I ask the students to research information or complete a task, it doesn't really matter which app they use. What matters is that they are developing the problem solving skills to use what they have to do it.  Here is just a small sampling of students in my classes today using non-Apple products to have the exact same learning experiences as everyone else in the room.  Again, all of these pictures were snapped in one day in my classroom.  Notice that their screens all look completely different.

Concern #3: There is a lot of research out there about the dangers of screen time and the lack of person-to-person interaction.  Do we really want to encourage teenagers to spend more time looking at their phone/tablet/laptop screens than they already do?  

Response: In my classroom, they are talking to each other, helping each other, and working together MORE because of the technology.  When designing presentations, some group members are researching, some are creating illustrations, some are snapping pictures or filming, and still others might be narrating the work.  Just this week I had one group of students working together on a presentation about the 19th century common school reform movement.  Sound boring? It wasn't. Each was using her/his own device, but none of them were on the same app.  They were browsing the notes on our class website, creating an animated presentation in Prezi, watching clips on YouTube to link to the Prezi, searching for copyright free images to illustrate the Prezi, and reading primary sources from a database our school subscribes to.  In the mean time, they were sharing their finds, making suggestions to one another, and they never stopped talking. Their product was personalized, engaging, and based on their research and design. Before technology, that same group would have been made up of one student writing on a poster board while the others sat around glazed over with a book and a packet of handouts in front of them.  The result would have been based on their teacher's research, not their own, and it certainly wouldn't have been engaging.  Technology is teaching them to interact better and create more interesting real world products.  So I don't have a broad research study to counteract the studies and articles put out there by psychologists, but I know what is happening in my classroom.

If some kids still don't have time to get a job, or if parents still don't think spending the money on a device for their teen is a worthwhile investment, or if it just isn't possible as part of their family budget, no worries.  I'm lucky enough to have a few devices to supplement what my students are able to bring with them.  NO ONE in my classroom goes without a tablet or smartphone.  In the mean time, I promise I am changing the way your child learns.

Go ahead, ask your high schooler what he/she did in Mrs. Gallagher's history class today.  I bet they will remember.  And if *gasp* they can't, it will take mere seconds to look up notes, artwork, video clips, and primary sources from today's class on the nearest device with internet access.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Power of One

I let my students decide again.  I asked them if they believed that one person can make widespread change. Their answers were mixed.

I showed them this commercial from YouTube.

Then I decided to trust them to choose a 19th century social reformer and how they would present that reformer to the class.  The only parameters:
  • It had to be inspiring, touting the power one individual can have to make real change.
  • It had to use and cite primary sources.
This is what they looked like while working. Every group seemed to choose a different combination of applications.  They were even testing new ones that I haven't introduced yet like Doceri and Haiku Deck.

 This is what my classroom looked like ten full minutes after the last bell of the day had sounded on a Friday!  For real, people, these are 15-16 year olds who have been through a full 5 day week of classes, and the first week of winter sports tryouts in many cases, and they stayed after on a Friday for a history project. Whaaaat?

Their projects aren't due until Tuesday, but here is a preview I've received of one part of one project.

I'll add more projects as they trickle in this weekend.  I'm excited about a Prezi I saw that made a connection between the education reforms of Horace Mann and the heroics of Malala Yousafzai.  I'll update this post with it as soon as they finalize it and send it to me.

Overall, I'm impressed with my students' work ethic and work products when I give them the power of choice.  As teachers we are often pleading with parents, students, and administrators to trust us and our academic choices.  Perhaps we need to start returning the favor and trusting our students more as well.

Confessions of a Public School Teacher

Here goes...

1. I spend way more time communicating with students, parents, and community members outside of the school allotted conference time than within it.  Those communications happen when the students really need them, too, instead of when the school has deemed communication appropriate.  They are more constructive, build more relationships, and are a better way for me to get to know my students and their families than the artificial 10 minute presentation I give on Back to School Night or the rushed 10 minute one-on-one meetings on Parent Conference Day each December.  The natural communication that happens through nearly weekly grade updates, emails, and phone calls are more relevant, more timely, and more personal.  They show that I'm in touch because I want to be, not because I have to be.  Nearly every teacher I know communicates with families in this way as well.  Forced Parent Conference Days seem unnatural, impersonal, and kind of pointless when it comes to really helping kids and getting to know families.

2. The PD I choose is way more valuable than the PD chosen and scheduled for me at faculty and department meetings.  My Twitter PLN (professional learning network) is chock full of positive motivated teachers who share what they are doing with their students and inspire me to try new approaches.  Just yesterday I was part of this conversation:

 As a result, one of my self-assigned projects this weekend is to check out Storify. To be honest, and hopefully not offensive, few of the directives and trainings handed down in faculty and department meetings have much of an impact on my day-to-day teaching.  They're often based on state or federal standards and tests that are coming down the pike.  Policies and procedures could be more efficiently communicated on web-based training or via email.  On the other hand, the networking that happens in my graduate level classes; like those that I've taken through the TAH program, Primary Source, and Expanding the Boundaries; help shape my teaching philosophy and alter my thinking as I plan and deliver lessons to help students learn and create in new and better ways every day.  Those conversations, that type of PD, is based on teacher experience of what is best for kids.

3. This one is the hardest for me to confess.  I spend way way way more time working outside of school than I care to admit to my colleagues.  I guess the cat will be out of the proverbial bag after this. On a typical weeknight, I leave my classroom around 3:45, pick up my young children. I cook for, play with, bathe, and read to them until they snuggle down for the night. My husband usually arrives home from work just in time for dinner. Then, from 7:30 to 10pm on average, I'm toggling between my laptop and my iPad while my husband sits beside me on the couch watching something on TV (although I have no idea what).  I read essays, research and plan lessons, email and iMessage with students who need extra help, and do PD by participating in scheduled Twitter chats. I usually spend quite a few hours working on the weekends too.  I'll definitely blush once my colleagues read this.  I hate to admit to all the time I put in.  Does it show that I'm not as smart or efficient as they are? None of us really talk about how much work we put in after hours to make our classrooms function smoothly.  Do they put in just as much time and keep it quiet like I do because they're afraid to admit it?  Or am I going to be seen as a workaholic?

4. I'm on call 24/7 to my students.  This was mentioned a bit in #3.  They can contact me via Twitter, iMessage, or email.  I usually answer them within a few minutes, unless I'm spending time with my own children. In that case it might take an hour or so.  My husband works at a job that requires him to be on call one week out of six on average.  When he gets a call he has to go to meet his client.  I don't have to physically leave, but I have been known to duck out for a minute to answer emails or chat online with a student who needs clarification.  Is that offering too much assistance where adolescents should do their own problem solving, or is that the nature of our ever-connected lives in the 21st century?  I don't feel comfortable telling my students that I'm unavailable to them, so I'll keep doing what I do.  Am I going to face criticism for this, though?

Phew! Weight off my shoulders.  I promise my next post will be more positive, but these are questions and thoughts that swirl around in my head quite often.  I suppose if we never ask ourselves whether we are doing things the best way we can, we will never improve.  So pardon my public self reflection.

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 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.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why I LOVE History Lesson Planning (& HATE Christopher Columbus)

It starts with an idea. This was the idea I had last week:
I don't want to be another in a long line of teachers who lets Columbus Day come and go silently.  I don't want to horrify my students, but they deserve to know the truth.
So I start researching.

First, I looked for something that Columbus said in his own words. An obvious choice was his report to the the King and Queen of Spain upon his triumphant return from his first voyage in 1493.
For this and all images throughout the post,
click the screenshot to go directly to the resource.
Columbus speaks of the natives of Hispaniola in favorable terms.  They were welcoming, friendly, and unarmed.  Columbus seemed pleased.  Well, as I confirmed through further research, he should have been pleased.  He stood to receive a substantial reward if he discovered something that could be profitable for the Spanish Empire during his voyage.  The Library of Congress showed through primary sources that he gained the right to "bear arms" (this meant have his own coat of arms in Renaissance Europe), to use the title of admiral, and to collect a significant cash reward.
Top: Columbus's coat of arms
Bottom: Book of Privileges recording Columbus's agreements with the Spanish crown
OK, so far, Christopher Columbus presents as a wildly successful explorer who enjoyed the rewards that he worked hard to earn.  After all, a year-long journey to parts unknown is no small accomplishment, right?  And he did it FOUR times.  What a guy.  Well, it just so happens that an infographic on The Oatmeal website came to my attention through Facebook.  It didn't necessarily reveal anything new, but the way the information was presented was compelling.  This is the main thesis:
I love the attractive layout and shock value that this infographic delivers.  I plan to show select screenshots of it.  They will no doubt get a reaction from my 14 year old freshmen.  In my opinion though, the coolest thing about this infographic is that is goes on to hail Bartolome de las Casas as a quiet hero of Native American rights in an era when heralded explorers and mass murderers like Columbus were getting the most recognition. Las Casas, a Catholic priest and adventurer, is someone that all history teachers of the Age of Exploration worth their salt already cover.  He published quite a bit of testimony on the unjust and unChristian treatment of Native Americans by Spanish conquistadors and settlers.  So, next I needed to find a good translation of one of his documents.  The most obvious choice is his most known work.
Las Casas chronicles the enslavement and brutality against native groups that Columbus started and others continued.  He entreats the Spanish crown to enforce laws that protect the natives in New Spain (Spain's claims in the Americas).  Turns out, as I read I found out that Las Casas faced some significant opposition.  Most notably from Juan Gines de Sepulveda, the official historian of the the Spanish king, who argued that the natives were barbarians who were fundamentally inferior and therefore deserved to be enslaved by the civilized Christianized Spanish colonists.
Now these two resources, from Las Casas and Sepulveda, should be read as arguments against one another to help students evaluate historical examples of persuasive writing (a VERY Common Core concept).  But, again, I teach 14 year old freshmen.  The sources are long and are written in an archaic translation of Spanish.  So, I read through them, picked short excerpts that were more manageable for the teenage mind and put together an adversarial activity that will get the kids worked up, I hope.

Armed with their new knowledge of the true legacy of Christopher Columbus, I wanted to students to do some thinking of their own.  I chose some historical artwork from the 1800s, an era when Columbus was still hailed as a hero and people still felt that Columbus Day was a holiday worth celebrating.
My hope is that students will notice how the American artist depicted Columbus and his men as compared to how he chose to depict the Native Americans.  Clothed versus naked. Strong versus weak. Standing versus crouching. Light versus dark.  Art shows perspective.  It does not show truth.  

As a history teacher, my job is to help students learn how to investigate truth.  Hopefully my own investigations and research to put together this lesson will be a step toward reaching that goal.