Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What does "citizenship" mean?

Having already passed on the Celtics-Heat game after 1:30 of the season, I thought I would sit down and write a post on the importance of citizenship, especially as it has been the subject of a couple of columns I have read this week.

The English Parliament recently announced that drastic cuts in education outside of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), which has greatly worried educators in not only in social studies, but also all of the humanities. As A.C. Grayling said in a recent post in the New Statesman

Yet the ambition to educate more people to a high level, to meet not just the economy's needs but those of a complex society by enriching the lives of its individual members, was always a good one. What we see in the cuts is an abandonment of that ambition in favour of economic imperatives alone.

Now, frequent readers of this blog will remember my father's words about "education is not vocation." We, as educators, are trying to create in our students a love of learning about all things, not just about the things that will get them a job. But, so much of our job in the humanities is to teach them how to become contributing citizens of the United States and the world. If our students are being pushed more and more into the STEM, then what might that mean for their ability to understand the United States and the world around them better? I am currently in the middle of teaching the basics of the Constitution to my sophomores and trying to have them understand the importance of the document and how it impacts their lives on a daily basis. But, if the cuts in England are any indication about what might happen to the humanities in the United States, we must be prepared now for that reality.

The second article that I would encourage people to read is about bringing "civic education to the front burner". In the piece, Anne O'Brien quotes Rick Hess in saying:
For America's founders such as Benjamin Rush, Noah Webster, and Thomas Jefferson, one of the main functions of schools was producing democratic citizens.

If this country is going to get back on the successful track that we have been for most of our brief history, we need our students to be engaged in their futures. They need to be able to think their way through issues, and without experience in how to do that in a number of different areas/subjects, they are not going to be able to deal with the different circumstances as they arise.

Focusing on the STEM is not fine. It leaves a whole, wide, wonderful world unexamined by our students.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

More Toys, I mean Tools....

This seemed like an interesting concept to try this with. Not sure whether or not it actually will work in teaching the material, but it was fun to create none-the-less.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Not Preaching to the Choir

Over the summer, I watched a TED talk by Dan Meyer about how difficult teaching math can be in today's environment. I was reminded of it as I read Andrew Marcinek's iTeach blog, a blog written by a laid-off from a charter school instructional technology specialist. While Meyer's quote is about math, it certainly can be applied to just about any subject in any public school today:

I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it, but by law, is forced to buy it.

I have read that quote any number of times over the past few days and have really thought about the students that I teach and how it applies to them. While I would like to think that history is the favorite subject of all of my students, I am not naive enough to believe that is true. Yet, in order to graduate, they must take, and pass, my class.

Am I doing a good enough job selling my product to people that may not want to buy it?

I believe that I give my students a number of different ways to display and show me what they have learned. Whether it is the daily layered curriculum check-ins with my CP students, or the blog entries of my honors students, my students can show me how well they not only learned a topic, but also understand what is going on. It bothers me, however, when I see some of my students not participating in my efforts to sell them on U.S. History. Are they not participating because I am failing to convince them to buy what I am selling or are they just not buying anything regardless of how attractive I make it?

Monday, October 18, 2010

How A Bill Becomes a Law

We are all aware of the School House Rock version of how a bill becomes a law. If you are not, here is a refresher. I'm Just a Bill (Sorry, SchoolHouseRockKids won't let me embed from their site.)

Of course, that it isn't as much fun as tracing it out yourself, which is what my C and D Period classes are doing today and tomorrow. If you are trying to navigate yourself around using the arrow keys, they are counterintuitive. If you want to see what is below, the bottom, use the up arrow, to see what is on the right side of the screen, use the left arrow, etc.

Here is D Period's version thanks to bubbl.us:

Here is C Period's version, also thanks to bubbl.us

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What to Do?

OK. So there is a national conversation around the idea that public education in this country is "failing" our students, our future. Tom Whitby at My Island View has put out a call as to how to "reform" education, so, as though of you who know me will not be surprise, I will throw in my two cents (I am guessing that my opinion is worth less than that at I just calculated my twalue at just over $6).

The first thing that I would do is to stop having so much conversation about it. I am not convinced that there is truly a crisis in American public education. The various media entities in this country need something to report on and, in this current climate, teachers, their unions, and their schools, are easy targets. What has happened, therefore, is that everybody who went to school has become an expert on what it means to learn, to teach, and to educate, because the media has made this such a huge issue.

Please understand, I am not suggesting that the American education system is perfect and that the only people who should be able to offer an opinion on how to "reform" education are the ones directly involved in the process. But, the people on the front lines should be included in the discussion. What we are bombarded with on a seemingly daily basis is this businessman's opinion about what is wrong with education, or this politician's blueprint to "fix" the problem. What do teachers think would "reform" the system? How about students? Many of them have opinions about what would work best for them, yet no one seems to care at all about what they think. Again, I would not have teachers and students be the only voices, but their voices should be heard.

Sir Ken Robinson
, to whom I was "introduced" in a summer class that I took in 2009, has made any number of comments about the state of education, and the graphic YouTube video below demonstrates some of this thoughts on the matter. Until everyone who plays a role in the education of our students, our future, has a voice that the influential in the media choose to listen to, the "crisis" of "reform" will continue to exist.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Future Is Now

I, as much of the rest of the world, have been awestruck at the resolve shown by the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped for so long underground.  Of course, the teacher in me sees this as an opportunity, not that I teach directly about Chile in my classes, but that I can express to my students the wonder of being able to watch all of this live on TV.  Apparently, there was originally supposed to be delay in the broadcasting of the miners arrival above the ground, but the Chilean president made the decision to have the broadcast made in real-time because Chile was sharing this moment with the rest of the world. 

As I have read recaps of this event, again from the world's newspapers, I have read about capsules made in Austria, drills from the United States, drillers from the United States via Afghanistan. 

When people discount the impact of technology in bringing this world closer together, in enabling 1.2 billion people (at least that is the figure that the translator just announced) to witness this incredible event, and ultimately in helping us learn about this bravery of the leader of this group and the miners themselves, they are refusing to see the forest for the trees.  

Articles of Confederation Timelines

Here are the timelines that my students and I put together in class about the problems with the Articles of Confederation and why the nation needed a new form of government.



The Preamble

There was a time in America when Saturday mornings on ABC were dominated by cartoons. As a sort of public service announcement at the end of many of these, Schoolhouse Rock came along and provided 3 - 5 minutes of knowledge about American History, grammar, science, and math. Looking back on them, they were pretty campy, but I still find myself singing those old lyrics when it comes time for anything to do with any of those topics. They have now been immortalized with their own YouTube channel, to which I have attached a link above.

My favorite (perhaps not surprisingly) is "The Preamble," which my students will be committing to memory. They are doing this as a way to better undersatand what the Constitution stands for and guarantees of us as Americans. Enjoy!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Second Verse, Same as the First

As I read this blog post about education and the business world, I could not help but think back to my post from Saturday. I won't go over that again, primarily because you can find it just by scrolling a little bit further down the page. Just read and think and learn.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Saved Again

Whenever I am stuck for a blog topic (which, when you are trying to write one for each day of class, can happen often), I scroll through my twitter feeds or the blogs I follow and try to see if there is something written there that will spark my thoughts to get beyond my writer's block. I have a number of "go to" people for those thoughts, but by far my #1 source is Will Richardson and Weblogg-ed. His book "Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms" now in its 2nd Edition, published by Corwin Press, was the first along the way of my introduction into the web 2.0 world and how it could make a difference with the students that I teach. His post yesterday morning about students and their thoughts on the current educational hoops that they are expected to jump through, once again, inspired me to post something here.

When did we lose the idea of education and learning simply for the love of education and learning? We all talk about wanting our students to be life-long learners and how important it is for us, teachers and parents, to be life-long learners as role models for our students, but how many of us actually work to make both of those things happen? Why would our students want to become life-long learners if what we are currently doing to them in schools is what we call "learning"? Why would they believe us, teachers and parents, when very few of us are willing to break out of the "tried and true" or "the safe"? Why would they believe us, teachers and parents, when we tell them about the importance of education for themselves, but then compare them to other schools and ultimately to the rest of the world?

If we want our students to love learning, we must demonstrate that for them and show them our love of learning. If we want our students to love learning, we need to challenge them with more than just rote memorization and how to take tests. If we want our students to love learning, we must get them to think about what learning means and how it can make them better people, not simply better test-takers. Education is not vocation. Education helps us to make things better, things in our world, our nation, our state, our towns, and our homes. But ultimately, education makes us better as individuals, which ultimately leads to making all of those things better.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Survival of the Fittest

"In the long history of humankind...those who learned to collaborate & improvise most effectively have prevailed" - Charles Darwin

I saw this post in my twitter feed tonight from @archivesinfo and could only think about the work that we do as teachers everyday to help students "prevail." Small group learning, "think, pair, share," and other ideas like that have been a part of teaching for a long time. We want our students to share the information that they have learned with each other and we want them to ask questions of each other to improve their own knowledge.

Now, however, more and more of us are asking out students to "improvise," to create things from nothing, and figure out how to donate to the greater culture around them. This has become a process of "cloud computing," tools like blogs, wikis, VoiceThread, timetoast, twitter, etc. are the ones that more often than not are the sites that host that improvisation.

I am proud to be helping those who will be the next to "prevail."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

One Year Later?

What kind of impact will you leave behind at the end of 525,600 minutes? What will your footprints look like? Impact! Effect! Purpose!

TEDxRedmond is "by kids, for kids" with a theme of "Power to the Students." With over four hundred youth attendees watching in the all-youth theater, this was one of the largest TEDx events entirely for youth. Organized by an all-youth committee headed by former TED speaker Adora Svitak, TEDxRedmond focused on issues (like education) pertaining to youth as well as adults.

Zoe Sprankle is creatively driven--she is a writer, actress, and singer. You can find her writing on her blog, Footprints on Paper (http://footprintsonpaper.com/).

About TEDx, x = independently organized event
In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why Do We Blog

So, there I was reading my twitter feeds tonight and I came across this blog post from a blog that I had never read before. As I read it, I once again felt validated about the things that I am asking my students to do this year. The woman who wrote the post suggested that she found that her more reluctant writers grew excited about writing when they were writing for someone other than their teacher. That when there was the opportunity for their classmates and friends to read what they were writing, their interest in it grew dramatically.

The things that I have asked my students to do allows them to publish their work for everyone to see. My goal is that they are more excited about what they are doing and that they take it a more seriously than they would have otherwise. So far, so good.

Revolutionary War Review

Sorry about no post yesterday. I was finishing this up to provide a review for my students.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


One of the great things about teaching is the light bulb factor. I don't know if I am the first to use this term (I can't be), but watching it go off has got to be one of the greatest things ever about teaching. As I read my students' blogs, I am starting to see them ask questions not just about what has happened that day in class (which is what I have asked them to do in their blogs), but also what they think is going to come next. In my mind, this is what teaching is all about. I am watching students become life-long learners before my very eyes. They are not simply letting their education happen to them. They are beginning to take control of it and set their own direction. I could not be prouder of them. (And I have to include some teachers in this post as well, and you know who you are.)