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Awhile ago, I had the opportunity to read Marc Valentine’s blog post, Top 5 Cheap Videos for AP World on APWorldGuru@blogspot.  While I use iTunes regularly at home, for some reason I hadn’t thought to look there for films to use in the classroom.  So after playing around a little bit, I thought I would post a U.S. History version of Marc’s blog.  I tend to show clips from films rather than the whole thing, but it’s always nice to own your own copy even if you’re just using part of the film.  I would recommend reading Marc’s post on his ideas on using film effectively in the classroom.

Criteria for the list:
1. Inexpensive (so that if you don’t like the video, you only pay less than 5 dollars)
2. Entertaining (so that your students do not fight with the sandman during your class)
3. Educational (because if you are going to use valuable classroom time, it better be worth it!)

1. American Experience (PBS)
I’ve gotten good student responses from this series.  You have the choice of a free streaming version or prices that range from $1.99 – $3.99 on iTunes.  You can stream many of the full episodes or clips for free at the American Experience website.  If you want to purchase the videos to avoid issues that can arise with streaming, iTunes has many episodes available.  Certain episodes are also available on Netflix Instant Streaming.  The episode that my students have repeatedly found riveting is Surviving the Dust Bowl.  (Note: there is at least one potentially disturbing animal scene.)  Another bonus of this series that all of the specific episodes I have looked up on the PBS website provide lesson plans.
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2. The West Wing (NBC)
I have shown clips and full episodes from this series on the White House in my classroom.  In particular, I show an episode from season 3 called Isaac and Ishmael when studying 9/11 or the War on Terror.  Written and filmed within 2 weeks as a response to 9/11, you can read more about this specific episode here.  Episodes of this series are $1.99 on iTunes.
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3. Iconoclasts (The Sundance Channel)
This is a show where famous individuals interview each other.  I have used the episode Dave Chapelle + Maya Angelou when teaching the Civil Rights movement.  While I do not show the episode in its entirety (there is some content that I feel is inappropriate for my students), there is a segment I like to show where they discuss Malcolm X.  Chapelle also asks Maya about the multiple assassinations of the ’60s, which is something my students often ask about.  Dr. Angelou gives an interesting answer that can lead to some great discussion.  The segment I use is found at 16:07 – 20:48.  I am currently watching the available episodes on Netflix instant streaming for more possibilities. If you teach about Hurricain Katrina, there is an episode with Cameron Diaz + Cameron Sinclair that discusses rebuilding in the aftermath years later.  If you teach World History, Archbishop Desmond Tutu + Sir Richard Branson has some good things on South Africa. Episodes of this series are $1.99 on iTunes.  You can also currently find Iconoclasts: Season 4 on Netflix Instant Streaming.  This includes Diaz + Sinclair and Tutu + Branson.
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4. Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations (Travel Channel)
I would love to teach a history through food class.  If you’re looking for a little bit of a different take on things, No Reservations is a way to incorporate this revealing part of American daily life into your class.  There are episodes on Cleveland, Puerto Rico, the Mexico-U.S. Boarder, the Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, Los Angeles,  New York, Disappearing ManhattanInto the Fire NY, Husdon Vally, NYSouth Carolina, New Orleans, Hawaii, Washington D.C., Chicago, Maine, the Heartland, the Rustbelt, San FranciscoMontana, and more.  You can find the North American episodes listed on the No Reservations website.  Bourdain mixes food, history and culture to create unconventional portraits of the area he’s visiting.  You need to be aware that his topics of conversation may not always be appropriate for your students, so preview carefully.  Two colleagues of mine suggested Vietnam: The Central Highlands when studying the Vietnam conflict.  Episodes of this series are $1.99 on iTunes and you can also find many episodes on Netflix Instant Streaming.
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5. Frontline (PBS)
The news series is good for understanding current events.  There are a myriad of topics including Hurricane Katrina, U.S. – Iran relations, health care, the economic crisis, presidents and their decisions, current wars, and much more.  There are also some great options for World  History.  Episodes of this series are $1.99 on iTunes and you can also view many of them on Netflix Instant Streaming or for free at the Frontline website.  Some of the episodes will also have teacher guides.

Please feel free to share your video discoveries in the comments section.  Thanks to Marc for the great World History list and for the inspiration for this post.

Photo by kris krug (kk+ on Flickr).

In my first quarter back in the classroom after two years in another job and after just having my daughter, I felt like this kid kept smacking puck away from the net. (Or may the dearth of hockey in Wyoming is really getting to this Midwestern girl. Ha!)

But I did make some progress on the goals I set.  I have decided to keep the same four goals for the rest of the year, but I have tweaked them a little.  Here is the lowdown:

Assessment – I will be work to develop more effective assessments.

Progress: I did not make as much headway here as I had hoped.  I ended up revamping some of my old tests in the interest of saving time and my sanity after many sleep deprived nights.  In order to improve, I made a plan and began working with one of our Instructional Facilitators to do some backwards design and dig into creating a more effective assessment for my Medieval Era unit.  Then we created PLC teams a little over a week ago, and some common assessments were written by the teams for both my U.S. and World classes.  I was on the U.S. PLC and not really involved in the Medival Era test created for World History. While the World PLC wrote a good test, I was a little bummed I didn’t go through the whole process myself.  However, I don’t feel that my previous work on that unit was for nothing.  I was more interested in the process of writing the test and thinking more about #sbar than the test itself.  And I feel that I was able to do that at least a little.  This last quarter I was able to better define for myself exactly what I want my students to get out of that unit and my Cold War unit in U.S. History.  In both classes I feel that I did well on purpose of this goal, which was to work towards better defining for students what I want them to learn.

RevampI will work to deliberately define for students what they are expected to learn. Since my department is stepping up the PLC work and tackling common unit assessments, I am tweaking this goal to focus on one of the reasons why I created my original assessment goal.  This will also allow me to continue to work towards Standards Based Grading as I continue to define for my students exactly what I want them to be learning.  I will work on providing students study guides outlining the learning expectations at the beginning of each unit (in the past, I’ve provided these guides shortly before the test).  I will then refer to them throughout the unit in an attempt to make more solid connections for students.  I will also explore other ways to clearly define learning outcomes for students.  Any suggestions or information on how you approach this would be appreciated.

Feedback – I will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback.

Progress: I feel that when I gave feedback, I was more informative and specific.  However, I do not feel that I was very timely.  My largest obstacles to overcome in order to meet this goal are efficiency and time.  One type of feedback that I felt was helpful this past quarter was the use of individual grade conferences with my World History students.  I had some good conversations and learned some helpful things from my students.  I would like to continue to experiment with this idea.

RevampI will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback. I have decided to keep this goal pretty much in tact, but I will focus more on the timely aspect of things.  I am setting up regular times in my schedule to give feedback and I plan to do so more often.  I have found that if I specifically schedule this, it’s more likely to get done.  I have also decided to try to shift my mindset from that of “grading” to that of “feedback.” When I think of “grading” I think of a task to be done, like filling out needed paperwork for the office.  When I think of “feedback” I actually think of teaching and learning.  I also have a more positive attitude and willingness (even excitement) to get things done.  I will also be trying to give better feedback through our online grading system, Infinite Campus.  With no training on the gradebook portion of the program and no manual (I’ve asked), it’s been a bit challenging for me to use the system.  However, many students, parents, administrators and tutors depend on this form of feedback, so I need to better utilize this tool.

Parental Communication – I will communicate more regularly with parents.

Progress: While I had some good conversations, parent communication pretty much only happened when it needed to.

RevampI will communicate more regularly with parents by calling all of my World History parents at least once this quarter.  I realized that I need to be more specific with this goal.  There are so many things I want to improve, but I know I need to break it up into specific parts in order to be more successful.

Efficiency - I will become more efficient with my planning time, grading, and various other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards.

Progress: I made a lot of headway with this goal.  I have been using every second of my available planning time and lunch.  My after school time could be more efficient, but I’m finding that my energy is so spent by that point that I’m not as efficient with my time.

RevampI will become more efficient with my planning time, feedback, and other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards. Mostly, I need to find a rhythm with how I use the time that I have.  One of the areas I will be focusing on is make-up work.  I have a new system I plan on implementing this semester in which students use their FirstClass accounts to access make-up work on their own.  I am hoping 10 minutes a day updating this will save much more time in the long run.  As mentioned earlier, I am building regular times into my schedule to provide students with feedback.  I am also scheduling regular times with our Instructional Facilitators to work on unit planning.  I am hoping that this will help me to stay on track and ahead of the game, as well as produce better quality lessons.

Do you have any feedback or advice on these goals?  What are your goals for the semester?

Not long ago, I watched this TED Talk by Conrad Wolfram, creator of WolframAlpha, on the teaching of mathematics.  In this video, Conrad discusses the use of computers in teaching math and how they can be utilized to shift the emphasis from computation to problem solving in the real world.

Shortly after that, I came across Mike Gwaltney’s blog post on Democratizing Knowledge titled “Math is Dead. Long Live Mathematics!” Don’t be shy, you should go there and read it.  But first, think about this…

Math History is Dead. Love Live Mathematics History!

Whenever you hear or see the word “computation” in the TED Talk or in Mike’s post, replace it in your mind with “fact memorization.” Whenever you see or hear “math” or “mathematics,” replace it with “history.” While every substitute doesn’t work perfectly, I think it is worth discussing the parallels.  In history, computers would not be used for computation, but rather to look up historical facts.

Please note that I’m not saying we should throw the memorization of historical facts completely out the window.  I believe there should be a balance between knowing certain facts and being able to do analysis.  After all, things like the Gettysburg Address and the Diary of Anne Frank (or The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) make less sense if you don’t understand the facts and the context surrounding them.  Rather, I would like to have a conversation on the idea of how much we should shift the approach to teaching history if, through technology, students have much easier access to the facts than in the past.

So what do you think?  Do you feel it is fair to substitute fact memorization for computation?  Do you feel there is a better substitute in the field of history?  Perhaps this idea parallels another substitution in a different discipline.  What are your thoughts?

I’ve just completed my 8th week of teaching after returning from maternity leave.  It’s has been a very interesting experience, made more interesting by my return to the classroom from two years as an Instructional Facilitator.  I’ve been retooling my lesson plans, setting up my classroom, working to build community with my students, and trying to keep up with grading.  I’ve also been trying to balance work and family more effectively.  As many of your know, this can be a challenge.

I have been trying to come up with strategies that will allow me to be a good teacher without sacrificing my ability to be a good parent.  It is important to spend time with my daughter, and I realize that in the past my teaching style has required a lot of time spent planning outside of the school day.  There is also that seemingly endless stack of paperwork and administrative tasks that can eat up a lot of time.  I’ve been trying to figure out ways to use my planning block more efficiently while I am at school, but it hasn’t been enough.  This is where you come in.

I’m looking for ideas.  I’ve asked a few colleagues about how they balance work and family, and the response I’ve gotten from all of them is that they are also struggling and don’t have it figured out.  I’m not searching for answers that unlock the secrets of the universe (though I’d take those too!), but rather strategies and advice for things that help you be more efficient with work and allow you to spend quality time with family.  I would love to hear from you about small or complex strategies you have used to adapt to the role of a teaching parent.  I am also interested in time saving strategies in general, so please don’t feel like you have to be a parent to offer advice.

I love my job.  I love being a teacher and lesson planning is something I really enjoy.  It goes without saying that I love my daughter.  She deserves as much of my time as I can give her (and my wonderful husband!).  Please feel free to comment with ideas or even questions you have as a teaching parent or as a teacher trying to use your time more efficiently and effectively.  I would love to hear from all of you.

Come and play with me!

 

Flickr photo by Wesley Fryer.

Today I had the opportunity to attend NBC’s Education Nation Teacher Town Hall online.  While I have my concerns about bias, I am glad there is a lot of attention being paid to education right now.  But rather than rehash my experience and opinion of the Town Hall, I have chosen to be inspired by Paula White, L. Lee and other colleagues on Twitter.  I am choosing to write about possible solutions and what I see working in education with the hope that these ideas will help others to find their own solutions.

Instructional Coaches/Facilitators

An alternative to traditional professional development, coaches are typically veteran or master teachers who collaborate with other teachers in small groups or individually to improve instruction and to raise student achievement.  What better way to improve teacher practice than to individualize and differentiate for our teachers, just as we like to do for our students?  Please keep in mind that coaches are not intended to be “teacher fixers” or traditional evaluators, but rather work with any teacher who choses continual improvement.  After all, we can all strive to be a better educator.  (Full Bias Disclosure: I worked as an Instructional Facilitator for 2 years.) You can read more about Instructional Coaches/Facilitators at the following links:

Collaboration Time

During the 2009-2010 school year, I had the opportunity to study Professional Learning Communities (or PLCs) for possible implementation in our school.  During that time I talked with people doing PLCs and visited schools currently using the PLC model.  While the PLC model is generally positive (there are negative aspects as well), what I took away was the value of built-in collaboration time for teachers.  The schools where this really seems to work have created time for teachers to collaborate within the school schedule and outside of regular planning time (because teachers have enough to do already, right?).   And by outside, I don’t mean before or after school.  It is built into the school day either on a frequent basis (an extra planning type period every other day) or less frequent on a monthly type basis.  I’ve also seen principals willing to provide subs for teachers who want to occasionally work together in this way.  Teachers seem very positive about this time to work with their colleagues and even “non-believers” have come to value this time once they have experienced it.  I often hear people say that teaching is an isolated profession.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  We can find ways to value and protect collaborative time with our colleagues.

Choice

A best practice I have seen many teachers employ is that of student choice.  When it comes to professional development, teachers also deserve that choice.  Whether it is choosing which PD session is most relevant to them, whether or not to work with an Instructional Coach and more, choice will yield better results in teacher improvement.

What have you seen work to help improve teaching and learning in our schools?  Please feel free to comment here or write your own blog post with the tag #educationnation.  Also, feel free to comment on or ask questions about the three options I’ve written about here.  Let’s focus on solutions and move forward!

Creative Commons photo by Andrew Becraft (Dunechaser on Flickr)

Today I had the chance to read Jamie’s goals for the year over at Dontworryteach.  This was a good reminder for me, as I feel it is important to state your goals.  This will be an interesting year for me with a lot of change and adjustment.  Not only will I be going back to the classroom after two years as an instructional facilitator, I will have a new daughter (any day now!).  Stating my goals now before the chaos hits will hopefully help me to stay focused and roll with the punches a bit better.  Feel free to check up on me and ask me about my progress.

I tend to develop my goals on a quarter by quarter basis.  Since I will not be in my classroom the first quarter of this year, here are my goals for the first semester.

  • AssessmentI will be work to develop more effective assessments. This involves not only the method of assessment, but what I am assessing.  This is part of my quest to move in the direction of Standards Based Grading.  By focusing on improving assessments, I will also be working on better defining for my students exactly what it is I want them to be learning.
  • FeedbackI will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback. This can involve spoken or written comments and discussion.  I will go beyond “Good job!” and other vagaries to tell students exactly what is or is not working well.  This also ties in with Standards Based Grading as well as with my goal on improving assessments.  After all, what’s the point of a good assessment if the student doesn’t understand the results?
  • Parental CommunicationI will communicate more regularly with parents. My plan at the moment involves more frequent phone calls and email contacts for a variety of purposes and a blog site (which I realize parents may or may not utilize).  I want to be sure parents feel welcome in my classroom and comfortable communicating with me.  They are the experts on their children and an excellent resource.
  • Efficiency - I will become more efficient with my planning time, grading, and various other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards. With so much changing in my life right now, I want to make sure I am doing a good job of balancing school and home life.  This will possibly be my most difficult challenge.

Have you tackled any of these things before?  What was your experience like?  I would appreciate any advice, resources or insights.  What are your goals?  I encourage you to post them here or elsewhere.

“I find the great thing in this world is, not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving…”

-Goethe

Transcript of Lady Bird Johnson’s audio diary from 11/22/63 (JFK's assassination), Page 1

I’d like to present my next step in the Standards Based Grading journey.  I find myself asking other people about the process they used to develop their standards for their classes, so here is my own process thus far.

In order to create standards for the reading component of my 10th Grade U.S. History course, I have looked over several sets of standards, pulled out the elements related to reading, looked for commonalities, considered my own professional knowledge of the subject, and then selected and set up what I would like my own reading standards to be for my course.  In the interest of sourcing, here is a list of the main standards I consulted in developing my own list:

If you’re familiar with the Strengths Finder from Gallup, I am definitely an Input person. (Yes, this is another multiple intelligence/personality/preference/etc. deal. My employer asked my team to take the strength evaluation this past year.  It made for some interesting discussions and better understandings about how to leverage our individual talents on a team.  But that’s a whole other discussion!)  Some people think I’m a bit crazy when I look at so many different resources, but this helps me to internalize what’s out there and synthesize all that information into something I find useful.  After looking over the primary skills I wanted to use, I developed two categories: primary and secondary sources.  While these categories are very similar, there are some differences that are important for students to grasp.  It also allows students to prevent putting the skills into one little box and thinking they can only be used for one type of document.  I am hoping this will help students translate these ideas into other content areas.  The skills are as follows:

Skills for Historical Analysis Through Critical Reading

Primary Sources

1. Determine and summarize the central/main ideas of the primary source.

2. Analyze the source

-SOAPStone Analysis Method

3. Create generalizations and inferences about the primary source and/or about the historical event based on implicit and explicit information.

-Accuracy, relevance & bias

-Determine credibility

4. Cite evidence from the primary source and your own historical knowledge to support your generalizations and inferences.

5. Compare and contrast this primary source with other points of view.

Secondary Sources

1. Determine and summarize the central/main ideas of the secondary source.

2. Analyze the source

-SOAPStone Analysis Method

-Historical Fact vs. Historical Interpretation

-Reliability of sources & evidence used to support the author’s claims

3. Create generalizations and inferences about the secondary source and/or about the historical event based on implicit and explicit information.

-Accuracy, relevance & bias

-Determine credibility

4. Cite evidence from the secondary source and your own historical knowledge to support your generalizations and inferences.

5. Compare and contrast this secondary source with other points of view.

This is the basic list I can use to create more specific resources (such as detailed descriptors and rubrics).  I would greatly appreciate any comments and feedback you have on these standards/skills.  Thank you!

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