Cheap Videos for U.S. History

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.


“History is Dead! Long Live History!”

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?

SBG: Historical Analysis Through Critical Reading

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!

SBG: Developing My Standards & My Implementation Timeline

In my last post, I posed a question in regards to my Standards Based Grading study: What are the important “standards” and how do I equitably and accurately assess them? While I have thought a lot about the second half of this question, I realize I’ll be much better at designing appropriate assessments once I answer the first question and decide what it is I’m assessing.  Duh?

Since writing that post, I came across a post on Think, Thank, Thunk by Shawn Cornally that discussed the definition of “standard.”  While I didn’t think I’d just be plugging in my state standards, it was nice to get reinforcement on this issue and it helped to clarify my thinking.  Shawn puts forth that standards are “the ideas you love; the core concepts you know are important” and “Your standards are not the State’s standards, they are skills and ideas that every teacher sees as necessary to the true success of their students.” While history teachers continually disagree on certain aspects of what is important for student success, I feel more confident in pursuing the ideas, skills and concepts that I feel are critical for students.

I’ve also had some good conversations with educators that I trust and looked over different state, national, and organizational standards, my district’s Essential Curriculum, and relevant AP course descriptions while brainstorming.  At this point, I am not concerned so much with historical content standards (the what, when, where, etc. of history), those will be included as appropriate and aren’t overly difficult to design.  Rather, I am concerned with the historical skills higher up on the taxonomy.

For 10th grade U.S. History I intend to focus on reading comprehension skills, scaffolding towards critical analysis of historical reading.  Primary source analysis will fit well here and will be emphasized.  In 11th grade World History, my goal is to focus more on historical writing skills, with an emphasis on persuasive writing.  I am currently working on breaking down these big ideas into their smaller components.  I would appreciate any thoughts you have on this.

I will be honest and say that I know I’m not ready to completely revamp my grading system and dive into the SBG pool head first.  Rather, my goal for the coming semester is to get a better handle on teaching the skills I want to emphasize and to explore more effective ways to assess those skills.  I don’t feel comfortable completely rearranging my grading practices until I feel I’m doing these two things well.  Another consideration is that I will be starting in a new school after being out of the classroom for two years as an instructional facilitator/coach.  During this time, I have learned a LOT about being a better teacher and I have a lot I’m processing.  I know that if I try to change everything I want to about my teaching all at once, my head will explode.  To top that all off, I won’t actually step foot in my classroom until mid-fall due to maternity leave.  I don’t think I can convert to SBG while I have a long-term sub in my room (no matter how good they are).  I also feel that for me, SBG is a process of rethinking the way I teach rather than an event.  I will reassess at the end of the first semester and decide where to go from there.

I’d like to hear from others about their process of incorporating SBG into their classroom.  At what pace did you institute new practices?  What progression worked for you?  I’d also love to hear feedback on the 10th grade reading focus and the 11th grade writing focus.  Do these seem realistic and worthwhile to you?  I would be happy to expand on either if requested.  Thanks!

Standards Based Grading and the History Classroom

For some time now, I’ve been a lurker in the standards based grading conversations (SBG & #sbar) that have been occurring on Twitter and in the blogosphere.  I was taking it in so when I returned to the classroom from being an Instructional Facilitator, I would hopefully have built some basic knowledge in order to figure out how I could apply these principals in my own practice.

I recently accepted a new position teaching 10th grade U.S. History and 11th grade World History, and I have found that these conversations have been a great way for me to analyze and focus on what really matters to me as I reenter the classroom.  This is not to say that I am going to go all gung-ho and become a SBG zealot and turn everything I’ve done upside down.  It does mean that I am going to use it to ask myself some questions that I may find hard to answer and continue to study how I can use SBG to benefit my students.  I want to take a critical look not only at my grading practices, but how I plan my lessons and my classes as a whole.

With this in mind, I’m using my blog to process some of my ideas and thoughts.  I would love to hear from those of you out there who have studied or used SBG, those of you who are history teachers, and those who are willing to ask questions and have conversation in order to help us all become better educators.

My Niggling Question

Most of what I have seen regarding SBG has been in the context of math classes (along with some science and a dash of world language).  While I am not a math teacher, I have done quite a bit of math tutoring using the concept of mastery learning.  I feel this has helped me to better understand the basic concepts of SBG.  While I have been looking for examples of SBG used in non-math courses, I haven’t found very much yet and none that I am aware of in social studies or history.  (Please let me know if you find any!)  I have been thinking about this a lot and I figured out one of the things that has been bothering me about using SBG in history.

When I think of standards, the first thing that comes to mind are my state standards.  Here is a comparison of 11th grade math and social studies benchmarks in my state.

Math Standard – Students identify and apply scale, rations, and proportions in solving measurement problems.

Social Studies Standard – Students explain how various cultural influences impact society.

One seems more concrete, while the other can be subjective.  Yes, I understand that there is not always one way to get the answer in math.  However, using SBG in math seems a bit more straight forward to me than in social studies (please feel free to dispute this).

Take the skill of primary document analysis in history.  We’ll use a very famous document as an example:

Amendment II of the U.S Constitution – A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

It’s pretty obvious what this means, right?  Not so fast.  The interpretation of these lines have been debated in judiciary circles for some time and there is a reason court cases keep popping up concerning gun control laws.  The interpretation is not agreed upon by everyone.  My concern is not whether students come up with the “right” answer or interpretation, it’s the analytical process they use to decide and support their answer. (Hmmm…this does sound a bit like math, doesn’t it?)

My state standards and benchmarks in social studies tend to be fairly broad.  I don’t believe they lend themselves well to specific SBG entries in a grade book.  I am left to decide on my own what I feel would be the best “standards” to grade.  So I guess my niggling question is what are the important “standards” and how do I equitably and accurately assess them?  There seems to be a lot of debate in my content area (at least in my state & district) on this question, so as strange as I feel asking it, I think it’s an important question.

I guess that’s what I really need to work on. I need to clearly delineate the knowledge and skills I want students to have when they leave my class.  Hey, I can tell this whole SBG thing is worthwhile already…

Questions I have:

  • How has SBG changed your students’ learning?
  • What is the process you have gone through/are going through in order to implement SBG into your classes? What advice do you have? Suggested resources?
  • Is anyone out there using SBG in Social Studies or another humanities style class? If so, what are the pros and cons?  How are you determining your standards?  If you’ve chosen not to use SBG, why?

Just some of the SBG Blogs I’ve been reading (I’d love other suggestions):