Posts to Check Out:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The KKK in America

In my humanities class right now, we are studying reconstruction time period after the Civil War and racial issues in America at the turn of the 20th century and then at the turn of the 21st century.  An organization that has had an extremely negative impact on race relations in the United States is the Ku Klux Klan.

This is the first time I have taught reconstruction as in-depth as I have in the past and I am going to ask my students their thoughts on the subject, content, depth covered, etc. in an evaluation soon (I will have that information available), but it seems to be going quite well.  Yesterday in class, we spent some time watching Birth of a Nation (1915) [Remastered Edition] which you can also access as live stream on Netflix.  We spent most of the period looking at different parts of the film.  While the film is three hours long and has little value to watch the film in its entirety, I would suggest a few clips to watch in class with your students.

The essential question we looked at in class, and throughout most of the year, is "What role does the media play in our society?"  We can argue that film is a part of media and it clearly has an impact on America.  While there are many different events and incidents in history one can point to for this rise in the KKK in the early 1900s, the membership jumped from 400,000 to over 4 million in 1920.  While we can point to the end of WWI and other issues of race in the different parts of the country, Birth of a Nation had an impact.

If using the live stream on Netflix, here are the times for the scenes--
1hour:10 mins

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lighting a Fire

I just finished reading Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery by Kathleen Cushman and her students as a part of my graduate school work.  While I found the book interesting, I would like to point out one of the key pieces I am walking away from the book with.  For those of you who love project based learning, this is something to keep in mind.  [My apologies as I feel like I am cheating using a post for my graduate school blog as my Don't Just Put a Movie On blog, but oh well!]

There were many sections of this book that spoke to me as an educator, but one that I believe directly connects to my practice was the criteria for a first-rate project on page 144.  At High Tech High we talk a great deal about the six a's of project planning.  While I like to keep those in my mind when creating a project, I believe that this list should be added to every person's checklist when crafting a project.

1. We clearly state the central question that our project addresses.
Without a central question, a project cannot succeed.  Last year for our festival project, our students worked on an interdisciplinary biology and humanities project.  When you go back and look at the project, we did not satisfy the six a's; however, I believe that the project was still a success because the students created their own central questions, completed their own research, and then displayed their learning.  We had a clearly stated overarching question that each group had to answer, but then students created their own individual essential questions for their own work.  They were motivated to answer their questions because they created them and decided what they wanted to learn about a topic.

2. We collaborate on planning and carrying out the project.
Every good project allows for student input in the different stages of a project.  From the planning, the day-to-day of the project, and the reflection, students needs to have time to voice how they are doing with the project and their opinions of it.  When we sit in our classrooms and create projects without asking students what they think about it, we forget one of our most important audiences.

3. We gather evidence from several primary and secondary sources, including at least one interview with an expert in the field.
As a student with a history background, I live and breathe primary and secondary sources.  I always include them in my teaching because I think too often students are afraid of "really old" documents or language that they cannot understand.  The sense of accomplishment that comes from analyzing and spending time with this material, questioning it and getting it wrong, then going back and finally understanding and mastering it is indescribable.  I had a student who came to me with a question about James Baldwin's essay titled "Stranger in a Village." She stayed up a few hours past her bedtime not because the assignment was due the next day (because it wasn't) but because she did not want to go to bed until she had figured out what he was trying to say.  In our discussion on the essay after school, she realized she had it all wrong, but was even more excited to go back and find out what she could from the piece and master it.  This is why primary and secondary sources are important and not those dreaded textbooks.

4. We set deadlines for all project tasks and meet them.
I partly agree with this.  For one project I had students complete all the deadlines themselves, and it worked.  For another project, I created "check-ins" or "benchmarks" for students to follow.  They did not have to, but many of them did, and it worked as well.  As long as student choice in the deadlines is involved, whether they create them, or they can decide to meet them or not, then it will be successful.

5. We seek out critique along the way and revise our work as needed.

6. We deliver a product or performance that throughly addresses the project's central question.
A student asked me in class the other day, "How do you know you have an impact on your students?"  My response to him was that I don't know in the moment if I do, but I can see it when I look at interactions I have with my students.  I can also see it when they bring their parent or friend to school and show them what they worked on.  When they perform their product to their audience and they are excited about it.  That is always when I know I have had an impact on my students.

7. We give evidence that our project had a positive impact.
One of my professional goals this year is to work on this component.  This has always been a challenge for me because how do we measure whether this has happened or not.  If one outsider experienced the project, is that enough?  If a student has changed his/her ideas and has become a more knowledgeable citizen for it, is that enough?  This is an area that I am still exploring and trying to figure out.

8. We reflect on our process and our product.
I think this piece is important especially when as a teacher we care more about the process and less about the product.  I was working with a group of students and even with critique after critique and meetings with the instructors and others, they still had not produced a piece of beautiful work.  It was not a piece of beautiful work in the eyes of the instructor, but also in the eyes of the students.  They learned more from that experience than they would have if their piece had been exhibited.  This is why the process of a project is important and figuring out ways to assess that process is something we as educators must continuously work on.
I am reminded of a comment a colleague of mine made years ago at a meeting with a group of students. He was referencing Plato's Allegory of the Cave and was making the claim to our students that they are all the light atop of a candlestick.  If you walk too fast, you can easily be blown out.  If you walk too slow, you won't be able to light up the room.  You must find the pace for yourself in order to light up the world around you, and in doing so, you will ignite the fire in your mind.  As educators, that is what we must to with and for our students.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Listening Project Follow Up

As I promised over the summer (see my earlier post Teaching About Various Viewpoints in America) I planned on making use of The Listening Project in my introductory unit to my American humanities class.  I found great success with it and my students seemed to take away a great deal from watching the film.

I am not one to use worksheets at all, and so before we started the film, I introduced the students to three questions I wanted them to take notes on throughout the film:
1. What did you learn about your view on America by viewing/hearing the viewpoint of foreigners?
2. Were there any parts in the film where you thought those interviewed were wrong?
3. What questions would you have asked if you had the opportunity?

I asked students to respond to these questions and be prepared to discuss the film when we finished it.  The conversation was not very structured, we started off with what struck us the most from the film and then moved on to talk about the three questions they responded to.

At the end of the discussion, I asked them to write down on an exit card one idea they think every person who watches this film should leave knowing.  Here are some of their thoughts:

  • "America always wants to say something, but we don't listen to what other people say."
  • "It is easy for America to speak, but not listen to what everyone else has to say."
  • "You don't really know about other people and their countries until you have gone and seen for yourself, and see what they have to go through."
  • "God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen more.  I think that it is important to have opinions but to also have perspective."
  • "The U.S. isn't the only country in the world.  There are other people out there.  Make a change, offer your help."
  • "A lot of American have suffered because of Americans, what we do has an impact on everyone else."
  • "I think that everyone who watches this video should know that people have opinions, some may be kind but others are rough, but either way have an open mind."
  • "People from other countries know a lot more about us than we know about them."
  • "We're not citizens of a country, we're citizens of the world."
  • "One thing that really struck me was that most people in Iraq didn't want us to be there fighting and most of us don't want to be there either.  So why are we fighting?  It is becoming pointless."
  • "Why is it the world knows so much about America and yet we know so little about the world?"
  • "We should realize that to help others, we have to listen first."
  • "A lot of our country's freedoms and items we take for granted were established at the cost of others."
  • "I think people should know that America has a lot of power, but we have been using that power in wrong ways."
  • "You need to know your neighboring countries as much as they know you."
  • "Most people just need help from the American people.  They are disappointed that most citizens are turning a blind eye to the needs around the world."
  • "Not everyone hates America.  We are all family."
  • "Even though we've made some bad decisions and have hurt a lot of people, some people are still very open and kind with us."
  • "An unbiased opinion has little to no effect for change."
  • "People, especially Americans, shouldn't believe everything they hear; they should take the to visit, research, and understand themselves before they come to conclusions."
  • "America somewhat controls more than they know."
  • "Americans are generally good people with good intentions.  We just tend not to do the best things."
  • "People want more respect from America."
  • "Be grateful of where you come from and get to know those who are around you."
  • "America need to be careful with the amount of power they have because when America falls no one is going to be there to help them."
  • "Know that your views will change, know to be open minded."
  • "America is not perfect."
  • "Stop, think, listen.  Other countries matter as well."

As you can see, this film, discussion, and activity was a success.  It only took two class periods!


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Keep a Class Website!

My apologies for not posting last week.  We were back to school and the first week was even more draining than I thought it would be.  It is amazing that even after doing this for a number of years, the first week is still extremely difficult.

This week I am going to step away from films and curriculum and work on posting why you should keep a class website and the importance of being transparent with students and parents/guardians about our work in our classrooms.

I first saw a post about how vitally important this topic is over the summer and thought to myself how silly the post was because it is just an expectation at my school.  However, I recognize that at other schools teachers are not expected to do this, and this may seem like a great deal of work, but I can tell you it is very easy.  Some districts have begun to use websites like Moodle and other blackboard type sites, but I would suggest you take a look at Google Sites.  It is extremely easy to use, and it also allows you to have a website with professional appearance using very little time.  All you need is a gmail account (which you can get for free), one hour of free time, a computer and you are set up with a great communication tool.  A friend of mine has a post about it on his blog, here is the link.

Here is the website I keep for my courses.

What can you do?
Course Resources-- I have a portion of my site that is dedicated to keeping a collection of resources, files and readings for class.  Whenever I copy something to give to my students, I make use of the "send pdf" function on our school's copier.  I think most copiers have this option and you should check on it with your school's IT person.  You can send the handout to your email address and easily upload it on your website.  If your students have the problem of eating handouts (mine do, they seem to disappear moments after I give them out) they can get a copy of it online.

Course Announcements-- Need to make sure people outside of school know the homework?  Google sites allows you to have announcements that the world can see.  You can even link to the homework on your site so parents/guardians and students can access it.

Document your work-- Show off what you do with your students using Google sites.  It is really easy!