Thursday, August 21, 2014

History in a Bag - Part 2

"Mrs. Weber, why do we need to learn about history?  I mean, it's in the past, what does it matter now."

The "typical" history teacher response usually goes like this.  "Because in order to not repeat the bad things in history we need to learn from them."

Yeah, yeah, that may be true.  But that's a boring answer.

Today, my students got another answer out of me.

I prepped this activity with my previous blog about the first day of school activity "History in a Bag."  If you missed it, click here, and read about it.  I'll wait...

....All caught up?  Good.

***This post is long.  Read it anyway.  You will be glad you did.***

Today my 7th graders came in seeing a big box which had a grocery bag taped to it with the words "REAL History in a Bag."  (The items were too big to put in the actual bag.)
 There were also 5 questions on the board with the statement that said:  By the end of today's activity you should be able to answer the following questions.
  1. Was the person who owned all of these items male or female?
  2. What was his or her name?
  3. Where did he or she live?
  4. What did he or she do for a living?
  5. What were some of his or her hobbies.
We then reviewed our two vocabulary words from last class period.  This sort of shocked them because we never wrote down definitions, used terms in sentences or drew illustrations.  I never even said "we have two vocab words we are going to learn today."  They didn't even realize we talked about vocab words last class.  Then I told them to think about their bags and what the purpose of that activity was... and wouldn't you know, they were quickly able to identify our words.  Primary Source and Infer.  They could also tell me the definitions and give examples.

I love it!  They learned and didn't even realize!  Score one for the teacher!

Next I told them today we would be taking the process we learned last time and applying it to a "real" history in a bag, with primary sources.  (See what I did there...taking something we previously learned and APPLYING it the next day.  The education gurus would be so proud of me!)

***There were literally hundreds of ways that I could have organized this lesson, the way I finally decided to do it was based on purely time.  How to squeeze in 5 cool primary sources, discussion, and learning in one 75 minute class period.***

  • I started off by handing each student a worksheet and a playing card.  The worksheet was divided in to 5 sections, one for each station, which would each have an item from the bag.  Each station had 3-5 questions that the students were to answer by studying the items.  Each object started off with the question:  Is this a primary or secondary source?  And What type of source is it; Artifact, Letter, Newspaper Article, or Photo.  After that the questions were specific to the item that was there. 
  • The students looked at their playing cards and went to the station that matched.  All they needed was a pencil and their worksheet.  I then passed out the items that belonged at each station.
  1. Jewelry:
  2. Letters:

  3. Box #1: A Tackle Box (the kids did not know this...they had to use the clues)

  4. Box #2:  Sewing Box...again, students had to use the clues.

  5. Newspaper Article
  • Students now got to spend 5 minutes at each station studying the items and answering the questions which included "What is this?" "Who made it?" "What was the purpose of this?" The newspaper article and letter asked questions over what they read.
  • When time was up and all stations had been visited, the students went back to their seats and discussed with their groups the answers they inferred from studying the items.  After about 5 minutes of team discussion we then discussed as a class.  I wanted to hear what they inferred.  Some of them were correct, some of them were wrong.  But to hear the students talk with such enthusiasm (and in some cases, argue) about what they thought about each object was exactly what I was going for.  They cared.  They wanted to be right.  And they WANTED to learn the truth.
  • The next task involved team discussion again.  I instructed the group to write down answers to the five questions on the board, based only on what they discovered from the objects.   This was again, everything I wanted from them.  All groups all day long answered every question right.
  • Was the owner of these items male or female?  Male
  • What was his name?  Paul A. Lohmeyer
  • Where was he from?  Kansas City
  • What did he do for a living?  He was the president of a jewelry company called, The Green Company Inc. 
  • What were some of his hobbies?  Fishing and sewing (sewing wasn't really a hobby, the story is much cooler about the sewing box...I'm getting there.)
Finally we were to the point of class that all the students were waiting for.  The answers.  The stories. 
  • I passed around a photo of Paul Lohmeyer so they could put a face to all of this information that they discovered today.
The Answers:

The Jewelry:

Mr. Lohmeyer was President of the Green Company Inc.  He made these two pieces out of a thimble cut in half and dipped in gold.  The flowers were old tie pins that men used to wear to hold their ties in place on their shirts.  These pins were a gift for his wife.

The Letters:

One of my favorites!  Mr. Lohmeyer had many high profile clients.  He designed and sold a charm to Princess Grace of Monaco, more popular in the U.S. for her movie films such as "To Catch a Thief."  Grace Kelly.  This is the thank you letter she sent him.  Watching the students try to figure out the signature was great!  They did a great job using the clues on the envelope to discover that Monaco wasn't her last name, but some type of city or country.

The Tackle Box:

Probably one of the easiest.  Mr. Lohmeyer enjoyed fishing.

The Sewing Box:  (Are you ready for this...)

Mr. Lohmeyer also served in the Army during World War Two.  He raised to the rank of Captain and was placed in charge of a German Prisoner of War Camp.  His treatment of the prisoners respectful and fair.  To thank Captain Lohmeyer, the POW's made this box for him.  Without tools.  The screws were inserted with a can lid.  Even some of the pieces were fashioned out of a can.  See...I told you.  Cool stuff.
The Newspaper Article:

I do not have the actual newspaper article for the kids. I had to copy the words myself.
 Mr. Lohmeyer stopped off at an animal auction one day, just for the fun of it.  With all the bidding excitement he joined right in and ended up buying a Hampshire Lamb, and taking it home in the back seat of his car (can you imagine his wife when he got home???)  The lamb lived in his back yard and his two daughters would walk the lamb on a leash up and down their suburban street.  The neighbors must have been entertained!

The conclusion:  Mr. Lohmeyer bought that lamb in October of 1967, little over a year later on December 3, 1968 he was killed in a car accident on his way home.  He was 55 years old.  This picture is a school photo of his youngest daughter in 7th grade, less than a year after he died.  Her name is Julie.

This is her today on the far right. I am pictured on the far left with my sister in the middle.  My daughter is the cute little baby.

Gasps.  Oooo's.  Ah Ha!

The kids figure out the connection.  Paul Lohmeyer was my grandfather.

Why do we study history???

Because HISTORY. IS. AWESOME.  Because history is more than just dates of events that took place in the past.  History is full of stories, awesome stories about ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives.  History doesn't just tell us how our country was founded and who fought who in which war. History tells us who WE are and how WE got here.  It is a part of all of us.  And it is AWESOME!

Friday, August 15, 2014

History in a Bag - Part 1

I always hated the first day of school as a student.  Not because I had to go to school, I liked school fine.  Because all we did were rules, rules, and more rules.  Ugh!  Suckfest. 

I am embarrassed to admit it, that the first few years of my teaching career that's what I did.  I tried to disguise it with a "scavenger hunt" or station "activities," but it was still just rules.  I still hated it.  I was still bored by it.  But I felt like I HAD to do it.  The kids need to know what to expect in my class. 

By the end of the day I wanted to beat my head against the wall.  So I'm sure my students felt like that too. 

So a couple years I changed it up.  Each day I do a few "Need to Knows."  Select rules and policies that the students need to know on that specific day.  The first day my 7th graders meet me, they need to know that they must be an ACTIVE participant in this class.  It is a must.  But they don't need to know my late work policy until we start having assignments. This allows me to spread out my "rules" and get right down to business.

Today was my first day with 7th graders, and after a brief introduction of myself, tour of my classroom, and the select "Need to Knows" for the day we jumped in.

The activity is called History in a Bag and I took the idea from here.  But you know me (or you will very quickly) and know that I can't just leave it at taking someones idea.  I have to jazz it up a bit.  Make it fit my classroom and what I want my kids to gain from the activity.

Today was part 1. 

  • We had a discussion on what history is, how historians find the information, what a primary source is and how historians use a variety of sources and points of view to infer what happened.  The more sources and the more reliable the source is, the easier it is to be accurate in the story.  I told the kids that today they would get their first chance to "Think like a Historian."  Something they will be asked to do MANY times this year.
  • I gave each student an empty paper bag and instructed them to fill the bag with 5 items that they have with them (or in their lockers) and place the bag on the empty group in the front of the room.
    Bags filled with artifacts ready to be discovered!
  • Each student was then given a bag at random along with questions to answer about about the owner of the bag.  They could only use the items in the bag to answer the questions.
  • The questions were...
  • Is the owner of the bag male or female?  What makes you think this?
  • What is a hobby this person might have?  What makes you think this?
  • What type of music do you think this person likes to listen to?  What makes you think this?
  • Who do you think is the owner of the bag.
  • For some students the answers were easy.  Pink lip-gloss, perfume, and a key that says Princess were some good artifacts to use to answer the questions.
    Male or Female???

    Hmmm...Deodorant?  I wonder if he or she play sports?

    "I don't even know what this is?!?!"

    "Cherry Limeade chap-stick.  Female."

    "I think this person is female because there is a picture with three little girls"
  • For others, they had to use some reasoning and critical thinking to answer the questions.  Like the student who found a pair of running shorts in the bag.  He decided that her hobbies might be running or working out, that they would need fast, fun music, so he inferred that the owner of the bag listened to pop/rock music.  Great reasoning.  Awesome thinking.  
    Running shorts??
For me the best thing about this lesson is how it sets up the next one.  You see, what I described above is pretty much step by step and word for word what I took from Glenn Wiebe's back to school blog post.  In our next class period I will have a "real" History in a Bag filled with actual historical artifacts, pictures, and articles.  The students will have a series of questions to answer based on what they discover by studying the artifacts.

Stay tuned for part 2 next week!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Out of My Comfort Zone

Teachers are lucky.  We get two "New Years" to set resolutions and make changes. 

January and August.

I love the start of school (most years...) and this year brings on a whole new burst of excitement and energy.  I start each year with a few changes or points of focus that I want to put my attention to.  A few years ago, I started this blog.  And while I don't get the opportunity to post as often as I would like (you should see the number of posts I have started and never had the time to go back and finish...) I still enjoy writing about what goes on in my classroom.  Whether you are a parent of one of my middle schoolers, a teacher looking for ideas, or a friend of mine who just likes to see what I'm doing, hopefully you all find something interesting about this blog.

Last year my focus was survival.  Maternity leave is hard.  I wanted to survive and not completely hate coming to back to school after new little baby was born.  That didn't really work until the end of the year when I had a renewed spirit. 

This year my focus is communication with parents. 

I am well aware that getting information out of teenagers about their day at school is about as easy as breaking into a bank vault.

So I want to help with that.

I have come up with a cool way to communicate with parents what my classroom procedures are, what cool lessons we did in class, and what we have coming down the line (student teacher, field trips, etc...)

I call it Weber Wednesdays

I plan to post a YouTube video of myself explaining various parts of my classroom to give parents a peak inside our walls.  The videos will start out every week for a while and then taper off to an "as needed" basis.

The cool thing.  I think parents and members of our community are really going to appreciate it. 

The not so cool thing.  I want to throw up every time I push "POST." A video of myself out in the big bad world of social media, scary.  (Seriously...I'm getting a little queasy just typing this out.)

This is WAY outside my comfort zone.

But when I think about what I'm doing and what the purpose it, I come to another conclusion.  Stepping outside our comfort zones only can lead to the discovery of new talents, new strategies, and personal growth.  These are things I want my students to do, and that I ask them to do on a regular basis.  Why wouldn't I want to model those actions. 

Because I hate videotaping myself.

But I'm going to do it.  And I hope the sensation to vomit goes away after the first few Wednesdays.