Monday, October 24, 2016

My New "Go-To" Historical Thinking Tool

If you have ever stopped by this blog before you have probably see me make mention of the fact that I am a HUGE believer in the power of professional development and developing a professional learning network.

If this is your first stop on this blog... I am a HUGE believer in the power of professional development and developing a professional learning network.

Awesome strategies, cool classroom ideas, growing in content knowledge as well as gaining new and useful techniques.  Always moving, changing, adding to lessons in order to make good things in your classroom become great.

All can be found through networking with other teachers.

Just like my new favorite historical thinking tool.  It's called the Evidence Analysis Window Frame, and it is awesome.  It's just a little plastic with some historical thinking questions, but it helped turn a lesson that I have done for 9 years...and done well, into a great lesson. With much less work required by me!

I tried them out for the first time while analyzing the American Progress painting by John Gast.  I have had my students analyze this painting every single year I have taught.  I have always felt like it was done well and students always seemed engaged and involved in the conversation.

This took it to a whole new level.

I printed off 12 color copies of the painting on 8x10 paper.

I split my class into two groups, one group went out into our large open space to work on another assignment, while I spent time with the other analyzing the painting.  This allowed me to focus on a small group of students at a time as well as accomplish multiple things in class that day.

I passed out the plastic covers and some small dry erase markers to the class.  We reviewed what historians do with a source as soon as they get it.  Source it.

These awesome overlays have the basic sourcing questions on the left side of the window.  I can have the students either circle where they find the answer on the painting or write the answer under the question.   Totally depended on the question and type of document.  Since this was a painting/image I had the students do a lot of marking up on the actual document itself.

Then we moved to the contextualization and corroboration side of the window.  I love it!  The work was done for me.  I had the questions to go off of and they had to locate the answers, or proof of their answers on the document.  SO MUCH LESS WORK THAN I DID BEFORE!

So...what were the results?

You can already guess what my thoughts were on the activity for the day.  Less work for me, engaging for the students, at least the same or even better understanding of the document than the previous lesson I had used. Win. Win. WIN!

What about the students?  I told them I was writing a blog post on these overlays and the lesson for the day, and asked them what they thought.  Here are just a few of the responses.

"This was awesome.  I loved the way we could actually write on the picture."
"I could see everything much clearer than before."
"This was interactive.  I totally understand Manifest Destiny better now."
"It was fun!" 
These will be used throughout my class on a pretty regular basis.  I can do a whole-class activity or small group or even use it as a station activity when I'm trying to incorporate many different concepts in one class period.

Ok...real deal now.  What about cost.  How much are these babies and how can I convince my district to get them for me?  Here's the deal.  You can get a set of 5 of these for less than 10$.  That's pretty good!  Order 25 and it's less than 40$.  I'm not sure what your school's financial state is and how willing the district is to help purchase items for the classroom.  But I will say, these are incredibly useful and worth the money.  PLUS...double bonus.  I if you're doing any kind of cross-curricular work with the language arts department, these can totally be used in that class as well!  I already gave one to our 8th grade language arts teacher!

Click here for the website to order.  This link will take you to the secondary version, there is also an elementary one if you click here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Teaching as a Career

I took on a new challenge this year.  I like challenges.  I like to reflect and see how being challenged has helped me become a better teacher, friend, mother, or wife.  Challenges, although scary are exciting and good.

This year, for the first time since I student taught for 16 weeks 12 years ago, I am teaching a high school class.  And it's not even a class in my subject area (Social Studies).  The class I get to teach is exciting to me because it's something that I have grown passionate about in the last few years.


I have the opportunity, the challenge, and the privilege this year to teach a class for high school teachers who want to be teachers "when they grow up."  The class is called Teaching as a Career.

It is the most difficult thing I have done in 10 years.

There are days I feel like I have no clue what I'm doing.  I have no idea where to go from here.  What concept to teach next and how long to spend on each idea.  I have lost more sleep over this class in the last two months reflecting about the activities and lessons than I have in a very long time.

Because I don't just want this class to be good.

I want it to be awesome.  If these kids get nothing else out of the class, I want them to walk away knowing that being a teacher is awesome.  It's hard work, much harder than most know.  It often comes without an appreciation for all the time and work put in.  But there is no better feeling in the world than to watch kids walk away from your class with a smile or continuing the conversation in the hallway or at home.

Today my "Future Teachers" (as I like to call them) had the opportunity to put some of the things they have learned into action.  They had to prepare a professional development session for their high school teachers on Breakout EDU.

Let me just say that again and let it sink in a bit.

These...HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS presented a new concept for the classroom TO THEIR TEACHERS on a day they normally could have slept in.

Talk about an intimidating crowd.

They did an awesome job!  I was so proud of them as I walked around today watching them lead this activity.  They weren't perfect, there's room for improvement, but they did something today that many current TEACHERS have never attempted.  To speak and instruct other teachers.

What an awesome learning experience for everyone!

And now I have to figure out what to do next week.

PS...haven't checked out Breakout EDU yet?  Google it.  Now.  It's awesome.  More on that little gem coming later!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Archaeological Dig - Presentations & The Soft Deadline

The last few blog posts have been detailing the project that my 8th graders have spent the first portion of the school year working on.  I wanted to introduce the various topics of the school year to my students through the interaction and identification of historical artifacts.  I have split the blog posts about this project into three different sections.  (Click on the first two to read those posts)
  1. The Set-Up
  2. The Dig & Identification of Artifacts
  3. The Presentation and Reflection
The students spent the previous week(s) working on learning the basics of archaeology, participating in an actual dig, and identifying the artifacts they found.  And now that they have a good idea of what they uncovered and what the event of their dig represents, it's time to put it all together in order to present their findings to the class.  

I originally set out to have this blog post be about the requirements I set up for the presentation the students would give.  But then, on one of my evenings of attempting professional development in the comfort of my PJ's and watching Facebook Live videos about PBL (an area I'm very interested in, and slowly learning more about).  I stumbled upon some cool ideas...which happens often with PD in my PJs!  (Try it sometime!)

The first.  Allowing for student voice and choice in their presentations.  And while I absolutely love the idea of including more student voice and choice in my classroom.  I decided that this project wasn't the place for it.  Why?  Because past experience with allowing students to choose their presentation format ends up with one or two REALLY COOL ONES and the rest barely above crap. Harsh?  Yes, but part of allowing student to choose the way they present means that the learning is more focused in the process and the final product doesn't necessarily end up "pretty."

You see...I wanted these to be "pretty."  As in, I wanted to teach the students what makes a good presentation.  Otherwise, I end up with paragraphs typed in calligraphy font and no pictures.  Ugh. I wanted to use this time to show the students how to make a quality presentation.  At the same time, I did relax on requirements of font types and background themes.  Spending more time on getting students to learn how to "talk to the audience" and not just read sentences that are projected on the board.  Later in the school year I can provide options for more voice and choice in student products, but for this particular project, part of the learning was also learning how to use the technology well.

Which brings me to probably one of my favorite new strategies that I discovered.  This will become standard in my class for all presentations given by my middle schoolers.  Are you ready...

The Soft Deadline.


Yeah, I hadn't ever heard of this before either.  But I'm telling you.  If you only pick up one thing, one strategy to use from my blog posts about the archaeological dig we did.  Take this one.  It's that good.

The idea of the "soft deadline" is to offer the students an opportunity to practice their oral presentation for the teacher in order to gain immediate feedback on what they could do to improve.  I LOVE THIS!

You see, this project/presentation was going to end up a pretty substantial chunk of the students' grades.  After hearing about the soft deadline idea, it really made me think about the fairness of that grade.  All the time, work, and effort put into a huge presentation with a huge grade and the only time they get to receive feedback from me is after it's done?  I didn't like that.  I have always made it a point that I am not out to trick my students or keep them from succeeding.  In fact, I want to do as much as I can to help them along the way.  This was simple.

To create sort of a timeline for you.  The students had 5 total days to work on the last portion of the project (identifying artifacts, theme, and creating the presentation).  We are on a block schedule so that meant 75 minute class periods.  The 6th day would be due date...presentation day.  On the 5th day (which was a Tuesday) I sent all groups to our large open lab to work.  Their goal, which they knew since day one, was to be ready to give a "practice presentation" to me in the classroom.

This would allow them to not only see what it looked like projected on the wall, but also interact with the technology, make sure the document was shared correctly with me, and go through who would be speaking and when.  I would provide them with immediate feedback that could help them take their presentation to the next level, if they chose to make the changes I suggested.

Out of about 24 groups total I had over half who were ready for the soft-deadline in time to practice their presentation with me.  The results were awesome.  EACH ONE OF THOSE GROUPS ended up with MUCH BETTER PRESENTATIONS and better overall grades than they would have had.

What about the half that weren't ready???

That ended up being a little bit of tough love from me and a lesson learned for them.  One of the biggest things that I end up trying to teach my students it to be independent workers and use the time given to accomplish goals.  Each day I would write on the board a list of things they should attempt to finish on a daily basis.  This was done to help them stay on track and keep them going.

This looked a little like...
  1. Complete the artifact analysis sheets.
  2. Begin corroboration chart to identify overall theme of tub.
  3. Show Mrs. Weber completed corroboration form.
  4. Read through instructions and begin to assign roles for Google Slides Presentation

However...other than walking around and checking on groups periodically, I DID NOT tell when to move from step to step.  They were in charge of making sure everything got done.

A chance to learn some natural consequences.  I had groups that were on task and busy the entire time.  They were my first to present on the soft-deadline day.  They were also some that received the highest grades.

I also had other groups that weren't on task all the time.  You know what?  That's a certain extent.  As long as the project got completed.  Some of those groups just missed out on the soft deadline opportunity.  Some needed it.  Badly.  Natural consequences.  Learned lessons.

At the conclusion of the project I had a couple outstanding presentations that were asked to come and repeat it again for the Board of Education at their monthly meeting.  This was a huge confidence boost to them and a chance to allow my students to "show off" for an audience outside of the classroom.  Awesome.

Interested in the project documents including rubrics?  Have questions about KCSS or the Walmart Community Grant?  Want to talk about different options to modify this project without funds, let's talk about it! Contact me on Twitter @JillWebs or on Facebook - Jill Weber-cms and we can collaborate!

Curious about PBL and the Live Facebook chats I've been following?  Find them on Facebook at LifePracticePBL and/or follow Ginger Lewman on Facebook and Twitter.  Seriously.  Follow her. I promise you'll find something you can use.

I am sure there will be more to come with my journey into PBL.  I am thinking our next project over the election will be a great time to allow for complete student voice and choice.  I may even dabble at having them create their own grading rubric and be part of the evaluation process.  What!?! Seriously. I think it could be awesome.  Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Archaeological Dig - The Dig & Identification of Artifacts

This is the second post in what will be a series of posts on a project/activity/experience I have been working to create for my 8th grade American History Students.

I have been working on a way to introduce archaeology to my students and give them some hands-on experience digging up artifacts.  I have been working this last year to gain the funds necessary to even attempt the idea I have in my head.  After receiving some grant money through the Kansas Council for Social Studies Mini-Grant and Walmart Community Grant I was able to start doing some serious planning to get this underway.  The project title is Digging Up America and I have decided to break it into three different sections.  Breaking the project into three different parts allowed for short-term goals for a long-term project, and made it simpler for the kids to grasp.
  1. The Set-Up
  2. The Dig & Identification of Artifacts
  3. The Presentation of Artifacts - Coming Soon!
The actual archaeological dig portion of the project is where I spent the vast majority of my time, energy, and grant money.  The idea is a merge between something other awesome teachers have done. My high school American History teacher, Mr. Kulhman, started out our Junior year with a "dig."  It included shoe-boxes filled with sand/dirt and artifacts.  We uncovered them and discovered the first topic our group would be responsible for learning about.  

The second amazing teacher is Keil Hileman.  His classroom is a literal museum.  He took a personal interest in collecting historical artifacts and used those to "hook" students into the content.  It literally exploded into a classroom filled with cool stuff.  He has spent years collecting and adding to his stash of artifact goodies.  He even has some elective courses that are specific to archaeology and the study of artifacts.  So cool!

Digging Up America came to me as a way to use artifacts and archaeology to "hook" my students into the events and topics we will study throughout the year.  I have eight large storage tubs that I filled with a mixture of play sand and that "moon sand" stuff.

Each tub has artifacts buried that are related in some way to a major event in early American History. This year I decided on these topics:

  • Plains Indians around the time of the enounter with Spanish Explorer Francisco de Coronado.
  • Lewis and Clark Expedition 
  • Working on the Transcontinental Railroad - blasting through the Sierra Nevada Mts.
  • California Gold Rush
  • Indian Removal Act/Trail of Tears
  • Homestead Act - Pioneers living in Western KS
  • Civil War - Confederate 
  • Civil War - Union
After receiving the Kansas Council for Social Studies Mini-Grant of $500 I went to work searching for artifacts that would fit each category.  I decided to shoot for at least six actual artifacts and one "broken relic."  The broken relic was to sort of represent finding broken pottery that would need to be put back together.  I found a primary source picture or advertisement, had it laminated, and then cut it into many different puzzle pieces.

As you will see as you scroll through the pictures, some artifacts are truly realistic, actual primary sources, some are replicas, and some are almost laughable.  With all the supplies I needed to purchase plus artifacts and having the $500, I needed to be somewhat cautious with how much I spent on each item.  However, that changes a little now.  I found out at the end of August that I also received $1,500 from a Walmart Community Grant.  This is huge!  This allows me to spend a little more on some higher-quality tubs that can hold more sand and more artifacts, purchase small digital cameras for students to use to "document" their findings, and have some money to incorporate more realistic and authentic artifacts.

Students were divided into teams of two or three. On the day of the dig, they reported to class to find a folder with their "dig site" information.  Inside, they found instructions, an estimated location and a range of time that it was believed their artifacts have been buried.  These would act as clues to discovering their overall theme later.

We lucked out with no rain, which was a concern since this has been one of the wettest summers in Kansas.  They headed outside to find their dig site that was labeled to correspond with their information.  

Teams were to uncover all artifacts, attempting to follow the procedure for excavating a dig they learned in the previous introduction to archaeology.  They were also told to document the dig by taking photos of artifacts as they were discovered in the sand.  They were to attempt to remove as much of the sand and dirt with the tools before touching the item with their hands, and provided a sifter to go through and make sure they found everything within their dig site.

I am lucky enough to have a husband who has a hobby and knack for photography.  He was able to use one of his four volunteer days off from work in order to come and help take pictures while I was busy.  Between him and myself we ended up with many cool photos throughout the day.  All of these pictures were made available to the students through a shared folder.  They can later use these to create their final presentation as well as using the pictures they took with their iPads throughout the dig.

Now the real work begins... figuring out what it all means and what all the artifacts have in common!

Interested in the project documents including rubrics?  Have questions about KCSS or the Walmart Community Grant?  Want to talk about different options to modify this project without funds, let's talk about it! Contact me on Twitter @JillWebs or on Facebook - Jill Weber-cms and we can collaborate!