Monday, March 19, 2018

Slavery and Student Engagement

Glenn Wiebe is a rock star. If you haven't had a chance to attend one of his sessions...definitely get signed up to receive his weekly emails and follow his blog, History Tech. His recent post got me thinking...and was the perfect segway into this blog post. Read his post titled "I'd Rather Have Them Hate Class." It's a good one.

I talk a lot about having an engaged classroom. I present on the various ways that I SPICE-Up my classroom (blog post in the works on that one). I do a lot of different things and unique activities in class in order to make learning fun and engaging for students (Check out Preamble PeteCutthroat HistoryGummy Governments, and History Chef).

But I want to make something very clear.

My classroom is not like that everyday.

The word "engaged" doesn't always mean that I plan elaborate activities to teach all subjects. Sometimes it means we dig deep. We focus and dive into a topic or subject with a variety of resources in order to come out with a strong understanding. In fact...this is what my classroom looks like a majority of the time. I add in other SPICED UP activities, but I work to try and challenge my kids on a daily basis.

The topic, many times, dictates this.

We are currently finishing up our unit on slavery. There were no Cutthroat History activities, no dressing up in costume, or fancy activities designed to "SPICE" it up.

The topic didn't need much to get the kids interested. They are fascinated by the topic, horrified by the history of it, and curious about how slavery could even have been seen as a necessity.

Thursday, the day before spring break, my 8th graders were totally engaged. And they were writing an essay. They wanted to get their words on paper to the question we've been researching and analyzing for the last two weeks.

Why didn't more slaves try to escape to the north and how were some successful despite the odds?

The question grabs them from the beginning, the sources get them thinking, and I supplement with the book "NightJohn." It's a perfect condition for engaged 8th graders.

No theatrics needed. And just wait until you see what they do with it!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Note Card Confessions - A Reboot!

I once wrote this statement...

"If you were good teacher five years ago, but are still doing the same things from the same coffee-stained notebook you're no longer good anymore. Period."

I meant it and still do. I truly believe that teachers must be always on the lookout for how they can "step up their game." I and try to live by that.

I always want to be asking myself...

"What's next?"

"What can I do to improve this?"

"What would make this cool project better?"

And that also goes for some of my best. The Note Card Confession project is one of my best.  The blog post (found here) gets consistent reads, and it is the most requested materials when teachers contact me. It's good. I can't even take credit for the idea, which came from an amazing teacher, Paul Bogush. Find his post here.

But I'm always looking to make it better. This year a few things meant that I needed to make it better if I wanted to continue the project.

First, and probably one of the biggest reasons was the move from 1:1 iPads to Chromebooks. While there have been many advantages to having Chromebooks, one of the disadvantages is the lack of creation type apps. The iPad was made for those kind of projects. iMovie in particular is the easiest movie editing app out there, and for this project I only need minimal editing. I just haven't found any other online program that is as user friendly. I had access to only a few iPads in order to do this, that means the project needed to be a team/group project instead of an individual one.

Second. I have done this project for two years, with 60 students each year. That means I have graded 120 Note Card Confesssions of Mary Chaffee Abell. It was starting to get to the point where I was bored with it and there wasn't much that could impress me, because I've seen it. I needed a change. Plus making this a group project means I would be grading 20, instead of 60.

Third. I've really been focusing this year on ways to raise my expectations, require the students to do more independently, and require them to dig deeper. Changing up this project would allow for me to incorporate some of these goals.

So here's what I did.

Old Way: Students all created a note card confession over Mary Abell. We analyzed the primary source letters she wrote in class and discussed how it represented the things we talked about during the Homestead Act. Students worked individually on the note cards, but had to collaborate to do the videoing.

New Way: Teams would each get their own primary sources. They would be responsible for analyzing it themselves, and connecting it to the challenges that we discussed during our Homestead Act unit. I used the book, Pioneer Women and selected certain parts of the book that discussed various challenges and adaptations that we have talked about throughout our study. They were allowed to choose any person who was mentioned in the text to create the note card confession about. Students were able to work within their teams to video and edit the project.
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Some of the topics were:

  • The weather/cold/rain/drought
  • Grasshopper Invasions
  • Loneliness on the prairie
  • Dugouts and Sod Houses

Here is one of the results created by 7th grade students, Reagan, Brennan, and Aidyn, right?!?

Why this was better:

  • Students were required to use their historical thinking skills to analyze the primary sources. This used to be done as a group, now required students to do this on their own. They CAN do these things on their own! (After they've been trained)
  • Students still had to practice empathy by putting themselves in someone else's shoes in order to write the confession from the perspective of someone else.
  • Working in teams, I had the students figure out ways that everyone was involved in each step along the way. They were to give me "daily reports" on what their role was for each day we worked on the project. 
  • I had less to grade! 
  • I did keep Mary Abell as one of the sources and was able to differentiate my groups, and students who struggle a little more with their reading level were able to complete the assignment over something we have read together in class.
  • This took a little less time with the kids working together as opposed to when they did it on their own. 
Want to do Note Card Confessions in your class? Click the following links for all of my materials and resources or contact me to get more information!