The Final Days

This week I had the opportunity to implement the lesson plan I created for the World History courses. I would be taking point in 4th period for the activities. The first day consisted of the students breaking into groups and learning about their individual topic. The students were then expected to present their category of achievements to the rest of the class. To me the most important part of their presentations were their thoughts on why those achievements are important in the present day. At the end of class the students had a small discussion on which category they think the Romans had the most significant achievements in. All in all it was a relatively smooth day according to Mr. Trousil.

The next day before class had even started I realized I had not scaffolded the individual activities enough on the worksheets. I had designed the activity to engage the younger students, but hadn’t provided them with individual steps that would be most appropriate for their grade level. Each group would require some individual instruction on my part to guide them. I would have to bounce from group to group, but at least I realized it before the lesson. The class started moving pretty quickly and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they actually did not need as much individual guidance per group. Once I had briefly explained each assignment at the beginning they only needed a few corrections here and there. The science group which was building Plato’s solar system needed the most guidance, but that was expected.

Another thing I expected in some form was the response of the Law and Poetry/History/Philosophy groups. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of an activity that involved some sort of physical creation for those two groups so they had mainly writing assignments. The writing assignments were not easy, but they were more of the typical assignment given in class and seeing other groups doing something extraordinary was unfair. Perhaps I should have let them see each assignment before they picked the category they wanted. Of course the best option would have been to have something physical for them to do as well.

At the end of class every group had fully completed their assignment, with a small exception to the science group who had not fully finished painting the planets. I had the students perform a final exit assignment before class was over in which they commented on the activity and how the class went overall. I was surprised at the response. It was overwhelmingly positive; even from the Literature and Law groups. The consensus from the Literature group was that the assignment was much more difficult than they expected, but once they got into the groove of writing their poems they ended up enjoying it. The Law group also enjoyed their assignment, but they did voice that they would have liked to try another group’s activity. That is an area that I definitely hope to improve on the next time I use the lesson.

My final activity was chaperoning a field trip with Mr. Mead for his Honors World History classes. We took 30 students to the Field Museum to see a few exhibits that were especially relevant to his class. The Field Museum happened to have a lot of really relevant exhibits. The Chicago World’s Fair, ancient Egypt, ancient Africa, and the ancient Americas all had their own exhibits. Field trips have fallen off the map for many high schools due to logistical issues so it was really nice to see a teacher taking a pro-active role in arranging one. Chicago is especially plentiful in external historical resources with the Field Museum, Holocaust Museum, the Chicago History Museum, various cultural museums, and many more. In my Secondary Education Methods course for history at Loyola we took a visit to the Chicago History Museum and went over methods to fully take advantage of museum resources.  Students react quite differently to history when they can see or even touch physical objects in front of them. It brings a new sense of reality and connection that the classroom cannot fully replicate. It was nice to see that effect in person. I hope to organize as many relevant field trips to my class as possible.

Week Twelve

This week was more of the usual, but for the purpose of the blog I’d again like to focus on the lesson plan. Although a lesson plan written on paper seems to be “all you need”, the reality is much different as I have learned with past experience in the classroom. Classrooms are so diverse that student response can vary unexpectedly from class to class. I needed to revisit the lesson plan and account for more variables.

Also, something that I have learned from my time in the classroom is that it is important to be realistic with the lesson plans. Coming from the college level it is easy to forget that the students are not at the same level educationally and developmentally. My own excitement at the material could have me gloss over the fact that I am making things too complicated or too detailed. Therefore, it is also important to re-visit lessons and make sure the pace is appropriate.

Finally, the feasibility of lesson plans also needs to be examined. Some activities may take too much time, others may cost too much. Some may be too much for certain students to handle. This is another area where personal excitement at a cool activity may lead to negative unintended consequences. History provides so many opportunities for huge activities (i.e. replicating trench warfare, having an Immigration Day celebrating diversity, etc., etc.) that it is unfortunately too easy to get wrapped up on a huge idea. Within the limits, my goal is still to include as many creative educational activities as I can.

After evaluating my lesson plan and going out to get my resources, I definitely realized I needed to make some changes. The difficulty level was acceptable but it needed some scaffolding on my part. I created the handout sheet to aid the students with their tasks. I also realized that my initial timeline for everything to occur in one day was far too ambitions. Mr. Trousil approved my request for 2 days to complete the lesson, but even that might be a little tight.

Shopping for supplies showed me that I had to make significant changes. I realized building a structure out of popsicle sticks would be very difficult to accomplish in a 50 minute time span with regular glue. Trusting the students with a glue gun or superglue would be a liability and the costs were quickly adding up. I decided to use toothpicks and marshmallows instead, which ended up being much cheaper. Unfortunately, the Styrofoam pieces for Ptolemy’s solar system were rather expensive. I could have melted down the marshmallows to create the necessary pieces, but that would’ve taken time I didn’t have. I was forced to stick with the original plan for that group.

The actual preparation for the lesson plan taught me another valuable lesson: teaching is not cheap. I realized that in many cases, a fair amount of the cool things that are done in classrooms are done out of the teacher’s pocket. This gave me a new appreciation for the teachers that I have had in the past. With smart shopping and planning I was able to reduce the cost, but not totally. Nevertheless, it did not discourage me and I am still very excited to implement the new revised lesson plan!(Updated version available in the week 11 post)

Week Eleven

The most important part task of this week was designing the lesson plan I would implement in the standard World History courses. I was tasked with covering the various Roman achievements. I’m a big proponent of group learning and one of my favorite group activities to utilize in the classroom is the Jigsaw. A jigsaw activity involves a large topic to be broken down into various subtopics with each group mastering one subtopic then presenting it in order to teach the other groups about that topic. The activity is extremely helpful in simplifying topics that are complex or moving through vast topics relatively efficiently. History is a discipline that can often benefit from the use of such a strategy.

The subtopics I used for the Roman achievements were Poetry/Literature/History, Art, Architecture/Engineering, Science, and Law. The students would form groups and master their topic based on information from the book. A key point that they would have to address is “Why is that achievement important?” History is not just memorizing facts, it involves making connections and engaging in higher level-thinking and in my opinion, every lesson must reflect that.

To me, standard lessons with reading and writing are not enough. Many students think of history as an extremely boring class all about memorization, but with just a little effort that absolutely isn’t the case. At first glance creating opportunities for hands-on learning in the discipline of history may seem difficult, but in fact the discipline of history probably offers even more opportunities than the physical sciences. I was sure to implement my philosophy on engagement and hands-on learning in this lesson as well. After the initial jigsaw activity, the groups would be tasked with creating an example of Roman achievement in a subtopic that they did not originally present.

The activities are as follows (taken from the Lesson Plan document):

1. Students must showcase a form of poetry, literature, history, or philosophy.

2. Students must make a mosaic or portrait.

3. Students must build a Roman structure.

4. Students must build Ptolemy’s solar system

5. Students must design their own series of law codes.

With the opportunity to apply their knowledge and create something in class, the students will be self-motivated to engage in higher-order thinking. Dare I say, learning CAN be fun. Hopefully with this lesson plan the students will agree with me that that is the case.

Lesson Plan Files available for download:

MMRome3LP - Lesson Plan Document

MMRome3LPppt - PowerPoint with agenda/bellringer

MMrome3handouts - Handouts for the group activity

Week Ten

These past few weeks a large part of my responsibilities has been grading. In Week Three I (extremely) briefly mentioned that I was grading papers and it was not as easy as it seemed. With the work piling up I definitely feel the need to revisit that thought. Grading is still not easy, and for the most part it is also not very fun. Grading also happens to be a huge part of the teaching profession, so it is an important topic and one that sheds light on other aspects of the classroom.

The first aspect of grading that can have a huge impact on a classroom is the format of the test. ScanTron tests are often criticized as only engaging students on the first and second levels of thought: knowledge and comprehension. A multiple choice question does not have students analyze or synthesize things. The real depth of history operates on those higher levels of thought. However, ScanTron tests have the ability to cram 90+ minutes worth of grading into only 10. It is no wonder many teachers embrace fill-in-the-bubble tests.

Mr. Trousil and I both share the same enthusiasm for getting students to think. He does not give ScanTron tests often. What that ends up as is a lot of grading by hand.This semester Mr. Trousil has me to take care of most of the grading. One time as an entire class period passed me by and I was barely 50% done with grading one assignment, a question hit me; “How do teachers grade everything on their own?”  Mr. Trousil only gets 2 periods off, and 1 is for lunch! Deep inside I knew the answer as I had already had to do this. Teachers take homework home. It would be impossible to grade 4-5 classes worth of work during the school day when 1 class’ assignment takes longer than 1 period itself. Where is the time for lesson preparation? It seems like a huge juggling game that I will eventually have to master.

One aspect of grading that I will comment on is how I believe history is one of, if not the most, difficult and time-consuming fields to grade. In science and math, there is a definite “wrong” or “right” answer. In history, many answers mainly require proper argumentation. History has so many factors that in written response questions I personally struggle at assigning points. If you feel like the students understands the concept overall but his explanation is not great how much is that worth? How about if there is little explanation but they have good knowledge and are completely correct in their points. There are so many variables that go into a response of a history-based question that assigning the appropriate number of earned points can be extremely difficult. At what level does grading become nit-picking?

Through my education at Loyola I became familiar with the creation and utilization of rubrics. I’m still not totally convinced that rubrics are the answer to every assignment. Mr. Trousil and a few discussions about grading. We both agreed that grading is something that I would have to learn by experience. He stated that he trusts my judgement and I should do the same as I learn. With the continuous expose and practice I have fallen into stride with certain assignments, others I still find difficult. Every assignment and every class provides different challenges; it is something I will continuously develop over time.

Week Nine

This week we continued with Ancient Greece in the world history classes and with the American frontier in the U.S. History class. In the World History classes there were a few lectures and activities to do. Mr. Trousil also included various clips including a documentary segment from the History Channel on Spartan Warriors. The U.S. History classes followed a similar format, with video clips including a documentary on the Donner Party. The A.P. World History classes were discussing modern day diplomacy, and their media was a VICE episode on Dennis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters’ visit to North Korea.

This week I realized the prevalence of media in Mr. Trousil’s classroom and the value of these media resources.  Imagery can be an extremely powerful tool to get students to think. The quote “A picture is worth a thousand words.” is extremely applicable in the fields of history and education. Although I haven’t witnessed any use of plain audio in Mr. Trousil’s classroom, I have experienced it previously as a student. From a distant perspective I can see that students are much less engaged when they can look around and become visually distracted. It is not easy to sit quietly and focus on a plain audio clip for high-school students. Therefore, I personally would refrain from using audio unless either it was the best source or it was  accompanied by some sort of visual aid. Even a transcript of the audio would help students maintain focus.

In terms of video, Mr. Trousil has a clip for nearly everything and squeezes them in when he can. The students love them for the most part. I remember during my European History class in high school my teacher found a way to incorporate an entire Band of Brothers season. I remember that not one person in that class would complain. When students are self-engaged the learning environment really is the best it can be.

Aside from their usefulness in terms of student engagement and interest, media clips can be quite educational. I found myself learning a fair amount as I had never heard about the Donner party before, nor did I know the details about North Korea that were shown in the VICE clip. As with anything in history and in education, the clips must be from a trusted source. When they are, they really are a vital tool. Since the first showing of the MANKIND series in Mr. Trousil’s class I have paid special attention to noting down the media sources that he uses so that I can use them in my future classroom.

Week Eight

This week ended up being largely devoted to writing essays in all classes. As the year goes on, Mr. Trousil progressively makes the essays longer and more detailed. In this case all classes are writing on a topic that they must research on their own such as an assigned Greek mythological figure in the World History classes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like any student truly enjoys writing essays; I’m not extremely fond of writing either. This leads to the necessity of closely monitoring the students and steering them on track whenever necessary.

Mr. Trousil tries to get at 2-3 computer lab days during class to allow for the students to research and write their papers. He is also sure to balance accommodation with the expected pace of the class. It is important to remember that many students may not have access to resources that can be taken for granted such as a home computer or internet access. There are alternatives such as public libraries, however it is also important to note that it is not always easy to access these resources. There are plenty of students at Mather who have a one-way commute time via the bus that is at minimum 1 hour. A teacher must be aware of students’ situations and make educated decisions.

When everything was said and done, the essays had been handed in through Turnitin.com . Turn-it-in.com  is a resource that is used to detect plagiarism. I had never experienced the back end of this site until now. Looking at the papers, each paper is assigned a plagiarism percentage. There is always some overlap of information so it is very difficult to get a paper with a rating of 0%, but a teacher can more efficiently determine academic dishonesty by the outliers. Unfortunately, there were 2 extremely high readings. After talking with the students in question it appeared that Student A let Student B look at their paper for ideas. Instead of using it as an aid, Student B copied-and-pasted, and then tried to replace words here and there.

Turn It In recognized the plagiarism and reported it.  Unfortunately,the papers were close to identical. Both students received 0 points  for the essay as a consequence. Mather typically does have a stricter policy on cheating in higher level classes, but I believe Mr. Trousil pushed to keep both students still in the A.P. program. Before, I was rather skeptical on how turn-it-in worked. After all in any history paper there are usually more than fair amounts of quotations and similar phrases taken from primary or secondary sources. How does it distinguish between the answers which are valid interpretations of where they were taken from? After knowing that the human element still remains I am more likely to use Turn-it-in.com in my own classroom as well.

Week Seven

Last week we administered our REACH assessment, and that led to discussions between Mr. Trousil and I about the goals of secondary history education. This week I took a look at various lesson plans and other paperwork as he prepared for an upcoming in-class evaluation.

What stood out to me tied into our conversations on goals for history on the previous week. While the REACH assessment looked at skills, a the ISBE standards show a vast majority of focus on historical content knowledge. Granted the state standards are only a skeleton which the teacher must build on, there really isn’t much describing the skills students must have to succeed in the field of history. Another aspect of standards that is interesting is that the state standards can vary significantly from state to state. This is a key factor that allows for significant differences in the education our country’s students get. For example, in many Southern States the Civil War is taught as a war of aggression from the North. In history  it is known that perspective can change everything. It is interesting to see education vary within our own country despite many regulatory bodies.

Enter the Common Core state standards. The Common Core is a set of standards that is expected to apply to all states, although not every state has decided to use them as of this point. Currently, the Common Core offers standards for every discipline. Those standards do not reflect content, they only address skills involved in literacy and writing. Mather, like many other schools, has recently begun implementing these standards. In fact, students are expected to do a fair amount of reading and writing in their physical education classes as well!

One discipline which heavily uses those two categories of skills is History. Reading the Common Core literacy standards for history made me think: “Exactly. This is a huge part of what students need to know.” The Common Core standards require skills such as extracting the main ideas from a source, citing evidence, and comparing differing perspectives.

The Common Core seems to be a great addition to to our existing national regulations. Personally, I believe that the content standards should become nationally standardized as well. Prior to that, I also think that some revisions should be made. I feel that the current groupings of standards into history, economics, sociology, and others might be a bit dated. History requires bits of each grouping anyway in order to get a more complete theory or picture on what and how something happened. Perhaps one day I will be in a strong position to aid the evolution of education!

 

Common Core Literacy Standards for Grades 9-10:

http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RH/9-10