So You Think You Can Teach?

This week’s reading was an excellent resource for questions that teachers straight out of college might have. My mom is a teacher, so I knew about how pay could go up and what sorts of things could contribute to a higher salary. However, everyone knows that you don’t become a teacher to own a private jet.

Those of us who attended Appalachian State University are very lucky. We have been at an institution know for producing great teachers (many of the teachers who graduated are now National Board certified). The school has placed high standards on us and put us through rigorous training in order to be better candidates for school systems. There are some changes that should be made with certain subject areas, yes, but overall this school has an amazing education program.

I’m sure that a lot of new teachers would love to hear this story about climbing up the ladder and gaining more money, but I was more interested in what would get me hired in the first place. Yes, I would like to earn as much as I can to be financially secure but when you go into teaching, it isn’t for the money.

He gives three main areas that are valuable to future employers: 1) academic preparation in the content disciplines; 2) pedagogical knowledge and skills; 3) field experience. The most important of these, he stresses is the academic preparation. I firmly believe that Appalachian has prepared me well in all three areas (though true field experience didn’t come  until my senior year, it was still valuable). Other qualities that he says are important are how you come off and whether or not you have a true passion for the subject. If you come off as snobby or arrogant, then employers may think twice about hiring you. If you only chose history because you kind of liked the 1920s in high school then you are going to have a rough time. Teaching takes passion and enthusiasm. There is no way around that. Nobody wants Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

The Interviews (Duh Duh Duh!!!). Pyne provides a very in-depth look into the interview process, which especially for me, is  very much appreciated. It varies by district and the needs of the school but the most important thing is to be confident in what you know. The interview process may be rigorous and it may be intimidating (especially if you are faced with a committee) but if you know your stuff and you know that this is what you were meant to do, they will see that.

The last thing Pyne touches on are research opportunities and continuing education. Pyne lists many resources that will be helpful in continuing your education, expanding your knowledge, and developing more skills. I think, for me personally, one of the things that I get really excited about is professional development. I love learning new things about what I am going to be teaching and new ways to teach it. It makes me happy (maybe I’m weird).

With all of that said, to any future teacher or teacher straight out of college looking for a job: you can do it!!!

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These New-Fangled Flim Flams

Is incorporating technology into the classroom effective or does it hinder learning by providing distraction?

My personal belief is that we live in a digital age. An age where we can learn how much the average baboon weighs simply by typing it into Google (33-82lbs if you were interested). Yet, our classrooms come straight out of the 80’s (though there is certainly nothing wrong with the 80’s in certain aspects). Unfortunately our classrooms today look a little something like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Incorporating technology into the classroom is an important part of the world we live in right now. However, some of the students we will be teaching will not have access to the types of technology and tech-based learning that other students will. So, some scaffolding needs to happen for those students. Maybe a tutorial on how the website we are using or the media that they have to create works and can be manipulated.

Also using technology, especially in their research, will provide an opportunity for a discussion on media literacy. How to analyze the resources, what biases might be there, and how to use them effectively are all important things to cover. This is when the students are using the technology. There are times when you as a teacher can use technology as well.

TeachingHistory.org has many resources that help teachers appropriately incorporate technology into their classroom. There is a “Tech for Teachers” page that have many tech resources. There are also other websites that teachers can use to teach content and/or media literacy. I am also a firm believer in using social media and teaching them that they can use social media in productive ways. Twitter for example, my class live-tweeted during a movie with questions and comments on a historical movie and a lot of information was shared that helped with understanding the movie on a deeper level.

There are certain dangers in allowing students to use cell phones and computers and the like in the classroom. I had an incident recently in my internship where the students were analyzing political cartoons and a girl was watching One Tree Hill on Netflix. However, if the students are engaged and interested by  what they are doing, there won’t be a problem. It’s when they get bored, that students start to get distracted. There are ways to engage all students, you simply have to know your class very well.

My Teacher Lied to Me?

Lies My Teacher Told Me:

Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

Our situation is this: American history is full of fantastic and important stories. These stories have the power to spellbind audiences, even audiences of difficult seventh graders. These same stories show what America has been about and are directly relevant to our present history. American audiences, even young ones, need and want to know about their national past. Yet they sleep through the classes that present it. What has gone wrong?

This situation is addressed in Loewen’s book. His criticism is not so much directed towards teachers but at textbooks, however teachers play a significant role in how textbooks are used. Loewen argues that the reason students are bored to death in history is that we aren’t teaching the whole history. It gets white-washed and basically Disney-fied. Students love to hear about scandal and tragedy and all of those things that make movies, books, and TV shows interesting. However textbooks, whether from a want to sell to as many school districts as possible for soaring profit margins or from a want to stay out of controversial issues, avoid taking sides and showing the knitty-gritty sides of history. Basically, it takes out the need to think critically.

So how do we as teachers, combat this in our classroom? NPR ran a segment on “How Textbooks Can Teach Different Versions of History” and an eleventh grade U.S. History teacher answered this question succintly: “The first lesson she says she’ll give her kids is how textbooks can tell different versions of history. “We are going to utilize these textbooks to some extent, but I also want you to be critical of the textbooks and not take this as the be-all and end-all of American history,” she imagines telling her new students. She doesn’t want to rely solely on the brand-new texts because she says the guidelines for the books downplay some issues — like slavery — and skirt others — like Jim Crow laws.” Loewen would be proud of teachers like this.

An article put out by TeachingHistory.org named “Learning from History and Social Studies Textbooks” says, “that the textbooks left out or misordered the cause and consequence of historical events and frequently failed to highlight main ideas.” The three main problems with these textbooks that they found were: inadequate explanations, assumed background knowledge that was left unexplored, and finally, unclear goals. All three combined provide for a very confused and disgruntled student.

If students are unaware of background information, then it makes it more difficult to see how cause affect events especially when the textbook already does a poor job of providing that explanation. On the same token, if a student is unclear about what they will be learning about in the chapter, then they can’t go into it with a clear goal and might get bogged down in dates and names without realizing bigger concepts and themes.

So are there better alternatives out there?

Ben Wright and Joseph Locke believe that they have the answer: American Yawp. This is an online, interactive textbook. It provides everything that a normal textbook would plus a plethora of primary sources that students can look at (as well as a the definition of what a primary source is plastered in big letters on the page). There are also primary sources in the readings as well in the form of pictures, charters, etc to bring a useful visual component.

When asked how they chose which topics to put in and where they got their information they stated that the topics were topics that most American History surveys would typically cover but they would go more in-depth and they wanted their “first draft to come from scholars conducting active research in exactly that topic.” They looked at recent articles and spoke with scholars to make each section as accurate as possible.

This worries me though because, while it is important to stay on top of  research and how events are being looked at, it is very crucial to understand historiography. Understanding the historiography on a subject allows for a better understanding of the context in which each scholar was conducting their research and the biases that may be hidden within each account and article. Bias didn’t simply disappear in the 21st century and it is important to note that. So while I like the site and I believe it is a wonderful resource to use either instead of or with the textbook (as a companion or comparison tool), I believe that it would benefit from a page or section on historiography.

Textbooks are a problem. But they are not the sole problem. How they are utilized can magnify what is wrong with them exponentially. Using sources like American Yawp can also have their downsides. In the end, it is important for students to know that history and views of history are not concrete. They are fluid and constantly changing. It is also important to stress the idea of critical thinking and the importance of having them figure out what they think happened on their own (with scaffolding) through their own analysis of sources.

The Conspirator

“The Conspirator” is a film directed by Robert Redford about the trial of Mary Surratt.

Before viewing this movie, I had no idea who Mary Surratt was or what was significant about her, if anything. Watching the film as a student, I was appalled at her treatment and disgusted with everyone except those who supported her. Watching the film critically in the mindset of a teacher, it was a different story.

This film has obvious biases and wants the viewer to have a certain point of view of the case, the trial, and all involved by the time the credits roll. So the question is: does that make this movie useless or useful? In my opinion, it is very useful both as a teaching tool to uncover what America was like following the Civil War and during the Lincoln assassination and as a way to convey to students that there is bias in every account.

There are those that argue that the film should have mentioned slavery. The film does not mention that Surratt was a slaveholder and when it speaks of motivations of both sides it only reveals it to be “the cause.” This could be a good way to get the conversation going about what might have been motivations on each side for the Civil War, by asking the students: What “cause” were they fighting for? This also provides for a discussion on cherry-picking as a form of bias. They didn’t put in the fact that Surratt owned at least two slaves because that would blacken the character that they seemed to be trying hard to get the audience to sympathize with.

There are parts that seem to do a pretty good job at showing context and the feeling of the public at the time. There are also many aspects of this film that are not entirely accurate. The portions that are wrong and blatantly biased are wonderful teaching tools to flush out misconceptions. Though this film has many things wrong with it, it can be used effectively.

For a more in-dept analysis see “Film Review”

Someone call the Hardy Boys!!

The Hardy Boys are fictional characters that get into all kinds of situations and solve multiple mysteries throughout the series books they are a part of. They are investigators and critical thinkers and our students, given the chance, would benefit from solving mysteries just like these two curious boys.

David Gerwin and Jack Zevin in their book “Teaching U.S. History as a Mystery” provide strategies to help students engage with material, become historians, and more importantly think critically and develop skills that will help them both on the test and later on in life. To illustrate these strategies, I will be exploring Chapter Four: There Are Still Mysteries Out There: Investigating the Mound-Builder Peoples of North America.

In each situation, the students will be given a “Mystery Packet” with a plethora of primary sources relating to the event in question. They must then determine for themselves what their theory of the solution to the mystery is. There are differing degrees. There are Minor Mysteries. These are mysteries that are “solvable with the available evidence with a fair amount of certainty.”  Medium Mysteries, the next degree, is a mystery that is “partially solvable by evidence and reasoning.” Lastly, the third and most difficult degree is the Major Mysteries, which are mysteries that are “very likely unsolvable with either evidence or theory.”

So to put this in perspective using our example of the Mound Builders:  Give them a mystery packet with artifacts (or photos of artifacts) from the Serpent Mound, along with pictures of the mound itself, and theories from differing sources on its significance.

Minor Mystery: Have them analyze one artifact with a question like “What do you think was the purpose and function of the object shown in this photo?” Students can hypothesize and then do research on their own to find out the true purpose of the artifact.

Medium Mystery: Have them dig a little deeper–“Can we draw any analogies between the objects and current technology, tools, designs, images, and symbols?” This requires more critical thinking and reasoning. Students actually have to use their brains. Shocker.

Major Mystery: Let them decide for themselves. Give them ranging perspectives, and, going off of what evidence they have already collected, have them decide which perspective about the source they agree with most. I’m the type of person that might want to mix two perspectives together because I see  the merit in both. There is nothing wrong with this but make sure that the student gives evidence and explanation of why. You may have a kid who comes up with a completely new idea and that’s great, again as long as it is backed up.

By putting learning into the hands of the students, they will engage more readily and have fun. It isn’t fun to get talked at for 90 minutes a day but when you can discover for yourself and feel that sense of satisfaction when you’ve figured out something that was a mystery to you, it speaks multitudes and has an enormous impact.

Thinking Historically

So what is historical thinking? To answer this question, we first must talk about historical stories. These come from things like textbooks, grandparents, films, etc. A video on Teachinghistory.org describes historical thinking as “the reading, writing, and analysis that is necessary to tell those stories.” Why is it even important to go to all this work to interpret sources simply to tell a story? The answer? It helps us “retrieve and construct a more accurate picture of what really happened.

In this video, they described the aspects of historical thinking:

  • Multiple Accounts and Perspectives
    • There is never one side to any story, argument or debate. So, it is important to understand the multiple perspectives.
    • “No single account captures the complexity of history.”
  • Analysis of Primary Sources
    • Students need to know how to “read, question, contextualize, and analyze” primary sources to make sure they understand the most accurate telling of a historical story.
    • This involves learning and understanding the bias in each account: what did they have to gain, was their judgement clouded, who were they writing for or to?
    • The North Carolina Essential Standards stress the importance of multiple sources and being able to analyze and get to the bottom of the truth.
  • Sourcing
    • This involves “identifying and asking questions about the source.”
    • Essentially, you are picking a part the source to be able to see the big picture. It seems contradictory but it works. By picking a part the source, you allow yourself to see all the factors at work and all the little pieces of the puzzle that ultimately make a very complex picture.
  • Understanding Historical Context
    • It is important for understanding the source, to be able to place it within its time period. “Nothing in history happened in a vacuum.” So therefore, we should not treat historical sources as if they were created in a vacuum.
    • Asking questions about the context of the document or film or piece of evidence will help provide prospective on why the creator did/said what they did.
  • Claim-Evidence
    • One of the most important aspects of historical thinking is evidence. Claims, theories, and truths have to be backed up by some kind of evidence. There has been no evidence that aliens built the pyramid despite what some are saying. “History isn’t fiction,” so it is important for your students as they walk into the classroom to become historians for 90 minutes, to be able to take evidence and back up their claims as they distinguish fact from fiction.

The NC Essential Standards are geared more toward allowing students to develop their critical thinking skills by allowing them and urging them to think like historians. By critically analyzing evidence, contextualizing, figuring out what makes sources tick, and piecing together the true story, these students can acquire critical thinking skills that will not only help them in history but will aid them later on in college and the ‘real world.’

Learning Targets and Backward Design

Let’s say that you are going on a trip to Disney World. You know enough to pack your bags with the essential clothing and toiletries but you just decide to ‘wing it’ on everything else. You don’t know all of the activities you want to do, which parks you would like to go to and which ones you aren’t wanting to spend that much time on, or any of the local/in-park restaurants that you might like to attend. At the end of your trip, do you think that you would have gotten the most out of your vacation or would careful planning have provided a more valuable experience?

It’s the same with learning targets and backward design. By knowing what you want to achieve from the get-go, you are able to plan and design both instruction for learning (formative assessment) and of learning (summative assessment). By looking at where you want your students to be at the end of the lesson/unit/course, you can plan backwards (backwards design) to make sure you reach those goals. The UbD Framework helps make this a little easier.

The portion that I liked the most was that this allows teachers to not simply pour information into their students as if they were uploading a program into their brains as in the Matrix (that would make teaching an easy and insanely boring job). It describes teachers as coaches intent on helping students learn and not just retain information. There is a whole lot more to learning than simply being able to spit out dates and historical figures back onto a test. By helping them learn, understand, and express their knowledge in ways that are appropriate to them, teachers can provide a more enriching experience for their students.

A New Perspective on Bloom

There’s a new way to look at Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid…and it will blow your mind.  Instead of knowledge being your foundation in learning, it flips it and now knowledge is the goal you are working towards. For so many of my peers all I’ve heard when I tell them that I’m going to be a history teacher is that they hated history and didn’t like learning dates and names. I want to scream because that isn’t what history is all about. Its about investigation. This is what the new perspective is all about: teaching students to think historically instead of teaching them to pass an exam. Most of the questions on the released final exam could be answered simply by thinking historically about the questions and what was going on at the time. I think that a lot of teachers are worried that they can’t help their students think this way but at the same time get them to make proficient grades on a test. To that, I say it is completely achievable. Yes, filling in the gaps in their knowledge is important and should be laced in but getting them to a level of higher order thinking will benefit them in the long run. I, personally, like this new way of thinking and firmly believe that it will benefit both teachers and students in the long run.

Hello Future Teachers!

I am going to be a high school history teacher. It would take too much time to list what time periods and places I love to learn about because the short answer is all of them. I love the cause and effect, and inter-connectivity of history. Basically, I love seeing how events, ideas, and people influence one another and the future.