Monday, February 11, 2013

State of the Union 2013 Bingo & Watching Activity

Every winter not only is it a tradition for the President to give his State of the Union address, but it is also a tradition for me and my students to do something with that it, discuss it, and even play bingo with it! Below is part of what my students and I will be doing this year for the State of the Union. All credit to the inspiration and concept of the first page goes to TCI, who prepared an activity that is very similar. You can veiw theirs, the original, by clicking here. If you haven't checked out TCI, you really ought to. Their curriculum and materials are outstanding! You can follow them on Twitter, or check them out online.

Live Viewing Activity
Here is a link to the activity for my students to complete while viewing this year's State of the Union. In addition to a close watching/reflecting of the address, they also get to have a little fun with State of the Union bingo! Students unable to watch it live will have through the end of the week to access the speech online (watch or read), or they can read newspaper accounts (print and online) to complete the actvity.

Live Viewing Online Discussion
I'm trying something new this year for my students and myself...I've long wished I could be there with them to help process and understand big live events like this. So this year I'll be hosing an online discussion for all my students using Schoology. We've had online discussions before, but never during a live event like this. It is optional, but I'm pretty sure I'll have more than a few take advantage of this. I'll post more of a reflection on how it went later...but in the meantime I'm hoping it'll be an innovative and unique experience for my 8th graders!

What do you do?
It'd be great to hear about how you cover the State of the Union (and other big, primetime events) with your students!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

SMUMN - 21st Century Learning

Cross-Post for St. Mary's University Master's Program:

It's a little absurd, isn't it? We're over a tenth of the way into the 21st Century and we're still talking about what a 21st Century education is and should look like. Shouldn't we be there already? Shouldn't these have been conversations taking place decades ago? Shouldn't massive changes have already taken place? Why are we still talking about the whats and the hows of a 21st Century education? The talk needs to stop, the action needs to begin.

We live in a world that is constantly changing and growing, it is becoming more and more complex by the day. The rise of the internet and mobile communication has created many challenges. Tackling these new challenges will require critical thinkers to be able to identify and solve these problems. The students of today need to be equipped with the tools to think critically, to collaborate efficiently, and to understand the world around them. Our students need to master the 21st century knowledge and skills required to thrive as effective citizens.

The 21st century citizen must be proficient in the "Four Cs": Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. Strong critical thinkers will not only be problem solvers, but problem identifiers as well. The master collaborator will have no problems reaching out to those around him or her to accomplish the tasks at hand. Of course, none of this collaboration will be possible without clear communication between all parties. Lastly, creativity means that students will be able to examine the world to find new innovative solutions.

The Four Cs will not be all that is needed, but they will be at the heart of being a 21st Century Citizen. They will also need the support to develop transferable skills that will prepare them for everyday life and future careers that don’t yet exist. These skills include the ability to quickly adapt to new environments, to take risks and rise to challenges, and to learn from failure.

This generation is the first in the history of the world to have nearly instant access to an almost limitless source of information. However, this access is useless unless we have the skills necessary to find what we’re seeking. We live in an age of instant news and information and our students will need the ability to identify the difference between bias and objectivity. The ubiquitous access to technology and mobile devices opens a world of opportunity, and problems. We need to make sure that our students know how to responsibly use this technology for good, and not evil.

What we need are students that are products of a new educational system. Our educational system needs to reflect the expectations and challenges of a 21st century citizen and needs to keep its eyes steadily fixed toward the future, rather than leave its feet firmly planted in the past.

So far I would say that my learning with St. Mary's has begun to reflect the expectations that we have for our students and the 21st century learning environment. We are asked to challenge ourselves and to really use the "Four Cs". However, so far I'm we haven't had to do much in the way of identifying problems and creating solutions. I suppose to an extent we are doing that with our action research. As we go forward it looks like we'll be doing more investigating and collaborating with the world around us.

Personally, I feel as if I know enough to teach and understand the challenges of 21st Century education. What I really feel I am lacking are two key components. One, is that my students and I aren't fully equipped to learn and teach in this new environment. For example, we currently lack even basic things like WiFi in our schools and our students are still prohibited from using their own personal mobile devices in the classroom. I know that both of these limits/policies are changing, but not fast enough for me or my students.

The other big limitation is the current educational system. We are still stuck in an archaic 19th Century (let alone 20th Century!) factory model where your age determines your grade, and you are essentially learning the same core material that generations gone by have learned. Sure, we jazzed it up by putting an iPad in our student's hands and a SmartBoard in every classroom...but really, what has changed? A couple of years back I had the chance to hear Ken Robinson speak at the TIES Conference in Minneapolis...he does a great job explaining this dilemma. If you haven't already, take a moment and watch the video below.

Friday, February 8, 2013

SMUMN - Future Action Research - Feedback

Cross-Post for St. Mary's University Master's Program:

There is hardly a doubt that providing timely and helpful feedback in an efficient manner to a student is one of the most effective things a teacher can do to help increase student learning and achievement. There is a plethora of writing that exists on the subject - blog posts, articles, even whole books - and all of this writing backs up it's importance. We know what it needs to look like, and we know how to give good feedback. What we don't know is how we give feedback in an efficient manner while keeping a shred of our sanity and free time. That is something I really want to explore - how can I arrange my class so that my students will receive high quality feedback in a timely and efficient manner.

I'm not really sure where to even begin with this one...but, I suppose that's half the fun.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Skyping With an Expert - Kenneth C. Davis

Recently a good friend of mine and coworker, Blair, let me know that author Kenneth C. Davis was offering to use Skype to connect with history classroom across the country. This sounded like a great opportunity to connect some of my students with a true expert. I submitted my name and crossed my fingers, and a couple of days later I received confirmation that my students and I would indeed get the chance to talk with Mr. Davis! Time and space constraints meant that not everyone would get a chance to participate, but that's the way it goes. The opportunity was open to any 8th grader (those on my team and on the other team) that had an interest in attending...predictably, almost all 8th graders showed some interest. In the end the list was narrowed down to about 28 students...below is a quick recap of the experience...

Mr. Davis began with a 10 minute or so overview of what he does (he even showed us his very first book on the Presidents, circa 1963!)...after that, he opened the floor to questions. My students had plenty to ask, so I was a bit bummed that I didn't get to ask him my question. On every history interview I've been in on we have asked the interviewees "Who had a more influtnetial impact on US history, and why - George Washington or Abraham Lincoln?" I suspect Davis would have said Lincoln...anyway, here is what he was asked...

If you could visit any era fromUS history, which would it be?

Was the Louisiana Purhcase Justifiable? (Note: We are studying Manifest Destiny, and our essential question is "How justifiable was Westward Expansion in the 1800s?" Pleased to hear this question asked!)

How long does it take you to write a book?

Was Andrew Jackson a Superman or Scumbag? (Note: The 8th graders tackle this question in a in-depth essay - read about it here - and we do address the "name calling"...)

Why did you become a writer?

Why do we celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July and not the 2nd, or in August?

How much post-secondary education do you have? (Note: This was a really interesting question/response.)

What is your favorite part of history?

Overall this was an absolutely outstanding opportunity that some of my students and I were able to experience. They students really enjoyed the conversation and were incredibly grateful for the chance to talk with Mr. Davis. Many have asked me (some, repeatedly!) when we'll by Skyping with another expert. If you ever get the chance to have an expert or someone from outside your class to connect with your students, then absolutely take the chance! Even if you have to adjust your or your students schedule and not everyone can participate, still take the opportunity. It was definitely one of the coolest experiences I've had while teaching! Thanks again to Kenneth C. Davis - it was a real treat!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Do You Share Your Political Views with Your Students? Should You?

Democrat? Republican? Other? Is it a secret to your students? Should it be?

Spend any time in a social studies classroom and you're guaranteed to witness an inquisitive student bluntly ask their teacher "So, who did you vote for?" And in a vast majority of the instances, the teacher will give a coy response - something to the effect of "Well, it doesn't matter, but I'm choosing not to tell you." This quickly leads to the discussion of why the teacher won't tell.

Many teachers proudly proclaim that they're so good at keeping their views a secret that students never know. They wear their ambiguity like a badge of honor. After all, our job isn't to tell students what to think, but how to think. I fully agree with that, and to a large extent I am that teacher. I don't openly and freely share my political views, but lately I'm beginning to question this more and more.

Is that where we are? That we can't openly and respectfully share our political views with our students? Let me be clear, I am not talking about advocating one set of views over another or about right or wrong, but I am talking about sharing something basic- just your views, your leanings, maybe who you voted for.

All too often we lament the severe lack of anything that remotely resembles civil discourse in our country, and rightfully so. And yet at the same time, promoting civil discourse is exactly what we strive for - what we expect - in our classrooms.

We do not tolerate disrespect in our classrooms. We work hard to have meaningful and respectful discussions in our classrooms. And we should. We bend over backwards to provide all viewpoints to a topic, and to make sure that every side is heard from. And we should.

So, it is with that in mind that I wonder...Why can't we, the responsible adults in the room, share our own views? Why can't we model the civic discourse and respect that we expect from our students? Wouldn't it be a powerful example to let them come to their own conclusions and form their own opinions, and then we share ours? After all, we know their views and opinions, and expect them to share them openly in the classroom. Isn't it the least we can do to return the favor?

Wouldn't it make a difference for us to show how we, as adults, can disagree without being disagreeable? To show how sometimes we do not share the views of our students, yet at the same time we still treat them with the utmost respect and equality? Wouldn't it be better for us to model how you can challenge the idea, but not the person.

I understand all the arguments against sharing personal views in the classroom, but the longer I teach the less and less I buy into them. As it is right now I don't announce my views on most issues, and I have yet to share who I voted for...but I think that time is coming to a close.

How do you handle this in your classroom?