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Showing posts from 2016

Helping Students Overcome Obstacles

One of my Student Historians, I'll call her Sarah, hasn't had success selecting a person that took a stand in history for her National History Day project. Sarah is a great student but her topic choices, while extremely admirable, aren't helping her find success and momentum. She's wanted to focus on her grandfather's military experience but it seems she isn't finding primary sources like we both thought she would.
I had a heart-to-heart with her yesterday and now realize that she really wants to focus on this relative because it's meaningful to her but also to her family. She wants to honor her relative but that isn't giving her momentum with her project because military history isn't her passion. I had her take a step back and asked her to fill out a questionnaire I've used with my Genius Hour students (this questionnaire leads students to focus on their passions). Through reflection, Sarah realized that she should focus on a ballet dancer th…

The "Thinking Time"

Presenting a project-based learning opportunity to my students is always interesting for me but I had an epiphany this week. 
I was explaining a persuasive iMovie trailer project to my first class of the day and noticed that while students were viewing this rubric the room got quiet--very quiet. The normal sounds you would hear with 25+ adolescents in the room were non-existent. I realized then it was because the students were internalizing the workthey would be doing over the next few days.  I observed this "Thinking Time"--these students were wondering how they would complete their project with group members I chose for them. It was a very cool moment but I wanted to see if it was just this particular class. Sure enough, the rest of my classes that day did the very same thing--they got really quiet and internalized the requirements. (I will now be looking for this phenomenon every time I present a project!)
This made me realize, once again, the necessity of group project-…

First Quarter Video Reflections

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Student-Created Task Lists

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I value the use of checklists. They help me to organize and prioritize my life roles and there's nothing like the feeling of accomplishment when I check off my tasks as completed! I have created checklists for students dozens of times in my career--they help to make big projects more manageable and make expectations clear. I had an epiphany yesterday, though, as I was planning my Genius Hour/National History Day activities for students:
I need to have students create their own checklists.
If my one of my goals for National History Day projects is to give students the opportunity to create a project of their own choosing why am I deciding how they organize and plan their workdays? It was well-intended but I realized when they prioritize their tasks they will truly be in charge of their learning experience.
I gave each student a process checklist, emphasized looking at the contest rules, and then each student received a blank checklist to turn in a the end of the hour. (I will hold…

National History Day: On Schedule!

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The National History Day projects are moving along in a timely manner and we are on schedule. Thankfully, there are many Michigan and National History Day resources available for us and my main task is to determine what resources we will utilize and timing their usage. 
I have created a check list for students to use tomorrow to help them stay focused. Students will finalize their project topic and their type of project. They will also create a digital database to house their primary and secondary resources. Our district Media Specialists have collaborated on a National History page for students, as well (http://troymiddleschoolmediacenter.weebly.com/national-history-day.html). (Thank you!) 
Student Historians will begin to collect sources and also use my OPVL analysis form to analyze the value of one of their documents (see below). 
The classroom energy on our NHD workdays is particularly lively and energetic--project-based learning is outstanding on so many levels! My role will be …

National History Day--First Impressions

Introducing National History Day today to my Student Historians went very well! I started each class with two short writing prompts (ones that would front-load students and prepare them for the 2017 theme): 
What does it mean to take a stand?How do you feel when you take a stand? After class discussion partner groups were asked to come up with examples of people/groups taking a stand throughout History and those were added to a class graphic organizer. I mentioned to students my journey through Genius Hour in Effective Teens, the need to include this concept in US History, and my finding the National History Day competition. I then briefly walked them through the theme (Taking a Stand in History) and a rough project time frame. We ended the hour with student topic research and an online Schoology discussion about possible topics.
Students were excited and it was fun to see them make the connection between our discussion and the project theme. My goals were to excite, not overwhelm, th…

Genius Hour in US History

Students need opportunities to completely take charge of their learning but this could prove difficult to do in a content-area class like US History. I taught Effective Teens, a leadership elective class, for eight years and one of the most powerful components of the class occurred when I implemented Genius Hour two years ago. Genius Hour bases itself on the Google 20% Time work model, where employees are given 20% of their workweek to focus on projects they are interested in. I saw the tremendous benefits of Genius Hour in Effective Teens and knew I needed to bring this model to my US History students, as well.
After researching History/Genius Hour blends this summer I came across the National History Day Competition and realized it's the perfect way to combine student-centered, project-based learning opportunities in our content area. I will introduce the project tomorrow and make sure that I do not overwhelm students--I will introduce the 2017 theme help students narrow down t…

Student Blackout Poems

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These three poems are a sampling of the creative thinking produced after reading a portion of an article illustrating the importance of learning History:



Student Video Reflections

I'm grading the blackout poem video reflections and definitely feel these should be incorporated into more classrooms' grading procedures! Some insights:
Students are (for the most part) quite comfortable taking video of themselves. I thought they might be self-conscious but that's not the case (I must be thinking about my generation, not theirs!). Young people have little to no trouble formulating their thoughts in front of a camera and should be asked to do this more often.Video reflections are an excellent way to quickly get to know students and match names to faces. Most secondary teachers have well over 100 students--the sooner we get to know them, the better for our classroom community.The insights they have on camera  just may be more powerful than if they were asked to write. I sense a maturity and ownership of their thoughts while I'm viewing these reflections, as well.The answers to the questions I have requested are short, typically under 30 seconds, which m…

The Benefits of Blackout Poetry

Students completed blackout poems this week on portion of an article about the importance of studying History. I learned as much as the students did! This is an excellent, challenging activity for all students and wanted to pass along some tips I learned in case it can help you. (I posted this article for my students on Schoology--the steps are really useful.) http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top-teaching/2016/04/blackout-poetry#.V9gotzNz0y8.email I've learned: listing the words on a scrap sheet of paper (step 3) really is critical--we skipped this step and ended up going back to do it (I'm requiring it to be turned in from now on as part of the completed poem.) It was eye-opening for students to see their words out of the text and they could much more easily pick different words/thoughts.if students are struggling I suggested having them start with a main word (like History) and then count every 7th word to see if that string of words could make a complete thought/statement…

Trying Something New...Blackout Poems

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Student Historians will think about why we study History today and complete a blackout poem. Students read a portion of an article on studying History yesterday and I explained the concept of a blackout poem. Some students have experience with writing them, many (including myself!) have never written one before. I am very excited to see the creations these students will produce! 
There is nothing better than to experience the processing, learning, and thinking that unfolds in our classroom when students are challenged to be creative. Watch this space for finished masterpieces!

September 1st Reflections

My first week back to school each year centers on two days of district-wide professional development. I truly enjoy learning and growing and it's crucial for me to take the time to process what I've learned. I'm writing this year's reflection here so that I can make my learning visible to others. (I am, of course, assuming someone reads these posts!)
My biggest takeaway centers on deepening learning, the central theme of the sessions (and our school year). I am always humbled listening to my colleagues--as much as I pride myself on cultivating deep learning in my classroom I realize I still have more to accomplish. I will add Socrative Seminars to my list of activities and I will delve deeper into Advanced Placement History concepts (not to mimic AP classes but rather use more strategies so that my students will be familiar with it should they decide to take them in High School). My students complete many reflections on their work throughout the year but I've neve…

Easing into the New School Year

School will be starting in a few weeks and it's a good idea to begin planning ahead for a smooth transition. You may be thinking about what to bring and wear to school but this post is to help students focus on being mentally ready for the new school year. 
These last moments of summer are a great time to: Start going to bed a bit earlier each night. If you've been getting to bed really late it's wise to move your bedtime up slowly to get your body adjusted to your school bedtime. (Remember: teens need 8-10 hours of sleep a night!) Trying to go to bed much earlier than you have been the night before school starts probably won't be beneficial. This site is full of great information: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep Write a short-term (first quarter) and a long term (year-long) goal. They can be related to school, sports, friends, family--anything! Setting goals is a terrific way to start the school year with a plan. Catch up with a classmate. If …

Reflecting and Preparing:Classroom Stations

Summer is a time for rest, relaxation, and reflection. As I reflect, I've realized one of the most successful changes I've made in my classroom over the years was to change the desk configuration to tables two years ago. It may seem like a small change but, as I've stated in previous posts, I now have 5 mini-classrooms of 6 students. I can get to know students and monitor their understanding of the subject matter so much better than with my previous setup of mini-rows, with students facing one another.  I now truly feel like I have a community of learners in our room (we have, in the past, made table coats of arms and mottoes to emphasize this concept). This setup also means that students have the opportunity to interact with one another more than ever before. 
Increased student interaction has motivated me to work with, not against, the numerous student conversations that occur when students are facing each other. My plan: increase the use of classroom stations. 
I am a …

Final Projects: Historical Research and Analysis: Delving into One Year of the Civil War

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Student Historians completed their thematic historical research project (see previous post) this week. The timing was excellent--my 8th Graders needed to turn in their iPads Friday; they submitted their iMovie trailers to me on Schoology Wednesday and we started analyzing them on Friday.
The trailers had many components and I believe the project objectives were accomplished--student groups needed to study one year of the war, decide upon and rank the top three events they believe directly led to the Union victory, and include at least one primary source document for each of the three events. Midway through the project I added another task--groups needed to find out who Matthew Brady was (he was the preeminent Civil War photographer--a photograph of his is shown below) and include at least one of the photographs he took during the war in their trailer.  photo: http://www.ohiohistoryhost.org/ohiomemory/archives/1575
Reflection is essential to deep learning--each student completed a sel…

Historical Research and Analysis: Delving into One Year of the Civil War

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Student Historians began Civil War era research today, with a twist.
My goal was to create a thematic investigative project. Upon reflection, Civil War projects at the beginning of my teaching career centered on various historical groups and topics but I noticed how these projects were actually more like a research report than an opportunity to delve into deep thinking and learning. I needed create something to help this year's students continue to hone the analytical and technological skills they've developed this year and I think we are really going to like the results.
Six groups of students will each focus on 1 year of the war, from 1860-1865. (I included 1860 because the Election of Lincoln and secession of South Carolina were huge events that directly led to war.) Each group will rank three events that had an impact on the end of the war, as well as locate and analyze a primary source document for each. They will compile this information into an iMovie trailer presentat…

Historical Perspective and Peel the Fruit Thinking Routine

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Practicing historical perspective is an essential social studies skill. Historical perspective is being able to step into a historic situation and examine the motivations, biases, and beliefs of a person or group of people. Students have to revert to the beliefs of a group of people even if those beliefs completely contradict the views we have today. They must weigh decisions based on the situation of the time, not necessarily how situations are viewed today.
The C3 Framework for Social Studies states that "Historical understanding requires recognizing this multiplicity of points of view in the past, which makes it important to seek out a range of sources on any historical question rather than simply use those that are easiest to find. It also requires recognizing that perspectives change over time, so that historical understanding requires developing a sense of empathy with people in the past whose perspectives might be very different from those of today." http://www.socia…

Debriefing Student Projects

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I must govern the clock, not be governed by it.  ~Golda Meir
Time is one of the biggest challenges we face in the classroom and class projects often aren't assigned by teachers because they take a lot of time for students to complete. I prefer to prove that these projects are clear examples of time used wisely but one area I usually tend to spend less of our time on is debriefing. Two activities we completed in class today proved to me that debriefing is as truly as valuable as the project itself.
Student Historians created fact-based skits today related to Northern factory life during the American Industrial Revolution. The skits needed to answer the question "If you were a 13 year old in the North in the early 1800s would you have worked in a textile mill?" Students prepared for this project by analyzing primary sources, reading anecdotal stories, and viewing clips. Each group needed to write scripts (one per person) and practice before performing. I did not require line …

The Work of Historians: Biographical Line Graph

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Biographical line graphs put students in the role of historical biographers. The critical thinking and reasoning needed to justify and debate decisions make these graphs one of the most powerful activities we do in US History.
The topic for this line graph is Andrew Jackson. I selected 7 life events and gave students the task of combing through previously analyzed documents and readings to write highlights and low lights of the events.

Students created line graphs based on their notes. The graph's range was from -6 to +6 and reflects both positive and negative life events. When line graphs were complete each student needed to prepare for a graph justification discussion.


This discussion is powerful both academically and social-emotionally. Students are doing the work of historians when they present and discuss their findings. One needs only to search major historical people and events to discover complimentary and disparaging works on the same subject--the difference may be due s…

Preparing Students for the Real World?

I am not the only educator in my extended family and get-togethers invariably turn into opportunities to talk about education. One of my cousins is an Assistant Professor in a health field at a university about one hour away from me and I greatly enjoy discussing our profession with him.
K-12 educators like myself often justify what we do in the classroom because we hope it will “help our students in college and in the real world”—talking to my cousin lets me know if I’m on the right track, even though I would theoretically teach students years before he would. Our conversations lately have centered on the need for student-led and student-generated assignments. I began Genius Hour in Effective Teens last year (I will be giving students the opportunity to complete a modified US History student-led project this year, as well) and shared with him the tremendous benefits I’ve seen when my 8th Graders are in charge of their learning. Genius Hour is the antithesis of telling students “the …

Risk-Taking with Technology: a Recent First Attempt in Learning

My students and I benefit from using technology in the classroom and it's evident that we are all becoming more comfortable and proficient with it. There are times, though, where this risk-taking doesn't pan out and I have the opportunity to model how I handle failing (this time--there will be others, I'm sure!).
I wanted to introduce a new unit of study using primary source maps and prompts in History using an app that would allow me to link the class' ideas on one screen. (The app shall remain nameless, I don't believe the app is at fault, rather user error on my part!) I had read up on the app but felt like we could figure it out as we went along and that's usually a successful strategy.
The students in my first class downloaded the app and we all tried to link together. One student showed us how to find a QR code and I thought we were on our way. I gave myself a limit of 7 minutes to attempt this new technology--if we couldn't get it downloaded and rea…

Online Discussions in Schoology

Student Historians took part in an online discussion yesterday on Schoology. Students were asked to take a stand and defend whether they would've been a Federalist or a Democratic-Republican if they had lived in America in the late 1700s.
I really like online discussions and will utilize them more often. We started the discussion in class but students could complete their participation on their own time. Our students are usually busy but the week before the end of the semester and a modified exam week is especially time-crunched for them. (One of my girls put her head down on her desk before class began today! It was a good reminder to me to be especially empathetic in the next few days!) I believe this assignment flexibility was appreciated and student participation was high. 
Online discussions give students practice in Digital Citizenship. I monitored the discussions and they did a wonderful job of staying on-task and were very professional and respectful. Knowing how to write…

Hamilton and Jefferson Video Clip Word Cloud - Word cloud - WordItOut

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Student Historians will download this word cloud into OneNote and use it as a comprehension activity during a video clip tomorrow. I've done this once before this year--these clouds take a bit of time to create but is well worth my work.
Students will be asked to assign a different color to Jefferson and Hamilton and highlight the terms in the cloud according to whether it was a belief of Hamilton or Jefferson (not necessarily which man stated the term). I will need to show the clip twice but it's under 3 minutes, therefore not overwhelming for my students to view again. They can complete the activity during the first viewing and check their work during the second viewing.
This activity will provide solid formative assessment data and I will clearly know whether or not my students understand the very different views of these two men.