Are we really prepared?

For this week we read a piece by John Pyne called, “Are You Thinking of a Career in Secondary Schools? A Supervisor’s Perspective on Which Candidate to Hire”. This was very interesting and brought up some mixed feelings for me. When people go into education during their undergraduate studies I think there are two motivating factors. I think there is a group who goes into it because they love the subject they picked, and then there are those who go into education because the actual teaching part intrigues them. Personally I fall into the second group. Growing up there was always a part of me that wanted to be a teacher and throughout my first two years in college, while I was constantly switching majors, there was a piece of me that always went back to teaching. Once I decided that education was the path I wanted to take, I had to decide what subject I was going to teach. As I began the process I knew there were a few subjects that I could rule out immediately, math and science. What was left was history and English and I was torn between the two. After going back and forth, I chose history because I loved hearing about historical events and it always interest me thinking about how past events shaped the country that I live in today.

So fast forward to today, I am a senior, History, Secondary Education major, about to face the real world and the daunting task of finding a job. For the past two years I have often questioned my choice to go into the major I did because I found myself in classes, surrounded by people who were so passionate about the course we were taking. Granted, I found them interesting but felt so behind on my knowledge of history, American and World. But when I found myself ready to give up, the thought of my future students kept me hanging on. Now as my schedule is filled with more education classes that teach me pedagogical strategies, I find myself excited to be in class learning. I am excited to take what I have learned and observed and apply it to my future classroom.

How does this go along with John Pyne’s article? Well I personally think that there is a balance between being passionate about content as well as teaching, rather than more emphasis being placed on content. Do I think that it is important to know what you are teaching and find it interesting? Absolutely, it is what is going to make every day of the rest of our lives bearable. But in my opinion it is the love of teaching that is what is the most important. Not all of our students are going to love history or even appreciate it, but as teachers we still have the possibility to influence them outside of teaching historical events.  As I often like to say, I do not want to spend the rest of my life just teaching students about a subject, I want to TEACH my students through a subject. For me this job goes far beyond being passionate and knowledgeable about a content area, it is a responsibility to impact lives and be an example for kids. So as much as I appreciate the value that Pyne puts on content knowledge and passion, I would say that there is more weight outside of content. Does this mentality I have make me nervous? Of course, but content knowledge will come with time, but knowing how to reach students starts on day one.

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Where can technology take us?

As every day passes it seems as though there is a new piece of technology being released, a new app, or the newest, and coolest social media site that continues to knock Facebook down. Family dinners have now become places where conversations are being had on technology devices rather than face-to-face. Parents communicate to their children, while they are in the house, through text messages. Long distance relationships are more bearable because you can “see” the other person more. Kids have mastered the art of texting while multi-tasking, the swipe right for a match, or the double tap. Teachers can no longer compete against technology and the world that lives inside of everyone’s pocket, it is time for us to team up with it.

In the video on TeachingHistory.org, it discusses the ways that technology can be a TOOL for teachers in the classroom. As kids become more connected to media and technology, it starts to give teachers an “easy way out” mentality to teaching. It is so easy to throw on a movie that teaches about the time period students are learning because we think it is engaging and educational. In reality though, movies get boring and are not always the most reliable in getting accurate information across. This video does a good job explaining that technology is not there to become a ‘substitute’ in the class but a tool to make class more engaging and fun for students. The more engaged we can get our students the better they will respond to what we are teaching. Rather than letting technology continue to take over, team up with it and allow it to become a ‘partner in crime’ to teaching history.

Another video on TeachingHistory.org showed ways to use technology as a way to help students deepen their understanding of material. The internet is an awesome resource for students and it is a great tool for them to use to find information on things they may not have physical access to. Answers to students’ questions are literally at their fingertips so let them use technology to discover. But along with this amount of information it is also important to make sure that students use it responsibly and are able to understand what is reliable and what is not. It is fine to us Wikipedia for everyday understanding but it is not acceptable to cite it as a source on a research paper. As long as technology is being used as a tool and students do not abuse it, and are aware of methods of using internet resources, there is an endless number of possibilities for students.

Another resource that TeachingHistory.org had was about how to incorporate social media such as Pinterest into the classroom setting. I think it is beneficial to students when teachers can take an interest of the students and relate it to school. This article about how to use Pinterest as a way for students to organize their thoughts, research, and materials was very interesting to me. I think it is a great tool for students to use, that is different than mapping out thoughts on a graphic organizer. I could also see Pinterest being used as a way for students to demonstrate their understanding of a topic. Students could ‘pin’ inventions from the Industrial revolution and show how it has evolved over time. Constantly searching for ways to use what is consuming our students time in the classroom is going to be the best way to relate to students and engage them.

As great as technology is, there are some negative results that can stem from it. It is easy for students to get wrong information from sources on social media which could impact their learning if they are relying on that to carry their education. Just as the video said, technology is meant to be used as a tool. There is still something special about having someone standing in front of you teaching rather than looking at a computer screen for your questions and answers. It is just as easy for teachers to get caught up using technology in their classrooms, but if we team up with it, we can all become a dynamic duo.

Where do we go from here?

Textbooks. I’ve got a love hate relationship with them. They can be useful in certain situations yet they cannot be reliable in most. To me, textbooks are in some regards the Wikipedia to print sources. You can go to them to get information on a subject but you cannot always trust the material within them.

In two articles that James Loewen writes, he brings up the way that textbooks have been presenting the Confederacy and the grounds on which the Civil War was fought. In his article Why do people believe myths about the Confederacy? he gives evidence as to why many people have false ideas about the Confederacy and it stems from what they are learning from textbooks. A second article, Time to De-Confederatize the Textbook, “The American Journey”: An Open Letter to James McPherson he writes to textbook author James McPherson about the conflicting stances that he has on the Civil War based on one of his books Battle Cry of Freedom. In his book that he writes, Loewen argues that he presents the main issue of the Civil War was slavery not states’ rights yet he contradicts that in the textbook that he authors.

With the coverage of important historical events being questioned in our textbooks, there is no way to avoid the questions that have to be answered. What role should textbooks play in history classrooms? During an NPR interview, Samantha Manchac a high school history teacher explains the way that she uses textbooks in her classroom. She says, “We’re going to have these textbooks. We’re 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.” I think she brings up a great solution for the use of textbooks. Use them as a way for students to gain a higher level of thinking by allowing the to critically analyze the material in them with other sources on the topic being discussed. They should not be the first and last source that students are viewing in the classroom but we cannot ignore that they are there, so lets use them as a research tool rather than the means in which we teach.

All of that being said, what else can teachers use to help assist students’ learning process? In an article by the American Historical Association Staff, they discuss a new website created to be a more reliable way for students to get information. It is a website called The American Yawp. This tool gives students a fun and unique way to use textbook-like resources during and outside of class. If teachers are going to resort from using the state given textbook, then it is up to us to find new ways to help support our teaching and this website is a great starting point.

Is the movie worth it?

Recently we watched the movie “The Conspirator” which is based on the retailing of the aftermath of the Lincoln assassination. Just like other events in history there are only aspects that “we” like to talk about, discuss, and teach. The assassination of President Lincoln is often left up to a textbook to cover within a few paragraphs but after watching this movie, there is a whole world of material that can be used to teach students. There has been some push back with the movie, as there is with every film, that challenges the historical weight of the movie as well as the focus. In an interview with NPR, film critic David Edelstein discusses the fact that this movie is simply one that fits right in with the other theatrical performing movies rather than a “great and timeless drama”. In his blog, “Historians and The Conspirator: Usingns Film to Ask Big Questio”  by James Grossman, we read his take on the movie which focuses on whether or not the subject of slavery should have been part of the movie. He discusses his shifting opinion from being critical of the exclusion of the topic, to his understanding of the distraction it would have created from the original purpose.

As a class we have been reading the book, Teaching U.S. History as Mystery which is all about presenting historical events as a mystery to students. Both Edelstein and Grossman bring up great arguments about this movie. I understand Edelstein’s point of view but I think that depending on the context that the movie is used in during a lesson will determine the message sent to the students. If students are presented this event and are already in the process of thinking about it critically and at a higher level, then I think the movie, or parts of it are acceptable to show because it will bring a “real life” component to it. Grossman brings up an argument that I think can create issues within a lesson. His first argument about the subject of slavery not being included is reasonable but it is not the focus of this event. Yes the assassination happened in a time where slavery was a major focus point in the world but it was not the focus of the assassination and trial itself. I would agree more so with Grossman’s second argument about the distraction that it is on the actual issue at hand. Because the movie focused more on the aftermath of the events, it opens up the possibility for conversations and questions about the judicial system then.

Ultimately, I think that movies, whether completely accurate or not can be a great tool to use in the classroom. They should not be used as “teachers” in a class but after higher level thinking has taken place, I think it is acceptable to use and a great conversation piece. The movie itself brings a different perspective to an event in history that does not get covered like it should.

what mystery are you telling?

Some of the most popular television shows and movies are the ones that leave their audience anticipating what is going to happen next. When the writers create a story line that is intriguing and leaves the viewer curious, they have gotten their viewer invested in that story. Once they have an audience that is invested, they can rely on the fact that the viewer is going to engage every episode. Teaching history is a lot like creating suspenseful entertainment.

The book Teaching U.S. History as Mystery is focused on educating teachers on how to turn the monotonous way of teaching history into a story that captures their students attention. It goes without saying that history classes can be dull and boring when the majority of teaching is just trying to get students to remember dates and facts. There are so many moments throughout history that are still filled with questions and doubts rather than certainties and absolute truths. The moment that teachers begin to have students actually work in class is the moment that the doors open to presenting the story of history as a suspenseful, never certain, mind testing, deep, and complex mystery. One of the goals of teaching is to make sure that every student is successful and that they feel like they have accomplished something. In the book the authors write, “In the rush to cover everything in an inoffensive way, they never let students work at any of the little mysteries that can be so much fun to tackle, and so satisfying to solve”. By giving students these opportunities to take what is out there (sources, evidence, facts) and try and piece them together to come up with a conclusion, gives them an avenue to actually invest into something much more meaningful than passing a test.

Using examples that David Gerwin and Jack Zevin did in this book give us only a glimpse of the kinds of opportunities there are out there for teacher to incorporate a mystery into their classrooms. Rather than spoiling the ending for students from the beginning, allow them to use the imagination that we often suppress to come up with their own story. Lets face it, history is basically a bunch of stories put together to come up with a narrative that we teach so lets let our students become a part of the creation of that narrative.

How are assessments used?

The word assessment has become a bad word in education, especially among students. When they hear the word they automatically think of everything negative about the word. Test. Quizzes. Bad grades. Anxiety. Low self confidence. Feeling of being dumb. Comparison. Hours of studying. All of these things make the idea of learning miserable for students in our classrooms. What is even worse for students is being assessed in a class that they cannot stand or find no value in. There is no question that History is a subject that students either love or hate in high school. Some view it as a waste of time because they are basically being asked to spit out a long list of facts and dates rather than seeing the deeper, complex nature of history.

Assessment should be a tool of measurement that both the teacher and student benefit from. The idea of assessment being either for or of learning is an integral part of the process of learning. During any sporting event, if a team is losing they assess what is going wrong and they use that information to alter their approach to the game. Most teams, hopefully do not wait to lose the game to see where they could have done something differently to win. Learning and assessment is very similar. Assessment that is for learning is a way to evaluate what can be changed quickly to ensure the greatest opportunity for success. When we do assessment of learning we look at how well the strategy worked and how well the systems played together.

It is important to remember that although assessment is a necessary thing, that we work on making it as enjoyable, and beneficial as possible. Formative assessments do not have to be just quizzes or test, but can be call and response. An inquiry lesson is a great avenue for this. Creating an outlet for students to reveal what they know through analyzing historical pieces is a great way to assess what your students do and do not understand. History should be intriguing for students and with that comes engaging assessment. In the article on Teaching History the author wrote, “be sure to ask a question that elicits historical debates, not moral judgments”. Finding ways to assess our students by allowing them to engage, interact, and invest in the material they are learning is only going to bring a more positive perspective on assessment.

Are We Planning The RIGHT Way?

Have you ever had a moment in your life where you thought you were doing something the right way and then someone comes along and tells you to do it completely backwards? Well that is what is happening to teachers when it comes to lesson planning. The framework that is UbD (The Understanding by Design) has teachers looking at long term goals first rather than short term. This process begins by teachers identifying what they want their students to ultimately learn and walk away with at the end. Once they have determined those goals they are to figure out how they plan on assessing each of these targets. Lastly they will begin to create their lessons and cool activities for their students. For so long I have assumed that starting with lesson planning would be the best way to approach teaching but the UbD states otherwise and it makes a lot of sense.

One reason that I feel that UbD could be useful is because of the way the public school system is going right now. In the article Classroom Assessment for Student Learning written by Richard Stiggins, he brings up the point of building on the prior knowledge of our students. There is a lot of responsibility placed on teachers that they will have taught their students everything that they need to know before they are passed on to the next grade. Even with that responsibility there are still situations where that is not occurring or not to the full extent. As time has gone on social studies is being taught less and less in elementary schools. Teachers are beginning to focus their attention more on math and English as opposed to social studies which delays their knowledge as they move to higher grades. By the time that these students are reaching the ninth grade, they have only really been exposed to four years of actual history in their whole school career. With that being said, by the time that they reach high school history there is no telling what these students do and do not know. It creates a broad spectrum for teachers to try and focus their material on for the whole semester.

With the use of UbD, teachers can use assessments in the beginning of their semester to find out where these students actually are in their understanding of history. Once the teacher has this knowledge, he/she can begin to see where his/her students need to be at the end of the instructional time frame. Rather than starting from a point with a wide range, there can be a focus that is built out with assessments and lessons. This framework is essential to helping teachers take students who are all have different levels of knowledge, and allows them to maximize their time in order to cover what all needs to be covered in that semester. There is no telling what the teacher prior taught that students so if you can get a grasp on what they did learn, than the UbD will help organize and guide the instruction.

Turning Things Upside Down

Over the course of your education, do you feel as though you have learned an unnecessary amount of facts?

Were you taught a bunch of information that went in one ear, stayed long enough to pass a test, and then out the other ear?

Well this is exactly how many teachers are structuring their classes. We have been filling our students minds with information that may come in handy during a trivia game but that knowledge is not being applied in greater depth. Anyone who has been keeping up with the current state of education would know that Common Core is in constant debate. Both sides bring legitimate arguments to the table when discussing the success of our students through Common Core. One thing that cannot go without mention is Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s has been a standard that has impacted the way that teachers have assessed their students. The famous upside down pyramid has set a course that is followed when organizing these assessments. Although this has been a standard for quite sometime, Wineburg’s revision has been gaining support and creating discussion on the switch of assessment approaches.

For so long now education, especially history has been creating assessment by focusing on facts and details rather than in depth analysis. Wineburg says, “… the aim is not merely to collect what is known, but to learn how to think about problems in a new way”. We are doing our students a disservice by filling them with facts and letting them just assume that that is all that they need to take from our classes. The way that Common Core has been implemented has created a disconnect between what is being taught and what our students are tested on. Standards ask for students to analyze, examine, compare and contrast, ultimately digging deeper into the foundation of history that we seem to be emphasizing on so much. The structure that Bloom’s has presented teachers is by focusing solely on what knowledge we can deposit into our students minds. Is this really what is beneficial to our students? Teaching to a test is limiting our students to what they are capable of doing. We are setting up the expectations that being critical thinkers is not necessary only collecting shallow knowledge is. Wineburg has realized that Bloom’s Taxonomy is necessary, but maybe it needs to be flipped upside down. Knowledge is important but what our students do with that knowledge needs to be our focus now.

Although teaching our students to realize that thinking critically is important, is it necessary to teach our students to be historians?

Hello world!

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First I would like to introduce myself. My name is Sarah McDavid and I am a senior at Appalachian State University. I was born and raise in North Carolina which seems like it is becoming more rare. I am studying to become a high school history teacher but I am still leaving the next chapter of my life open to see where I am called to go. Growing up I always dreamed of being a teacher but as I grew up the state of education in North Carolina turned me away from my dream job. As my time at App went on I realized that I rather spend the rest of my life doing what I loved than do something I hated but make a lot of money so here I am.

Going into my senior year of college I have been overwhelmed by where God has brought me. Yes, I love the Lord and am not ashamed to say it. From the people that I have surrounded myself with and my future being  right around the corner I have learned that the world is so much bigger than myself. Every time I think about leaving my friends and this place, or when I get overwhelmed with the fact that I don’t feel prepared to teach, I just think about the students that will be in my classroom. I can’t wait for the day that I can stand in front of my students, look them in the eyes and know that we are about to go on a journey together that is filled with learning, growth, and understanding. By this I don’t only mean with content material, I want it to go deeper than that. I want my students to learn from me but me from them. I want them to look back on their time in my class and be able to say that they grew as people. And lastly, I want them to gain an understanding that they may feel small in this world, but it is sometimes the smallest things that can leave the greatest impression.

Random Facts About Myself:

  1. I LOVE football.
  2. Country music will always be my go to.
  3. I am obsessed with everything Christmas.
  4. I would much rather travel America than the world. (But going abroad wouldn’t be bad either)
  5. Some of my best childhood memories are from coming up to Boone.
  6. Reality TV is my guilty pleasure, although I don’t really feel guilty about it.
  7. I sponsor a child through Compassion International.
  8. Fall is my favorite season.
  9. My favorite movies are Sweet Home Alabama, The Parent Trap, My Best Friends Wedding, and Home Alone 2.
  10. One of my favorite times of the year is when the Pumpkin Spice Latte comes back to Starbucks.
  11. I have a pretty sassy side but people learn to love it.
  12. The farthest I’ve traveled is Costa Rica.
  13. I have an older sister. I also have a nephew who is the GREATEST child on the planet.
  14. If I could have any talent I would be a ballroom dancer so I could be on Dancing With the Stars.
  15. My dream vacation/trip would be to go on a road trip with all of my friends.
  16. The 4Fs are a perfect way to sum up what is important in my life. Faith. Family. Friends. Football.