Monday, January 24, 2011

Activities For Historical Thinking

The standard that I plan to focus on this semester is in the discipline of Social Studies and covers Historical Thinking for grades 5-8. The standard is listed below:

Content Standard 1: Students will develop historical thinking skills, including chronological thinking and recognizing change over time; contextualizing, comprehending and analyzing historical literature; researching historical sources; understanding the concept of historical causation; understanding competing narratives and interpretation; and constructing narratives and interpretation.

I chose to focus on Historical Thinking mainly due to my belief that understanding the history of different peoples and seeing how different belief, social, and political systems were created is one of the best ways to understand why the world is the way it is. To really understand why wars are being fought, why people oppress other people, why we live under theocracies, democracies, or dictatorships, we really need to know how they came to be, and why they developed the way they did. Content Standard 1 appears to allow a wide range of methods for discussing and addressing these issues.

As for how I would link different learning styles to this standard I will focus mainly on the auditory, visual, and tactile learning styles. Being totally new to teaching Social Studies I will be making this up as I go along.

I would imagine that an effective method for teaching the causes of genocide to 6-8 graders that were mainly visual learners could involve everything from map-making to analyzing old newspapers, to critiquing propaganda. There is a huge amount of visual material relating to genocide, from the faces of the citizens marked for reeducation by the Khmer Rouge, to the anti-Semitic propaganda that preceded the holocaust, to the maps and diagrams detailing the slave trade. By analyzing the visual history of these atrocities students would be able to see how these events came to be, from the propaganda that lead to the hatred and the killing, and then to how the tasks were planned and carried out. An interesting project might involve researching how Africans were visually represented by those seeking to enslave them and how similar stereotypes are still used today.

For auditory learners, the speeches of Hitler, Stalin, and the spirituals sung by the slaves would provide a great illustration of how hate can be spread and what it was like to live though such an experience. Audio clips of Huey P. Newton or Martin Luther King Jr. describing the effects of racism would be good ways to show the long-term effects of certain genocides.

For tactile learners, tips to museums or in class social experiments would help to illustrate the subject. I remember one particularly effect example of this from 5th grade. For a couple days half of the class wore large paper stars on our shirts. We didn’t go out for recess, we ate lunch by ourselves in a corner of the classroom, and we were forced to sit on the floor during lessons. It was an extremely effective example of what it’s like to live in a repressive society. These are but a few examples of the ways in which Historical Thinking could be taught to people with different learning styles.

Editing Issues

For some reason Blogger has been messing with the formatting of my articles. Specifically, it is removing the indentations that I place at the beginning of paragraphs. I have been unable to resolve this issue. Please excuse the sloppy look of the blog entries.

Cultural Understanding via Technology

I found Teddy Bears Go Blogging to be a very interesting example of how technology can enhance the ways we teach. By taking the classic pen-pal method of interacting with, and learning about, another culture and expanding its possibilities though the use of modern technology we can see how beneficial the internet can be when used in a creative way. I can think of a particular instance in my own life when having access to technology like this would have really helped to enhance the experience.

When I was in middle school a group of students and myself were assigned partners at a school in Hartford made up primarily of students from lower income families. We met the students in person once or twice, but our main method of interaction involved writing letters. Communicating by mail constrained our interactions and resulted in a somewhat trite back and forth conversation. Had we been able to use blogs to communicate with each other I can imagine a number of different things that would have improved the experience.

Perhaps foremost is that communicating by blog would have allowed us to interact at a much faster pace. Relaying our daily lives would have been a lot easier and we would have gotten a much better picture into what our respective lives were like. We would have been able to share videos and links to websites that we found interesting and would have then been able to discuss them in a more open format. If we had access to Facebook our Hartford friends would have been able to get a general idea of what our social lives were like and we would have been able to see pictures of their friends and neighborhoods. Had we been able to blog, the experience would have been much richer.

Perhaps the most apparent lesson from Teddy Bears Go Blogging is how the Internet can help us to understand what living in a different culture is like. This would seem to me to be an extremely difficult thing to teach children. When I was young, and even to this day, I often found myself thinking that people from different parts of the world lived lives and had interests that were vastly different from my own. As I have grown older and been able to experience people from other cultures firsthand, the most amazing thing I have discovered is how similar we are. An example I always think about is when I spent a couple weeks at the University of Botswana during winter break while in college.

On the face of it the Botswanan students and the students from my college would have seemed to have little in common. While we came from towns with paved roads and had unlimited access to electricity, medical care, and an unseemly level of creature comforts, many of our Botswanan friends came from small villages with dirt roads, intermittent electricity, and very little in the way of consumer goods. However, after interacting with them face to face, it became apparent that we all generally wanted the same thing: to get drunk with our friends, to meet members of the opposite sex, to experience entertainment, to get good jobs, etc. I was able to experience firsthand how similar we actually were. It was an extremely uplifting experience. I believe that through creative uses of technology we could bring a similar level or understanding between cultures to our classrooms.

With the technology available today it is fairly easy to set up video chats between people on different ends of the earth. An American history class covering the Vietnam War could be greatly improved if the students were able to spend time chatting with a classroom in Vietnam. What would have been merely a lesson on two cultures fighting to the death could instead end with a lesson on how much has changed and how both sides viewed the conflict. A social studies class addressing the war on terror would be greatly improved if students from America were able to talk with students from Palestine or Pakistan. By communicating with each other from and early age I feel like we would be able to prevent a great deal of the misunderstanding and mistrust that we absorb from second-hand sources. For less than a hundred bucks we could outfit a number of classrooms with webcams and make something like this possible.

As we continue on to the future I believe this kind of communication will become more and more available and will allow us to interact with other people on a much deeper level. Beginning this lesson early, with something as simple as blogging about a Teddy Bear’s journey, will have a hugely positive impact down the road.

The blog that I have chosen to follow is called Edurati Review: Where Policy Meets Pedagogy. In the About section it describes itself as a, “collaborative space providing diverse commentary, independent analyses of public education policy issues, and innovative pedagogical concepts.” I decided upon this blog after concluding that, as someone with very little knowledge about the history and political aspects of teaching, that this blog would be a good way to educate myself on the subject.

Right off the bat I found this blog to be very informative. The first posting I read was called “Why Great Teachers Quit: And How We Might Stop the Exodus.” This article was about a new book that addressed the subject of why up to 50% of teachers quit after their first five years on the job. I thought, as someone who would like to become a teacher, that this article did a great job of addressing the issues that I might find discouraging. Some of them are:

1. Standardized Testing
2. Working Conditions in Today’s Schools
3. Ever-Higher Expectations
4. Bureaucracy
5. Respect and Compensation
6. Parents
7. Administrators
8. School Boards

The blog post made me aware of some issues that I had never even begun to consider, such as:

Teachers have far less flexibility for things like bodily functions and meals than do most menial workers

Another posting that I found interesting was called “The Banality of Indifference” and dealt with the upsetting notion that Americans are growing increasingly indifferent to the idea that education is important. The posting lists a number of articles and statistics to illustrate how America is falling further and further behind in our willingness to fund education.

As someone who appreciates good blogs I have a high standard for what actually makes a good one. Two important criteria that I think make a blog good are:

1. Numerous links to articles that help to illustrate the main point of the post.

2. An impassioned viewpoint. For example, a good blogger is usually extremely knowledgeable and curious about the subject they are blogging. When you read a post their interest in the subject is usually made apparent by links to a wide variety of relevant sources as well as informed commentary on the links.

After reviewing almost six months worth of posts the Edurati Review appears to meet these criteria. Although the bloggers are not prolific, and rarely post twice in the same day, the posts themselves are very informative. There is a nice mixture of posts that cover a particular fairly thoroughly and shorter articles that address what might be on that bloggers mind at a particular time. I am excited to follow this blog as the semester progresses.

Blog # 1

The first blog I read more than a couple posts on was called The English Teacher's Companion. It initially caught my attention because the blogger was discussing Amy Chua and her new book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." If you are not familiar with this book, or the controversy surrounding it, I suggest you check out this article. After browsing through a couple of posts I think I don't think I will choose to follow this blog (I don't really have a reason for moving on. I suppose I might return if I don't find anything I like better.)

Finding an Education Blog to Follow

So, my first assignment involves finding an education blog to follow throughout the semester and to then describe why I chose that particular blog. Since I will most likely spend the majority of this particular assignment trying to find a blog that I find interesting, I will probably spend more time reading a varity of diffrent blogs than any one in particular. The following couple of posts will catalog my search.
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