Monday, March 27, 2017

The Problem with Cell Phones

Do you struggle with cell phones in the classroom? They can be excellent tools for learning, but more often than not, they are a huge distraction. Check out this post about some of the ways students can use their portable devices for nefarious purposes and how the 1:1 classroom can offer a solution.Back in the late 90s, I drove an 86 Cavalier that had a bad habit of breaking down in the most inopportune of places--the middle of the interstate when I was cruising in the center lane (fortunately in light traffic), at a traffic light on a major road during rush hour, exiting a parking garage downtown with a line of cars behind me.

It was the late 90s, so there was always a payphone a short walk away (well, except for in the middle of the interstate).

Then there was the time I had a late exam at Georgia State. I decided to take a short cut through a less than desirable neighborhood filled with dilapidated buildings and dark alleys. The street lights were sparse and so were the signs of people.

I stopped at a red light, double checked to make sure my doors were locked, and took my foot off the brakes when the light turned green. I tapped the gas, and nothing happened. I turned the key, and the engine hiccuped, but nothing. I waited a minute, and tried again. Nothing.

Now a smart person would have sat there with the doors locked and waited for a police car. But I was not smart. I was 19. So I got out of the car and ran across the street to a liquor store. It was dark--closed. I looked around, and nothing seemed to be open. But there was a solitary payphone in the parking lot.

I ran to the payphone, dropped in my quarter (remember always keeping quarters on hand?), and dialed my dad. When I told him the street I was on, he instructed me to get back in the car, lock the doors, and wait for him.

The next day he bought me my first cell phone.

Cell phones are an amazing invention. They are a portable safety precaution. I don't want to go back to the days of crossing traffic or dark, empty streets searching for pay phones. Cell phones are infinitely useful--much more so than they were in the late 90s.

But cell phones are a distraction at school.

Don't get me wrong--I know they have their uses. Before we went 1:1, they were helpful for scanning QR codes and finding information. I had a Bring Your Own Technology class, and we needed them for some of our activities.
Do you struggle with cell phones in the classroom? They can be excellent tools for learning, but more often than not, they are a huge distraction. Check out this post about some of the ways students can use their portable devices for nefarious purposes and how the 1:1 classroom can offer a solution.
But there are many problems with having them in the classroom. First and foremost, they are nearly impossible to monitor. No matter how great you are at classroom management, those screens are small. Those apps close fast. There's one of you and 25 to 32 of them.

Here are a few ways that cellphones can make learning incredibly difficult:

1. Kids use them to cheat.
They take pictures of their assignments and text them to each other. They google answers surreptitiously while testing. They search online for answer keys to assignments.

2. Kids steam video during class.
There's Youtube, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, to name a few. The school may have these sites blocked, but students can always switch to their own data. I overheard a student saying that she always watches Grey's Anatomy during math class. Think that teacher's falling down on the job? Wireless earbuds and overcrowded classrooms make it much easier to be sneaky than you might think. I busted a student binging on Fuller House in my own classroom, and I'm "involved." I'm sure there are many I haven't busted.

3. Kids are distracted by texting and social media.
Middle and high school are already hotbeds of drama. Try engaging a student in chemistry or world history amid a Snapchat drama--it's a fantasy.

4. Those games are addictive.
They especially love those short games they can play with each other on Message, such as pool or tic-tac-toe. That is way more engaging to most of them than To Kill a Mockingbird.

5. They like to video us and each other.
This is nothing new, but it can create quite the stir when these videos get around. And if they film something in your classroom that goes viral, that's not a good place to find yourself.

6. They use them to sabotage class games.
Do you struggle with cell phones in the classroom? They can be excellent tools for learning, but more often than not, they are a huge distraction. Check out this post about some of the ways students can use their portable devices for nefarious purposes and how the 1:1 classroom can offer a solution.I've heard of cases of students texting pin codes to their friends during games like Kahoot! so that students who aren't even in the classroom enter the game with inappropriate names and other such nonsense to waste class time.

There are many other nefarious ways students use those phones at school. They can be valuable tools,
but allowing them in the classroom has opened Pandora's Box.

So now that we are 1:1 with Chromebooks, I don't allow them. Students check them into a shoe bag when they enter the classroom. If they don't check them and I see them out, I take them.

This doesn't solve every issue--students are way savvier than we are about technology, but it cuts down on a lot of mischief and distraction.

And as for the Chromebooks? I can monitor those much more easily. Our district uses Goguardian, a program that allows teachers to display each student's screen on the teacher's screen. If students are off task on their Chromebooks, I can close the offending tab. If they persist, I can lock their Chromebook. At least I have some control with those.

1:1 classrooms open the students up to so many wonderful learning experiences, but technology also opens them up to so many more opportunities for distraction. Teacher control of the technology in use is vital to creating an effective learning environment in the blended classroom.

How do you "control" the technology in your classroom in order to make it a learning tool and not a distraction? Leave a comment below, and let me know. And be sure to stick around and check out the other posts in my Blended Classroom Tips and Tricks series.




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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Enabling Adobe Flash on a Chomebook

My students were working on a simple activity in class last week--at least I thought it was simple.

They were to take a virtual tour of a medieval manor.
They were to answer questions regarding that tour.
They were to drag and drop pieces to label the parts of a manor.

I assigned this activity to save time. I had to be out with my sick son last Tuesday, and we were a day behind. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but a huge deal when you are trying to teach the history of the world in 18 weeks. There is no time to spare.

I have this manor pop-up activity that I like to do with the middle ages, but it takes an entire block, and we just didn’t have that much time to spare.

So I went with the quick way to teach medieval manors that I mentioned above. And it should have been perfect. Quick. Easy. It hit the high points.

No sooner did the students begin working on the activity than hands began shooting up. With impatient sophomores, that in and of itself is a recipe for disaster. Add to the mix any free time, and forget about it. You’re outnumbered. You might as well go ahead and raise the white flag.

They could access the website for the virtual tour, but they could not view the tour because Adobe Flash was not enabled on their Chromebooks.
I had to think fast. I took one student’s Chromebook and tried to install Flash. No go. The natives were getting restless, so I did what anybody would do in 2017. I googled the problem. It turns out it was an easy fix:

Go the the URL address bar in Chrome.
Type “Chrome://plugin” (no quotation marks).
Check the box “always enable” for Adobe Flash.

Problem solved for the Chromebook.

Check out the (now) quick and simple activity HERE.
As for getting it to work on an IPad--you have to go through the Apple Store for that. Apple has its own version of Flash, so it doesn’t let Adobe run. Unfortunately, that will cost you. You'll have to get an Apple approved app.

Apple does support HTML5, though, which is starting to replace Flash around the web, so this will all be moot in a couple of years (probably).

Be sure to stick around and check out the other posts in my Blended Classroom Tips and Tricks series.


And be sure to let us know about your tips and tricks in the comments below!



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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Try Something New--Digital Task Cards

Digital task cards are great, but just like more traditional teaching methods, they can become stale and old when used too frequently. In this post I describe how I switch up my digital task cards to make them more interesting for students. Be sure to read the post and chime in with how you update your content mid-year to keep it fresh for students!I was talking to a group of my social studies friends not too long ago about how easy it is to fall into a rut--even with the fun stuff. Kahoot!, Jeopardy, Quizlet Live, Quizziz, Gallery Walks, Cutting and Folding, Stations--these are all fun, for us and the students, but once you're halfway through the year and you've done all of this, it's time for a change.

My school went 1:1 in August of 2016, and I've been blending my interactive notebooks (paper/digital hybrid) since January of 2016, so there's a lot of variety in my classroom. Here's a free guide about how to do it.

We color, we fold, we paste, we drag and we drop, we flip, we type, we use task cards as games and for we use them for review.

But assign the same thing over and over, and it becomes as stale as lecture and notes (which are great, used sparingly).

So I've decided to mix it up a bit with digital task cards. Have you ever noticed that changing the format and medium of something makes it more interesting?

Digital task cards are great, but just like more traditional teaching methods, they can become stale and old when used too frequently. In this post I describe how I switch up my digital task cards to make them more interesting for students. Be sure to read the post and chime in with how you update your content mid-year to keep it fresh for students!
Here it is!
That's what I've done with these digital Civil Rights Task Cards, and I'm very pleased with the results.

I assign these to my students in Google Classroom, so there's no prep on my part. It's basically a web quest, but don't tell them that.

This format allows me to have them do comprehensive research over the American Civil Rights Movement in small bites, so they don't realize they are doing comprehensive research.

The tasks on each card are more varied than simply asking and answering questions, so the students are engaged. Here are some examples:

Digital task cards are great, but just like more traditional teaching methods, they can become stale and old when used too frequently. In this post I describe how I switch up my digital task cards to make them more interesting for students. Be sure to read the post and chime in with how you update your content mid-year to keep it fresh for students!
Preview it here!
When they finish all 24 cards, there are four additional cards with mini-projects. I have them choose one to complete as an extension activity.

This way, when February and the Black History Program arrive, my students already have a good understanding of key events and the progression of the Civil Rights movement.

What strategies are you using to "freshen" up your content halfway through? Leave a comment below to let me know. And be sure to check out the links below to find out what new things other social studies teachers are doing this year in their classrooms!


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Thursday, January 19, 2017

We Hold These Truths: Three Reasons We Can Be Hopeful

On January 20th, 2017, a new president, who was freely elected, was inaugurated into his new office. While concerns abound about his political stances and his rhetoric, the fact remains that he is inheriting a stable country. We can be hopeful for what lies ahead, and we can teach our students that hope, too. I, along with many other TpT sellers, have contributed a free resource for the movements of #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths. Learn about my freebie, and see what others have created.The 2016 election season was divisive. Disagreement is healthy in a democracy--it keeps us on our toes. But demonizing people whose opinions differ from our own is counter-productive. We should attempt to understand and learn from each other. I wrote about discussing the election results with our students HERE.

To loosely quote President Obama in his farewell address, compromise is vital to our democracy.

In his farewell address, President Washington famously warned against the divisiveness political parties would bring.

The younger President Bush was hopeful for the future in his farewell address.

I want to discuss three reasons that we should be hopeful going forward. At the end of this post, I want to tell you about a TON of free resources that will help you communicate that hopefulness to your students.

Three Reasons We Should Be Hopeful Going Forward:

1. We Are Diverse

What do Albert Einstein, Natalie Portman, Ayn Rand, Andrew Carnegie, Van Morrison, Bob Marley, Joseph Pulitzer, Madeleine Albright, Irving Berlin, Eddie Van Halen, Isabelle Allende, Liz Claiborne, Bob Hope, Henry Kissinger, Sammy Sosa, Frank Capra, Charlie Chaplin, Iman, and Maria Sharapova all have in common?

They have all enriched American culture and politics.

And they are all immigrants.

Fresh perspectives and diversity are part of what makes this nation great. We should never forget that, because to lose it would be a great tragedy.

On January 20th, 2017, a new president, who was freely elected, was inaugurated into his new office. While concerns abound about his political stances and his rhetoric, the fact remains that he is inheriting a stable country. We can be hopeful for what lies ahead, and we can teach our students that hope, too. I, along with many other TpT sellers, have contributed a free resource for the movements of #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths. Learn about my freebie, and see what others have created.

2. We Are Fair

Or we try to be. Part of being fair is to try to understand different perspectives. Like it or not, we will have a new president on January 20, 2017, and he was fairly and freely elected. 

Yes, he didn't win the popular vote, but the Electoral College is not new. We the people are (or should be) familiar with its function. We can't do away with it legally after the fact and expect a post hoc change. 

It is our obligation as citizens to allow for the peaceful transition of power, hope for the best, and if we don't like the outcome, to protest with our vote.

On January 20th, 2017, a new president, who was freely elected, was inaugurated into his new office. While concerns abound about his political stances and his rhetoric, the fact remains that he is inheriting a stable country. We can be hopeful for what lies ahead, and we can teach our students that hope, too. I, along with many other TpT sellers, have contributed a free resource for the movements of #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths. Learn about my freebie, and see what others have created.

3. We, The People, Are The Government

If we are kind, if we are strong, if we are creative, if we are citizens, then we need not fear for the state of our Union. I've heard hyperbolic comparisons of Donald Trump to fascist dictators of the past. And, yes, his own hyperbole and divisiveness lends credence to that argument.

But the past doesn't ever repeat itself (ask Mark Twain if you don't believe me--it just rhymes). SO we may hear echos of Hitler's promise to make Germany a great nation again or to blame a particular group for all our country's woes in Trump's rhetoric. 

But the situation of the United States that Trump has inherited is far different from the the unstable situation of Weimar Germany. The Weimar Republic was new, shaky, weak, and untested. Our Constitution has stood the test of time. Our system is stable.

That's not to say that we shouldn't guard it. We should. And if we participate in the political process, we do.

On January 20th, 2017, a new president, who was freely elected, was inaugurated into his new office. While concerns abound about his political stances and his rhetoric, the fact remains that he is inheriting a stable country. We can be hopeful for what lies ahead, and we can teach our students that hope, too. I, along with many other TpT sellers, have contributed a free resource for the movements of #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths. Learn about my freebie, and see what others have created.


I believe that the majority of us hold these truths near and dear to our hearts. I believe in the power of the people and our ultimate desire for kindness and fairness.

I believe, not in telling my students what to believe, but in educating them about their responsibilities as citizens of this nation that I am proud to call my own.

Many other teachers share these values, and we have posted free products all across Teachers Pay Teachers that will help teachers educate students on principles of citizenship and kindness. Go to Teachers Pay Teachers and enter the hashtags #weholdthesetruths and/or #kindnessnation in the search engine. You will find many free resources ready to use in your classroom.

On January 20th, 2017, a new president, who was freely elected, was inaugurated into his new office. While concerns abound about his political stances and his rhetoric, the fact remains that he is inheriting a stable country. We can be hopeful for what lies ahead, and we can teach our students that hope, too. I, along with many other TpT sellers, have contributed a free resource for the movements of #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths. Learn about my freebie, and see what others have created.On January 20th, 2017, a new president, who was freely elected, was inaugurated into his new office. While concerns abound about his political stances and his rhetoric, the fact remains that he is inheriting a stable country. We can be hopeful for what lies ahead, and we can teach our students that hope, too. I, along with many other TpT sellers, have contributed a free resource for the movements of #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths. Learn about my freebie, and see what others have created.My free resource is a Color-Fill Film Guide for President Obama's Farewell Address. It asks students to view and consider important points of President Obama's farewell address and then to look at the history of the presidential farewell address. This will demonstrate to students that the presidency is an enduring office and that the end of our democratic-republic is surely not imminent because of one man or one event.


On January 20th, 2017, a new president, who was freely elected, was inaugurated into his new office. While concerns abound about his political stances and his rhetoric, the fact remains that he is inheriting a stable country. We can be hopeful for what lies ahead, and we can teach our students that hope, too. I, along with many other TpT sellers, have contributed a free resource for the movements of #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths. Learn about my freebie, and see what others have created.
Grab it HERE!

On January 20th, 2017, a new president, who was freely elected, was inaugurated into his new office. While concerns abound about his political stances and his rhetoric, the fact remains that he is inheriting a stable country. We can be hopeful for what lies ahead, and we can teach our students that hope, too. I, along with many other TpT sellers, have contributed a free resource for the movements of #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths. Learn about my freebie, and see what others have created.


And be sure to click on all of the links below to grab other secondary teachers' free resources and to read their posts.

Thanks so much to Desktop Learning Adventures and ELA Buffet for organizing this blog hop.









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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Using Google Forms to Create Self-Grading Quizzes

Google Forms now has a self-grading quiz feature! When I wrote about Google Forms in the past, you needed to have an add-on in order to make your quizzes in Google Classroom self-grading. However, Google Forms has updated since then, and now you can make your quizzes self-grading. In this blog post, I walk you through a step-by-step tutorial of how to set this up in your own Google Classroom!I've discussed ways to use Google Forms in the classroom in these blog posts: Inserting Images and Films and Formative Assessment. The video post sums it all up! But when I discussed Forms last, you needed an add-on to make them self-grading.

I LOVE forms because there are so many things you can do with them beyond just tests. Here are two suggestions:

1. Exit Quizzes: Create an exit quiz with a few very important concepts from the day's lesson. Then you will know immediately what you need to review the next day or how to flex group.

2. Games: Create a simple review. Pair or group students off. The first group that finishes first with the most correct answers wins! Add video and images to make it more engaging.

Google has since made things much simpler with it's "quiz" setting. Here's how it works:
Google Forms now has a self-grading quiz feature! When I wrote about Google Forms in the past, you needed to have an add-on in order to make your quizzes in Google Classroom self-grading. However, Google Forms has updated since then, and now you can make your quizzes self-grading. In this blog post, I walk you through a step-by-step tutorial of how to set this up in your own Google Classroom!

Google Forms now has a self-grading quiz feature! When I wrote about Google Forms in the past, you needed to have an add-on in order to make your quizzes in Google Classroom self-grading. However, Google Forms has updated since then, and now you can make your quizzes self-grading. In this blog post, I walk you through a step-by-step tutorial of how to set this up in your own Google Classroom!
Print the cheat sheet HERE.

What are some unique ways you use Forms in your classroom? Leave a comment below, and let me know!

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Saturday, December 31, 2016

My 2017 Classroom Resolutions

New years resolutions are a tricky thing, and a lot of people seem to accidentally set themselves up for failure when setting them. I think my resolutions for 2016 were too specific, and I ended up not meeting them, and then I felt bad about it. So, as we step forward into 2017, I've decided to make my resolutions a little less specific. However, I'm still setting myself up for success with different parameters and tools that will help me become a better teacher for my students. Happy 2017!Resolutions are made to be broken. I was supposed to drop ten pounds in 2016, but instead, I found room for ten more. I began 2016 volunteering more of my time, but that soon gave way to chauffeuring my son to tutoring. I wanted to spend more time with the fam, but my nieces keep getting older and we never got around to our girls' weekend of pizza and anime.

So what is it about resolutions that makes them impossible to keep? Life is messy. Too messy to plan specifically. The unexpected comes up and its urgency tramples the best laid plans.

Maybe my resolutions were too specific. Maybe they need to be more general so that I can find a way to success. Instead of "lose ten pounds," I'll try "be more active." Instead of "volunteer once a week," I'll try "be more generous with my time when I can." Instead of "have a girls' weekend" with two hopelessly busy teenagers, I'll try "spend more quality time with family."

But how can this apply to my classroom? I know I need to do a better job on several fronts. I know I need to be more organized, do better at differentiation, do a better job at connecting with my students and their parents, so how can I make these things work? I don't want to give up on resolutions, but I don't want to set myself up for failure, either.

I have a broad plan this year to set myself up for success.

Here's how I'll approach organization:

Very simply put, this year, I intend to embrace my lack of it. I won't waste hours filing and labeling, and working against my nature to make everything look pretty. That takes too much time away from the things that truly matter, like planning and making connections. And it's a losing battle for me.

I will stop apologizing for my messy desk. I know where everything is, and it works for me, so I'm going with it. I will keep the piles on my desk. I just need to remember to recycle the things at the bottom of the piles periodically. If they're at the bottom, I probably don't use them.

New years resolutions are a tricky thing, and a lot of people seem to accidentally set themselves up for failure when setting them. I think my resolutions for 2016 were too specific, and I ended up not meeting them, and then I felt bad about it. So, as we step forward into 2017, I've decided to make my resolutions a little less specific. However, I'm still setting myself up for success with different parameters and tools that will help me become a better teacher for my students. Happy 2017!
Sociology students "making a mess" with The Looking Glass Self Lesson
I've found that generally my best lessons that engage the students most are the messiest. I will not apologize for being messy in 2017.

I just finished reading a book that I got for Christmas that beautifully demonstrates the normalcy of messes--Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford. I will re-read it at midyear.


New years resolutions are a tricky thing, and a lot of people seem to accidentally set themselves up for failure when setting them. I think my resolutions for 2016 were too specific, and I ended up not meeting them, and then I felt bad about it. So, as we step forward into 2017, I've decided to make my resolutions a little less specific. However, I'm still setting myself up for success with different parameters and tools that will help me become a better teacher for my students. Happy 2017!
Psychology students out of control making Learning Style Videos

Here's how I'll approach differentiation:

Differentiation is so important, and in the age of technology, it's easier to implement than ever. Exit tickets are a quick way to do it and so is the exit quiz.

All I need to do is assign an exit ticket or quiz the last five minutes of class to see what I might need to reteach to whom--easy, right? 

Well, yes and no. My issues tend to go back to organization (and my struggles with it). In this case, it's time management. I'll have the exit tickets ready to go, but then the bell sneaks up on me.

My resolution is to time each activity. I always plan to, but then I get distracted. I will keep this timer site bookmarked so that it is super easy for me to say, " Okay, you have 15 minutes to work on this, and then we're moving on." There are all types of fun timers to choose from--hourglass, bomb, rocket....

Google Forms now has a self grading quiz option (not the old add-on Flubaroo) that gives students instant feedback. I will use these for those five minute exit quizzes to see if students understand the crux of the lesson. I'll put a tutorial up on how to do this next week--it's super easy if you don't already know.

I also organized my digital exit tickets into single slides so that it's effortless to assign one at a time. I can just make a copy and assign it without having to delete all of the slides I'm not using.

New years resolutions are a tricky thing, and a lot of people seem to accidentally set themselves up for failure when setting them. I think my resolutions for 2016 were too specific, and I ended up not meeting them, and then I felt bad about it. So, as we step forward into 2017, I've decided to make my resolutions a little less specific. However, I'm still setting myself up for success with different parameters and tools that will help me become a better teacher for my students. Happy 2017!
You can find the pre-made Digital Exit Tickets HERE.

Here's how I'll do a better job connecting with my students and their parents:

I always fall into the same trap each year--calling only when there's a problem. My goal this year is to connect with parents each week for positive feedback (notice I'm not giving an exact number, that way, if it's a busy week and I've only made contact with one or two parents, I haven't failed).

I also want to continue my efforts to center aspects of lessons around student's interests (I talked about that HERE) and to really listen to them and foster positive discussions. 

Oh yeah--let's not forget to have fun in 2017!

Because we do have a fun job, and it's easy to forget.

So I want to close this post by talking about a really fun, extemporaneous thing that went on in my classroom in 2016. One of my students got a teddy bear from his girlfriend on Valentine's Day. He had it in class, and it was causing quite the disruption, so I confiscated it.

The bell rang, and I realized that I still had his bear. I meant to give it back to him at the end of class but forgot.

It was my planning block, and I had tons of stuff to do, but instead I took the bear up and down my hallway. I teach on the social studies/ foreign language floor, so teachers have a ton of props. I went from room to room, photographing the bear with different props. I made memes about them.

The next day, my student entered class and asked for his bear. I told him I wasn't sure where the bear went, but that I kept getting these crazy postcards from him. I pointed to the screen at the front of my room, and there was one of the memes projected. He laughed and sat down.

Everyday, he came in and asked about his bear, I pointed to the screen. Finally, when I ran out of memes, I gave him his bear, saying that he had turned back up. Check out the slideshow of Mr. Bear's Adventures below. PLEASE IGNORE THE MESS!!! I know it's Lewis and Clark....
video

I wish you all a happy, healthy, safe, productive, fun, and messy 2017!


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Monday, December 12, 2016

Approaching World History through Source Analysis and Fiction

World history is my favorite "kid"--my favorite subject to teach. Through primary sources (and secondary sources), as well as through fiction, it can really open students' eyes to the way historians work and to the ways in which history is interpreted--both correctly and incorrectly. I share three ways in which I use sources and fiction to analyze in this post, and I'm confident that your students will have a more solid understanding of world history after trying these activities, too.
This post originally appeared in the C.L.A.S.S. Newsletter
in November of 2015
I know we’re not supposed to play favorites with the kids, but I can’t help it. I have six kids, but I most definitely have a favorite. Respectively, my kids are English I, English III, U.S. History, World History, Sociology, and Psychology.

I love them all, truly I do—I’ve spent so much time with each, reading, planning, and teaching, so they really do all feel like my kids--but if I had to pick one to spend the most time with, it would be world history.

“Why?” you might ask, especially when they are all wonderful and English was my first.

Well, I think it may have something to do with what drew me to English in the first place—stories. World history is a bunch of wonderful, disturbing, beautiful, tragic, funny stories. They are stories that explain who and where we are and how we got here. They are stories that connect people in the U.S. to people in Estonia, and people in Nigeria to people in Malaysia.

Also, history is an art—the art of looking at vast amounts of seemingly unconnected evidence, making sense out of it, and weaving it into a narrative.



I think that is what I truly enjoy doing and encouraging students to do. I love it when they say, “History doesn’t change.” My challenge is to have them question that assumption by the end of the term. I want them to see that when they read a textbook or an online article, they are looking at one person’s (or an editorial board’s) interpretation of evidence.  While events and primary sources may not change, interpretations of those events and sources are wide-open to change.

Keeping that in mind, there are a couple of approaches to teaching world history that I like to take: 1. implementing primary and secondary source analysis and 2. bringing short fiction into the curriculum to illustrate points and approaches.

The first approach is vital to any world history curriculum. The best way to make students aware of the historical process is to have them engage in it. First, students must understand the difference between primary and secondary sources. I give a brief lecture about the difference and then guide students through a process of analyzing a primary source (we do this together).

Then, I put students in groups of four and give each group a set of task cards. They have to determine whether the source on each card is primary or secondary and explain why they answered as they did. To take it a step further (and really demonstrate using evidence to draw conclusions), I like to pair students off and give each pair a copy of a receipt. They have to look at the purchases on the receipt and construct a narrative about the person doing the shopping based on the purchases.

It’s fun to have an actual personality sketch of the person behind the receipt so that students can compare their narrative to the actual person and see how close they came to accuracy.  I cinch the lesson by explaining that this is what historians do. They may be right, wrong, or close, but they have to have evidence from primary sources, and their claims should be reasonable based on that evidence, or it is not a reliable source.

I like to use snippets from various secondary sources, all with differing assertions about the same topic, for students to compare. A topic that fits the world history curriculum and lends itself to differing opinions based on primary source evidence is the fall of Rome. It’s difficult to find two historians who agree as to why it fell, let alone if it fell at all.

Students need to see that the narratives we hear in history class are conclusions woven from evidence. They should engage in the process so that they can unweave the narratives and see the individual yarns from which they are created. This will make them more discerning in what they accept as fact.
World history is my favorite "kid"--my favorite subject to teach. Through primary sources (and secondary sources), as well as through fiction, it can really open students' eyes to the way historians work and to the ways in which history is interpreted--both correctly and incorrectly. I share three ways in which I use sources and fiction to analyze in this post, and I'm confident that your students will have a more solid understanding of world history after trying these activities, too.
The second approach I like to take uses short fiction to illustrate the humanity of the people and cultures we are studying. I knew I wanted to do something along these lines the first time I taught world history. The students couldn’t wait to get to the Holocaust.

I was perplexed by their excitement over such a horrific subject. “I love the Holocaust,” I heard more than once.

“Really?” I would say. This troubled me. I thought a lot about it. There are three reasons my somewhat limited mind could fathom that someone would “love” the Holocaust: 1. they are truly depraved, 2. they enjoy the feelings of superiority that “good vs. bad” scenarios give us all (we would never engage in something as horrendous as that—we  would help), and 3. they are genuinely missing the human element in this calamity.

I believe that a very few of the students I have ever taught fall into the first category (although, statistically, some must). So, that leaves the majority falling into categories two and three. “Us against them” is human nature, so category two is understandable. It’s the reason teachers often give for spending so much time on the holocaust, “We do it so that it won’t happen again.” This is noble. After all, Hitler himself remarked, “Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians.”

But that excuse neglects one important truth—it still happens. Ask the Syrian migrants flooding into Europe. Visit the Sudan. Or just watch Hotel Rwanda. That excuse insults the masses still enduring genocide, and it gives us a false sense of the times in which we live.

So that leaves us with category three. I think that many of us get swept up in the atrocities and neglect the human element. Actual people were tortured and killed. Actual families were ripped apart. And that is why we study the Holocaust and other such atrocities—to remember and honor the victims.

I could tell my students this, but I don’t think it would mean much to them. I chose to illustrate the point with a short story instead. Many of us have brought historical fiction into a history class, but I think an effective way to discuss historical themes and approaches can be through short fiction.

Before beginning a unit on World War II, we discuss nationalism and civil war in China. My lesson on this time period involves a brief PowerPoint with cloze notes, primary source analysis (of course), and an original short story to encourage students to consider appropriate ways to approach a subject that sadly plagues the remainder of the course—genocide.

It is my goal to humanize these events for the students, not to look at gruesome pictures and tut-tut the actions of the perpetrators, or worse….Fiction delivers lessons that are more palpable than lectures. Often times, students don’t even realize that it is a lesson. Fiction allows students to draw their own conclusions, often through empathy. STEAM in the classroom.

So, my favorite kid is world history, I’ll admit it. But it dawned on me as I was writing this—perhaps it’s my favorite because it offers me the opportunity to bring in the elements that I also love about the other five, which are also near and dear to my heart.


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