Monday, February 17, 2014

Twit for Tat – Simulating a Twitter Debate between FDR and Hoover

In studying the Great Depression I strive to ensure that my students understand the causes of the depression, the debate over how the government should respond, the effects upon the American public, and the long term effects of the depression (including economic, political, and social effects).  Today I would like to describe a class activity I have utilized to help students recognize the varying views on how the government should respond to an economic crisis.
My goal for this activity is for students to recognize how Franklin Roosevelt’s response to the Great Depression represents a break from past policies, particularly those of Herbert Hoover.  To achieve this outcome, students must understand the basic philosophies of Hoover and Roosevelt and recognize that politicians and citizens alike have differing views as to how the government should respond to a crisis.  
In planning how to best achieve this outcome, I tried to think of how students could relate to a philosophical debate.  I considered conducting a traditional class debate on the topic, but I decided that students might better relate to a form of debate that involves an activity many of them engage in daily.  This led me to develop an activity where students simulate a Twitter debate between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt.
I began by assigning half the class a background reading on Hoover’s philosophy for ending the Great Depression while the other half read about Roosevelt’s beliefs for ending the economic crisis.  Each student was then paired with someone who read the opposite philosophy.  Groups were instructed to simulate a Twitter debate between Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover with each person taking on the role of one of the presidents.

I investigated several tools for simulating Twitter.  Fake Tweet Builder seemed like a good possibility, but it was blocked by the internet filter at my school.  I then looked into Twister, but it is designed to simulate tweets from one person which did not meet my needs for a debate.  Finally I determined that a template might meet my needs better than an online simulator.  I settled on a Twitter Template for PowerPoint that allowed students to replace profile photos with images they found online and  customize the tweets allowing them to simulate a debate.

I feel this lesson achieved its desired outcomes.  Students demonstrated understanding of the different political philosophies concerning the government’s role in an economic crisis and engagement was very high.  Many students commented that they enjoyed this activity because it utilized a tool that is a part of their personal lives and they enjoyed the chance to customize the activity by including pictures, hashtags, and “Twitter slang.”

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Connect the Dots . . . Er, the Educators – Become a Part of Connected Educators Month

October is Connected Educators Month.  Being a connected educator can mean many things.  It could mean discussing strategies for working with a challenging student with a teacher down the hall, collaborating on lesson plans with a teacher in another school in your district, or corresponding with someone you met at a conference about instructional strategies.  As illustrated in these examples, connected educators are nothing new; however, today’s digital world offers endless possibilities for teachers looking to collaborate.  
Online tools such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, webinars, blogs, forums, etc. offer today’s connected educators an unprecedented opportunity to further the field of education within their classroom, school, district, and nation.  The establishment of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) provides teachers with a form of personalized professional development that cannot be matched by any inservice or workshop.  A PLN provides educators with personalized, just-in-time access to lessons, advice, resources, research, and, perhaps most importantly, inspiration.
It is also important to remember that today’s learners live in a connected world.  They spend countless hours viewing pictures on Instagram, creating videos on Vine, sharing on Twitter, watching videos on YouTube, etc.  Today’s students have technology embedded in nearly every aspect of their life.  This digital world necessitates an evaluation of how we, as educators, approach learning.  The creative, collaborative process students use daily, can also benefit teachers.  By becoming connected, teachers are able to deepen their understanding of students’ lives and to access the collective resources, creativity, and wisdom of the world’s educators.
I encourage all teachers to check the U.S. Department of Education’s Connected Educators website.  This site offers a number of valuable resources including a Starter Kit, a calendar of events, edConnectr, and many more.  Many teachers have already discovered that Twitter provides a valuable tool for connected educators to collaborate.  Connected Educators Month discussions can be found at #CE13.  #SSChat also offers valuable tools for any social studies teacher.  Connected Educators Month organizers also maintain a Facebook page and Google+ community to share resources and promoted discussions.  A simple search will reveal many other sources related to Connected Educators Month.  Regardless of what tools we use, all educators owe it to our students to become more connected.
In the spirit of connectivity, I would like to share some online sources that I frequent:   
This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but rather a starting point.  I encourage everyone to share some of their favorite sources with another teacher.
As a connected educator, I would like to expand my PLN by connecting with passionate educators who want to collaborate for the benefit of all our students.  Connect with me via Twitter or LinkedIn.


Monday, September 23, 2013

He Did It! – Wanted Posters Illustrating Who is to Blame for WWI

I believe that it is important for educators to allow opportunities for students to create.  This piques student interest by allowing them to be creative and providing some measure of choice in their learning.  Creating also requires a more thorough understanding of the significance of history than merely answering questions or completing a worksheet.  I have found that this practice works very well in conjunction with inquiry-based learning activities.  As a firm believer in inquiry-based activities, I often allow my students the opportunity to create a product to demonstrate their learning.
This practice can take many forms ranging from long summative assessments to brief formative checks of learning.  Last week I gave students a chance to create as a chance for me to check their understanding of the outbreak of World War I.  This followed an activity where students examined primary sources to determine the causes of war and a class discussion of the chain of events that led to the conflict becoming a world war.  As a formative check of understanding, I asked students who was to blame for the beginning of the First World War.  Rather than a simple written summary expressing their opinion, I asked students to create wanted posters to illustrate their view of who perpetrated war.  I decided that it was important for students to think beyond their initial impressions of guilt, so I required each student to create two posters to demonstrate the role of two separate individuals.  Depending on the availability of technology, students can draw their posters on paper or use one of many templates available online.
Students were instructed to model these posters after the wanted posters of the Old West.  Each poster needed to include the name of the person charged with the crime, a picture of the individual, a brief explanation of their guilt, and a list of allies and enemies.  Students were interested in this assignment because it allowed them a chance to be creative and  to make something fun.  This assignment also achieved instructional goals by helping me to gauge how well students understood the outbreak of World War I and the role different individuals played in the beginning of the war.
This activity can then be followed up with a lesson on the course of World War I, including the realities of life in the trenches 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Who Am I? -- Introducing the Teacher through Primary Sources


As we begin another school year I’ve tried to rethink some of my beginning of the year activities.  I have always felt it is important to expose students to the procedures and routines that are expected within my classroom.  I also think it is essential for students to become comfortable in my classroom, get to know each other and get to know me.  This year I have tried to incorporate all of these introductory activities into a lesson that allows students to begin practicing skills that will commonly be used in the study of history while being exposed to the idea of an inquiry-based approach to learning.
I think it is important to introduce students to the study of history early in the year.  This means conveying to students the importance of approaching the study of history as a historian would; piecing together primary sources to try to form a complete picture of the past.  
This year I developed an activity to try and combine these objectives into an introductory activity.  This activity begins with a quick discussion of how we learn about history.  Students usually respond by stating that it comes from a book or from the internet.  Further prompting leads students to begin listing things such as letters, diaries, documents, etc.  This opens up a discussion to explain the difference between primary and secondary sources.  The differences between these two types of sources can be further clarified by the video “What is a Primary Source.” 
The next phase of this lesson allows students to practice analyzing primary sources in order to form a picture of the past and, in the process, to get to know more about me as a person.  Students are placed in cooperative learning groups of 2-3 and each group is given a few primary sources that relate to various aspects of my life.  Some examples of the types of sources I included are my high school diploma, one of my senior pictures from high school showing the sports I was involved in, ticket stubs from football games I attend, the program from my college graduation, my diploma from my master’s degree, my first teaching contract, some of my favorite books, pictures of my wife and kids, pictures of me camping and canoeing with my family, and my wife’s school ID that shows she is also a teacher.
Students work with their groups to analyze the primary sources, completing a chart to record a description of each source and any inferences that can be drawn from the source.   These inferences go beyond a mere summary of the document to draw conclusions based on evidence from the documents.  These conclusions will help explain something about me as a person.  This allows students practice analyzing sources and considering the significance of each source in helping to explain the past.
After analyzing each source, students put together all of their information and inferences to form a complete picture of me as a person.  Groups will illustrate their image of me by filling in an outline of a human body that represents me.  Students are instructed to add clothing, accessories, or anything in the background to help illustrate me as a person.
To promote a sense of community, each group is given a chance to share their picture of me and explain to the class how they arrived at their conclusions about me.  Students begin to feel like they know a little about me, but they are left with more questions.  After allowing students to ask additional questions about me, we discuss the benefits and shortcomings of primary sources in studying history. 
Students have now had a chance to get to know a little about me, so I transition into an activity that allows me to get to know each of them.  Each student needs to determine what is important about them as a person and brainstorm 5 primary sources that demonstrate these aspects of their life.  Students do not need to bring these sources to school, but rather just describe them in writing.  Along with the description of each source, students include an explanation of what someone could learn about them by examining the source.  Lastly, students complete a picture illustrating important things about them as a person.  Much like the picture they made of me, this will involve adding details to an outline of a human body.
This lesson worked very well to achieve the objectives I had for an introductory activity.  Students gained experience working with primary sources on an inquiry-based activity, they got to know a little about me as a person, they were introduced to some of their classmates as they worked together, and they were exposed to the procedures and routines I expect them to follow as we work in groups and complete in class activities.  I was also able learn a little about each of them as they explain primary sources from their lives and create a picture of themselves.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Hatching Tools for Education at the Innovation Incubator

This week I served as a judge for the Software & Information Industry Association’s (SIIA) Innovation Incubator program.  SIIA states that this program “identifies and supports entrepreneurs in their development and distribution of innovative learning technologies.”  The winning innovation will be awarded the Educator's Choice Award at the Ed Tech Industry Summit (May 5-7, 2013).
Overall I was impressed with all of the entries.  Each innovation seemed to offer a benefit to classroom teachers and most included tools to help with instruction.  Most entries focused on encouraging thinking skills and many innovations promoted the idea that students need to be allowed to operate in a flexible, real-world environment where they are not given the right answer, but have to utilize critical thinking and problem solving skills to arrive at a conclusion.  This is a direction that I have tried to take my instruction in teaching U.S. History and I know many other educators strive to meet this same goal, possibly even more so with the adoption of the Common Core Standards across most of the country. 
Below are my thoughts on each of the entries in the Innovation Incubator program:
Citelighter, Citelighter Inc
Citelighter is a tool to help students research and organize information to write papers.  The features of Citlighter that I found unique are its ability to open as a sidebar in Google Docs to allow students to have their research right there as they write and the fact that it generates reports for teachers allowing analytical data for the teacher to see which part of the process students may need help with.
simCEO creates an online market simulation allowing students to recognize key economic factors.  Students simultaneously run a business and invest in corporations controlled by their peers, requiring them to recognize the effects of various factors upon the economy.  Market conditions can be altered by the teacher and different scenarios can be set up to allow for the achievement of different learning goals.  One example given during the presentation was a scenario set in Boston in 1770 to demonstrate the effects of British taxes on colonial businesses.
Naiku, Naiku, Inc.
Naiku is an assessment program that allows teachers to guide instruction based upon data from formative assessments.  Naiku provides automated scoring and reports aligned to standards allowing teachers to adapt instruction to student needs.  I don’t know how unique Naiku is, but it seemed to have an easy-to-use interface and it is compatible with any web enabled device (desktop computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc.).
scrible, scrible
scrible is a web app that allows users to annotate websites for research.  Students are able to highlight, take notes, and annotate key information in addition to using scrible to organize and sort information.  scrible also generates citations for a research project.  I know of several products that serve similar purposes as scrible, but without conducting further research, I don’t know if any combine all of these functions within one application.
mAuthor, Learnetic S.A.
mAuthor allows users to create content that is viewable on any platform.  This service appears to be easy to use and does not require any programming skills.  mAuthor allows for the creation of original content or customization of existing content to allow for viewing on any device with any screen size.  This would be particularly useful for schools that have gone to a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approach.  
See.Touch.Learn., Brain Parade, LLC
See.Touch.Learn is designed to help provide services for special needs students.  This application allows for assessment based on visual images and can help with learning names of people and everyday objects.  Lessons can range from identifying objects/people to higher-level categorization and associations.  See.Touch.Learn allows users to utilize existing content or create new content to meet the needs of learners.
ParentSquare, ParentSquare
ParentSquare is a little different than most of the other entries highlighted during the Innovation Incubator program because it does not directly relate to instruction, but it still offers benefits to teachers by attempting to improve communication with parents.  ParentSquare allows teachers or school officials to post announcements, requests, pictures, etc. online and to have messages emailed to parents.  Although I don’t know a lot of specifics, I believe there are other programs that serve similar functions.  Without knowing much about the other applications, I can’t offer a true comparison, but ParentSquare appears easy to use and it seems to serve the purpose it was designed for.
Shmoop, Shmoop University, Inc.
I had some familiarity with Shmoop before the Innovation Incubator program and Shmoop’s presentation confirmed some of what I already knew as well as informing me of new and upcoming features.  Shmoop claims to “speak student” by explaining concepts in a fun, interesting manner that students can relate to.  Shmoop offers material relevant to a number of different subject areas as well as test review materials.  Some of the new features of Shmoop that I learned about during their presentation include the development of short videos to teach key concepts and the creation of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses).  
Globaloria, World Wide Workshop
Globaloria is designed to allow students to create games.  As a game design platform, Globaloria seems to have a variety of educational applications and possibilities.  As educators, we know that programming skills are becoming more and more important and often pique student interest; Globaloria allows a platform to incorporate these skills into an existing curriculum.  I did not feel like I gained a solid grasp of how Globaloria works during their presentation, but the concept behind it seems beneficial to students and teachers.
zondle, zondle
zondle is another game based learning application.  zondle allows users to create games or use ready-made games that are accessible on web-based or mobile platforms.  Another nice feature of zondle is that it allows users to monitor their progress.  Users can compare their performance over time as well as seeing which questions they struggled with.  I see zondle primarily as a way to review concepts already studied in class and there are several similar products in existence, but zondle seems to meet its objective of using games to support learning.
I could envision ways that teachers could incorporate each innovation in an educational setting.  Although some of the innovations were not unique in the services they offered, each seemed to meet a need for educators/students and nearly all of them promoted critical thinking skills by students.
The winners of SIIA’s Innovation Incubator program will be announced Tuesday, May 7 at the Ed Tech Industry Summit.