Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Book Talk-What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media

I had the opportunity to upload and read the Kindle Version of What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media to my iPad, and have thoroughly enjoyed reading this excellent book that is full of practical information and resources.

I originally heard chatter on Twitter about this book, so put it on my Amazon Wish list, but knew it was a definite winner when Adina Sullivan, our technology trainer for the TAH Foundations grant, shared that she had just received her copy of the book. Many of the contributing authors are educators that both Adina and I follow on Twitter, and Adina has had the opportunity to connect with several of these people throughout the years at various technology conferences, and knows that they are well regarded because they have been so effective in utilizing technology as both a collaborative and instructional tool. The editors, Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann are outstanding educators who share their expertise through social media such as Twitter and blogging.

Speaking of blogging, that is the topic addressed in the first chapter of the book, and it is one aspect of Web 2.0 technologies that we are delving into throughout this year. The authors, Kristin Hokanson and Christian Long, define what a blog is and explain best practices in the blogging process.

Other topics include wikis, podcasts, webinars, RSS feeds, one-to-one technology, educational gaming, course management, mobile learning, and social media/networking such as Twitter. I appreciate that the authors present the information in a manner that is very understandable, and they include practical suggestions for getting started. At the end of each chapter there is a summary and a list of additional references on that particular topic. (One nice advantage of the Kindle version, is the opportunity to access links to various websites directly from those references.)

This is a book that I will come back to time and time again, particularly as I branch out of my comfort zone and begin exploring how to utilize mobile devices effectively in the classroom, how to design/implement a course management system, and creating digital videos.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fostering Critical Thinking by Implementing Scholarly Behavior

One of our goals as teachers is to engage our students in critical thinking, going beyond just knowing the right answer, and bubbling the correct response into a multiple-choice assessment. We are doing an extreme disservice to our students if we don't provide them with the strategies and opportunities to analyze what they are learning and synthesize that information so that they can form their own theories and ideas about that particular concept.

I love the fact that one of the goals we are working on through our Teaching American History Grant Project , is teaching our students to think like a historians, and in particular, we are focusing on the skills of seeing the larger view of history as well as building a personal connection to the past.

In order to teach students to use these critical thinking skills, I believe we need to provide our students with specific strategies that exemplify what critical thinking would look like on a day-to-day basis. For the past several years, I have taught my students and their parents about scholarly behavior, because regardless of one's intellectual ability, everyone can make the decision to be scholarly. We would target one behavior each month, and students would need to reflect on that particular behavior each week, providing specific evidence of how they demonstrated that behavior.

Sometimes my students would struggle with trying to come up with concrete evidence to demonstrate their behavior; however, I believe that by examining primary source documents, trade books and other texts to to determine the "big picture" of history by teaching our students to determine the main ideas as well as teaching them to establish a sense of time, scope and sequence within a historical context, we provide them with a concrete means to "ponder ideas and problems", one of the scholarly behaviors. I also see that by encouraging my students to make personal connections to the past, this provides opportunities for my students to really view ideas and problems from multiple viewpoints in order to make those connections, another one of the scholarly behaviors. I truly can see that by teaching our students to think historically, we are providing them with numerous opportunities to document their own scholarliness, giving them a stronger sense of self-efficacy.

The following list is by no means my own; I attended a workshop for Gifted and Talented Education several years ago, and these concepts were introduced during that training.

Definitions of Scholarly Behavior:

Scholars come to school prepared to learn. They bring their tools (thoughts, questions, great attitudes) with them.
Scholars set both short and long term goals for themselves. They have vision.
Scholars exercise their intellect by trying challenging tasks.
Scholars view ideas and problems from multiple viewpoints and perspectives.
Scholars spend time pondering ideas and problems.
Scholars look at families of resources. They include fiction and non-fiction as well as different genres of research.
Scholars consider themselves “half-full”.  They exercise academic humility by realizing that they have more to learn.
Scholars save ideas, documents, and unfinished work so that they can come back to them later.
Scholars are curious. They ask thoughtful questions.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fostering Creativity by Encouraging Risk Taking

In order to foster creativity in the classroom, I feel it is very important to create a safe environment for risk taking . As teachers we must model what it looks like to be a risk taker ourselves and then encourage our students to follow our lead. One aspect of risk taking is the willingness to make mistakes, followed with a willingness to learn from those mistakes. I often have shared with my students that if being smart was a result of learning from one's mistakes, then I must be one of the smartest people in the world! (I seem to get a LOT of thumbs-up from students on that one!)

Several years ago, a fellow colleague shared an affirmation that she recited with her students each morning, and being the good teacher that I am, I stole her idea and began reciting the following affirmation with my students:


I can be anything I want to be.
I am an important person in this world.
My attitude is the best,and I can cooperate.
I can dream dreams and make those dreams come true.
Every new day is an opportunity to improve myself.
I can take a risk; it may be difficult, but it is possible.
It is never too late for me to improve.
I will learn from my mistakes.
~Author Unknown

I would frequently share with my students that if we say something long enough, we begin to believe it, if we believe something long enough, it will become our conviction, if we have convictions long enough, they will become part of our character, and if something is part of our character long enough, it becomes part of our reputation; and it was certainly my goal that all of us, including myself, would have the reputation of being risk takers. (Okay, okay, I know this is dangerously close to brainwashing, but whatever works to encourage risk taking, works for me!)

Each time I asked my students to participate in a shared inquiry in a literature discussion, to show their thinking on a math problem using multiple representations, to provide evidence of their arguments and to recognize the validity of opposing point of views in their essays, I knew I was challenging them to be risk takers. Often the process involved making mistakes, then having to learn from those mistakes, forcing them to refine the process, and finally trying it all over again. In fact, each day a student showed up in my classroom, I respected the fact that he/she was taking a risk, trusting that although I very likely could have been making  mistakes in the process, it was always my goal to be there to guide him/her through the learning experience in a way that was meaningful and engaging to that student.

Not only do I appreciate risk taking in students, but I also appreciate teachers who are willing to take risks in their own professional journeys as well. A special thanks to all of my colleagues in the Foundations Teaching American History Grant Project who truly exemplify the words of this affirmation. I appreciate their willingness to take risks and foster their own creativity as teachers by participating in the professional development training and collaborating with each other on best practices not only in person, but also through the use of Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and web-based presentation tools. Their insights inspire me and push my thinking. I am grateful  for the opportunity to learn from them each day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Teaching American History Project Directors' Conference, Washington D.C.

I had an amazing time at the Teaching American History Directors' Conference in Washington D.C. that took place from August 8-11, 2011. In addition to the fabulous classes I was able to attend,  I had the opportunity to take a few "field trips" to visit various museums while in the area and was truly inspired by the incredible displays and exhibits.

In order to process what I learn, it helps for me to reflect on the key points, and then jot down a brief summary.  The following are summaries of a few of the classes I attended while at the conference:

African American Struggle for Equality, Modeling an Inquiry Based Approach to Common Core
  • Explore African American agency in the struggle for freedom
  • Access key digital primary sources at Library of Congress
  • Explain inquiry based approach to primary sources
  • Understand  inquiry based approach to primary sources supports the Common Core Standards  for Literacy
Inquiry Based Learning Model Using Audio Files
As participants, we had the opportunity to listen to an audio recording of an interview with Fountain Hughes.
When doing this activity with students, guide the discussion as follows:
  • Observe, describe what you hear, what can you tell about the person?
  • Reflect, what was purpose of recording, who do you think recorded it, why, what kind of equipment was used for the recording?
  • Question, who, what, when?
  • Consider when to provide context needed, follow up, what questions arise?  

Inquiry Based Learning Model Using Illustrations:
  • Connect- Identify 3 objects in the picture, what is the person wearing? Is this a photo or painting
  • Wonder-what 3 questions would you like to ask this person? Is there anything out of the ordinary in this picture?
  • Investigate-where could we look to find more information about this picture? What is this person's role in history? What was the role of the African American in the Union army? (big question)
  • Construct-use the evidence you found, what is going on in the picture
  • Express-create a presentation for others with the role of the African American in mind
  • Reflect-what questions remain?

Inquiry Approach is Supported through Common Core State Standards
(2010 initiative of National Governors)
  • History CCSS
  • Fall under English language arts
  • Focus on literacy
  • Supplement history state content standards
  • Four standards total
  • Key ideas and details
  • Craft and structure
  • Integration of knowledge & ideas
  • Range of reading

What they are and are not:
  • Not  content, focus on current state standards
  • Are-skills based,
  • Are scaffolded by grade

Example of performance based assessment
  • Read and review three documents
  • Answer questions below in essay form
  • Provide prior knowledge


The Busy Project Directors Toolkit: Teachinghistory.org
This website is a great "go-to" resource for any educator who is interested in accessing content and pedagogy resources, not just project directors! During the workshop, the presenters highlighted these aspects of the website:

History Content
Website review section can be searched by topic, time periods, includes at a glance, links, bookmark backpack,can search multimedia for content
Ask a Historian links for specific questions that are archived and ability to ask new questions
Beyond the Textbook, central question, what does textbooks, historians, and sources say? Idea for teachers to create their own "beyond the textbook"
Weekly history quiz,search by topic or key word, online and PDF version available
Best Practices
Historical thinking and using primary resources
Examples of historical thinking Link to interviews, Example of slave receipts, this example was a form with standardized wording that could be completed by filling in blanks, make connections with places on receipt and map
Teaching In Action linka to various classrooms and what students are doing during instruction, will include the historical thinking skills being utilized
Teaching Materials
Lesson Plan Reviews, rubrics for indicators for strong plan for history content, analytical thinking, scaffolding, and lesson structure
Lesson plan gateway
English language learners
Teaching Guides, Adapting Documents
Digital Classroom
Tech for Teachers, Presentations (Glogster), Wallwisher.com (online bulletin board', scribbler.com interactive whiteboard, prezi
Beyond the Chalkboard filming in the classroom, Skyping, Twitter, Voice Thread
Ask a Digital Historian
Other Resources Discussed
National Archives
Live Binders
Stanford historical thinking

Using Web 2.0 Technology
Web 2.0 technology allows us to gain access to experts throughout the world and to collaborate with one another in our research. The following are a few examples:

 Increase Content Knowledge-
History Scholars & Online Seminars http://americainclass.org/seminars/

 Collaboration and Interactive Book Studies-
Virtual Bookshelf http://www.gurulib.com/

Interactive Map, pin stories, pictures on map-History Pin
Google Books
Google Forms

The Barber of Birmingham, Professional Development that Transfers into Classroom Practice
The purpose of this class was to demonstrate how documentaries can be utilized in the classroom as "well told stories" of important historical events. Just as in any story, a documentary includes the following components:
  • Exposition (context,, and background information)
  • Crisis (trigger, catalyst, cause of change in course)
  • Conflict (challenges, obstacles)
  • Climax (turning point)
  • Resolution (outcome)
Initially we reviewed the above components with the well told story "The Wizard of Oz". We then viewed the documentary "The Barber of Birmingham" and noted the same components of a well told story were part of this documentary, a barber's reflections on how far we had come from fighting for the right to vote for African Americans to recently electing an African American as the President of the United States. Be viewing and discussing the film, it provided numerous opportunities to apply critical thinking skills as we examined the various components of the story structure. Ultimately the goal is to have students become so comfortable with analyzing documentaries, they are able to create their own "well told story" through a documentary.  Additional information about the film Barber of Birmingham, Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement  is available on their website.

Best Practices for Special Education and ESL/ELL US History Instruction
The presenters modeled a classroom simulation, and we as participants took on the role as students. We worked in cooperative groups to sequence events on a sentence strip. Once the groups agreed on the sequence, they would be provided documents to read together in order to win a "date" card that would help confirm whether or not the sequence of events on the sentence strip was correct. Additional resources/activities can be found on the American Social History Project website.

Thinking Like a Historian: Using Primary Sources to Explore Point of View
Danna Bell Russel and Cheryl Lederele from the Library of Congress provided the participants with hands-on experience in examining and analyzing primary source documents related to Abraham Lincoln's assassination. They modeled how to ask questions with our students when asking them to analyze primary source documents. Initially questions such as "What do you see? What do your reflect on? and What else do you want to know?' can serve as openers for the discussion. To continue the discussion, questions such as "Who was the author or creator? When was it created? Why was it created? and What else was happening when it was created? can be posed. It is also important to expose them to multiple sources so that they can compare/contrast the different perspectives of the event. Additional resources are available through the Library of Congress.

Learning to Think Like a History Teacher
Bob Bain, University of Michigan, encouraged us to be students of history teaching and learning and to systematically study our own teaching and to treat the classroom as a historical event and to use the records and artifacts of teaching and student learning as part of that process. There are challenges to teaching history because there is so much content to be covered, and the textbooks are often fragmented. Our goal is to help improve student think more like historians by focusing on higher order thinking. How do philosophers of history decide what is important? Frame problems to drive the investigation and to determine what is important, select and use evidence from sources, study the events, think inside the event as well as examine other events that help frame the context. One practical strategy to begin this thinking process is to ask them to determine what ten things they think would be important to include in a time capsule, then explain the difference between the top three and bottom three. Take these reasons to generate discussion about how historians determine what events are significant.

Field Trips
I highly recommend visiting the following museums when in D.C!
Spy Museum
Smithsonian, National Portrait Gallery, American Origins

Friday, May 13, 2011

Looking Down the Road, Focus for the 2011/12 Professional Development Training

Foundations of American History Professional Development Training
North County Region Education Center
255 Pico Avenue, San Marcos, CA 92069

History Content (Presented by American Institute for History Education)
August 15-19, 2011
  • Motivations of the Colonists to Come to the New World
  • Ideological Roots of Colonial America, Precursor Steps to Revolution

October 7, January 13, March 16, May 18
  • Writing-Using Primary Source Documents to Teach Non-Fiction Writing and Aligning Instruction to Common Core Standards
  • Professional Learning Communities-Working in Small Collaborative Groups to Develop and/or Refine Units of Study that Integrate History Content with Writing (Focus on Differentiated Instruction)
  • Technology-Utilizing Resources to Enhance Writing Instruction

I look forward to another incredible year together, not only because of the opportunity to learn from all of our wonderful presenters, but for the chance to benefit from each other's expertise as we work collaboratively with one another in small groups!

* I apologize if this is a duplicate post!  I posted a similar entry on 5/12/11, but it was deleted by Blogger. According to their website, all new blog entries on Blogger that were posted had been "temporarily deleted" while they were doing routine maintenance. It appears that entry has been lost somewhere in cyberspace, however, so I am re-doing it just to be on the safe side!