Monday, April 25, 2011

Using Double Victory in the Classroom

Using Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II by Ronald Takaki

After teaching World War II for the past thirteen years, I feel as if I am constantly struggling to find new ways to gain the interest of our students. Teaching US History and World History both present their own challenges. By the time our students have reached World History in the eleventh grade, they have already been exposed to World War II in either US History II and/or a World War elective that our school offers. Having said this, I have continued to struggle over creating new ways in which I can present World War II to our students in a new and interesting manner. I hope to be able to teach our US History II course in the years to come and incorporate this new strategy. After reading Double Victory and participating in the follow-up book group, it became apparent to me that this book would make an excellent source to use in my classroom.

Changes in my teaching from TAH:
Reading Double Victory provided me with a great deal of new information that I previously either didn’t know about or did not have sufficient research on. As I began to read this book, I couldn’t help but think of how much this book would enrich the teaching of World War II in my classes. Ronald Takaki provides us with a multicultural view of Americans during World War II. What he does differently, is that he tells his story through the eyes of a variety of ethnically diverse Americans. He writes about the lives of a Japanese American, African American, Native American, and a Mexican American. Although each story is very different, they share a common thread, which is their struggle to defeat the enemy abroad, while trying to defeat the enemy at home, racism. This year, my teaching of World War II had changed because I was able to incorporate these heroic stories into my classroom. After introducing these stories to the class, the majority of my students reflected on the lesson and commented on how they never realized or connected the two front wars that these diverse groups were confronted with.

This Year’s Lesson:
After reading and participating in a discussion on Double Victory, I immediately made changes to my lesson plans for World War II. The initial adjustment that I made was to share this information through class lecture and discussion with my students. The following class, I divided my class into four small groups and assigned them to one of the four stories which Takaki wrote about in Double Victory. Their task was to read and analyze the struggle of their assigned character and then prepare to share it with the class. Their class discussion went very well a few days later and their interest level was very rewarding. The last portion of this lesson involved these same groups to prepare for a trial to prosecute the United States for their mistreatment of these individual groups during World War II. Using a trial rubric that I have incorporated in years past for my American Law course, I was able to show the students the criteria that we would be following/grading on. The students conducted outside research to strengthen their arguments and carried out a successful trial procedure.

Using Double Victory in my classroom proved to be worthwhile. My students were provided with a viewpoint that the majority of them had never been exposed to previously. Like any first time lesson, I have some changes that I will be making before using this lesson in my classroom next year. I may try to incorporate other primary sources to the various groups to help them with the trial preparation and provide them with more background information to build their cases on. I also believe that I need to make some adjustments to this lesson in order to successfully incorporate it in with my college level course. I tried this lesson this year with my honors course and will have to adjust it for my lower level students.

Connection to National Historical Thinking Standards:
Standard 1: Chronological Thinking
A. Distinguish between past, present, and future time.
B. Identify the temporal structure of a historical narrative or story.
C. Establish temporal order in constructing historical narratives.
D. Measure and calculate calendar time.
E. Interpret data presented in time lines and create time lines.
F. Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration; explain historical continuity and change.
G. Compare alternative models for per iodization.

Standard 5 : Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making
A. Identify issues and problems in the past.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Incorporation of Technology

History Connected has been a literal treasure chest of resources and information. Its amazing just how often I am able to find practical application, not just for myself but for my colleagues as well. Technology and visual education has always been a part of my teaching style, so that has been my biggest take-away so far.

Wakefield recently hosted a technology fair where teachers were able to pick a 1/2 hour workshop off a list of options. I ran a quick workshop on the uses of Prezi in the classroom as an alternative to PowerPoint. It was well attended by fellow History teachers, as well as colleagues from many other disciplines. When I demonstrated its uses, I termed it "one stop shopping" for PowerPoints. Due to Prezi's simple nature and extreme flexibility, it makes it more visually appealing, more dynamic, and easier to add in multimedia. I once wrote a graduate thesis on the need to show cause and effect through a clear concept map of associations. Given Prezi's "path" that allows teachers to sequence talking points, my enthusiasm for its potential is considerable.

In regards to other uses of technology, I am creating a project for my US History I class about sequencing the events leading up to the Civil War using the program Photostory. This program allows students to create a picture slide show (using the Ken Burns photo panning effect) and record voice-overs to narrate over the pictures. The students will receive a series of pictures on the following topics:

1. Election of Lincoln (1860)

2. Secession of South Carolina

3. Dred Scott decision

4. Harper’s Ferry

5. Selection of Jefferson Davis

6. Lincoln/Douglas debates: Introduction of the Freeport Doctrine

7. Creation of Republican Party

8. Passing of the Fugitive Slave Act

9. Publishing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

10. Firing on Fort Sumpter

Ideally, each topic will have 5 pictures that help to tell the story of that event. The students will use these pictures to literally narrate the powder keg effect of national events that lead to Civil War. Students will proceed to upload their Photostory videos to a blogspot link on my Wakefield teacher homepage. Once these Photostory projects are linked together in sequence, they will paint an overall picture of the road to war. This assignment will be a nice method of making my curriculum and my classroom more student-centered.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Informal Use of RAFT

One strategy I have found myself using over the last few months is the RAFT writing approach. It has provided me with an alternative to the standard opinion essay. It has also helped me focus on what I want my students to accomplish in their writing. When I draft an assignment I think about the role I want the students to take on, who the audience is supposed to be, the format of the writing and the exact topic. I don't usually present the assignment with the term RAFT, but require all the major components. I used one of these assignments for my ninth grade U.S. History I Honors class after completing a lesson on Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I have provided the assignment below.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton Fires Back

Elizabeth Cady Stanton is tired of hearing her critics mock the women's rights convention at Seneca Falls. She no longer can stand listening to these men ridicule her desire for the right to vote.

Stanton has decided to write an editorial in a newspaper firing back at these men. What do you think she would say?

Write one paragraph (6-7 sentences) that reveals Stanton's feelings towards her critics and her goals for the women's movement. Spelling and grammar will be part of your grade.

Remember - the writer is Stanton and her audience is her critics.

As you can see, the term RAFT is not included, but all the elements are there. Students put themselves in the role of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, their audience is clearly identified as well as the format. The topic is Elizabeth Cady Stanton's goals for the women's rights movement. I did review with the students what an editorial was before sending them out to complete this assignment. It is a short writing assignment, but the paragraphs I received from the students lived up to my expectations. It is an easy way for me to assess my students' understanding of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

I like to have my students try to put themselves in the shoes of the people they are studying. RAFT provides an effective means for doing that. I altered RAFT a bit by using the guidelines to have the students draw a picture. The students had to draw a picture based on how they thought the Native Americans or the Chinese would convey the events of the gold rush. The students role was the Native Americans or the Chinese, their audience was high school students of today, the format was a picture and the topic was treatment of the group during the gold rush. Some of the images were quite impressive, not only for their accuracy, but the sense of brutality that was displayed against these groups as well.

Using Prezi for Civil Rights Timelines

Background: I’ve always felt uncomfortable covering the Civil Rights Movement as a cohesive, singular movement that was distinct enough to be in its own unit. The reality is that the movement that took place in the 1950’s and 1960’s is so well-embedded throughout our entire modern American History course. For this reason, I developed a timeline assignment where I asked students to pick a start and end date, and then ten important events to go on a timeline of the struggle for the civil rights of African Americans. I always found it interesting to see what events students picked out. Lastly, I asked them to pick one event, do a bit of research and then analyze its impact on the “Civil Rights Movement” as a whole. Still, my focus in this unit was previously just on the civil rights of African Americans.

Changes to my instruction from TAH: After listening to Dr. Keyssar’s lecture at a TAH seminar last year (fall 2009) I began to consider the idea of a constant struggle for voting rights that has no clear ending or beginning. This idea translated to my teaching of the Civil Rights Movement. Last year I asked students to define the idea of civil rights and then based upon their definitions, create their timelines. We discussed “unalienable rights,” rights mentioned in the Bill of Rights and even health care as a possible civil right. I also created a Photostory that presented broad ideas about the fight for civil rights in our country. We watched the Photostory and then had a lively class discussion. Thus, the timelines my students created last school year where not just of civil rights for African Americans. Some students included women, workers, Native Americans, disabled people, and gay couples.

This year’s lesson: I found my changes in instruction last year to be very effective in engaging students in the Civil Rights Movement unit. I knew I wanted to keep those changes and the timeline assignment as I was heading into the unit this year. After attending the TAH technology seminar (winter 2011) I was anxious to try out the use of Prezi in my classroom and realized I could possible do it with my timeline assignment. The problem is, as I’m sure many of you can relate to, is that I didn’t really have time to teach my students how to learn a new type of software during class time. Our school is really focusing on the idea of creating 21 Century Thinkers who “are capable of living and working in a global society.” (Wilmington High School Mission Statement) Keeping that in mind, I decided to challenge my students to learn how to use Prezi on their own. I left it open as an option so they could create their timelines on paper or online through Prezi. The “carrot” was getting extra credit for using Prezi with the stipulation that they learned in completely on their own. They could ask for help before or after school but not during class time. I felt comfortable doing this because using Prezi was only an option and they would be rewarded with extra credit for taking on this challenge. I also created a sample and showed them it in class so they could get a sense of what it was and what I was looking for.

Results: Of my 42 students in two classes, 38 of them chose the Prezi option. Of those 38, only one of them came outside of class for extra help. I did give them one class period to work on it and I showed them how to make their Prezi public and get the link, but otherwise, I let them work and monitored it, but did not help them learn how to use the software. They did not seem to have any issues and found it easy to work with. My students posted their links on a google doc so they could access each others and we did view some of them in class. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time class time to do formal presentations.

Reflection: I was amazed at my student’s work. When we pulled up their presentations in class, a lot of the questions were about how they used certain features of Prezi. Most of them were able to learn the software better than I had! As for the content, I was surprised at how many of them focused on Gay Civil Rights. WHS has a Gay-Straight Alliance and many students took part in Day of Silence Project for LGBT awareness. I think there might be a correlation with the efforts of our GSA as well as increased national media attention to this issue. Our students are definitely becoming more aware of the struggles of our LGBT population. I do have some ideas for improvement for next year’s lesson. First, my students were asked to write an analysis of one of the events on the timeline. Not all of them put the paragraph on the Prezi which is what I wanted them to do. I also want to emphasize that Prezi does not have spell-check (to my knowledge) so I would recommend my students write their paragraph in a word program and then copy/paste or (and even more practical in my opinion!) proofread their work carefully. There were lots of typos in their work. I think there could be some differentiated instruction of this assignment. For lower level students or students that need more structure you could assign them a focus (ie. African Americans, women, Native Americans) and have their paragraphs be a description of the event. For higher level students, you could challenge them in their analysis to link the event they are focusing on to two other events on the timeline. Some of my students did that on their own, but I think I may make that part of next year’s assignment. Lastly, I would love to have enough class time to view all student work. My students were very excited to show off their work and I do believe it is a worthwhile endeavor.

Connection to National Historical Thinking Standards:

Standard 1: Chronological Thinking

A. Distinguish between past, present, and future time. B. Identify the temporal structure of a historical narrative or story. C. Establish temporal order in constructing historical narratives of their own. D. Measure and calculate calendar time. E. Interpret data presented in time lines and create time lines. F. Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration; explain historical continuity and change. G. Compare alternative models for periodization.

Standard 5 : Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making A. Identify issues and problems in the past.

Click here to view Prezi’s that resulted from this assignment.

Below is the Photostory used in class

Friday, April 8, 2011

Turning History Students into Detectives

How can I turn my history students into detectives?
One of the most valuable skills we can teach our history students is to use evidence from the past to develop their own opinions about historical events.  One popular program that many high schools use is the DBQ Project.  Students use textual and visual primary and secondary scholarly sources to answer a question.  For example, my sophomores recently had a class debate based in the evidence from the DBQ entitled "North or South: Who Killed Reconstruction?" Essentially, students use evidence from experts and first-hand witnesses to solve problems, just like a detective would.  The program has a fabulous reputation and student essays that result are well-thought-out and evidence-based.  Unfortunately, one small pitfall of the program is that it requires a lot of paper and not much technology.

Why not combine technology with historical evidence analysis?
I found a great website that enables student to do the same kind of analysis in a webquest style environment.  Surprisingly, students are more enthusiastic about the same tasks when they can simply use a computer instead of doing the writing out with pencil and paper.  Historical Scene Investigation puts famous dilemmas from history into "case files" and asks students to solve the mysteries.  Students analyze primary sources, similarly to the DBQ Project, but the entire task can be done online.

Recently, my freshmen were finishing up their unit on the causes of the American Revolution.  As a review of some of the events, we spent two class periods in the computer lab where they chose to work on one of two case files:
  • The Boston "Massacre": Students read about the event, sifted through both American and British first-hand accounts, and decided whether justice was served at the trial where 6 of the 8 accused British regulars were acquitted.
  • Lexington and Concord: After reading both American and British first-hand accounts, students had to decide the historical question: Who fired the first shot?  Was it the Minutemen or the British regulars?
How should I introduce the website and assignment?
To introduce the assignment, I also used technology.  I used the SMART Recorder program, part of the SMART Technologies suite of software that comes with my SMART Board, to create an instructional video.  Students watched it in class, and, if they ever got confused during the process of completing the work in class or at home, they could reference the video anytime since it was posted on our class website.

What kinds of documents did students work with?
Then it was time to get down to work.  Students worked hard in class analyzing great sources like:
  • Paul Revere's famous engraving that started the use of the term "massacre" to describe the event, The bloody massacre perpetrated on King Street
  • The chromolithograph by John Bufford that dramatized the death of Crispus Attucks: Boston Massacre, Mar. 5, 1770.
  • Entry for April 19th 1775, from the diary of British Lieutenant John Barker swearing that the American provincials fired first at Concord: "...a number of people, I believe between 200 and 300, formed in a common in the middle of town; we still continued advancing, keeping prepared against an attack through without intending to attack them; but on our coming near them they fired on us two shots, upon which our men without any orders, rushed upon them, fired and put them to flight; several of them were killed..."
  • And of course a conflicting sworn account from 34 minutemen who reported that the British regulars fired first: " which time, the company began to disperse, whilst our backs were turned on the troops, we were fired on by them, and a number of our men were instantly killed and wounded, not a gun was fired by any person in our company on the regulars to our knowledge before they fired on us, and continued firing until we had all made our escape..."
So, how did the students do?
Well, when it came to the question over whether justice was served in the trial that followed the Boston Massacre, one student contended:
In Document D, created by John Bufford, it shows colonists are attacking, while others are getting slaughtered by the soldiers' guns.  In Document E by Alonzo Chapel, it shows colonists holding weapons attacking the soldiers.  In Paul Revere's depiction, it shows innocent colonists being brutally killed.  I believe that the colonists were not innocent.  They did somewhat attack the soldiers.  But shooting the colonists was not justified.  I believe that justice was not served.  How can branding someone's thumb be a justified exchange for someone's life?  All of the soldiers should have been put in jail and branded because they killed a group of people over a small conflict that could have been solved a different way.

In the case of Lexington and Concord, one student argued that the American rebels must have fired the first shot because:
The British had well disciplined soldiers who would not fire without an order.  This is clear as one British soldier commented on their intent not to fire and said, "we still continue advancing, keeping prepared against an attack though without attacking them."  This line clearly represents how the British did not want to fire on the Patriots.

It was satisfying for me, as their teacher, to read that these 14 and 15 year old students were combining their own opinions and reasoning skills with evidence from the past. Their number grade was based on a rubric I developed according to the assignment description and class standards we have developed throughout the school year.  Overall, however, I think they did pretty well, don't you?