We have just started our Manifest Destiny unit. There is a lot of information I want to cover related to the local effects of westward expansion – leading from Native American Life to the Whitman Mission Massacre to the treaty that created the Umatilla Indian Reservation located east of Pendleton.
To facilitate this, I am going to ask the students to create “storyboards” (a glorified version of a comic strip). I am going to cover about 12 different events, asking the students to take notes as we cover those events through readings and video clips. After two days of note taking, students will get to choose 6 events each to place into storyboard form.
I am hoping that the goal of gathering information to include on this project will help the students focus on the material. We’ll see how it works!
One thing I’ve had a lot of fun with is trying to present information in as many ways as possible. This helps keep students attentive. It also caters to the wide variety of learning styles. I feel like the more ways information is presented, the better the chance that students will be able to digest it and incorporate it into their memories.
After reading about a topic in the textbook, and answering questions related to the topic on an in-class assignment, and then hearing me talk about it and discussing it as a class, it is sometimes helpful to have yet another way to process the information.
Enter “Ignite Learning!” This is a channel I’ve found on YouTube that has short (+/-3 min) clips related to all sorts of topics — not just social studies. So, after learning about the Tariff of Abominations and South Carolina’s irritation over the tariffs, we watched this short clip:
Students really enjoyed it — like they were seeing something on Nick At Night — and it allowed them to process the info in one more way.
Check out the channel for good, fun educational clips.
One of the things brought up in our Learning & Development class is the idea that the more times a person processes information, and the more ways in which that information is processed, the more likely the person will be able to transfer that information from short-term to long-term memory.
I have come to understand this first hand. I am really learning a lot simply by planning lessons. In years of prior education, I have not been able to retain as much information (relatively) as I have been in the past year of planning civics lessons and history lessons. I have come to realize that this is because I need to process all of the information multiple times and in a variety of ways, when determining the best way to present it to students.
However, I also realize that students are in the same place that I was in when I was a student learning new information. They are also going to be more likely to remember the information if they are actually finding it and processing it themselves — the underlying reason behind the inquiry trend.
So I guess it will be a goal to determine the best ways to allow students to discover and process information in as many ways as possible.
For my Methods class, I was asked to design a “simulation” that could be used in class. I was just about to teach the concept of Judicial Review, and the strengthening of the judiciary through the landmark Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison (1803).
I made up a bunch of questions on three separate handouts – one each for the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. The questions were somewhat vague and could be answered yes or no, depending on the interpretation of the question.
I made copies on 3 different colors of paper, and gave one “branch” handout to each student. After they’d answered their 10 questions, students were asked to form groups of 3 (each of whom had answered questions related to a different branch of government).
The judicial branch got to “grade” the other two branches. Whatever “interpretation” of the questions the judicial branch had made, determined whether the other two branches were “right” or “wrong.”
This was a fun activity to help students understand the idea that the judicial branch could rule on actions of the other two branches as either constitutional or unconstitutional.
Overall this activity worked pretty well. But, if I were to do it again in the future, I would simplify the questions a little bit (as I spent a lot of time answering questions about phrasing, etc).
We have learned that the brain’s pattern of development means middle school students will have a lower ability to think abstractly than will high school students. I was surprised at how many abstract ideas were difficult for high school students to comprehend. Now, in the 8th grade, I feel like nothing but the most concrete of concepts gets across to kids.
Knowledge and comprehension activities are working fine, but I would be interested to hear ideas on how to move middle school students to higher level thinking, given their limits with abstract thought.
Some of the stuff we’ve been doing lately in our Multiculturalism class spurred me to present Lewis & Clark’s journey west from a somewhat different angle than I might have otherwise presented it. PBS has a link to a lot of L&C info, including brief one-page articles about 16 Native American tribes with which L&C came into contact. (The reading level of the articles is a little high for 8th graders, but we made it through okay.)
Students paired up and chose a tribe to research. I drew a really big, rough map of the West with the waterways and mountains on two pieces of purple butcher paper taped together. The students then made colorful signs for the tribes they researched and noted information they would present to the class.
Then, on Day 2, we did a journey from St. Louis to Fort Clatsop, focusing on the Native American groups found along the way in 1803. I did a PowerPoint slide for each group — with pictures of what the people, houses, clothing, etc look like — which was displayed for each group’s presentation.
The presentations ranged from mediocre to excellent, but every kid got up in front of the class and said something, and then got a round of applause. Plus, it was cool to see all of the colors (representing the many different Native American peoples present before Europeans arrived) forming a trail across the top part of the big purple map.
But not really. Yesterday I started class with what I told students was a pop quiz. I asked them to take out a piece of paper, and to number it 1 through 10. I displayed a PowerPoint slide with the heading “When Jefferson was President,” and the instructions to “write true or false for each question.” I told students that each question would provide a description of something that either was, or was not, true during Jefferson’s presidency. They would be turning in their papers.
I displayed questions one-by-one, which was a great way to ensure all students were focused together, rather than having some finish earlier than others. Some questions were clearly false (eg, “Unicorns roamed the West”). Others were more difficult (eg, “A series of waterways crossed the western mountains, connecting the Mississippi River with the Pacific Ocean”).
After the students were finished, we “graded” the quizzes together. I displayed the answer to each question one-by-one, again a great way to maintain focus. It turned out that all questions were false (including the one about “7-foot beavers roaming the West”).
This activity did not take much class time. It emphasized the idea that Jefferson had many misconceptions about the West when he purchased the Louisiana Territory from France. And – the best part – it brought the entire class to a focus for the rest of class.
Of course, the students were not graded. Instead, they crumpled their papers up and threw them at me (as I was holding the recycle box). I told them they deserved to be able to throw something at me as I had scared them with the pop quiz to begin with!
During the first two units I’ve taught at the middle school — covering the presidencies of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson — I have developed timeline templates for the students to complete. The templates have ten boxes with ten different dates. On the back, there are ten different events, which they must use to fill in the boxes.
Many of the events are not stated outright in the text we use; students must read between the lines to determine what year they are looking for. The goal is for students to actually read the text, and to think about what is taking place during this period of American history.
When we grade the timelines, it provides a structure for class discussion as we touch on why the events are historically important.
I hope to continue doing such timelines throughout the semester, allowing students to tape them together page-by-page as we progress through each unit. At some point, I hope to do an assignment that will require students to analyze causes and effects of events that have occurred by making use of the cumulative timelines.
Having worked with high school seniors all first semester, I was unsure of what to expect when I moved over to the middle school to teach 8th grade American History.
So far, so good. The 8th graders have been awesome to work with during these first few weeks. They are a lot more spontaneous. The high school kids – who were fantastic (don’t get me wrong) – at times seemed to be a little bit too cool for school. The 8th graders seem to have a more take-it-as-it-comes attitude, and are less questioning when asked do do an activity.
For example, one of my first brief intro activities involved the 8th graders getting up, out of their seats, and choosing a corner of the room to stand in based on their stance on a particular question: What issue would be most important to you, if you were involved in early American government?
Corner “A” was Foreign Relations; corner “B” was National Debt; corner “C” was Native American Relations; and corner “D” was Expansion Westward.
Had I asked the high school students to take part in such an activity, they would have done so, but likely they would not have been too fired up about it. The middle school students, on the contrary, shot right up out of their seats and moved to the corner of the room of their choice. And then they responded good-naturedly when asked questions about why they chose the corner that they did.
So, given my brief experience so far, I look forward to more instances of spontaneity and lack of reservation on the part of the 8th graders:)