Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Taking the Conversation To the Students

As a government and US History teacher, I predominantly work with students who are among the next generation of voters, a generation often maligned because of their lack of participation in the civic process.  To be fair, it's hard to ignore decades of statistics on voting turnout which show that the young voter tends to be the least likely to vote.  But instead of lamenting on our youth, calling them lazy, or just hoping that they will vote more when they "grow up", we have a responsibility as teachers to, at least, make the attempt to inspire citizenship in the students.  I assure you:  the issue is not that these students don't want to care, it's just that they need to know why they should.

Teaching in an election year is always fun, and this election cycle is no different.  Okay, maybe it is radically different, but at least it has been a little easier to cultivate interest.  I've been pushing my students to keep up with the candidates, largely through current event portfolios and in-class discussions.  In-class discussion is great, and easy to accomplish, assuming that one is prepared to handle it appropriately.  When talking about our responsibility to try and inspire "good" citizenship, we have to remember that it is NOT  our job to mold these kids into what WE think they should be, or how they should think.  Our responsibility is to equip each student with the ability to think for themselves, to make their own decisions on issues; we show them doors, not force them to open one over the others.  To that end, while I tell my students that I have very passionate views on most issues, I am going to largely keep those to myself so that I can assume a position as unbiased mediator, and argue the silent point if needed.

Once again, if prepared, in-class discussion is great.  But what about the teachable moments that happen outside of class?  What about moments like last night's debate?  Without a doubt there was a time when the only choice a teacher had was to hope that students would watch, maybe give an assignment to force them, and then hope to be able to discuss it the next day.  That time has come and it has gone.  Like many schools we are 1:1, and so I know my students have access to a computer.  And if they have access to a computer, then we can talk in real-time.  I set up a chat forum through Today's Meet (https://todaysmeet.com), emailed the link to the students in our government class, and we met online and stayed in the room through the duration of the debate.  And it was great.  The students made insights that I missed, and it was great to see the reactions in real-time.  The students were able to ask questions regarding points made, and I could answer them (or most of them) in the moment.  Without a doubt these kids care; we just have to be willing to take the conversation to them.

"But Mr. Cline, what about those of us who aren't 1:1, or who are but are concerned about wi-fi?" Why, Mr. Invisible Question Asker, you pose a great query!  There are always the "Debate Bingo" cards, and activities like it, that are great resources to encourage the kids to watch.  I was also enthused to see so many colleagues post on Twitter pics from their "Debate Watch" Parties; great stuff!

In the end, we have to realize that our responsibility to our students reaches well beyond content, and into actually getting them ready for the "real world." We are sending our students into an environment which is severely lacking in an ability to have a legitimate conversation, unable to compromise for the common good.  What can we do to help our students emerge ready to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Do We Give Our Students Enough Credit?

Ask my kiddos, and I think they will tell you that Mr. Cline loves music.  Unless we are talking, music is playing.  It plays when the students enter the room and leave the room.  I even have a record player, and spin vinyl, both for me and so the kids can hear the sound of music played in a true form. On our board I post a "lyric of the day" each morning, usually tied to a message I want to send to the kids, and every Friday is a student suggested lyric.  It's safe to say, music is a big part of our classroom.

Earlier this week I happened to catch the Jonny Lang song "Thankful", and it struck a nerve.  I had just received some exciting news, honestly the most exciting news I had ever gotten in my professional career, and while I was trying to process this news, this song played.  My eyes got a little misty as I was reminded, as I am almost every single day, that as exciting as my news was, it had only been made possible by the kids that I get to teach.

I'd like to think that good things happen in our classroom.  I'd like to think that we have some great discussions, and that lives have been impacted in there.  I'd like to think that my classroom has been a safe haven for kids, a place where they have always felt they could be themselves, vent if needed, but most of all feel loved.  I'd like to think all these things, I hope all these things.  But there is one thing I know, above all else.  There is not a single good thing that has ever happened in our classroom that isn't because of the kids I teach...because of the kids who teach me.  Discussions rage constantly around the question, "Do teachers get enough credit?" I would ask, "Are we giving our students enough credit?" Are we taking the time to realize the impact that they play on us? Are we taking the time to say thank you, I appreciate you, you have made an impact on me?

To my own kiddos, if any read this blog, here is my message to each of you, today and every day:






And here is my lyric of the day, a shout-out to all of my students:
Displaying IMG_2820.JPG

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Our Twitter Challenge- Pursuing 21st Century Professional Development (Part 1)

The pursuit of professional development is something which is increasingly more difficult now than ever for educators, but hasn't lost any of its significance in our growth.  Due to financial constraints and mixed support from schools, educators may find achieving quality growth opportunities.  But, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't try.

One of my goals each summer is to find some way in which to achieve this growth.  I try to find a great conference, or read a great book, but the goal is simple:  come back to school invigorated by having been challenged through some kind of professional development.  Without a doubt this summer was the biggest for me in terms of growth as an educator, and I have one medium to thank for it:  Twitter.

We're back in school now, and I am still brimming with the excitement that comes from professional growth, I want to get as many teachers within my building as I can on Twitter; they need the resource, and we need to grow together as a team.  To that point I've begun what I am calling the #GetConnected Challenge, a "Twitter in 5" challenge designed to encourage online discussion and afford a great way for the teachers in our building to pursue 21st Century professional development.  The challenge will take place over the course of 5 weeks, with each week putting a new challenge in front of the teacher.  The weeks lay out as follows:

Week 1- Make a professional Twitter. Put your picture up, fill in a bio, and send a Tweet.  Familiarize yourself with the basic vocabulary and uses of Twitter:

  • Favorite
  • Retweet
  • Hashtag- tagging and chats
  • Direct messaging
  • Notifications 

If you have questions or need help, just ask!

Week 2- Brainstorm at least three ways Twitter could be used to advance your teaching, and Tweet the ideas with the hashtag #fhsconnect; this way we can all learn from your ideas.  Remember that Twitter use in a classroom or for a teacher is not a “one size fits all” deal; it may work differently for you than others.  Consider classroom posts, class hashtags, a connect to your blog, a connect to other blogs which inspire you, participating in a Twitter chat, etc.

Week 3- Follow at least 10 other users.  Consider going to other teachers, even in the building, and seeing who they follow.  Remember: the more people you follow, the more you’ll get out of Twitter!  Building your PLN is key to getting the most out of Twitter!

Week 4- Post at least 3 Tweets that details something going on in your classes.  It could be a text Tweet, picture of your class at work, etc. If you’re comfortable, post even more!

Week 5- Participate in a Twitter chat.  These are usually titled with hashtags, and some of my favorites are #edchat, #sunchat, #saskedchat, #leadupchat, and #kidsdeserveit.  Below, however, you will find a table with some other awesome options.  By searching these hashtags, you can access prior discussions and/or posts.  There are many that are content-area specific (mine is #sschat); look for those.  If you find great chats that inspire you, please share with us!

Sunday Chat
Most Sundays, 9:00 am EST
Saturday Chat
Saturdays, 7:30 am
Teacher inspiration chat
Every week day, 5:30 am, all time zones
Teachers new to Twitter
Saturdays, 8 am EST
Education Chat
Tuesdays at 12 pm
Urban Ed Chat
First Sundays of the month, 9 pm EST
English Chat
Mondays at 7 pm
Math Chat
Times vary
Social Studies Chat
Mondays at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET
New Teacher chat
Wednesdays at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET

Week 6 and Beyond- Hopefully this has gotten you started down a road to growth.  For some of you, perhaps this isn’t going to work.  But I hope most of you see the value in this kind of 21st Century PD!  My goal with Twitter is to try an commit at least 20 minutes a day.  Some days I don’t, some days I go well beyond.  But I know that I have honestly come treasure the relationships I have built, and continue to build, with my PLN, and I hope you find the same!

Without a doubt I'm excited about where this could take us as a school, and each teacher as individual educators.  I've labeled this post as "Part 1" because I hope to reflect on the challenge at its conclusion, with (hopefully) great stories to share.  Before I conclude I have to give credit where it's due.  I am certainly not the first to encourage something like this in a school.  I give big thanks to the advice and support of some EduRockStars:  Abbey Dick (@abbeydick), Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd) and Adam Welcome (@awelcome).

Let's see how this goes, and let's grow together!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Primary Sources: The Lifeblood of the SS Classroom

If I had a nickel for every time I've heard a student describe history as "boring", I'd have long since retired from teaching.  And if I had a dime for every time I'd responded to that reaction with an emphatic eye roll, I'd be a millionaire.  But the truth is, the study of history can be boring...that is if only a textbook version of it is presented.  Making a textbook the center of a social studies course is like basing your idea of romance around something seen in a Lifetime movie:  it is dangerously misleading and fills your head with woefully insignificant knowledge.  When the social studies classroom is not powered by the lifeblood that are primary sources, "boring" is likely a fair description.

Primary sources, of course, are sources which are from the time period being studied.  The sources can be anything from the time period, including journal entries, maps, photographs, speeches, music, etc.  The key is the timeliness of its creation.  They are the evidence of events long since passed, the means by which we base our knowledge of history.  Like most practicing social studies teachers, I was drilled with the importance of these sources as I proceeded through my methods courses.  And this was one lesson which most definitely stuck.

If SS teachers are committed to their students learning beyond what the textbook offers, primary sources have to be at the center of the curriculum.  Imagine trying to help students understand the changes of 1960s America without asking them to listen to Dylan, or asking them to explain the toll of the Civil War on the soldiers who fought without reading a journal entry written on the battlefield. In our classroom, at least, some of the best moments and lessons have come when the students had the chance to sit back and listen to some music, as they did when I spun my vinyl Helen Reddy album when discussing women's rights, or when they were given photographs, letters, and other sources on the Civil Rights Movement, and asked to work together to put them together in a timeline.

I fear that some teachers may shy away from primary source use because of the effort involved in finding such sources.  I assure you, it is no effort at all.  If you know what you are looking for, never underestimate the value of a well-worded search on Google or Youtube.  But if you're not sure, and simply think that primary source use is something needed in a lesson, here is a small sampling of some of my favorite places to go:

As a US History and Government teacher, this site is phenomenal, not only for the resources it provides, but the multitudes of other great elements as well.  The website is well-organized and very user-friendly, providing search options for narrowing down the effort in finding the source you want. Each source is accompanied with commentary for context, and also feature built-in discussion questions, which make the teacher's job even easier.  Sources range the gamet from image to sound. Beyond the tremendous sources Gilder-Lehrman provides, I highly recommend that teachers sign up through their website.  This will gain you access to their "History Shop", which is a great place to find hi-res posters, reading guides, books, etc. on the cheap.  In addition, our school is an "affiliate school" with GL, opening us up to additional benefits and freebies that are often offered through the Institute.  Awesome resource!

Library of Congress/ Center for Representative Government (formerly Center on Congress)
The Library of Congress, specifically its "Teaching with Primary Sources" program, is another phenomenal resource.  As one might expect, the Library has access to hundreds of thousands of primary sources, and makes most of them free and accessible to teachers.  An additional benefit of the LOC is that they offer incredible professional development opportunities.  As a teacher in Indiana, I often work with the Center on Representative Government at IU-Bloomington, which is affiliated with the Library of Congress.  I have hosted multiple primary source trainings at our school, which have been extremely well-received by all who have attended.  My favorite option with the LOC is the option for them to prepare documents for you, upon your request, that can be printed in high-quality and sent to you, free of charge!  I was recently able to obtain a series of photographs and letters pertaining to the Civil Rights Movement that we use to timeline the event. And as a shameless plug for the awesome Freedom Summer app which I helped to write...it's awesome!  How much does it change the game for students when they can hold the photograph in their hand?

Stanford's "Reading Like a Historian"
This is a great resource for teachers of US and World History!  Extremely well-organized, Stanford groups their documents into lessons, which are centered around big questions, with the idea being that the students use the documents to fuel class discussion.  In a recent lesson detailing the Puritans I used the tremendous resources of Stanford to ask the kids to read excerpts from John Winthrop's "City on the Hill" speech and John Cotton's "Divine Reason to Conquer Land" speech to analyze the motives of the Puritan settlement.

Primary sources are the "story" of history, and are a SS teacher's best tool in bringing the story to life for the students.  Get on it!