Am I a geek or a nerd?


The History Channel in The Classroom
February 2, 2012, 9:37 pm
Filed under: curriculum | Tags: ,

I think they are just called History now, not the History Channel, but I’m pretty sure we all still call it by the latter rather than the former. But that’s neither here nor there.

I have a long running beef with History Channel, stemming from work they did on Star Spangled Banner preservation education materials in the late 1990s. I worked on the original version of that website (WOW! It’s so much better now!) on some resources and ideas for classroom use. One of the Smithsonian historians’ goals was to dispel the Betsy Ross myth regarding the first American flag; it’s not that she didn’t make flags, it’s that no one really knows who made the first one. Its kind of like Washington and the cherry tree, Lincoln and the log cabin…Betsy Ross and her flag. In any case, the History Channel education folks created some materials for elementary schools with this very Betsy Ross looking figure on the front, kind of defeating some of the efforts of the Smithsonian folks to get kids to move beyond the myths. No biggie, it was annoying at the time, and there are certainly plenty of resources from history.com that I would use.

I also take issue with the broadcast selection on the History Channel. Pawn Stars? Swamp People? American Pickers? I’m not sure how these are history but I can see that they make money for the network and ideally allow historians to produce the kind of stuff I hope to see on their cable stations and website.

So. Last week I’m editing/proofing/reviewing the latest 5th grade unit (Road to Revolution) for the Michigan Citizenship Collaborative Curriculum and, per a discussion with the writer and another reviewer, looked for a video that might enhance the unit. Enter history.com. I found a brief clip that would be great for 5th grade: short, clear, repeated use of words like ‘repeal’ both aurally and visually, boiled down the content without dumbing it down too. AttheB, Carol and I agreed it would work well in introducing students to some of the taxes/acts that led colonists down the road to revolution in lesson 3. We also decided to revisit the clip in lesson 6, once students have done a more complete study of the causes of revolution, to have students address what the video left out as a review (formative assessment, anyone?). All is well, the unit is done. Except. Some teachers point out that the video will be blocked by school filters. What? It’s history.com, not youtube! I went there on purpose! And its short, so now crazy download times. What!!

Because the video clip leads in with a commercial. When I first found it the ad was for Turbo Tax. Today its for Susan G. Komen (another can of worms there…). 15 second ads. I thought the point of Pawn Stars and Swamp People was to make the money to make these educational clips available. How much are you getting from Turbo Tax? Should Susan G. Komen even pay for ad time? What?

Okay. Not that big a deal. Annoying to me, probably not to anyone else. In any case, I told the teacher to use zamzar.com to download the video and all would be fine.

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So I took a year off; everyone deserves a break!!
January 22, 2012, 11:11 pm
Filed under: education law | Tags: , ,

A break, sure. Resigning, moving back to NY, having a baby, surviving said baby’s colic, selling two houses, buying one house, and trying to lose 70 pounds of baby weight (what, doesn’t everyone gain that much?!) make up my 12 months of edu-blogging non-blogging. For the record, I’m 10 pounds away.

While I’m no longer working full-time with one county as a Social Studies Consultant, I have been contracted by AtotheB and Oakland County to continue work on the MC3 curriculum; primarily writing US History and editing grades 5,6 and 7. I’d love to think that the end is in sight for this project, after four years of writing, but our complete overhaul of middle school as well as lack of unit and course ending assessments means I could probably milk this cow for several years or until Oakland Schools decided to stop paying for curriculum in Social Studies. I won’t hold my breath.

Now that I’m back in NY and likely to try to work in a real office with actual people in a nearby school district I figured it was time to brush up on NY’s Race To The Top brew ha ha regarding teacher evaluations, assessments, and Cuomo’s promises/threats of withholding funds (see my previous post on RTTT here and evaluation here and here). So I started where any Social Studies geek/nerd would start; the law itself. I went straight to the horse’s mouth and discovered that the horse has marbles in his mouth…Education Law 3012-c is not a scintillating read (are any laws?) and leaves me with several questions.

Here’s my basic interpretation:

1. Teachers and Principals will be evaluated and categorized in to the incredibly descriptive and clear Highly Effective, Effective, Developing and Ineffective. AKA Awesome; Pretty Good; You’ve Got Potential Kid; and Sucks.

2. Some teachers (grades 4-8 ELA and Math or common branch subjects) will participate in this beginning in the 2011-12 school year (so now) while others (everyone else) will be held to this law beginning in the 2012-13 school year.

3. Prior to the development of  value added measurements,  20% of the teacher eval will be based on student growth as measured on an approved assessment and 20% will be based on local selected measures of student growth. Basically, a kid’s score last year is compared to his score this year. (I’m going to reserve my question as to how one compares growth when the content assessed isn’t the same…)

4. When value added measurements are in place, the numbers are 25% and 15%.

5. If you suck, you get an improvement plan.

Anyone following this or teaching in NY can tell you the laundry list of questions/concerns with these things while at the same time agreeing that something other than the current drive by evals is needed. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to this.



What Administrators Don’t Know
January 13, 2011, 11:39 am
Filed under: curriculum, professional development | Tags:

I’ve spent the last two days meeting with different groups of elementary, middle school and high school principals about what to look for in social studies teaching and how to help their teachers based on our observations of them.

I started these meetings the same way I’ve started lots of my teacher meetings; with a blank k-12 sequence for social studies. The participants are asked to jot down the content or course title for each grade of social studies. I didn’t always do this. AtotheB and I first tried this at a NCSS workshop, figuring that since it was a national conference it was a quick way to see similarities and differences in social studies among the participating schools/states. Turns out almost no one in that NCSS workshop could tell us what is taught in all 12 grades of social studies, even in states that require it through graduation. I started to wonder if our teachers could do it. They couldn’t either.

Finding this out was eye-opening. We stress ideas of progressions of learning and continuous growth of our students and our teachers (and these were teachers who were actively trying to improve–they paid to attend NCSS and our local workshops!!) don’t know where their students are coming from or where they are heading to! Most could name the course immediately preceding and immediately following the one they teach. Or if a teacher had been assigned to a variety of grade levels through their career we found a good sense of progressions. Or if you had kids in particular grades you likely know what they are learning. In general, though, teachers seemed to know only their own course and grade level.

So I pulled this blank document out and fully expected the building principals to know what we are required to teach at each grade level they supervise. Really, I thought this would just be the lead in to the news that while admin knows this, teachers don’t. Imagine my surprise when principals couldnt’ do this either. Most could summarize the grades in their building (some couldnt’ even do that) but not one could complete the prior or subsequent grades.

So what did I do? I pulled up the stuff we use with teachers, showing progressions of learning from grades k-8. I had them compare the Foundational Expectations listed in our high school documents (the stuff that’s supposed to be review of middle school learning) to what the state actually requires in middle school (hint: it doesn’t match up very well). We discussed the importance of having teacher meet as multi-grade level teams to examine instruction and assessment data. They examined the implications of teachers writing curriculum without the benefit of knowing what students had learned in the past 5 years or what they would be expected to learn in the next 5.

What will they do with this information? I have no idea. I expected them to know how important it is to understand the sequence of content/skills but was stunned to see that while they recognize its importance they didn’t actually do anything to make it happen. I wish I was continuing to consult in this county, I wish that I hadn’t learned this about the admin while nearing the end of my contract, I wish that I could attack this problem in my remaining time here. Is 48 hours enough?




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