weeknight baking

I don’t’ have to go to “work” tomorrow. My sub plans are submitted and I am handing over my students for the day.  It is never something I enjoy.  I much rather prefer being in the classroom with my students, but tomorrow is our History Department retreat. Twice a year, the department gathers together in someone from the department’s home for a long day of brainstorming.  Last retreat we focused on implementing design thinking into our curriculum. This time, the focus is on designing one term elective courses for all four grade levels. This is quite the endeavor. Instead of full year courses catering to each grade level, we are throwing this traditional model aside and trying to create something more reminiscent of college course selections. The classes will not be grade specific and will use a thematic approach to Global History. Wish us luck!!  Any suggestions for course themes or structure?

To nourish our minds and stem the tide of hunger that will inevitably come crashing down on us during such a retreat, I made my semi-homemade berry tart to bring in the morning.

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elective final project

I have never done this before. Typically, final projects in my History class require extensive writing. For example, my freshman write a textbook at the end of their course. This time though, I wanted to try something different. These seniors had selected to take my elective on Genocide and War Crimes. As you can imagine this is a “heavy” course. Examining mass murder and violence is a complex and challenging program of study. All term the students read extensively, wrote prolifically, and questioned the events earnestly.  Now I wanted them to have to demonstrate their understanding through a project that required them to have a vision and a purpose.  Could they make a high degree of connection between project guidelines and their knowledge and perception of genocide in which they illustrate their craftsmanship and originality?  I took my previous projects on design thinking as inspiration as I sat and crafted the prompt (below): design thinking I & design thinking II.

The prompt:

Create: Please create a work of visual art (conceptual art?) that communicates your ideas about what you have learned about Genocide & War Crimes and how this knowledge can benefit the world.

Your visual art must meet these requirements:

  • There must be at least 3-5 teachings in your visual art.

  • No symbols

  • No words

  • No cliches

    • no peace, love,  dripping blood, etc

    • no sad kids, or famous images of perpetrators, or famous images of violence

Requirements for presentation:

  • 5-7 minutes

  • Your process:

    • Why did you choose to portray Genocide in this manner?

    • How does this piece of visual art teach others about Genocide?

    • Needless to say, each teaching must reflect sophistication and deep intellectual thought.

A few of the products I received:

Project 1: Photography by EW. Depiction of the Armenia genocide using a pomegranate (fruit of Armenia)

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Project 2:  Cambodian Genocide by NHS.

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Project 3: Darkness Descending by AF.

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 8.05.13 PMProject 4: Wood Sculpture by LL. Distressed wood forced and hammered into place.

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These projects and the presentation of their teachings on genocide really impressed me. If you are interested in the teachings that accompany each of the projects, please don’t hesitate to ask!

final assessments

As a school with trimesters, the first set of final exams is upon us.  Classes meet for two out of the three terms making the month of February totally quirky.  Classes end, finals are given, but the school year is not quite over yet, huh?

As part of the school winds down, other classes gear up to start their second term. Balancing between the two is challenging. When I walk into halls, I often hear the infamous sound of the circus: Circus Theme Song.  Students run in and out of classrooms, teachers frantically search for time to meet one-on-one with students and I can almost image paper swirling through the halls and down the stairwells. No mater how we plan to manage the stress, reduce the workload, and help the students prep and organize for the finals, the stress and pressure hovers over the school like a dark cloud.

Finals in the history department are not traditional. Students do not come into class for a two hour sit down exam.  They are not asked to memorize dates, names, and events and then throw them down gracelessly onto a piece of paper. Rather, students are given a project to collaborate on which ultimately asks them to revise their course materials, remix their content, and use their own juicy brains to create something uniquely theirs within the parameters of the project. The first year of this assignment the student balked. Whining for the traditional sit down, they were reluctant to work on the project, to collaborate, and could not imagine that the time frame was enough to complete the task at hand.  Now, this project is a staple of the ninth grade year. Students look forward to their topics, believe in the power of collaboration, and are excited to “out do” their predecessors. While it is still hectic in the halls of the school, I like to think that this project is an oasis during an otherwise crazed time of year.

When they turn in their assignments after a  week of working together, they are so proud of their textbooks and I am so proud of their culminating work. It is always sad to watch this collective group of dynamic young minds “graduate” from our ninth grade history experience.

Your Task
Step One:

  • Write a one-page essay for each perspective on the event/conflict assigned to your group: 2 essays per event/conflict
  • Provide evidence (examples) to validate your perspectives
  • For each analysis of the event/conflict, make a connection with current events
  • Each student is responsible for writing 4 of the one page essays. Put your name on the sections you wrote & title your document.
    • For the groups with 4 students in order to have each member of the team responsible for 4 of the one page essays you will include a 1 page Introduction to your textbook and a 1 page Conclusion to your textbook
    • Also, two of the perspectives will need to be 2 pages in length instead of 1 page
    • Then all students in the 4 person groups will be responsible for writing 4 pages of writing each
  • Read, edit, and help your group members so the textbook flows together

Step Two:

  • As a group decide upon a title for this collection of differing perspectives on major American events.

Step Three:

  • Create a Prezi.com, iMovie, Website, Dipity.com, etc.
  • The Presentations should be within 3-5 minutes in length. Every member of the group must speak.
  • Present the evidence, facts, and arguments to support your perspectives: articles, quotes, videos, maps, examples as you pitch this textbook to publishers.
  • Be prepared to answer students’ questions.

Essential Questions: (Help you get started on writing each section)

  • How would your individual/group interpret the events and moments of each unit?
  • Which events would be most meaningful to your individual/group? Why?
  • Why would other events be skipped over by your individual/group?
  • What is your argument about the historical events you highlight?  How will you interpret them?
  • How can you connect the different events we have studied to a theme?
  • How can you present the different historical events we have studied through your theme?

You will present your textbook to the class on Friday, March 1 at this time you will also hand in to me your 12 page textbook.

Prepare questions to ask to the other groups about their perspectives

Assigned Groups, Theme, and Perspective:
Group 1:

  • Unit 1: Empire & Colonization:
    • Motivations for Exploration: Spanish Conquistador, & English (Jamestown/Pilgrim)
    • The Louisiana Purchase: Napoleon & Jefferson
    • Scientific Management: Factory Owner & Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
  • Unit 2: Conflict
    • French & Indian War: Native Americans & Colonists
    • Causes of the Civil War: Abolitionist & Pro-Slaver
  • Unit 3: Government
    • Great Compromise: Virginia Plan & New Jersey Plan

Group 2:

  • Unit 1: Empire & Colonization
    • Mercantilism: England & New England
    • Manifest Destiny: The Donner Party &  James L. O’Sullivan
    • Immigration: Jacob Riis & Vanderbilt
  • Unit 2: Conflict
    • Boston Massacre: Redcoat & John Adams
    • Dred Scott Case: Dred Scott & Supreme Court
  • Unit 3: Government
    • Constitution: Federalists & Anti-Federalists

Group 3:

  • Unit 1: Empire & Colonization:
    • Strategies of Explorers: British Settler & Native America
    • The Gold Rush: Chinese Immigrants & Mexican Immigrants
    • Industrial Revolution: Rockefeller & Lowell Mill Girl
  • Unit 2: Conflict
    • Declaration of Independence: King George &  Continental Congress
    • Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln & Davis
  • Unit 3: Government
    • 3/5th compromise: North & South

Group 4: 

  • Unit 1: Empire & Colonization
    • Regional Differences: Middle Colonies & Southern Colonies
    • The Alamo: Santa Anna & Sam Houston
    • New Technologies: Eli Whitney & Slaves
  • Unit 2: Conflict
    • Battle of Fort McHenry: Francis Scott Key & British Soldier
    • Union Strategy: General Lee & General Grant
  • Unit 3: Government
    • Electoral College: Founding Fathers & Opposition Today

Group 5: 

  • Unit 1: Empire & Colonization
    • The Triangle Trade: Slave & New England Ship Captain
    • Trail of Tears: Cherokees & Jackson
    • Industrial Consequences of Civil War: North & South
  • Unit 2: Conflict
    • War of 1812: New England Interests & War Hawks
    • 54th Regiment: General Shaw & African-American
  • Unit 3: Government
    • Constitution: Strict Interpretation & Broad Interpretation

guerrilla education part II

Earlier this week, my students began work on a design thinking project. When you ask teachers who have tried these in their own classroom for advice, the advice can be quite vague and frustrating.  The general counsel given is typically, “It is like riding a bicycle, you can not really describe how to do it.  You just have to get on the bike and give it a try.” Having a type A personality does lend itself to this proposal well. With great trepidation, I waded into the waters of design thinking.  The project prompt dealt with current issues facing Latin America.  We spent almost two weeks studying a variety of revolutions, movements, and issues facing this region since 1945.  Then it was time for me to sit down, sit back, and let the students take hold of their learning.  While I gave feedback liberally, I avoided giving too many details on “what to do” in order to avoid doing the creative heavy lifting for them. The results were surprising. My students spent more focused time working on these assignments than on any other project we have done all year!  Similarly, yesterday when the projects were installed in the various public spaces around campus, they stayed with their installations longer than expected answering questions and pinning for a larger audience. Lastly, when they presented their project and findings to the class, the listeners asked more deep thinking critical questions to the presenters than ever before. Overall, design thinking was a MAJOR success!!  My students remarked that they wanted to do these types of projects again.  And, a few curious students came around to me during the installations to ask if they would be able to do something similar in their own classes.

Yes, guerrilla education or “design thinking” is not completely seamless.  Yes, I had to very active in watching their planning and execution of their ideas. Yes, I had to remind them of due dates, project components, and the “reason” behind what they were doing. BUT, I would have had to do this for any project.  It felt different but overall the students still needed support.  I guess I went into thinking that the students would be able to handle all of the executive functioning of the project on their own as design thinking’s focus is to have the student own and control their learning process.  This was an unfair assumption because they are still kids who need to learn these skills.  Once I held a more realistic balance between letting the reins totally loose and checking in regularly on their targets, the projects worked. The response alone from my students to being active, to creating, to engaging a larger audience has convinced me that when done well, when thought out, when planned, and when given the space for students to tap into their creativity and interest, design thinking works smashingly well!

The fingerprint project and the border control project images as evidence that this actually happened.

guerrilla education

Education is buzzing with design thinking.  What this is can be difficult to define. Giving an elevator pitch on this style of teaching would be like trying to hit a moving target. Some educators describe design thinking as Project Based Learning, Challenged Based Learning, and/or Problem Based Learning. When I think of these words, I immediately envision ice cream.  The base ingredients of all ice creams include cream and sugar. As one branches into differing flavors and textures that suit the individual’s palette and desire more ingredients are tossed in delicately.  In the end, regardless of these additives, at its core it is still ice cream. Similarly, these education buzz words evoke a variety of responses as each is a shade different from the next, but each is still “ice cream.” The best way I can articulate this type of learning is to note that at the core each seeks to create an environment that values experiential learning and student ownership of their learning process. So while the approach may look differently if the starting point is Project Based Learning versus Design Thinking, the product may be quite similar as the student takes ownership over his or her creative process and attitude toward the assignment

This still is quite vague and will look different in each classroom. In my classroom this week I have attempted design thinking through an approach I will call guerrilla education. The word surprise or unexpected is a connotation for the word guerrilla.   After assigning this project, I have been surprised by their work and they are about to surprise the school with it. In attempting to wade into the waters of design thinking, I gave my students the following assignment:

Select:  An issue that a country faces
Do: Research on this issue
Brainstorm: Why is this issue significant? What are the possible solutions? What are the causes? What is already being done? What could be done? How can you create effective change? How can you reach the widest audience?  How do you inform people?
Create:  Either a product, policy, experience, or campaign that showcases/addresses this issue
Due: Friday or so…..

Their response has been overwhelmingly active.  Three of the projects seek to suddenly take hold of common and well trafficked lounge spaces at school in order to stage protests, host performative art, and engage students in activism. When I wrote these vague directions, I immediately thought this would blow up in my face as students asked for more specifics and cornered me into “telling them what to do.”  Instead, they brainstormed for an hour completely boxing me out of their exciting inspiration sessions. Given only peaks and glimpses into their early ideas, I was blown away by their creativity and interest. Of course, execution is a whole other beast.

I moved from group to group and asked them for a checklist and schedule for their projects and for them to list their targets.  Things are going smoothly right now and the project deadline is now this Thursday.  I am sure I will have an update then with what went wrong or could have been organized better; however, right now I find myself not holding the burden of the class at all.  The students have completely taken over their classroom experience and have used me as a sounding board and critic.  It is a very loose process which has felt scary each day but as someone who struggles to let go of the reins it is proving to be immensely rewarding…so far.

One group has selected to examine the Mexico-U.S. border control issues.  They are paying particular attention to young children who are brought over illegally into the U.S. and the Dream Act.  In order to raise awareness for these young children, they have made a video about the legal stakes these children face and while the video plays in the front entrance of the school, they have decided to sit silently behind fencing material in order to express the political, social, and economic limbo these individuals face once within the borders of the U.S.  A second group is examining the Ciudad Juárez where four hundred women have been killed.  These students have also created a video about the women, the city, and the response of the Mexican government.  While their awareness movie plays, they will be collecting over four hundred fingerprints in order to have students visualize the magnitude of this number.  The students will be taking hold of these public spaces on Thursday and surprising the student body not only with their work but with their message and creativity. I am truly looking forward to seeing the execution of these ideas and into rounding out my first attempt at curating creativity and guerrilla education in a History classroom.