Monday, January 28, 2013

Inquiry-Based History Class

If you listen to too many of the jargony phrases in education, your head might explode. Or you’ll design a tic tac toe board with educational jargon in preparation for a big conference. Either way… But despite, or maybe because, talk about education can become buzzword-y, it is always a good idea to know what people in your field are buzzing about.

I have seen (thanks Twitter) a lot of discussion about inquiry-based learning. In some ways, it was fascinating reading about these classes, particularly science classes. To have students do experiments to learn scientific phenomena (as opposed to learning about these phenomena out of a book and then experimenting to prove that they are true) is a darn cool way to teach, and intuitively it seems very ‘sticky’: kids seem more likely to remember what they have deduced from their experiments.

In other ways, reading about inquiry has been incredibly frustrating. As a history teacher, I don’t have tangible objects to manipulate to determine the laws of nature. This makes the type of inquiry that goes on in science classrooms difficult in history classes. Still, there has to be a way to teach an inquiry-based history class, right? I think there is. In the conversation around what history teachers should be doing in their classroom, flipped or not, it seems like there is a way - a necessity, I’d argue - to base history classes around inquiry.

In short, I believe historical inquiry means having our students do the work of historians in class. Students receive (or find, depending on the teacher’s preference and/or students’ abilities) multiple primary and secondary sources about an era or event and figure out why and how things happened in the past. By doing this, students analyze the past by creating meaning, not being handed facts. With historical inquiry, students synthesize disparate interpretations of events to create their own unique understanding of the past. They are also given opportunities to connect events that happened in the past and in a particular place to what is happening now around the world.

Focusing on historical inquiry pulls to the fore the content skills students learn through history class, skills that are absolutely essential for any functional member of a democracy. (For example, how to find bias, analyze meaning behind and within a source, or make meaning from conflicting accounts of the same event to name a few.) By doing this, historical inquiry also pushes the knowledge of historical content a bit to the backburner. Students still need context (the basic facts around a historical event) to do the work of historians but how they use these facts becomes far more important than if they remember when World War I started.

So what is historical inquiry? What does it look like in a classroom? A great place to start, and a source on which I base much of my thought on historical inquiry, is this book by Sam Wineburg.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Uh Oh

We are about two weeks into my ninth graders’ second semester of self-paced history. Time to check in and get some solid numbers to get a better feel for where everyone is at. Google forms to the rescue!

Anecdotally, I have seen some great growth in students who really struggled with self-paced learning last semester. However, I didn’t have solid numbers to know more precisely where all my students are in our imperialism unit. These numbers are based on my ‘suggested pace’ that I create for my students - this pace is what I feel is reasonable for students to move through a given unit at if they use their classtime well. Here are the numbers I got:

more than 1 week behind: 12%
1 week behind: 8%
3 days behind: 29%
1 day behind: 29%
right on track: 7%
1 day ahead: 7%
2 or more days ahead: 8%

So my students aren’t where I hoped they would be in the imperialism unit. Clearly my students aren’t using the time they have in class with me the way I hoped they would be. Yet. This means that the work they are choosing not to get done in class will need to move outside of classtime into homework, which I’m not thrilled about. But this is also a choice my students have made. And it provides some good fodder for a class discussion on Monday!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

#MIflip Thoughts

So several months ago - I’m not sure when, really - a Twitter conversation started about a flipped learning conference in Michigan. Free. Hands on. With some relatively serious folks (David Prindle, Dan Spencer, David Fouch, Delia Bush, Doug Ragan, and Brian Bennett) organizing it. Since I was lucky enough to meet David Prindle at MERIT two summers ago, and since I knew David Fouch from G+ conversations about flipping history classes, I threw my hat into the ‘let’s make this conference happen’ ring.

It was certainly a unique experience to plan an entire conference via Google+ hangouts. I don’t think there was one in person meeting in the lead-up to this conference. That’s just a neat fact - we’ve reached that point where entire learning experiences can be planned online!

So why was MIflip a great experience? Several reasons:

  • I love meeting my PLN in person. It is really neat to get to move someone from ‘internet friends’ to friends. I got to do that with some folks I have learned a LOT from.
  • It was free. ‘Nuff said.
  • It was on a Saturday. Only people who wanted to be there were there - slackers and people who aren’t interested in improving their craft don’t go to optional conferences on Saturdays.
  • Brian Bennett’s keynote. Brian focused on making one little change, focused conference attendees on thinking about one thing that they could focus on and take away from the conference that day and use in their classroom on Monday. At a conference with such a wide experience range, it makes sense for teachers to focus on one little thing. Also, given the climate of education and the myriad of issues facing it, the idea of focusing on changing just one thing is appealing - it gives a both a sense of purpose and immediacy to the conference.
  • Getting to facilitate sessions with Dan Spencer, David Fouch, and Delia Bush. Yes, That was bragging. But to get to share ideas with a group of people who are so talented and dedicated, well, that’s pretty cool.

Finally, huge props to Dan Spencer and David Prindle for doing so much work to make this conference happen. And also to David Fouch, who went above and beyond and opened his house up to me for the weekend.

I'll leave you with this: MIfllip cleanup courtesy of Brian and David F. Shaky camera work by yours truly...

Thursday, January 17, 2013


A brief update via Twitter: 

That is all.

Okay, it isn't. Those boxes contain 8 Chromebooks that my (incredibly) gracious friends and family funded for my students. I am REALLY excited to see what we can do with these tools!

Sunday, January 13, 2013


On December 11th, Bill Selak, one of the EdCampLA organizers, tweeted out that people should really think about joining him for a day of great learning in January. The conversation to the right occurred:

After talking Cheryl Morris into joining me, EdCampLA was on. The 4am wakeup yesterday morning was tough, but the day was incredibly worth it. Why? Thanks for asking.

Getting to meet members of my PLN in person. I have learned from and with Matt Arguello, Kate Petty, and Jo-Ann Fox on Twitter for a while now. To get to meet them in person was great. It is really nice to get to put actual faces together with Twitter handles and pictures.

Meeting smart, dedicated educators. EdCamps attracts people like this. It is a huge part of why I go to them.

I got to be part of a really neat conversation about flipped classrooms. The idea behind EdCamps sessions is that they are conversations, not presentations. To start this session on flipped classrooms, Cheryl and I introduced ourselves, talked about what we do, and then let the discussion unfold. It was really neat to see the conversation unfold - we covered a lot of ground in 45 minute!

I also attended Stephen Davis’s Teacher Confession session as well and came away really impressed with the idea. Like impressed enough that I think it should become an EdCamp staple, similar to Things That Suck (more on this session later). Stephen explained the germination idea - a hashtag that got batted around on Twitter - and his desire to have teachers to have a place to share their failures and embarrassments in a comfortable environment. The thing was, the environment was was a room full of teachers that I had never met. However, these teachers were EdCampers (folks who will willingly travel for an optional day of PD on a Saturday). The tone of the room was excellent - even though no one in the room knew more than one or two other people, it was a great experience - very refreshing, open and supportive. I’m not sure I could pull off facilitating that discussion - the job Stephen did establishing the right feeling in the room was amazing - but it was definitely a unique and valuable experience.

The last session I attended was the Bill Selak-hosted Things That Suck. A fast-moving place for EdCampers to discuss controversial education topics, Things That Suck never fails to disappoint and this session was no exception.

However, the possible highlight of the day was finally getting to meet Crystal Kirch in person. Having had numerous Twitter and Google+ conversations with Crystal, it was strange to meet her in person - it felt like I already knew her. The power of the internetz... It is always nice to move people off the ‘Internet Friends’ list. Andrew Thomasson, here’s to hoping you’re next.

Thanks for the photo, Kate Petty!

I got back to my apartment 17 hours after I left it. It was a whirlwind day, but so so amazing. A HUGE thanks to the awesome EdCampLA organizing team!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Why I'm Excited for 2013

Classroom innovation
I’m excited to keep blowing up my history classroom, to keep pushing on what a history class is and what a history class can be.

Student discussion series
I am looking forward to talking with students, former and current students, about what school and history class is, and what school and history class can be. I’ve already started to publicize these sessions with my students, and I’m excited to hear what they have to say and how I can incorporate their ideas into my practice.

1/12: EdCampLA, 2/16: EdCampCV, 2/23: EdCampMadWI. I love EdCamps. I love the format. I love the energy. Three EdCamps in the first two months on the year? That’s all sorts of #EduAwesome! I’m particularly excited about EdCampMadWI: I’m taking my mom, who has been on her local school board for about 20 years, to her first EdCamp.

I was lucky enough to have a Donors Choose request for 8 Chromebooks fully funded. I am SO excited for what this will allow my history students to do!

Conference basketball season
I’m lucky enough to get to help coach the JV basketball team at my school. In the offseason, the coaches and athletic directors chose to realign the basketball divisions geographically (as opposed to power leagues as they had been). This means that my kids will be able to play against their friends and two rivals twice each season, as opposed to once last year. Full gyms on a Friday night? Heck yes!

More soon. Promise. :)

I don't have a huge idea of what #etmooc will be like, but the people who are organizing it, and the people who are involved in it, will make it a place where I learn a ton about educational technology.

I’ve been lucky enough to get to help organize the first MIFlip conference. I excited to get to head out to Grand Rapids for the conference and hang out and learn with all sorts of crazy-intelligent folks.

Flipped learning conference? Organized by Carolyn Durley and Graham Johnson? That conveniently allows me to explore the mountains of British Columbia for the first time? Done and done.

The roadtrip up to CanFlip13
Redwoods. Oregon coast. Old friends. Hiking across Olympic National Park?

More conversations about flipping history
I was lucky enough to come across Tom Driscoll and David Fouch, two history teachers who flip their history classrooms, on Twitter. I’ve gotten the opportunity to talk about what a flipped history classroom looks like with them several times on Google+. I’m hopeful that these conversations will continue in 2013!

The 18 things I forgot to list
Self-explanatory. I'm getting old.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Incredible Gratitude

Before winter break, Twitter exploded with the news that Donors Choose had lined up one of their sellers that was going to sell Chromebooks to teachers for $99. Clearly, I was interested. When I heard that you could have your donation matched by the Donors Choose board of directors with a match code (INSPIRE), these already super-affordable Chromebooks became even more affordable. However, finals happened, then winter break happened. And I still hadn’t put together my Donors Choose project.

Well, finally it happened and I put my project together. The project was reviewed and went public on January 2. I was hopeful to have a decent chunk of the money donated by January 9th, when the match code deal ended. Needless to say, I was blown away when I learned that my project - about $1000 - WAS FULLY FUNDED IN TWO DAYS!!!

I am so incredibly blessed to have such a supportive family and set of friends. I was hopeful my project would end up being supported, but I was absolutely blown away by the generosity of my people! My students will have an opportunity to do some amazing work in the classroom thanks to these 8 Chromebooks - yes, stories of it will get shared here. Here’s a hint of what part of their use will look like.