Truth be told, I’m not actually interested in finding my way through the wilderness with a compass and a map. I am, however, interested in helping others to navigate the cultural wilderness that is Kuwait, which is why I’ve spent the last few months managing the transition of my school’s new hires as one of two Orientation Coordinators. It has been a remarkably smooth process, as measured by three metrics: first, all new hires got their visas before their scheduled departure date (this has NEVER happened before due to the myriad and Byzantine bureaucratic procedures required); second, we have yet to have a runner (the phenomenon of overwhelmed teachers shirking their commitments and breaking contract to return home; third, we’ve received numerous compliments and thanks throughout the process. With only a few short days until school starts, I attribute our success to several principles we’ve adhered to in the planning process.
At my school, world history is divided into two years: one year of ancient (up to 1600) and one year of modern (picks up with European absolutism and revolution). I’m proud of the way our curriculum transitions between the two. The last quarter of the ancient course deals with European’s Renaissance and Reformation, setting the stage for the modern course. The course starts to become more conceptual, introducing economic innovations such as the joint stock company. This activity is a class-long simulation of how a joint stock company works, and it illustrates investing principles such as portfolio diversification to boot.
This assignment is a good example of getting students to do something novel with historical content. It combines creative drama and critical thinking with research and video production skills, asking the students to produce a short video in which they put an historical leader on trial.
Continue reading Showcase: Leaders on Trial Video Project
At my school there’s much talk of “authentic assessment” (defined by Wiggins as “worthy intellectual tasks” that “require students to be effective performers with acquired knowledge” to “help students rehearse for the complex ambiguities of the “game” of adult and professional life”). I still like to stress traditional multiple-choice and essay tests in my classes – these are, after all, skills that students need to succeed in university – but at least 30% of my students’ grades is comprised of project work that aims to get away from recognition and recall assessments. In this project, part of my Modern World History unit on the World Wars, students apply their knowledge of persuasive techniques and flourish their rhetorical skills to create a propaganda video. Continue reading Showcase: Propaganda Videos
“For roughly thirty years, young people at Western schools and universities have been given the idea of a liberal education, without the substance of historical knowledge. They have been taught isolated ‘modules’, not narratives, much less chronologies. They have been trained in the formulaic analysis of document excerpts, not in the key skill of reading widely and fast. They have been encouraged to feel empathy with imagined Roman centurions or Holocaust victims, not to write essays about why and how their predicaments arose. In The History Boys, the playwright Alan Bennett posed a ‘trilemma’: should history be taught as a mode of contrarian argumentation, a communion with past Truth and Beauty, or just ‘one f***king thing after another’?”
To teach the historical skills of chronology and causality – “why and how their predicaments arose” – I have students make annotated timelines. But I’ve abandoned the paper-and-pencil approach in favor of collaborative online work using the tools Prezi and Dipity.
My watch strap broke this summer, so I took it to the kiosk at the mall to get it replaced. After browsing through some unideal prospects, I placed it on the counter and requested a suitable substitute. The repairman, a 20-something baby-faced guy, took a look at the watch and scrunched his eyebrows. He disappeared behind the counter of his kiosk and reappeared with a black case full of all kinds of watch straps. Selecting a slim, black band that matched the dimensions of the watch, he remarked, “she should like this replacement strap well enough.”
That’s right – for the past decade, I’ve apparently been wearing a woman’s watch. I suppose that shows poor self-awareness.
I’m confident, though, that this myopia does not extend to my teaching. In addition to my self-assessment, I capture external perspectives by surveying my students annually using Google Docs.
Continue reading Showcase: Google Docs for Data-Driven Reflection
In the past, I always loathed giving group projects. Invariably one or two students would end up doing much of the work, whether it was writing the content or assembling individually completed pieces in the final product. And this dynamic wasn’t the fault of the student – it was the simple consequence of computer programs such as Microsoft Powerpoint being designed for use by a single user at a time. You could just not have more than one person typing at a computer.
Enter Prezi. This tool, like other cloud-based applications, forces dead-weight group members to contribute and removes the previously-immutable physical limitations of document creation.
I always loathed giving group projects. There were just too many moving parts too keep track of: how to assess individual performance, ensure everyone was on task, assign group vs. individual grades, keep track of checkpoints to scaffold projects, motivate everyone in the group. Enrolling in the COETAIL program gave me an idea of how to do this, though – and in doing so, I implemented Google Docs in my classes for the first time.