At our last faculty meeting we read an article on how to give meaningful homework. It recommended that homework should check for understanding, provide opportunities for practice, and let students take ownership while avoiding “busywork” tasks.
This year I’ve incorporated these principles and leveraged technology to make collaborative homework a regular feature of my classes. For each new topic or chapter of the textbook my students complete an assignment that I’ve creatively named “History Circles.” They’re based off of Lit Circles done in many English classes, and are a way of giving students the opportunity to practice different skills through the content. The nice thing about History Circles is that they distribute responsibility, enable simultaneous workflows, and maintain accountability while reinforcing content and a diverse skillset. Continue reading Showcase: History Circles→
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This assignment is a good example of getting students to do something novel with historical content.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.
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.
Feudalism is another one of those concepts that can be entertainingly and deliciously demonstrated in a classroom setting by having students play the roles of the different social stations in the pyramid and making candy representative of the rights and obligations due between lords and vassals. The teacher provides a running narrative of how feudalism works throughout this activity, making it a very interactive lecture.
Many of my students do MUN; I myself attended the IASAS MUN Conference in 2000 as the Russian delegate. This simulation is inspired by such negotiation- and speech-based events. Students are divided into groups and essentially debate the relative merits of the respective civilizations.
When planes crash, investigators sift through the wreckage to find the “black box” flight recorder. It tells them what went wrong – was there an equipment malfunction? Pilot error? Bird strikes? They use that data to try and prevent future problems.
Summative assessment, in education parlance, is like an airplane’s black box. It comes at the end of a unit, and it might be a test, essay, presentation, or something else. A teacher grading it can tell what “went wrong” with a student’s learning from the type of mistakes he makes. And he can use that information to inform future teaching. But it would be much preferable if we could prevent students from crashing and burning during tests in the first place.
That’s where formative assessment comes into play – those checks for understanding that take place throughout a unit and help a teacher correct misunderstandings and clarify important concepts before big events. iClickers are a new-ish way of generating hard data, interactively, on student understanding. Continue reading Showcase: iClickers→