The ongoing reflective home of the New York City Social Studies CFG.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

On Control

I won't be able to attend the meeting next Monday, so my response to the "control" challenge is below. 

Teach a lesson where you spend no more than 5 minutes at the beginning of class giving your class directions to do something, ideally in groups, or as a whole group. Sit down and do not interact with students until the last 3 minutes of the period. Bring a report on how it went back to us next month.

I did this by posting this before class and telling them only that their challenge was on Twitter. (If Twitter is blocked for you right now, my tweet links to this google doc.) We'd talked about the hashtag before (I mean, the class is called #disastercamp), so some of them figured out how to find it (the project is connected to their understanding of social media) and they went from there. I clarified questions for 5 minutes and let them work. Earlier in the week, we looked at how social media is changing disaster response - so this was their opportunity to engage with that in a quick, design-y way. They enjoyed it + I think it was useful for them to figure it out themselves. More info about the class is available here:

The best activity I've done similar to this one is the Project Runway IKEA bag (or grocery bag) challenge, where we spend five minutes at the beginning distributing materials and assigning "clients," and then spend 45 minutes constructing a garment. More related to social studies, I'm currently having my cartography class figure out how to create a scale model of the globe on a paper mache balloon (see for an example). Aside from the instructions on paper mache, I've given very little instruction about how to get to the point Lizzy is at in that image. They have to figure out 1) lat/lon lines are critical, and 2) how to accurately position those. It usually takes them an hour or two to get to that point - many students begin with trying to find a ratio between the size of their balloon and the size of the model globe, which they quickly discover is not useful for determining accurate position. The globe project was inspired by John Fladd at

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Best Practices - The Document Protocol

This simple little tool is designed to slow students thinking and judgment down when viewing images. It has been the conduit for my teaching this year and I credit it for the new levels of independence and analysis that I've seen from my current students compared to those in years past

That said, it's nothing new; we've all seen similar machinations of it somewhere before. I like this one because of the level of access it provides. Compared to other image analysis protocols I've seen, this one is composed of very simple steps. Any student regardless of skill can complete any of the simple tasks. Indeed, I find that most often those with the lowest skills notice those wonderful little details that the rest miss.

- The Document Protocol
- The Document Protocol Worksheet

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Best Practices -Project Based Learning

I don't feel like I have any slam dunks or home runs when it comes to teaching. I often struggle to create protocols that are repeatable. However, I do have some things that make life in the classroom easier for students and teachers. Project Based learning takes lots of planning and anticipating the students' needs. This planning however helps make the project run smoother. Some of the things that has helped me are as follows:

1. Make it as authentic as possible. writing letters to editors, making a historical board game.

2. Students lead. - Introduce the project and then ask the students to come up with the need to knows and next steps. Make it as clear as possible why a student is doing an assignment.

3. Let them Struggle.- Struggle with how to solve a problem, not on what to do next.

4. Accountability in Group Work. - Everyone has a role and tasks. Groups can fire a student and that student has to then do the project on their own.

5. Finish the project. - A celebration of the finished project will help set up the students for the next project.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Existential Questions

At our 3/5 meeting, each member brought one existential question to share with the group.  Please respond to at least one question in the comments:

  • Erik: Day-day is so difficult, so how at the same time do you create a culture that is constructive for teachers and students?  As teachers, if we want to be professionals, how do we police ourselves?
  • Frank: Balancing double role of teacher with mentor/positive adult, multiplied when many students don't have a positive adult in their lives.  How much impact can I have as one person, and where should that impact be?
  • Kate B: Teaching as art vs. teaching as science...What can we learn from medicine: more standardized?  Should we share the "diagnosis leading to established procedure" plan? Do we need more clarity?  How do you teach about structural oppression in a way that still gives agency?
  • Michael: When does differentiation/scaffolding for seniors become self-defeating/too much? When do I give support and when do I not?
  • Andy: If not careful, I can spend my time fighting people above me, instead of best doing what I can for my students.  How can I shove the shit to the side and define my own agenda without becoming the angry teacher?
  • Christina: Thinking about impact outside of classroom.  I want to interact with adults, but feels uncomfortable talking to adults in my school about their practice and don't know my place.  How to balance humility vs. arrogance?
  • Steve: How do I choose/balance between the following modes of praxis in a course where I’m not concerned with a massive amount of content for a state exam? 1) Teaching through inquiry, which best develops students’ ability to think critically and to learn how to learn. 2) Teaching through extensive reading, watching, and research to gain the necessary cultural literacy to enter adult society and assume the responsibilities of citizenship. 3) Teaching students to do authentic intellectual work (which often, but not always, is through Project Based Assessments)
  • Peter: Am I what I want to be?  Will I become a problem or the solution?  When do you let kids fail?  I can get students to learn any idea, but how do I get them to learn independently? Where will I be a problem?  Where will I be the solution?
  • Kate W: I've switch from teaching chronologically to thematically.  Does this make a difference when my course ends in the Regents? I'm more engaged by this group than by teaching, what does it mean my role should be in the future?
(Sorry if my notes didn't capture everything that was said)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Struggles in Teaching Practice: How to be More Student Centered and Driven

As the call for progress reports went out, I found it hard to believe that a quarter of the year was done.  I’ve pretty much felt like I’ve been in warm up mode thus far, which among other things, has meant I have yet to begin a project with my students, or any other form of assessment beyond essays and written check-ins.  Whereas there has been some inquiry, it has all been bounded, with me doing the research work.  I’ve yet to set my students free to come to their own conclusions from their own information.  I’m grappling with how to make my Government & Economics course more student-centered and driven.

This has never been a problem for me before.  In all previous history courses, I’ve maintained a good balance of a few weeks of content, followed by a few weeks with students doing inquiry-based project work related to the previous weeks’ content (at least until the end of the year, when my class became a test prep factory).  I’m having a hard time trying to figure out why this is an issue this year.

Part of me just feels overwhelmed my the sheer amount of information students should know to be active and reasonable democratic citizens in our quasi-capitalist economy.  My nature as a history teacher was to reduce what I was supposed to teach (do they really need to understand the Proclamation Line of 1763? I think not), whereas I now find myself thinking expansively about what students should understand (I mean, how could I not help students understand Judith Butler’s theory of gender peformativity when talking about identity).  I also find myself embracing the ability to drop everything and discuss current events.  Thus far we’ve spent a couple days on Troy Davis, a day on Steve Jobs, and a week on Occupy Wall Street and direct democracy.  I feared that this would be something I would not be able to bring myself to do.  Perhaps I’ve gone too far, though.