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A People’s History for the Classroom

By: Steve Bergman

Facilitator:Lindsey Ziglar

Our group has spent the semester reading “A People’s History for the Classroom by Bill Bigelow. The book incorporates excerpts from Howard Zinn’s seminal work, “A People’s History of the United States” intermingled with classroom activities intended to teach students about major historical events from perspectives other than the dominant narrative. The book provided an interesting insight into some of the many ways teachers have tried to teach alternate narratives to major U.S. and global events. Our group, however felt the book was lacking in one key area that has to be addressed, especially for new teachers.

The one negative aspect of Bigelow’s book that we kept citing was the lack of explanation of how to fit these alternative lessons into the school year or into the traditional lesson plans with their tight timelines. We agreed over and over again that we’d love to lead/see classrooms where multi-day activities such as a role-playing trial of Columbus, the King/Queen of Spain, and the Pope can take place, but none of us could think of a world in which an instructor has the luxury of teaching such engaging lessons. Instead, extra days that teachers get are spent in wrap-up sessions, preparing students for examinations or testing. This concern was repeated over and over again, throughout the semester as great ideas sounded good in theory but impractical or even unfeasible in reality.

Our critique is not all negative, however. Each of our group members felt the lessons provided were useful in ways Bigelow probably didn’t intend. We all saw possibilities for truncated lessons on Vietnam, the labor movement, and U.S.-Mexico relations both past and present that could be created using some of the ideas raised in the book. Another positive of the book was the content itself. Zinn’s original work was a damning indictment of America’s “holier than thou” approach to things such as rights and freedoms that it takes on the world stage. To have the author put a spotlight on those items provides teachers an interesting method of culturally relevant teaching.

 

In all, our feelings on this book were mixed. The lessons were great, the content was great, but the applicability left a lot to be desired. Instead, our group really focused and ran with the final piece on incorporating technology into the classroom in a way we never felt we could with the book.

Teaching Terrorism

Summary:

This week’s reading dealt with defining abstract terms that are commonly used but do not have concrete, universal definitions. Different terms can mean different things for different people. Problems arise when attempting to differentiate between acts of violence, hate crimes, etc., and acts that constitute the definition of “terrorism.” The activity discussed in the reading asked students to put aside their own preconceived notions and reach a consensus within their groups about what is terrorism and who are terrorists.

Connections to course readings:

In the modern era, it can be difficult separate the concept of terrorism from Islam. Therefore, when teaching about terrorism, it is important to be mindful of making these distinctions to your students. This connects to the reading by Amanda E. Lewis because she emphasizes a focus on not only multiculturalism but also anti-racist education. Teachers should focus on revealing where racist attitudes originate and how important it is to not perpetuate this racism. Therefore, when teaching about terrorism, it is important to make sure students separate the terrorists from the Islamic religion.

Highlights from group discussion:

We thought this topic was particularly relevant because of the recent attacks in Paris. Many governors have announced that they will be refusing to admit Syrian refugees in the wake of the attack. If we were teaching this lesson, we would use this as a real life connection for our students.

Question for practicing teachers:

How would you respond to a student who uses racially charged dialogue in the classroom?

Social Media in the Classroom (Continued)

By: Mckenzie Vass

Facilitator: Cady Childress

 

Social media gives people today a new way to experience history in real time. Using the recent terrorist attacks in Paris as an example, we discussed how social media such as twitter not only gives the public instantaneous access to events happening worldwide, it also provides an avenue for the public to react and responds to the events.

For instance, under a post by the Huffington Posts on twitter for November 13th during the attacks, there were thousands of retweets and comments. This gives social media immense power over how historical events are told; news outlets and the general public can receive information and share it instantaneously, regardless of whether or not it is wrong or biased. It also has the power to engender critical thinking and discussion, because it is news from the people and not biased news outlets. It can be analyzed in two different ways.

Using social media for current historical events or past ones can be great in the classroom, because they actively engage student thorough a platform that they genuinely enjoy. An idea we had for a classroom activity with social media was having students complete a project in which they have to recreate what they believe a social media website would look like during an historical event. They could tweet what famous people, news outlets, the public, etc. would say in that moment the event was happening as if they had access to social media at that time.

School Desegregation

Summary: The assigned activity described in this chapter revolves around watching a PBS video. Discussion questions structure the conversation about the video afterwards. Students are asked to write a first-person narrative from the perspective of one of the students depicted in the video. They are granted a great deal of choice when selecting the format of their narrative (inner monologue, diary entry, poem, story, letter, etc). Finally, these pieces are shared by students in a read-aloud, while being asked to identify

Connections to readings: The reading that came immediately to mind was the Ladson-Billings article titled “Landing on the Wrong Note: The Price We Paid for Brown.” That article demonstrated some of the downsides of the Brown v. Board decision and outlined the lasting impact of school desegregation on inequality today. Ladson-Billings’ points are a good companion piece to the video because many of the students shown express the emotional and psychological pain they experienced during school desegregation, which is often glossed over in accounts of this episode in history.

Highlights:  From an instructional standpoint, we liked the reading’s insight into how to incorporate an educational video into a class. Pointing out things to look for, pausing the video at strategic points, and simply watching it with the rest of the students are all useful tips for keeping everyone engaged on the screen. One of our favorite parts of the activity itself was the amount of choice it provides students in terms of the writing piece they are expected to produce. We were also affected by reading Elizabeth Ann Eckford’s account of her personal experience, and thought it would be very accessible and relevant to students in our classes.

Question: What are your thoughts on using videos in class?

Incorporating Technology into History Classrooms

Facilitator: Mckenzie

Notetaker: Steve

Video Link: http://ed.ted.com/on/K31pThNn

This week our group discussed a TedX talk on incorporating technology into the classroom. The TedX talk focused on how one former history major devised methods for using sites like Twitter and games like Minecraft to improve student learning. The examples used by the speaker were:

  • Twitter: Using twitter to do a multi-day lesson on London’s “Great Smog” event from the 1950’s.
  • Minecraft: A student who used Minecraft as a tool to practice his Latin by creating a Roman bath and then giving virtual tours of his bath using Latin vocabulary.

Our group had a number of observations about technology. First was how technology can be so hit or miss. So many schools have this idea that technology can revolutionize the classroom, but without proper oversight and well-thought out application, technology runs the risk of reducing classroom outputs. Without careful application, the technology becomes a distraction or reduces classroom learning time, thus making it less effective than traditional book/pencil learning. The second observation was that technology, when applied properly, can provide a plethora of exciting new learning opportunities and provide methods for students to learn using tools that are native to newer learning/communication styles. Third, and this one is particular to history teachers, technology enables teachers to incorporate primary sources at a rate like never before. Through sites like Twitter, teachers have access to countless first-hand accounts and primary source material that they either 1) didn’t know existed, or 2) wouldn’t have found as readily using traditional teaching methods.

Moving beyond the technology in the TedX talk, we thought about larger applicability for technology including opportunities to view events from different angles, heretofore unattainable. Technology can help facilitate conversation across cultures, locations, and physical boundaries. An example shared in our PLC was a video/Skype conversation between American students and Chinese students.

Our PLC also discussed the difficulty of technology use for students without the means to computers and smart phones. We had no easy answer for this because there are so many reasons why students can/cannot access such technology resources, even within schools. Ultimately, we agreed that technology is a valuable resource for teachers and students, but the integration of technology resources is still open to debate.

Our PLC group will be finishing our book next week, reading the chapter on Terrorism. We will be bringing in artifacts, items, or materials related to the chapter.

Lawrence, Labor Unions, and Social Class

Note-taker: Sam Atwood

Facilitator: Kat Davis

Summary

Our reading for the week described a group activity in which students roleplay the organization of unions and the beginning of a strike. This activity embodies several of Howard Zinn’s principles, including the absence of inevitability in history, the crucial influence exerted by ordinary working class people on the American narrative, and the recognition of key differences between interests that are often conflated together (in this case, labor unions).

Connections

A few weeks ago, our readings from Hochschild, Barry, and Lareau all discussed how students from lower-class backgrounds are inherently disadvantaged in schools. We felt like an activity in this vein would help turn the tide in a small way. Many social studies courses can marginalize and devalue students from working-class families by teaching history as a narrative dominated by a hyper-elite, rich, and powerful few at the top of society. Having students take on the perspectives of working-class people validates those values and encourages appreciation of their influence on American history. Some students may also benefit by examining an issue from a perspective they had never before considered.

Highlights

Another element of this lesson that we liked was its encouragement of constructive social interaction between (likely) students from different cultures and backgrounds in an academic context. Plus, the interpersonal skills required for success here are practical and offer real-world value. And finally, we thought the discussion about unions and labor rights has increased relevance today because of society’s trend towards collectivism as well as the enduring place for unions within the national discourse. We would use a video or news story like the one below as a basic introduction to ground the lesson in a modern context accessible to students.

Question

We were wondering how a teacher would assess student performance in a group activity like this one — how to know whether or not students “got the point,” and how to assign grades or otherwise incentivize performance.

Teaching the Desegregation of Schools in the U.S.

Note Taker: Mckenzie

Facilitator: Steven

For this week, we looked at a chapter in our book titled, “A School Year Like No Other.” This chapter went over the desegregation of schools in the United States in the 1950’s.  We discussed how teaching desegregation would be a challenge in schools, especially at the elementary level, because we feel as though it would be hard to get students to understand why segregation was ever practiced in our country’s institutions.

We talked about the methods the author procures for teaching this politically-charged subject. One of these methods was watching videos of the students experiencing the hate of white people as they walked onto the schools bus or into the school building to desegregate for the first time. We liked this because we feel as though it gives students a conceptual understanding of what took place, because without visuals this topic is hard to fully comprehend. However, we disagreed with the pausing of the video to talk about certain book, because we said that it would be aggravating to us as students. We feel as though it would be more beneficial to just show a shortened clip that would be sure to foster a rich class discussion. Or, to have prompting questions for students to think about as they watch the video. These questions would be a stronger scaffold for his second lesson idea, which is giving the students the choice to write about or artistically express their opinions or thoughts on the video in the platform of their choice.

We also agreed that focusing on the tenacity and dedication of certain Civil Rights leaders and those who led the segregation movement is a great focus for teaching this material, because it focuses on such a hard time from a positive outlook. Approaching it from the viewpoint of “this is what segregation was and this is what desegregation did to stop it” is overdone and analyzing this point of history from the point of view of strong, dedicated African American leaders would be more beneficial and provide a fresh way to learn the material.