19 August 2012

Engaging Content for the History Flip

My VoiceThread on the French Revolution

For the past several years I have been experimenting with different aspects of the flip model in my social studies classes. I think the key element of the model is to get students activated in the classroom (and throughout instruction) and to move away (as much as possible) from content delivery (something that new resources and technology can do just as well, or better.) I would much rather have my students learn an combination of content and skills through discussions, document analysis, historical investigations, projects and the like. This is really nothing new, John Dewey explored constructivist methods of education more than a century ago. Since that time, social constructivist theories and connectivist theories have expanded Dewey's ideas for the 21st century environment. As a result, the flip model brings together 21st century instruction techniques such as screencasting, social networking, and bring-your-own-technology and combines with with techniques such as project, problem, inquiry and passion-based learning.

Crash Course World History -  The French Revolution

As a result of the flip instruction model, a lot can be done in the history and social studies classroom. I began this process myself by moving to a more inquiry and project-based model in my world history classes and supplementing the content material by moving my traditional lectures to Voicethread for students to view on their own time. This worked pretty well, but I still had issues with students relying on lecture-based content delivery and my issues with overburdening students with homework.

History Teachers - "Revolution in France."

So, I continue to experiment and rethink how I will implement my instruction to best help all of my students. I know that my focus will further be on how authentic history learning can be employed both inside and outside of the classroom. I am particularly interested in reducing the amount of content consumed at home while at the same time making it more interesting. For my world history courses, this means utilizing one of my new favorite resources - Crash Course World History. The (what will soon be a series of 40) videos created by the team here do a great job covering the basics of most of what I want my students to know. I would also supplement this with the musical talents of the History Teachers - History for Music Lovers, a great set of topic specific videos based on recent pop hits.  It all comes back to the idea of teachers being great curators.  As a result, I am thinking of reducing my VoiceThread screencasts to general overview of topics at the beginning of a unit, to topics not covered by the resources mentioned above, and for review purposes at the end of the unit. By bringing the other videos into VoiceThread or embedding them in Edmodo, I can still give my students a way to interact and ask questions of me. Plus, I know the creators of the videos listed above monitor their YouTube channels and answer student questions, adding another great interactive resource.

I think there are a lot of possibilites for increasing student engagement both with online content and what is done in the classroom. For more insights on this, read Tom Driscoll's post here.

01 August 2012

Connecting Globally with Students and Teachers

With Connected Educator Month beginning today, I thought this would be a good time to do some reflection on my global educational experiences this summer. When I graduated high school some 16 years ago, I never expected that some day I would represent my school as a teacher-ambassador in China and take students to five different countries in Europe as I was able to do this summer. When I joined the faculty of Mt. St. Joseph High School seven years ago, I was very excited to be teaching social studies at my alma mater and I knew I wanted global education to become central to my teaching. In the years since I have made many efforts to expand global education at St. Joe through innovative classroom instruction, organizing student trips to Europe and Japan, and becoming involved in the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA) program which sent me to China this summer.

My first overseas adventure this summer involved myself and 48 other (30 of which were students) from my school visiting the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Germany in a tour that took us to the "Battlefields of Europe" as well as many of its most beautiful towns and cities. It was an amazing two weeks of historical ad cultural exploration that our students will never forget. I began leading student tours in 2008 and I feel it is a critical part of expanding student's exposure to the world around them. Not all teachers and students can do this, but the more who do we will all benefit for this. Also, the connections and contacts made on such tours allow me to bring people from around their world into my regular classroom through writings, discussions and video chats.

I was fortunate enough to be selected with a group of 20 other teachers from across the United States to participate in the NCTA residential study program at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China for two weeks in July. During the program we studies Chinese history, language, culture, economic development, and current issues. We also were lucky enough to visit schools, businesses, farms and factories where we could see the Chinese system at work. Through these experiences, which included observing young Chinese students learning English and viewing in awe as over 100 high-rise buildings being constructed at once, I realized that, despite many problems to overcome, China is preparing for the 21st century and we need to be doing the same.

I will be sharing my experience this summer with my students when I return to MSJ in the fall. I hope that we can expand this with more extensive and meaningful experiences such as Chinese language instruction and student exchanges with schools in China. I have already made plans for a student tour to China in the summer of 2014. The future of the world will be greatly influenced by the rise of China and I hope that we can be ready for it. By becoming connected global educators and students I think we can prepare for the new world evolving around us.