A post from my other blog. Give me some help educators.

The Historic Struggle

Well, it’s that time of year again….pre-planning. Although I’d probably rather watch a day of Lifetime television or have my appendix removed than sit in  meetings; I do enjoy adjusting my lessons to include modern content I have come across over the past year. Things such as videos, articles, pictures, etc. etc. etc. you get the picture. This year however, I have picked up a few more classes. I will be teaching Law and Contemporary Issues. I’ve pretty much got law under wraps. I’ve got a textbook and more than enough prior teacher notes to carry me through. What I need some help with is Contemporary Issues. There really is no set framework for this class. There is no state test or county final. Basically whatever this class will be and how it will be assessed is entirely on me; well, sort of. 

I am asking you to help…

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Georgia Educators Take on the Governor

A recently formed group called GREATER — Georgia Researchers, Educators, and Advocates for Teacher Evaluation Reform — sent a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal, State Superintendent John Barge, and other educational leaders about concerns over teacher evaluations. But the letter writers have yet to get a reply.

Here is a recent statement from the group, which now counts nearly 50 Georgia educators among its supporters, including many university professors:

Recently the U.S .Department of Education placed Georgia at “high risk” of losing $33 million dollars in Race to the Top (RT3) funds because, in fear of legal issues, Georgia removed the student input portion of their new teacher evaluation.

Well, here’s a radical suggestion: Let the federal government have it all!”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Get Schooled with Maureen Downey
                    – Education group: Let the feds take back Georgia’s Race to the Top millions

Attention All Colleges: Cursive Writing is Now on You

Earlier this year, while sitting in an Appalachian History class, the professor began a random post test discussion on hand writing. Obviously this was not a part of the lecture notes but just one of those beautiful insights one can get in a college classroom. When the class engaged in this subject, I made the remark that I used the archaic form of handwriting known as cursive. My cohorts thought it was humorous. Only a few of them, like myself, wrote in cursive. The rest obviously wrote in standard print. The reason I made the original comment is because as a teacher I’ve noticed my students in the high school classroom never use cursive. On top of that, those same students cannot read my notes on their papers because I write in cursive. Why is this? Why do more students of my generation know cursive but the next generations do not. Although I would love to claim intellectual superiority here, I know that is not the answer. The real answer actually adds truth to my joke above. Cursive, at least in the eyes of the public school system, seems to have become archaic.

A report done in January by ABC News found that a total of forty-one states adopted the Common Core State Standards for English (CCSSE). The CCSSE, set by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA), sets a general framework of content for students to learn before going to college. This new framework does not include cursive writing. States can, however, opt to include cursive writing. Massachusetts and California being among two that have. It appears the state of Georgia, will not be one of those schools to opt for inclusion. As the country “moves forward” in education, cursive writing is definitely taking a back seat.

Most states fall under the requirements of No Child Left Behind and other various standardized tests. Schools’ academic qualities are based on how well their students do on those tests. Curricula is created and driven in order to help students excel on those tests. How do standardized tests affect cursive writing? Well, the tests affect this writing style because it is not used or required on any of these tests. Because schools, counties, and states feel enormous pressure to maintain government regulated testing averages, curriculum ends up being created for the test. Subjects not included on the tests fall in between the cracks. Such is the case for cursive writing. Testing is not, however, the only argument against cursive writing.

Some advocates of removing cursive writing, which may very well include current students, argue that it is not needed. The argument is that cursive writing is not the way of the future. In these advocates’ minds, it is not dropping cursive writing, but replacing it with various keyboard skills. This makes sense when you think about about the modern student and put emphasis on the amount of time they spend online or texting their peers. Some parents simply are not convinced and it appears they have science to back them up.

Although it is definitely apparent in this modern world that typing is important, according to Neuroscience handwriting is more important. From the ABC News report, Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Centre stated that “handwriting seems, based on empirical evidence from neuroscience, to play a larger role in the visual recognition and learning of letters.” In short, just as ABC summarizes, those that write by hand learn better. With this evidence cited in the ABC report, why take writing out of the curriculum? Well for one, this move by the NGA is not erasing writing per say but the art of cursive writing. It appears that the implement of an extra writing form is time consuming and counter productive to the future use of the keyboard and/or learning. I do not anticipate that writing itself will disappear. The first typewriter came out in the 1860’s c.e. yet humanity uses handwriting even today. I think we can safely say that the “keyboarding is the future,” argument for getting rid of cursive writing, is just as weak as the counter argument that “humans will not be able to hand write anymore” with the increased use of keyboarding.

Greek Manuscript in cursive, 6th century c.e.

Why keep cursive writing at all? Well, because like it or not,  cursive writing, in one form or another, is apart of human history. Cursive writing can be traced as far back as the 6th century c.e. Now that may not be important to the public school system. Public schools already have access to Machiavelli’s The Prince in standard print. But to higher education, cursive means a lot more.Yes as a Historian I can use an internet printout of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence accessed here. But to me that is unethical and shoddy history. I need (emphasis on that word) that original document. Obviously that is hard to get given the amount of security and how much the document is fading over time. But it is still there for me to see. And sadly, for some, it is written in that archaic form known as cursive writing. Not only is the DOI written in cursive but it is famous for the beauty of its content and appearance. What a shame it would be to not be able to read it first hand.(Digital image and Digital Copy)

So what does this mean for today’s colleges? Cursive writing may need to be treated as a foreign language. For masters programs, it probably needs to be a requirement to “translate” a document out of cursive and into print. Students of History, Political Science, Sociology, Psychology, Geology, Biology, Chemistry, etc. need to able to read and understand the first hand accounts and journal notes of those that came before them. It is not a matter of intellectual superiority but of practicality. Future scholars must be able to read the notes of those that came before and not the second hand transcriptions. Since cursive writing is being phased out in the public schools, colleges are going to have to adapt and pick up the slack.

Reflections of the First Year in the Classroom

It has only been two weeks since the last day of school and I am still exhausted. I have worked a diverse pedigree of jobs ranging from secretary work to a stint as an iron worker. Regardless of the pain, anguish, and injuries sustained in those jobs, none were as trying and mentally exhausting as the art of education. But I wouldn’t redo a thing.

As a teacher that just concluded my first year in the trade, the only advice I can give is organization, organization, organization. It is really simple to lose track of things and to have a cluttered desk. The reason is because as a teacher, one will have anywhere from ninety to one hundred and fifty students at a time. But that isn’t the real reason for the need for organization. The real reason is the unprecedented amount of paperwork the school will give a teacher. In the long run, that school will only ask for 15-25% of that paperwork back. So I say again; organization, organization, organization.

I could go on and on with stories from my first year but instead I want to share the most significant impact I made on a student this year. This was a moment that gave me extreme gratification in my work and career choice. It did not however, take place in my regular classroom but rather my attempt at tutoring one of the wrestlers I coach. It appears that over the years a shift took place in America’s appreciation of academics. These days athletics seems to reign supreme. It is often that the nerd is ridiculed over the star running back. Keep in mind that this goes on even though the nerd might cure cancer and the running back could be sweeping floors. I agree that this transition has taken place. I am also one that would like to see a greater appreciation for academia over athleticism but I see the positive effects of the other side. This aforementioned shift is seen in the public schools as well where coaches reign supreme over teachers. In these hard economic times, many coaches are more likely to be hired or to simply keep their job, over a regular classroom teacher. I am one of those. If it weren’t for my background in Wrestling, I would not have a job and also would not have been able to help this particular student. In this story, one can see the positive influence a coach can have.

Many teachers in public schools do not understand a lot of modern coaches. Some teachers do not realize the relationship between athletes and coaches. Nor do some teachers grasp that for some athletes, coaches are more like fathers or the authority figure the athletes never had.  Because I coached this particular student, I was a trustworthy person to him. There was a relationship there that might not have been there otherwise. This particular student/athlete wanted to get a good college education and wanted his wrestling to help pay for that education. The school he wanted to go to required a higher SAT score than what he had. I worked and worked with this student during, before, and after school. We went over test taking skills, vocabulary….the works. In the end, he improved his SAT score and got accepted to the college of his choice. With that acceptance, this wrestler also got his wrestling scholarship.

To have a hand in that work and SAT score felt and feels good. It gives me gratification; a worthiness in this world. My Dad told me before I started teaching, that if I could find gratification in my work, I’d never regret my career choice. He’s right. Teaching is a gratifying profession as other professions are. I am thankful that I made the right choice, and a bit thankful for that athlete and coach dynamic. After my first year teaching, I can truly say that I am looking forward to another.

Animated History: Allowing Students to “Play” History

Teaching the Civil War is a favorite of mine. I grew up near a major Civil War battlefield. In hindsight, I credit that to my current passion for history. I think many teachers can share in that sentiment and that passion for their subject. Our students however, are another story. How do we as educators, make our subject “pop” for our students? For History teachers; how do we make the past come alive? Here is one such way.

I’ve recently stumbled across a website entitled History Animated. This website gives students a narrative history for the major battles of the Civil War, Revolutionary War, and World War II (both Europe and Pacific). A narrative of these battles is nothing new but History Animated takes it a step further. Each narrative is wonderfully displayed through the use of maps and graphics that take the readers through each stage of the battle. In History Animated’s own words:

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a good animation is worth ten thousand. After reading book after book about the Pacific War and finding only complicated maps with dotted lines and dashed lines crisscrossing the pages, we decided to depict the key naval and land battles using animation technology.

The use of animation is an intriguing  concept to use while teaching. Teachers can narrate the battles as they happen before the students’ eyes; or teachers can simply assign an independent study of the battles using the website. Included with the narrative are assorted facts of history that allow students to click off of the battle and explore more micro concepts. The animation puts the students in control essentially. Which allows the students to advance at his/her own pace as they progress.

With this assignment, a great RAFT project can be assigned by having students keep a “Civil War Diary” and write from a soldier’s POV at the conclusion of each day.

Using your Smartphone/Tablet in Place of an Interactive Whiteboard

Does lack of funding got you down. I have this amazing feeling of want. I “want” a SmartBoard for my classroom. Due to funding though, the school does not see me “want” as a “need.” What’s a teacher to do? Well…..how about turning your Smartphone/Tablet into an interactive presentation tablet. From your device you can control the PowerPoints running on your laptop across the room. Access your computer’s functions such as the internet and other documents files. I haven’t had the chance to implement this in the classroom. I am hoping to do that tomorrow. I have spent the last hour in my house walking around changing the music on my computer from my phone, bringing up random pictures and power point presentations with ease. The touchscreen even allows me to work the mouse on the computer. Interested? All you need are a few simply products.

Sadly the directions I am about to give are for the use of an Android. All of these features can be accessed using Apple technology just make sure you download the right software. For Android users, lets get started. First you need to download the GMote App for your phone. You can get it here. Once that is downloaded to your phone/tablet, you will need the appropriate software for your laptop located here. Once you have done both of those things, simply follow the directions here.

Be patient and follow the directions. Best of luck!

Setting Up A Digital Classroom

This new age of technology is something that educators can either use, abuse, or get trampled by. Let’s face it. Our students probably will read less than fifty percent of assigned readings except for a few of them. They probably read less than eight books a year. However these same students probably read several thousand Facebook profiles. Even though we assign them a paper to write they students are writing less and less yet they probably produce several hundred pages of written text in the form of Facebook comments/statuses, blog posts, E-mails and text messages. You might see the students in the classroom an hour to two hours a day. In that time period you are probably fighting the struggle of no texting in class. In short, teachers are constantly competing for the students’ attention in this technological age. I say roll with the punches and go digital. One of the things I have started, is instead of having the kids keep static journals, is have them create online blogs. I had them use Google Blogger as it is the easiest to set up and they don’t really need to the multiple functions that WordPress has. This blog will serve the same purpose as a static journal. When we close out a chapter, I will assign them a project to write and reflect on the subjects we just learned about as well as relate that material to today. Or in other words, they will have to find some modern comparisons or issues that stem from historical problems. I have also set up a classroom blog for the kids to access and ask me questions directly that other students in the class can see. Another angle I have began exploring is online quizzing.

I have begun using the website QuizStar. It takes a little setting up. It allows you to set time limits on the quizzes, a window of opportunity in which the quiz can be taken, and also it allows you to set the number of times the students can actually take the quiz. You also have to get the students to get on the website and register into your class. This is ideal though once you get it all set up. Set up a lab day and have the students do this under your supervision. QuizStar allows you to grade quizzes easily without looking at papers. You can also isolate the most missed questions so you as a teacher know what to go over again. And to top it off, you do not have to spend 20 minutes in class testing the students, and then grading afterwards because the quiz can be done for a homework assignment.

I will write another post later to talk about the results of this new adventure in teaching. Hopefully I can reach a few students in between Facebook status updates.