I would like to think that I am a tech savvy teacher. Tech knowledge and history do not always go together, but I think they should. When I talk to people about their history teachers growing up, they either loved them or hated them…often for the same reasons. The stories. Some people gravitated to their sage of a history teacher spinning a yarn about times long ago. While others remember the drudgery of listening to lectures about facts they do not care about.
While history still has its fair share of the “sage on the stage” teachers, technology has allowed us to give students a more tangible way to see history. One thing I have struggled with in history is giving students a way to interact with people or objects in history.
With this as my backdrop, I walked into a training this summer about augmented reality. Most of us have at least heard the term ‘virtual reality’ or VR, which is using technology to completely change the setting of the person wearing it. AR is a bit different, it attempts to add something to our current setting to interact with. The game Pokemon Go would be an example of AR at work. The game superimposes pokemon on top of the video feed of your surrounding.
In the training I attended, they showed us how various AR apps change the environment using our phones. From changing the language we saw in a picture to showing what the next step in an assembly line, AR has the ability to change the way we train the learners we are teaching.
I took what I learned at the training and attempted to put it to work using an app called Metaverse. Using their interface, I created a game to help the students in my class learn the differences in the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists in early United States history. Take a look and let me know what you think?
I got introduced to a new video that overlaps with my U.S. History class. I try not to be over video history teacher, although sometimes I feel like I’m one of the few. I will use videos when they are better able to convey the message I’m trying to get across than other means. An example would be the tarring and feathering scenes in John Adams. I can talk about tarring and feathering, but showing the scene is much more powerful (please be aware that you need to use an edited version of this scene…you have been warned).
I have long used resources like Crash Course US History, Hip Hughes History, John Adams, and America: The Story of US. All of these play their roles. With that being said, I’m always on the lookout for something new. In this case, I was introduced to the PBS series Frontier House that ran a few years ago now.
Let me set the scene, PBS gets people to apply to give up their modern life essentials and live like the pioneers of westward expansion. They have to build their own houses, farm their own food, and live like pioneers. They film it and get reactions to what is happening in the form of a reality TV show. I won’t ruin anything in case this sounds like a good watch, but it is hilarious.
I’m using this in my classroom as an end of the year “could you live like the settlers” wind down activity. Most of my students think they could do this, but after watching the videos most are now convinced they cannot.
The only downsides to these videos are that there are a could of scenes that make me uncomfortable showing to my middle school students (like less than a minute and easy to skip) and the fact that I needed to buy them on DVD to show.
It’s that time of year again. We have come to the end of our history content and now we are knee deep in the process of reviewing everything all over again. What about this time of year fills me with such dread? Why is it that I enjoy my job all year to get to the end and feel so differently?
The first thing is that the end is near and everyone is looking ahead. Summer is so much fun. Students and teachers alike are ready to be done and free to do anything but be in school. I wish I could say that this doesn’t apply to me, but it does. My patience is running thin for particular students and I am ready for an extended break to recharge my batteries. I wouldn’t necessarily call this an excuse, but more a reality at the end of the school year. I wouldn’t call it human nature, I would call it a part of the life cycle of the school year. The question is, could this be different next year? I’m not sure.
The second thing is that there is state testing involved in the stress of the season. I do not talk about the test, and I don’t want my students to be stressed about a test. Does that mean there is zero stress? No. I am a duck riding on the surface of the water…everything looks calm, but the duck’s feet are kicking wildly under the water. My caffeine intake tends to skyrocket, I’m shorter with students than I need to be, and I feel like I’m always tired. Could this be different? Sure.
I’m trying to be proactive this year. I’ve started taking evening walks now that the weather is cooperating. I’m reminding myself of a mantra a previous principle had “Choose your attitude.” I cannot control the students in my class, but I can control how I act and how I respond to the students in my classroom. No matter what, I need to be a positive influence on the students in my classroom and continue to push them to the finish line.
I laughed hysterically watching would be thieves getting covered in glitter and fart spray. If you are not sure what I am talking about, there is a Youtube video making the rounds on the internet showing a gentleman taking revenge on some package thieves. He is an engineer and was able to create a package that took video, uploaded it to the cloud, tracked the package via GPS, flung glitter, and sprayed fart spray on a few people who stole packages off of front porches.
While the sinful side of me took joy watching payback unfold right before my eyes, I also reflected on the learning process that took place on the video and whether my students are walking a similar process in my class.
He started with an idea of what he wanted. In science class this would be called “forming a hypothesis” but we usually call it “making an educated guess” in history class. He decided what the goal was for his project. He wanted a package that did very specific things. In my classroom I do not think I use prediction as well as I could. Making an educated guess at events that might happen next is a skill that is developed over time. While not a “testable skill” it is a skill that students will need to develop in their lives to understand the possible consequences for actions.
Next, he used his resources to collect materials that accomplished the goals he set out for. I noticed at this point that while he does play to his strengths as an engineer, he did employ some help to accomplish his goals. He constructed something that looked like it would accomplish the goal of payback.
He used his knowledge in building the product to test his goals. He methodically tested each element (the GPS, the camera, the motor for the spinner, etc.) to make sure it did exactly what he wanted it to. He did not include a lot of this footage in the final video, but I would guess there was a bit of trial an error in a machine this complicated.
Lastly he put his product into the real world to see what it could do…and it was spectacular.
My reflections on this process are:
- Do I allow my students to come up with good ideas and put them to the test? This would be difficult in a history classroom, but I think it would be good for my kids
- Do I use real world application enough? Again, difficult in a history classroom, but I think it is possible during certain units of study.
The best laid plans for summer are created during the winter. The summer is a time that teacher’s covet because of the passion they put into their profession during the school year. It is a time to recharge and be with family and friends. It is also a time for world-class professional development opportunities that can be attended for little to no cost, so I choose to plan ahead to give myself the best chance at getting them.
The first step to getting great professional development is to know what is out there. Sure, your district or region probably has some good training opportunities over the summer, but what if you could get better? There are a variety of ways to find out about opportunities available. You could ask the curriculum specialist at your district, you can do a basic Google search, you could seek out Facebook pages dedicated to such things, you can check with your favorite college, etc. I wish there were a place that had those sorts of things listed out for me (and if there is, please shoot me an e-mail and let me know) but there is not so you have to go find them.
This process has lead me to a few outstanding learning opportunities that were either paid for or low cost. The Texas State Historical Association has a number of training opportunities scattered throughout the state every school year. Humanities Texas likewise has a number of opportunities that they will pay for subs to attend or pay for travel during the summer. I have also attended a week long training through Mount Vernon that was completely paid for. The common theme is that I found the opportunity and applied.
Apply and Learn
The next step is to apply. Seems simple, but every time I apply for opportunities in the summer I forget some of the applications due to the busyness of a school year. Make sure you follow up with recommendations if you need to. Make sure you format things the way they request them. Make sure it is completed on time.
Sometimes you will get picked and some times you will not. The key is to ask questions if you are not picked (if you can). If I am turned down, I will e-mail the organization and ask for feedback on my application. Use the rejection as a learning opportunity for the following year. If their response is you are lacking a specific quality, work on it over the next school year. Sometimes you will get actionable responses and sometimes you will not, but it’s worth an e-mail.
My Current Applications
For the summer of 2019 I am taking some big swings with my professional learning. I have applied for a number of trainings through Gilder Lehrman. These are very competitive, so I made sure to get my application in early. I also applied for a fellowship to help write curriculum for a national historical site. I am very hopeful for this one, and should I get it I will definitely update my progress.
As a teacher I have to be in favor of the educational process. It just so happens that I really like higher education and learning about things I am passionate about. I realized a few years ago the while I do have a Master’s Degree it is not in a field that is helpful to me in education. With that in mind, and my family’s full support, I began investigating the possibility of going back to school for a Master’s of Education.
The fundamental question for me was: What degree should I seek? When I set out, I had one of two ideas in mind, either Educational Leadership or Educational Counseling. I did a lot of research including talking with counselors at the school I work at and contacting various graduate schools to ask about those two majors. What I kept coming back to was that I was not passionate about either they just seemed like the next iteration of the education lifestyle. I was hoping for someone to change my mind, but that never happened.
At this point I was at a bit of a crossroads. If not either of these two options, what was I left with? I began looking at the universities that I had a connection to and I saw a major that intrigued me, a Master’s of Education in Instructional Technology. I began to research the program and look at the coursework and I liked what I saw. I was nervous though because the degree did not lead to a specific job in education. At least with Educational Leadership or Counseling I had a specific job that I was qualified for as soon as I attained my degree.
More difficult discussions lead to a revelation; while this degree does not lead to a specific job it is valuable to a larger audience. Technology is not going away in education both in a school environment and outside of schools. With this in mind I submitted my application to Texas A&M’s distance program and I start in the Spring. I am really looking forward to it. So much so that I am going to catalog my process here to help with reflection and implementation in my classroom.
A few other thoughts:
- I forgot what a pain the financial aid process is. I have complicated the process by applying for grants, but it is still more than I remember it being when I originally went through the process.
- Textbooks are expensive, although renting digital textbooks is awesome.
- I feel so old logging into the online portal. The had nothing like this “back in my day” but it is nice that everything is all in one place.
When last we left my attempt at amateur radio, I had passed my test and ordered a radio. I was awaiting my license from the FCC and looking forward to moving ahead. Since then a bit has happened.
Recently I attended my first local radio club meeting. It was a fascinating experience because I knew almost none of the vocabulary that was being used and I had no experience to use context clues to help me. I sat next to some very nice people who helped me out when I needed it. There were also a lot more people than I thought would be there. Like 90+ people in fact. Everyone was very friendly and helpful.
At this point my license and radio had come in. Being nervous of messing something up I had really only listened to hear what I could. I met a gentleman that was willing to help me program my radio to listen to the local (and not so local) chatter which was awesome. After helping me, I also got a tour of our local county emergency services building and I was in awe. I knew we had a lot of resources through the county, but I didn’t think it was so comprehensive.
As I’m writing this, I just finished up my first transmission on my radio to check in with a local net. Basically, I logged in to a conversation of local radio operators during a training session. Was I nervous? Yes. Was it as nerve racking as I thought it would be? No. So far, so good.
I tend to fall into the same trap over and over. I play to my strengths. A common trope right now in the leadership world is making sure that we operate from our strengths instead of work on our weaknesses, and I can understand why. Why would I work harder on things that I could delegate to those who are gifted in that area? I decided about two weeks ago that I was going to take on a new learning opportunity that I have no background in.
I am a history teacher by trade, hopefully you already know this. My wheelhouse is compare/contrast, primary sources, reading, and writing. In general, I like to tell stories about the past. Very little of my day-to-day brain power is delegated to the math or science part of my brain. While I do enjoy learning things that I am naturally inclined to, I started thinking about times in my life when I really enjoyed learning new things. The nerd part of me began longing for the merit badge system of the Boy Scouts (now the Scouts).
There are programs out there for adults that are merit badge based, but I cannot afford their prices. So I thought about an area that does not cost too much to get into that flexes the math and science area of my brain. It would be a bonus if it provided a skill that I could use in the future (potentially). So I settled on Amateur Radio, better known as “Ham Radio”.
My first step towards getting on the air was passing the licence exam. The initial licence costs under $20 and a book or app to study. For this exam I bought the book and the app, but I found the app much easier to study in small amounts of time. I had a little under a week before the local ham radio club offered the test, so I studied my tail off during that time. I showed up on test day and passed the test. I am now waiting on the FCC to issue me a licence.
In the mean time (since it can take a couple of weeks), I ordered my first radio. I opted for the handheld variety to start out with. I also signed up for the local ham radio club which conveniently is right around the corner from my house. I am going to keep updating my progress and how much I’ve learned. Who knows, maybe this will start the trend of me having all kinds of other learning adventures.
I am now in month two of my third school of my teaching career. The thing that I am noticing the most when it comes to changing schools is that there is a lot of culture at school. There are teacher cultures, student cultures, administration cultures, parent cultures, etc. It boggles my mind how many cultural shifts I have had to deal with in this early part of the school year.
During teacher inservice days, I was almost overcome with all the teacher cultural differences in my new school. Many of the faculty at my new school had been there for a decade or more and new the culture inside and out. They new the families that were coming, the types of kids by neighborhood, and could predict how certain students would interact before the school year started. In a way, I was envious of them and I wished I could rush the acculturation I am now beginning to experience. As I have reflected on this phenomenon, I have realized that I do not need to completely adopt the new culture of the school, but use my own culture to add a new flavor to the already established culture of my school. I do not need to be a clone of the person before me or my teaching partner on the other team. I was hired to be me.
The culture that is normally talked about in teacher circles is the student culture. I know a lot of teachers pining to work at any of a number of certain schools because the kids act a certain way. What I have found is that the issues that are found with middle school kids transcend what school they go to. Meaning that the problems that we find with middle school kids are the same no matter what school they go to. The difference is how they are manifested and how the students are dealing with it. Understanding the school’s response to these issues is fascinating to me.
As I have taught my sixth graders (when I have taught sixth grade), is that culture is something that is difficult to explain until you are outside of it. Once I leave the great state of Texas it is plain to see I am in a completely different culture. Same with changing school. I never knew how plugged into the culture of my last school I was until I left.
I’m a history kind of guy. I enjoy the stories and the characters unfolding. I like cause and effect relationships. I especially love tactics and battle plans. I believe that the majority of the kids sitting in my class are less enthusiastic about these parts of history than I am. In the same way, I am in for any Marvel movie they make. I’m easily entertained by comic book movies and I love seeing the bigger story come together into movies like Infinity War. As I reflected on this movie breaking all kinds of records, I think there are some lessons to be learned for history teachers.
- Every detail does not matter. If Marvel gave us every detail in the Infinity War movies, they would be twice as long or more. Most people do not have the attention span to hear about everything…like where are certain characters, why did they make every choice they did, how did certain scenes come together. In the same way, maybe my love of history doesn’t need to be evident when I teach on a topic. Give the main ideas and important details, but leave out how the dress of the Texas soldiers may have helped lead to a victory.
- Characters can be more important than their story. Thanos is a character that is very important to Infinity War. His daughter Gamora is in a handful of other movies, but her character is not someone I root for. There is a very tense scene between the two of them and because Thanos is more compelling of a character I rooted for him in that scene. Same thing in history applies. There are compelling reasons for each side of a story, so use that to your advantage. Maybe use an analogy that helps us understand the struggle of Stephen F. Austin to agree to a revolution. Pull on some heart strings occasionally and help students understand a character’s motivation.
- Give people a reason to care. The bigger issue in the Marvel movies is the build to Thanos gaining all of the infinity stones, so I care about all of the little things that happen along the way. I’m going to try and give the bigger picture up front next year in the hopes that my students will be able to put the magnitude of what is going on in context. Maybe if we talk about the dream of Texas’ independence up front the kids will better understand why certain battles matter so much.