Flipping for Change


Our history department is doing something that I’ve really been interested in trying for a while.  We are all taking a way of making our lessons more engaging, trying them in our classrooms, and then reporting back to the rest of the department about how they went.  I made sure when we talked about this to mention that this does not need to be a perfect attempt, we just need to broaden our horizons of teaching a bit.

When we developed out list of engaging classroom activities, I had my eye on Socratic Seminars because my wife loved them in the classroom.  I decided to let the rest of the department choose first and I would take whatever was leftover.  I ended up getting to try flipping a lesson and using Skype in the classroom.  Both of these ways of teaching have interested me, but I’ve needed a push to get myself started, so maybe this is it.  I’m working with my awesome iTeam person to get the creative juices flowing.

Have any great experiences with these lesson models or others you find particularly engaging?  Please let me know!


Towers and Governments


I try to bring simulations into my classroom whenever I can.  What topic is better to simulate for students to understand better than governments?  I’m sure I’m not the first person that has used something like this to help teach government types, but I’ve really enjoyed seeing students better understand how governments operate after this classroom experience.

First I break my students into five to six groups, usually these have about four students in them.  I then tell the students that they’re “grade” for the day is based on how well they function as a group mimicking the government type that I give them.  There is no grade for the day (I tell them this after we’re done) and we have already learned a little bit about governments so this isn’t that big of a shocker for my students.  Next, I tell the kids that the job their government needs to complete is to build the tallest freestanding tower they can with a bare minimum of supplies.  I always use leftover things that I have around the classroom, and this year is was a few pieces of paper, some notecards, some straws, some pencils, and a small amount of tape.  I let the kids brainstorm their towers as I go around and give them their governments.  Some governments are tougher than others with this simulation, like communism, but most are able to be handled by my 6th graders.  The governments I used this year were:

  • Republic/Democracy – Every person must vote for every decision the group makes.  They may not vote to elect a leader or change their government type.
  • Dictatorship/Absolute Monarch – Appoint one person the leader the dictator/monarch and they must always have every person in their group actively doing something.  These can be productive things or non-sensical things like singing songs, doing pushups, etc.
  • Anarchy – Give only one group this government type.  These kids can go around and steal supplies from the other group.  No one can be physically violent to them and once they touch a supply it is theirs with no questions asked.

I usually give my kids about 15-20 minutes to build their towers.  What usually happens is the anarchy group is so busy stealing stuff that they have a ton of supplies, but barely something you could call a tower to show for all their materials.  The republic group is frustrated by how long it takes them to get anything done because they have to vote on everything.  The monarchs usually are passive or they completely take advantage of their powers as the ultimate leader.  After the activity is over and the towers have been judged, we have a class discussion about the good and bad of every government type and how those apply to modern day governments.  After that, my kids reflect on their governments and what type of government they think is the one they would select for a country they might start in the future.

Baby’s First Road Trip


One of the bonuses for me when I was afforded the opportunity to not coach any more was that it freed me up to travel with my family during the football season.  When I was coaching, I was so exhausted on the weekends that it was almost impossible to do much of anything, and that was before we had a baby in the mix.  As I reflect on my schedule for the fall, we may have overdone our fall schedule with a baby, but she did really well on her first weekend road trip to Aggieland.

My wife graduated from Texas A&M, I did not.  With that being said, it is by far my favorite state university in Texas.  In fact, I almost transferred to A&M after my first year at Trinity University, but stayed and really enjoyed my time there.  A lot of my friends went to A&M so I’ve been there a lot of times throughout the years and it is a great college town.  Haley’s family has season tickets to the football games and this weekend was the first of the games we get the opportunity to go to.  The Aggies played Sam Houston State University as their final warm-up for the Alabama game next week, which we also get the opportunity to go to.  We left Caroline with her grandmother at the hotel in Bryan, TX and went to the game sans-baby.  She did awesome with her grandma and we had a good time at the game.  It rained most of the first half, which was new for me, but it also cooled off the weather quite a bit.  Normally we would expect to be sitting in 90-105 degree weather.  Saturday night it was 75 and windy…so pretty much perfect.   On the way back to Denton the following day she slept the entire 4-ish hour drive home!

Acouple of side-notes:

  • I got to go in the updated MSC at A&M.  It was awesome, but really crowded on game day
  • I also got to see a group of the Corps perform a yell at the gravesite of the dead mascots right near the stadium.  Every time I go to College Station I feel like I see another weird tradition I didn’t know existed.

Teaching with Zombies


I teach a split class schedule this year, with three gifted sixth-grade social studies classes and two gifted seventh-grade Texas history classes.  I just wanted to make this clear since some of my former posts have talked about my social studies classroom.  My lesson I’m going to share this week is how I chose to teach about the four regions of Texas.

Under normal circumstances, the regions of Texas are boring.  Usually people I’ve observed and I have lectured about the natural resources as well as the uniqueness of the regions.  In that scenario most kids tune you out as soon as you start your lecture and remember nothing about the regions of Texas, which end up playing a big role later on when we look at exploration and settlement.  My first time teaching the regions, I tried splitting my class into four teams and having a debate over which of the four regions was the best.  The problem with that is that there are two plains that are using the same arguments and lose the desire to be competitive quickly.  As I sat down to redesign my lessons I knew I had to scrap everything I’d tried before and completely start over.

I knew I wanted the kids in collaborative teams and I knew that the lesson had to center around the regions of Texas.  I’m always a fan of low stakes competition in my class, so I was trying to think of a way the groups could compete without catering completely to the athletes in my classes.  I decided to use the pop culture phenomenon of zombies to motivate my students beyond the desire to compete.  I started on Monday of this week by setting suspense for Friday by simply labeling it as “Zombie Apocalypse Day” in my agenda for the week.  When my seventh graders saw that on their agendas you could hear the murmurs of excitement.  I knew I had them at that moment.

When Friday finally came around, we started with a simple warm-up that got them to recall the lesson from earlier in the week where we learned what the regions of Texas are.  All the kids were still wondering how zombies played into the regions of Texas, but I didn’t answer any of those questions.  I told them, after hearing their responses from the warm-up, that we needed to start preparing for zombies with a completely straight face.  I told them that it’s not a question of ‘if’ but a questions of ‘when’.  At that point I got them into groups, decided in which order they would select their regions, and get every team a region of Texas.  I then gave them the rules of their scenarios:

  • Decide what you would do if zombies invaded your region of Texas.
  • There are no cities, roads, or other people.
  • You have only American Indian technology before the explorers came to the Americas.
  • They had to reference their textbooks for what resources they had at their disposal.

They basically had to think like an American Indian defending their lands from foreign explorers who kept coming after their land.  The kids looked up and planned how to defend themselves from and imaginary enemy.  The kids were very creative and immediately asked me what the limitations were of zombies.  Most kids agreed that they couldn’t swim and didn’t like fire.  They went to work and I went around and tried to fan their creative flames as they worked in their groups.  Hearing their plans at the end were awesome and funny.  We had good discussions about the weak sides of their plans as well as what they had really right.  These discussions lead to discussions of how the type of zombie that invades would determine how long you could survive.  For instance, if the zombies from The Walking Dead were coming after us we would probably survive longer than if the zombies from World War Z were coming after us.  In turn this lead to discussions of particularly interesting places in Texas that would be easier to defend than others.  It was a great day of learning and talking with my classes.  I think I’ll keep this lesson around for a while and hopefully I can use the lessons learned in this quick assignment to help them understand the explorers relationship with the American Indians.

Longitude/Latitude Differentiation


The first week of school is always a fun week.  I’d rather not have to act like a fool during the pep rally on the first day, but every teacher in the school is required to do that.  I’m terrible with new names and since I’m not coaching this year I have two more classes of kids to memorize, but that’s fun in an odd way.  This year is a little more challenging because our high school was introducing their one to one iPad program which means the tech integration specialists were swarming to handle any difficulties teachers or students might have.  This also meant that we at the middle schools didn’t get the opportunity to set up all the student login’s handled the first week, so I went the low-tech route on my introductory concept which is longitude and latitude.

Longitude and latitude is one of the few skills that I get to teach in my social studies classes.  Most of my kids have never used this to find absolute location, so it’s fun to teach a new concept and allow my kids to learn how to use it practically.  After having an introductory conversation about how their phones and most location based technology actually uses longitude/latitude to find your position, we go over the basic method of finding a spot on a map.  This includes finding the latitude on the side of the page and the longitude on the top or bottom of the page and tracing the lines to find the intersection.  The first day we spend most of the time practicing and me answering questions about the maps we use.  At the end of class, I give the students an exit ticket that has four basic questions:

  1. Give me the longitude and latitude of Ft. Worth, TX
  2. Latitude runs north/south or east/west
  3. On a scale of 1-10 how confident are you in your answers?
  4. Would you be willing to teach someone how to do long/lat?

Once the kids are done and the day is over I quickly sort the cards into piles:

  • Pile #1 – This pile is for all the cards that got #1 and #2 correct, were confident in the answers, and were willing to teach.
  • Pile #2 – This pile is for all the cards that got #1 and #2 correct, but were either not super confident or were not willing to teach.
  • Pile #3 – This pile is for kids that were wrong on either #1 or #2 or were not confident at all.
  • Pile #4 – This pile is for kids that were way off.

I match a person in Pile #1 and #3 for collaborative groups for the following day so that the kid who has grasped long/lat a little quicker can help his classmate that needs a little extra help.  I partner the Pile #2 kids together because they have the concept, but don’t necessarily want to teach the concept to someone who doesn’t understand.  I help the kids in Pile #4 since they do not grasp the material as well as they need to.  With this system I get to help the struggling learners while allowing the stronger students in class to help their classmates in learning.

The next day in class we have a few practice problems to work on.  when they have them checked to be correct they start creating one of three products to show their mastery of he concept:

  1. Create a song that reminds people how to keep the differences between longitude and latitude straight.
  2. Create a poster that visually reminds students how to find a location using longitude and latitude.
  3. Think of 5 careers that would frequently use longitude and latitude, tell me how you think they use it, and then predict what the modern world would be like if longitude and latitude hadn’t been invented.

This was also the first assignment I gave narrative feedback for in my ROLE classroom this year.  I found that my kids wanted to do their best and took the feedback well.  Some groups were still in process at the end of the day on Friday, so we’ll be finishing it up on Tuesday.  I think it was a great first lesson, especially since we didn’t have the opportunity to use technology at all for the week.