History and AR

Education

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?

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Frontier House

Education

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.

Summer Session

Education

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.

Research

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.  

The Little Things

Education

Coming back to school after winter break is a time that can’t be explained to people not in education.  Everyone is tired, there are new clothes a-plenty, and we all feel (somewhat) rested and rejuvenated.  I’m also making some little changes in my classroom to see what happens.

  1. I’m structuring my classroom to minimize negative interactions.  After some reflection I noticed that I was having an increasing number of negative interactions with my students.  Most of this was because there was ambiguity of what the students were supposed to be doing and any given time.  To remedy this, I’m making sure that my expectations for my students are presented clearly before we get into anything.  I’m also making sure that I’m reinforcing positive behavior and putting kids in a place that they can succeed where they are.  Changing seating charts and changing my delivery of lessons slightly are part of this plan of mine.  I’ve only had two days worth of school so far, but so far it’s working well.
  2. I’ve decided to have fun no matter what.  An old principal of mine used to always say “choose your attitude.” I found that at the end of last semester I was not choosing the best attitude I could have.  I’m going to do the best I can to choose my attitude daily and laugh a lot more this semester than I did last semester (which was quite a bit).
  3. I want to help people more than look out for myself.  I’ve been known, at times, to hunker down and concentrate solely on what I need and what matters to me.  This next semester I want to make sure that I’m helping out others as much as I can.  Even if that is changing my reactions to things, changing the way I speak to people, or rolling up my shirt sleeves and helping people get things done.

The bottom line is that I want to be a better person than I am today.  I don’t think that I’m a bad person, but I want to make sure that I’m always pushing myself to be better in new more difficult ways.

Train Like a Rockstar

Education

Training is one of those things in life that you either love or hate.  I have always found that I’d rather be over-trained compared to under-trained, but that’s just me.  The question I’ve run up against a few times is whether I’d rather travel for outside training or be trained in house and I think I have an answer.

Inside training is easy for a number of logistical reasons.  They are usually closer to you and you might know other people getting trained.  There is a chance that the person conducting the training knows your specific circumstance and more about the kids you’re teaching on a day-to-day basis.  The downside is that I rarely come away with as many “aha” moments when I attend a local training.  I feel like I see people utilizing things in a slightly different way or teaching something in a slightly different way.

Outside training is difficult from a travel perspective (usually).  For instance, when I taught US History, very little content from before the Civil War happens anywhere near Texas so I had to travel at least a little bit to see actual historical sites for training.  The thing that outside training offer is the potential for world class teachers who have spent years on their particular topic and hands on experiences.  I got the opportunity to live and be trained on the grounds at Mount Vernon (the home of George Washington) and the hands on experience was invaluable to a beginning US History teacher.  I also got to listen to a number of scholars with huge experience when it comes to US History, Mount Vernon, and George Washington.

Again, I’m pro-training in any form.  That being said, take a look at some training outside of your locale and see if you can figure out the logistics to get you there.  You’ll be glad you did.

How Much History

Education

History is a subject that is often either loved or hated.  If you were to poll the kids sitting in my classroom, they would either tell you they loved it or they hated it without much in between.  My goal is to light the historical fire in their soul.  This got me to think about how little people remember from their history classes.

I don’t know about you, but a lot of those dates really slip my mind.  Now, as a history teacher, I have relearned a lot of them.  So much so that I was listening to a lecture the other day and out of nowhere the speaker made a reference to the Magna Carta and I had to keep myself from yelling with excitement.  No one else in the room really knew what that was, and that depressed the government part of my heart.  I’m not saying that you need to know the Law of April 6, 1830 by heart or what date the Battle of Vicksburg happened on, but you should know the big ones by heart.

I could get on my high horse and start complaining about civic duty and why no one remembers why they are so important, but I’ll try and limit myself.  I don’t like jury duty any more than anyone else, but I’ll happily participate to make sure there is justice in our country is carried out.  I also don’t like keeping up with what/whom I can vote for on the few times a year I’m asked to vote, but I do so I can place an informed vote.  Most of us like the idea of civic duty, but when push comes to shove not many of us (as a nation) do a good job of living up to the expectations of our country.

My wife sometimes wonders why I choose to read the things I do.  For instance, we’re going on a trip over Thanksgiving and I’ve downloaded three history books to listen to.  Two Texas history books and one English history book.  Maybe it’s because I’m historically inclined, but I think it’s important to know what’s happened and why it’s important that I remember it.

So that leads me back to my initial thought, how much history do we remember?  Would this city/state/country/world be better off if we remembered (maybe even put a little emphasis) on a little more history?  I don’t know the answers for sure…but I bet you can tell which way I lean.

Teaching Linear or Concept Based History

Education

In some ways I think that History teachers are complete traditionalists.  We look back into the past and try and translate the virtues and vices of people from the past and make it relevant to future generations.  It seems we have a built in excuse for “good ole boy” syndrome because everyone in the past seems like a larger than life character.  Sometimes we need to break the mold of traditionalism and move with the times of teaching.  In the case of history, it seems this comes down to whether you teach sequentially through history or if you teach in a concept based curriculum.  I would like to have a more definite opinion about the topic, but I am still in process.  I can say though that the choice for a US history teacher is less clear than I thought it might be.

I overhear teachers from time to time snicker under their breath at the idea of teaching linear, sequential history.  Concept based teaching is all over the place and with changing times comes an idea that newer is always better.  I will agree that there are certain things I despise about linear history such as the roller coaster of interest in US history.  Maybe this changes from teacher to teacher, but I would say that there is relatively high interest in the US Revolution, the Civil War, and to a lesser extend the colonial period.  Conversely, there is very little inherent interest in the Constitution and early republic units.  I would say that these may partially be inherent to the age of history and partially because of my interests in the history I teach, but they exist nonetheless.  Linear history also can make it difficult to compact history into understandable chunks.  When we get to the sectionalism section of our curriculum it is difficult for students to remind themselves the extreme differences in the colonies that would lead to the Civil War.  Curriculums are also not equitable in how much time we spend on each unit.  I have heard a myriad of reasons (excuses?) for this over the years ranging from revisionist history to personal preference to the weight of the TEKS on the unit.  If we are to believe that all US history is important, could we not be more equitable in the amount of time we spend on each unit?  Each of these indictments are not a deal breaker in my mind for teaching history sequentially, but they are things that we need to be intentional about in our teaching of history curriculum.  I think we as teachers are aware of these difficulties, but the question is how are we working in our classrooms to minimize these difficulties.  In “good ole boy” history classrooms, I would say these are not even considered because that’s the way they’ve always been taught history.  While this can be the stereotypical old guard history classroom, there are some things that are of great benefit in this classroom.  Foremost on my mind is that we do justice to history by telling it how it happens.  We can see cause and effect relationships in things, we can decide for ourselves what characteristics of eras are when we learn history the way it happens.  If we teach without the surrounding context we lose something beautiful in history: the beautiful way our history fits together to make us who we are.  If we do the hard work of making connections and generalizations for our students we rob them of some of the beauty of history.  We also are given the ability to revisit concepts multiple times because, oddly enough, history repeats itself.  We are constantly dealing with similar events, causes, effects, and relationships in the course of history so why not use those as an opportunity to revisit these ideas?  The least important reason that we should consider sequential history (at least in Texas) is that our standards are written that way.  I am not saying that my state has it right or that we should teach to a test, but I am saying that they have written their standards in a way that makes sense for a sequential teaching of US history.  For my first year of US history, I have taught through mostly sequentially and it has helped me understand how history fits together.  I am not convinced that this is the best way, but there are some definite advantages.

In many history circles, sequential history is considered archaic.  Why would we teach kids things in order?  We need to get them to look at things from a macro level and the way to do that is to use common themes running through history to make connections.  As with sequential history, there are some things that need to be at least considered if you want to make this your teaching method of choice.  The biggest issue is that sequencing of history can be completely thrown out.  My state standards place an importance on being able to formally and informally sequence things in history.  They also are very good at providing a quote with a date on it and expecting the students to be able to place it in time and answer a question about its time in history.  If you do not have an idea of relative sequencing in history it is going to be almost impossible to answer these types of questions.  A good life skill for kids to have is the ability to figure out where in history something happens, but it is almost impossible if a student doesn’t understand the flow of history.  My biggest pet peeve of conceptual history is that often the concepts are personal preference and may put emphasis on areas of history that have no bearing on US history or the future history content.  Ideally student’s history knowledge builds on itself year after year.  If my concepts in US history do not lead to the growth to their ninth grade year, have I robbed my students of growth they would have gotten in an old school history class?  Again, these are not reasons to not to teach conceptually, these are things that need to be compensated for in the classroom.  With that being said, conceptual history does have some distinct advantages.  By covering similar instances at the same time, it allows for very good discussion of important topics.  If I had the ability to have a good, well informed class discussion about “which of the United States’ wars was the most revolutionary?” without having to reteach the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 to do so that would be awesome.  Using the same thought process, it is easier to see how things change over time.  You can talk about how the tactics in the Revolutionary War would or would not have worked for the Civil War or similar topics.  Conceptual history education also allows for the educator to show their passion for specific topics to compensate for less interesting parts of the history curriculum.  Talking about how democracy has changed over time is far more interesting than learning the principles of the constitution in a vacuum.  Conceptual history, while being the method du jure in history circles, has its ups and downs that need to be compensated for.

What is best for kids is always on my mind as an educator.  I want my students to hold on to and retain as much of my content as I possibly can.  To do so, I need to remove as many barriers to learning as I possibly can and compensate for those that cannot be removed.  I constantly struggle and debate about whether conceptual or sequential history is the best way to teach history curriculum, and I think that is a good place to be.  As a wise educator once taught me, “learning happens in the struggle.”