It has been a rough time for education in America, I am sure you are aware. From my side of the desk around Northern Virginia, students are stressed out from the demands of academics, family, sports, work, and college. Teachers are equally frustrated with the demand for innovation, helping students achieve more, and staying on top of their career. Today, the criticisms of students and teachers collectively voicing their opinions not to mention dealing with stress and pressure don't always fall on sympathetic ears.
It seems as though that pressure has fallen upon many educational partners that teachers sometimes love, sometimes hate. From threats to reduce the funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to criticism of College Board's relevance in the educational landscape, people have opinions.
I want to reflect on College Board. There have been historical grumblings, like that time that Oklahoma wanted to scrap AP US History because it did not focus on the exceptionalism of the US OR the recent backlash in the AP World History community over their fourth redesign in five years due to pressure from universities not accepting credit for AP World... in part because it is one course that covers six credits in college. And don't even get me started on Dual Enrollment.
So why does this matter? How does this relate to civics education? I think that this is a pretty serious topic in both regards, and I want to talk to you from the position of friends over a cup of coffee, just talking about education. Look, this is my opinion. It's based on my observation of students as a teacher. It's based on my view on history and civics... and it's just my opinion.
So here's the scoop: I think College Board is pretty great, and here is why.
College Board is great for students!
Without getting into too much quantified data, I find that the perspective of Sidwell Friends and their compatriots pretty unimportant. As stated by Chester E. Finn, what do the actions of these eight elite private high schools mean to me at an area public school? My county is spending around $12K per student, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the $40K at Sidwell Friends. A tuition like that attracts elite families who want their students to go to elite colleges, and I would imagine that these schools are also able to pay for elite teachers to come up with elite lesson plans. These students, families, and schools are in no way typical. To be frank, I don't care what they do.
I care about the students in my classroom who have families who are struggling to live in my community, or maybe they are comfortable. I have both kinds of students. When you consider that average student loans hit $30K and so many of my students go on for advanced degrees, the importance of a cost effective approach to college is paramount. Taking an AP class gives these students leverage... maybe they pay around $100 (or less if you are free or reduced lunch) to take the test, and now they have options. Students can expedite their college career or they can repeat courses that they think are easy A's to boost their GPA. What is particularly staggering is that these options are something that three million students this year will be able to consider.
I also think that in a world where the Department of Education is in trouble for its continued functionality due to backlash against nationalist educational policies, it stands to reason that we have a problem in education with finding a way to standardize our product. I know that kids who move to my district often struggle to catch up to the rigor offered in my county's classrooms. Why? Because some states are better at educating their students than others for various political reasons. The only federal agency that tried (but failed) to standardize education through the controversial standardized test craze of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top as well as Common Core is backpedaling from all of these initiatives. So how does a student from a low performing school district compete with students from around the country? The answer is, these students don't compete. But a standardized course with standardized tests and data gives students the ability to transcend these political landmines.
Think the answer is Dual Enrollment (DE)? Think again. There is no reputable organization comparing these community colleges. Knowing what I know about education, it stands to reason that community colleges have the same problems that public schools have. Some are better at teaching kids than others. (And hold that thought with community colleges, I am not done with them yet).
In summary, if the federal government is shrinking away from initiatives meant to standardize education at the federal level, I have no faith that the states will be able to do so on their own accord independently. Movements to localize education make it difficult to ensure that students are given adequate instruction and tutelage, This problem is compounded as our population becomes more transient. This is a problem that College Board helps to fix through a single, standardized assessment that examines how well students can employ critical thinking skills and content on multiple choice tests and written assessments. College Board is offering the same product across the nation to all students who desire to be assessed. This is kind of like the SAT, isn't it? Having a benchmark, a standard, enables the college and the student to make decisions that impact that student's future.
College Board is great for teachers!
Teachers are assigned their preps (courses) often with limited influence by that teacher. This is daunting for veteran teachers let alone new teachers. It's those new teachers I really want to focus on though. New teachers coming out of college are saddled with the fore mentioned debt; many of them need additional jobs to be able to make ends meet. This is not new news. The stress that goes into creating high quality, high caliber lessons on a daily basis is daunting, but good news is there are so many resources out there for high school teachers to improve their craft that are either provided by College Board or framed after College Board's course design. This enables newbie and veteran alike to be able to create an environment in which student mastery is possible.
From a different perspective, I really dislike the idea of moving towards DE or other similar products. I can only speak to what DE looks like in my community to illustrate my point. DE can only be taught by someone who has a masters in that content area, and the course is offered at a high school. Even in my relatively upper middle class community, I don't run into many teachers who have a masters in a content area. If teachers have masters, they are often in education, pedagogy, instructional practices, administration, tech, reading literacy, etc. Therefore, there is a really limited number of people who are capable of doing DE. The difference between the instruction of an AP teacher and that DE teacher is around $24K. I am currently getting my masters in political science, that is the sticker price. How many teachers have access to $24K? Especially in high poverty communities? These teachers are a rarity. Rural and urban school districts will probably have a hard time finding these teachers, and if DE begins to cut into AP courses, we will have whole segments of the population without access to college prep courses. That is unless state legislatures loosen up some of the requirements... which means we are back to teachers doing the instruction without any universal standard. Why not just have the high school teachers teach at the community college? You still need a masters in your content area in my community.
We are stripping teachers who are fully capable of teaching college level courses in America's diverse communities and making these courses far less accessible to sensitive populations in urban and rural areas. We still have not solved the problem of determining whether or not these individuals are truly college ready coming out of America's community colleges, as there is no objective measure other than the SAT of college readiness.
This does matter. In my content in particular, America has a real deficit in civics knowledge. There is no real focus on civics education that correlates to STEM education, other than C3 from Common Core and the pantheon of non-profit educational outlets that care about civics education like iCivics, Center for Civic Education, the National Constitution Center, the James Madison Fellowship Foundation, We the People, and OMG a million others. Thank you to all of these great outlets. The purpose of this blog is to advocate for civics education. It may seem like a homage to College Board is out of place, but I am so thankful for an organization that transcends the political push-pull over which level of government is the most appropriate level to determine educational policy. As a non-profit, College Board offers a system that is standardized, affordable, resourced, and accessible in all kinds of communities, not just elite communities. And these days, I am more concerned about the educational opportunities for the beautiful students of these sensitive communities than I ever will be for the students of Sidwell Friends.
It's officially that time of the year. AP Review time. This is the time of the year where exhaustion is constantly creeping into my life, as class time begins to multiply and divide, add and subtract as if I were in some kind of string theory nightmare. I would go on about this, but look... you and I, we're both in a hurry. So I am going to cut through the crap and get right down to it.
In order to achieve that inner glory, it takes a ton of planning and using resources that already exist. Let me help you find those resources.
Plan it out
Figure out how many days you have and what resources you have at your disposal. If you are a singleton, approach your review with reference to how much you can take. I have taken the approach of Thursdays after school for an hour (I am there no matter what; these are our office hours) and Wednesday nights at 9 pm. (I teach an online course for my school district on Blackboard Ultra, so I just sign off at 8:55 and then resign on to continue on to review with my online and face to face students) I like Blackboard Ultra because it is free and it records the sessions. If you don't have that, there is Google or Facebook or a hundred other Facetime like apps. I have uploaded a schedule I think is capable of capturing my face to face and online kids so that all can benefit with their crazy work/sports schedules.
Beg, Borrow, and steal (okay, not steal... but)
So many of our peers in the field have culminated wonderful resources to use throughout the year. I use these at the end of the year to help mitigate the heavy lifting.
For instance, I love using games to interplay with one-on-one review. For each content unit we review, I am working two days back to back on FRQs and on reviewing old tests. This means I need to get my kids engrossed in something enriching.
I use iCivics games to capstone our learning, and ask my kids to complete Google form questions that force them to apply content to the iCivics games. To be clear, I do not ask them to summarize the game, but to look at how they can apply content from our units to the games. These are discussion questions for small groups to talk about regardless of whether or not they finished the full game.
I also rely on digital breakout games. Kellye Sluder Self of Hoover High School in Hoover, Alabama is amazing at making these digital breakout games. Want to know how to find out more? Join the AP Facebook group for educators. (Be prepared! We ask questions to verify that you are indeed a teacher!) I will say some students like them better than others, and therefore I give them options. I have board games like Constitution Quest and The Presidential to help support the kids interest.
There are other resources that I have peppered into our review sessions that are available only up on the Facebook group, like the Court case spoons games. More reason to join.
Review Content quickly and effectively
I have several online and review books that I splice into our reviews. They include:
... and just keep reviewing
Keep it up, friends. I would give you more of a pep talk... but I have more reviewing to do. And so do you! Good luck!
Today was a good day in my classroom. Interwoven between the busy hum of kids being kids... socializing, texting when they are not supposed to, talking about the upcoming baseball season or what they are doing after school... I had some really amazing and insightful conversations with kids about something 'ancient' and contemporary at the same time. The cherry on the top was that my students were genuinely interested in what we were doing. So what was I doing? Engagement model instruction, featuring a very special guest --- Virtual Reality.
There has been a mission in our school's professional development this year, and I am grateful for that focus. My gratitude is principally because I have not had time to keep up with new innovations in (social studies) education due to my own continuing education. But the word on the street has been all about using the Engagement Model to reach, motivate, and facilitate learning in the classroom.
Engagement Model is pretty simple in its premise, and it seeks to change your core instructional techniques. Here, we are not so much talking about PBL or C3 instruction... we're talking about how you use that class time. Taking kids out of the passive reception of information and into a more dynamic conversation that seeks to couple your content in ways that are motivating enough to drive curiosity, originality, and connecting these thoughts to others around them. There are many ways to do Engagement Model, but I chose a large group instruction format that allowed for little drifts of conversations. Here is what I did.
Taking on American Identity: Immigration Policy
I started with a topic that is super relevant to today... which is Immigration policy during the Progressive Era. Any lecture I do is going to dull connections that I hear in the background of our group discussions... my students are really curious about what it means to be an American, how to tackle our history in a way that both celebrates our victories and acknowledges are failures. My students are diverse; immigration is something that impacts our community in so many varied ways
I started with a question: How do the buildings erected by the Federal Government convey America's prevailing opinions about immigration?
This takes us to physical places at different points in history; forces us to examine how place and space impact emotions.
Last year, I was awarded by the Virginia Council for the Social Studies the Loraine Stewart Mini Grant to purchase a class set of cardboard VR googles. (I ended up settling with KnoxLabs V2 cardboard googles... cheap, simple, and just requiring a smart phone with VR functionality... most of the phones could do this). I had used them a couple of times, but this year my department and I are searching out ways to bring place and space into the classroom and VR is a great way! Coupling my class set and the NearPod Ellis Island lesson (which has a very small cost to the educator) we were able to magically walk into a 360 degree VR presentation of a detainment cell at Ellis Island. From here we asked some quick and easy questions.
Were students engaged?
Yes. I have two different classes; one very quiet first thing in the morning. They are a tough crowd, mostly because they are still waking up. But my kids had quieter, but just as engaged conversations about how we talk about immigration today. Questions and comments centered on connecting President Trump's proposed wall, the debate over chain migration or family reunification, and portrayals of minorities in the media. My more vocal and active class was just as engaged, but more outwardly seeking input... asking questions about challenging vocabulary, trying to put immigration on the East and West coast in context in the 1800s. and President Trump's wall.
VR is a great way to get kids to be creative and curious, engaged in discussion about the serious (Why does the sign read Welcome to Ellis Island, Island of Tears?) and mundane (why is there a UFO in the Hudson Bay?). Students took risks, talked about the American narrative, and were given opportunities to explore America and her huddled masses. This was all because of some funny cardboard headgear and a really good question.
Looking for other VR lesson ideas?
Back in 2007 when I first joined the ranks of public school teachers everywhere, I had a mentor. He was a lovely older gentleman who also taught government to high school seniors. He was very wise and came from a family of committed teachers with a sizable reputation in my county. I looked up to his impact on education in our community. Anywho, he introduced me to the idea of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT). He was one, and when he talked about the number of teachers across the county who were also NBCT, I was impressed. These individuals were often leaders in our curriculum, as well as other folks I looked up to.
This process also appealed to my innate drive... see, waaaayyy back in the day, I was a NCAA student-athlete. If you ever want to know why I do the things I do, I would tell you that I really responded well to the idea of goal setting and self improvement. It was, after all, what I was trained to do for close to 16 years of my life and it afforded me the opportunity to earn a degree. But by 2007, I had traded in my goggles for a baby bottle. I spent quite a bit of time momming so hard while holding doing a mediocre job of teaching government to high school seniors. It was more than enough. I also had finished my M.Ed that year, and I was ready for a break. An additional wrinkle in this story is that the County I worked for stopped helping individuals pay the $1975 it takes to even apply to become a nationally board certified teacher, and between diapers and daycare... it was too rich for my husband and I.
Kids grow up, daycare ends, and fiscal situations for employers improve. In the spring of 2016, my employer advertised that the school board was willing to support a cohort of teachers financially and logistically in their quest to obtain NBCT. I checked my schedule: I only had three kids, a husband, a dog, a cat, baseball practices and games, basketball practices and games, swim practices (coaching and driving), girl scouts (I am a troop leader to a bunch of juniors/cadettes), boy scouts, music practices, room momming, working 40+ hours as a teacher, and my first two Master's degree courses on my plate. (I am in the course of getting my M.A. from Virginia Tech in Political Science.) It seemed like a perfect time.
I point this out because when opportunity knocks, don't we all say I am too busy? Everyone is, it's not a competition... but the point is that if you really want something, you have adequate support, background knowledge, and experience, and you plan well, you can make it happen... And if any of those things are missing, you make goals and work towards them. You may not get all of your goals, but you will end up with a few!
Flash forward to the end: at 12:24am on Saturday, December 16th, 2017 I was notified by National Board for Professional Teaching Standards that I had achieved NBCT status. I want to tell you how I did this, with the assistance of some near and dears.
It takes the reflective professional in me to realize that this achievement is less about me and more about my students. I can say that this was more meaningful to me than my own Masters in education; I had expertise and experience in the practice that I had not had when I was getting my M.Ed. I had also forgotten about a lot of the things I learned during the M.Ed. This was my opportunity to make my education and my experience line up. I have found myself thinking critically about many of the things I ask my kids to do in class... is this fair? Does it promote learning? Will my kids be challenged and have adequate skills to do what I ask? Will this help them feel accomplished and learn meaningfully?
The goal-setter and competitor in me has to take a back seat and realize that the reason I look up to masters in my profession is not because of the window dressing on their resume, but because these professionals are making meaningful strides in educating and impacting students in their classroom. Students are learning, thriving, and finding meaning through the process of education. I can turn my sights towards thinking of myself less as a competitor, and more as that coach on the sidelines... investing effort and time into each of my students as I done that critical role as mentor. And that is the right reason to do anything.
Good luck to you and your endeavors! I hope you consider this to be a worthwhile goal to set in your near future.
If you read closely in the new AP Government and Politics revision, there is a new form of written assessment. It is the argumentation FRQ (essay?), one that I am assuming will be similar in format to essays found in AP courses.
I am pretty excited about it, as I think one of the missing links in my own instruction of AP Government is the incorporation of written assessments more rigorous than the standard FRQ.
As educators, you and I know essays replace multiple choice exams in college studies of political science. While the AP Gov multiple choice questions are rigorous, nothing shows mastery of concept like having to formulate an argument that requires the incorporation of multiple variables in order to successfully persuade the reader. As it stands in AP Government, there was no great incentive to educators to work on argumentation, or even long form essays requiring a thesis. So good bye to that with the new rewrite. And I am excited.
In order to get ready for this new essay, I stuck with the tried and true debate structure in order to keep student engagement high.
The structure for this assignment is as follows:
I don't know what way the argumentation essay will go, so I created two different kinds of essays. Additionally, I have no idea what the rubric will look like so I tweaked rubrics used by College Board for other AP history courses. I like have a rough idea of what they would do, and until sample tests are released, it's anyone's game!
Walk aways? Students were engaged, and really had show their understanding of how parties used election and voter law to be able to manipulate the outcome of elections, while taking a nice review through the 10th Amendment and the various suffrage amendments in a relevant and interesting format.
It's July Fourth. In the midst of the flag waving, the baton twirling, the pageantry of the parade, and the sonic booms of fireworks I do know that tomorrow is AP Exam Score day.
I am going to tell you a little secret. I am part dread and part glee. I know my kids worked their butts off this year. I fell really good about the work we did this year. I know this in spite of tweets from College Board that the scores were not as good as last year. I still feel good.
But then again, I don't. There was that tweet from Trevor Packer.
And I know I felt this way last year, too. And I am really nervous about those AP test questions. I have ran into quite a few scorers who told me that College Board was not accepting things that we all felt they should (especially on the Supreme Court, which was Q1.) So, again. I am nervous and gleeful at the same time. I figure there is no time like the present to quickly talk about how to receive your scores.
What did I actually contribute this year?
Start with what you did. It doesn't have to be an elaborate reflective essay about the things you did well, but you should be able to point out what were things that made your class different from the experiences of the 23,900 other students nationwide. I think it is important to think critically before and after about your strongest suits as a teacher. The units you did well, your classroom organization, the time you spent reviewing, how you teach FRQs, how you established relationships with students and got them over the hump, your pregame breakfast and Team AP Gov teach-shirts you made your kids wear. The field trips, the review sessions.
This is what you can amplify. Then think critically about what you can improve in this hodge-podge.
Sometimes you may know with precision what works and what does not, you have those exit interviews and letters of thanks and surveys to help you. You have test scores. You have anecdotal moments where you know a kid got the content.
Now, remember something critical. This is what every single other teacher out there in governerdland could control. In reality, it's not a lot. Don't believe me? Let's think about what you can't control.
What did others contribute this year?
Here is just a short list of things that you had to overcome. I know that there are some things we can all try to influence, but let's be honest. This is all beyond our explicit control. And one more thing: The list is not all inclusive.
I mean, let's be real. This list could get a lot longer. If you are so inclined, keep adding.
But at the end of the day, when folks start popping off about how well or not well their kids did, I just want you to remember that any progress you have should be done in the shadow of a 49% pass rate and a confluence of factors external to your classroom. You have NO IDEA WHAT THEIR CLASSROOM WAS LIKE THIS YEAR. Successful or not tomorrow, swing back around to what you did. Where are your victories? What can you fix? And be proud of your hard work. It's an art, and you have just finished one masterpiece, with many more to come.
Happy Fourth of July.
That big, white FedEx box. People who apply for things like college, jobs, awards, and other opportunities know what the thick box means when it arrives on your doorstep. No denial of opportunity is going to result in the mailing of a significant mass. A big envelope, or in this case, a FedEx box, means amazing things. When this box arrived at my house, it brought much excitement, a little bit of nervousness, and a life-changing opportunity. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Meet the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation
A few years ago, I was hanging out at James Madison's Montpelier... the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution to be exact. (SPOILER: The Robert H. Smith Center at James Madison's Montpelier is not the same organization as the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation, though both are out of Virginia.) It was a sweet little weekend retreat where teachers would gather to talk about the Constitution. I met a bunch of really fun and dedicated teachers, and through them I learned about a whole bunch of really amazing things (like the We The People Competitions).
Anyways, we made friends on Facebook and a few months later one of these people was awarded the JMMFF Fellowship for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The JMMFF is a competitive scholarship program for teachers or teachers in training to complete a Master's in either American History or Political Science, with a strong focus on studying the Constitution. My friend posted a picture of his FedEx box, and he received a ton of congrats from some other JMMFF recipients. I was flabbergasted that there was an organization out there investing in the education of America's civics educators. In this case it was Congress. The JMMFF was created in 1986 through a bill introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy in order to commemorate the bicentennial of the US Constitution. Signed into law on October 30th, 1986 by Ronald Reagan as PL 99-591, this executive agency's mission is to administer a foundation that encourages social studies teachers to study the Constitution as a graduate student. Fun fact! This program is fully funded today because of that one-time federal investment back in the 80s, and continual outside donations from civically-minded investors.
I was incredibly intrigued at the prospect of going back to graduate school - I have always dreamed of getting my Masters, possibly my PhD in Political Science. I did some more research into the organization. In a nutshell, JMMFF awards fellowships of $24K to one teacher per state (and sometimes two, depending on the nature of donations). There are fellowships for experienced teachers and individuals who want to get into the profession. The fellowships are given exchange for service in education. You must teach for as many years as you accept monies from JMMFF. The fellowship cover Master's in American History or Political Science, but you must take 12 credits that examine the Constitution. Of these twelve credits, recipients MUST attend a one-month, 6 credit course at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. (Yeah, if you can't do this, I would avoid signing up until you can.)
I applied. Twice. It took several tries because this is a competitive fellowship. The first year I did not get it, I was pretty crushed. I thought I was a strong candidate, I had the knowledge and gusto to finish this awesome program. In retrospect, there were some flaws in my application. Here is what I would suggest:
Getting that award!
When that FedEx box comes in the mail in April, it's pretty exciting. You know before you open it that you got the award. It's pretty exciting, but also unnerving. I was a bit stressed about committing to JMMF. I was scared that I would not finish (I have three kids who are school age and incredibly active, as well as an awesome husband who is supportive, but man... back to graduate school? My first Masters was a stresser for he and I, and I did not have kids at the time. And my first Masters was in education, which is NOT the same thing as this program.) And yes, if you do not finish your program, you MUST pay back JMMFF. They really do not like when this happens, because who would want it to happen? You do have to finish in five years, so you have to know yourself and your ability to commit.
There are so many things to consider...
Long story short! I still did it!
In the end, I signed on the dotted line. I have been thrilled thus far, and have enjoyed so much of my experience. In a short period of time, I narrowed my school selection down to Virginia Tech's online Masters in Political Science. I love the flexibility and the rigor of the courses, and I am obsessed with studying Political Science. With small kids, I decided I did not want to be away from home on week nights. I spend my Saturdays and Sundays at Starbucks doing school work. I have a thesis, but it is a challenge I have accepted. I did look at Ashland University's MAHG program, but decided against it after talking to a local University, as I may want to finish my PhD. That local university said they would not accept credits from Ashland. My understanding is that fellows on the PhD track have successfully transferred after completing their Masters at Ashland. It just did not work in my case. More than half of the fellows in my class are from Ashland, I was so impressed with their knowledge. It is a fabulous institution - I do recommend checking it out.
The Summer Institute was amazing. We did so much more than the above pictures show. Yes, we were in class for six hours a day. Yes, you should read before you arrive (There were like six big books to read, they were intense!) But we were on C-Span due to Dr. Jeffry Morrison's lecture on Religion and the American Revolution lecture went to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Montpelier, Monticello, Gunston Hall, and Mount Vernon. We toured the Supreme Court and met Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Former Secretary of Education John King, Senators Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dr. Jack Warren of the Society of the Cincinnati, Dr. Stephen Knott, Dr. Gordon Lloyd, Justice Royce Lambert, Dr. Rosemary Zagarri, and the wonderful instructional staff of Drs. Kevin Hardwick, Terri Halperin, Jeffry Morrison, and Daniel Dreisbach. The staff is amazing and the opportunity is astounding.
At the end of the day, I am so very happy I did this. It is a lot of effort, but I can tell you that my instruction in my classroom has improved exponentially. The community of fellows that you come to know is comprised by incredibly passionate, giving, and wise educational leaders from all over our country... We have such diverse experiences and goals, and stay in contact. It's humbling in the presence of these wise, passionate, and dedicated people who want to play a leadership role in American History and Civics education.
Personally, I know so much more about the Constitution and political science because of this experience. It is exciting to both instruct and create knowledge, and the opportunities offered to my students, my community, and myself since my acceptance of the JMMFF are incredible. I believe it is a gift, and love sharing my experience and enthusiasm with others! It is a lot of work and dedication, but well worth it if you are willing to push yourself.
Trayvon Martin’s death five years ago ripped through my classroom. My sociology and government students were completely baffled; they could not understand how a kid who seemed like a student they may encounter in our schools’ hallways could be murdered for walking home alone. My students’ frustration and yearning for context and understanding started a personal dedication in my own classroom. At the end of each year, after all other instruction is over I devote the final month and a half to the study of race relations in America. Key to this unit is a detailed analysis of American history and politics that requires students to examine their conceptions of democratic values such as majority rule, minority rights, rule of law, limited government, equality, and liberty.
Because the discussions of race and class in America today is transectional and relevant, this unit is necessary. I have experienced my own struggles in doing the research, writing, and sometimes even being white and teaching this when I have no relevant life experiences to inform my instruction. I know what I know through text and talk... and talking to my own students (of all races, religions, classes, genders, etc.) has been instructive for myself. These experiences, in turn, influence the unit.
As the narrative has evolved over the past five years, my unit has grown. Originally it examined just the fallout from events like Trayvon and Michael Brown. Responding to my own students’ questions and reflecting on their own level of understanding, I decided to broaden the scope to examine the entirety of identity politics in America. In the summer of 2015, I was introduced to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and Common Core C3 Framework and Inquiry Arc. The framework requirements, particularly the requirement for informed action – and the opportunity for students to share their experiences with the community – was the perfect design for this unit.
My syllabus mirrors language seen in so many other AP Government classes around the country, and it essentially tells my students that this is a college level course, and I expect them to be able to perform on college level assessments, damn it.
But here is the riddle. What is a college-level assessment? I have done some soul searching here, thinking back to what my own experiences as well as what I have come to understand college assessments to be through unscientific research and interviews of college professors.
Factor 1: My Personal College Experience My 100 and 200 level political science, history, sociology, urban planning, and law courses back in the way back when had maybe roughly 2-4 multiple choice tests per semester. There was always at least one research project, and possibly several small position papers or essays. They were largely lecture and discussion based, consisted of reading one textbook. On occasion, I found myself before the dreaded blue book tests that were short answer and essay based. Oh vey. The short answer.
Analysis: The FRQs are reflected in the short answers and essays. I do not remember quizzes, but I do remember vocabulary incorporated into my blue book tests. Multiple choice questions are multiple choice questions, and I remember them being very challenging.
Factor 2: College Professors' Assessment of AP Government Curriculum The back story on this is that when I do not know the answer to something, I ask a college professor. I still retain contacts with one of my college professors (shout out, Snarr), and often have many, many, many questions that I will ask of college professors via email, in-person discussions, and social media. (Do you want to know something really cool? College professors absolutely love random inquiries into their fields, especially when its their expertise or about a book they wrote.) When we get to chatting about selective incorporation, or the mandate theory of elections, or expansions of suffrage, or even about the evolutionary theory of government at play in Afghanistan and Appalachia (breathe here... that was a long list) the professor often asks, "Why do you want to know this?" My answer is frequently, "Oh, it's on the AP Exam." The frequent response is "WHAT? My undergrads don't even learn about this." And it's true. I never, not even once, learned about selective incorporation in my Constitutional Law class. Or any of the above concepts from above.
Analysis: The AP Government and Politics course (which has a reputation of being an "EASY FIVE" in my school) is actually surprisingly NOT easy. In fact, it has the fourth lowest pass rate nationwide. I literally fell out of my seat when I read that.
Factor 3: Making a College Level Course Mass Produce-able It stands to reason that in order for these courses to be assessed reliably and validly, and all kinds of other statistically important concepts I have forgotten but know exist... College Board has to produce a test that can be delivered to the 303,938 students who took the exam in 2015 in early May and assessed by early July. This is a daunting task. In the time of standardized tests, a multiple choice/short answer variant in the form of a free response question format is a logical choice.
Factor 4: This is a Course Populated by High School Students I can't get away from this factor, folks. In my world, I get about 80-120 students who self-enroll. Most of my kids have taken 4 AP courses, but many are taking 4 to 5 courses at the same time. I hear again and again from my students that despite having study halls and intervention time and after school tutoring, my kids just don't have study skills, time management, and core literacy/note taking skills I would expect them to have. Crazy, I know. But it is the truth.
Two years ago, I accepted a position at a new school within my school district. The job offered was to teach AP Government. I had requested for years to teach AP Gov, but seniority constantly found me passed over in favor of more senior and experienced teachers. The opportunity to teach AP Government was exactly what I was looking for, and I gladly accepted.
Not knowing much about my new school and student population, I decided it would be a good time to roll out something I had heard about at Solution Tree training: Standards Based Grading (SBG). Consequently, SBG was also being rolled out in my school districts' elementary schools. As a parent, I really liked the concept of knowing how my own children were doing on skill sets and learning goals. Grades assessed mastery of these goals and skills. Grades now enabled me to look at my own children's work and be able to assess independently of the teacher whether or not my child was learning and progressing. If it helps me as a parent assess mastery, why would a high school student not be able to do this?
The concept of Standards Based Grading is pretty simple. Assessments are grouped by learning goal or target. Students are assessed on these targets, and their grades reflect each of these individual goals in a clear language. Traditional test grades (like 78%) just emphasize a score. It takes considerable effort on the student's part to determine what concepts they did not understand. Even test corrections just isolate learning to individual questions students got wrong, and how to correct that question. It is hard to discern patterns. I feel in love with SBG because the patterns are evident with minimal effort, and kids focus on their knowledge of the course instead of just fixating on their score (although I am not kidding anyone... I know that grades = college, so it is still super important to my students).
I want to start by thanking Mr. Snowden and Mr. Greenwald for their uncompromising dedication to giving the NSA violations air time and transparency. I wanted to share some of the most important things I have learned from this book bef...
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
by Bill Bishop
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
I lovgov. LOVE IT! I love teaching government, learning about it, debating, discussing, asking questions about government. And not the standard boiler plate questions, but the hard ones that are NOT in the books.