I really want to share some things that I accomplished... really because I want to let you know about the depth of fantastic-ness that is out there for us govnerds.
I really feel like it is possible for government teachers around our nation and around the world to get the 'inside track' to teaching government so that it is almost real time. To not share would be a crime. So here is run down on my resolutions, plus where else I have traversed, and what I am looking forward to in 2015.
Reading for absolute pleasure.
So, I read. I read to such a degree that it becomes absurd. I can't sleep without reading, so that is the source of this voracious appetite.
I read much of my list this year: Congressional Anecdotes, Scalia Dissents, and The Alchemists. I picked up a handful of books on the gripping history of the 14th Amendment and the process of incorporation. I read Six Amendments by former Justice John Paul Stevens. Glenn Greenwald's latest book kicked my butt.
Each of these has made its way into my class in some manner... spicing up conversations in class in such a way that isn't in the text.
I have decided to link my Good Reads nerdcation bookshelf to the website so you can comb through.
And, hey... gotta recommendation? I'd love to start a virtual book club.
Creating kick ass lessons.
This year's seniors have a weakness in writing that the previous batch did not have, so we have spent an insane amount of time writing. I have killed myself with grading and creating major units like one on the book Boomerang, but my kids are starting to get the whole writing process, and are producing material that they are literally damn proud of. I am excited to be there when kids want mad props for great writing, when the smile at the congrats at the bottom of their paper. It's thrilling. You know why, because you teach... but I'll connect the dots. It is because they are LEARNING. and COMMUNICATING. and they are getting better and better at it as the year flies by.
I have spent as much time writing. I spend less time on LovGov because I am literally rewriting my course textbook.
There is this awesome website called Versal. It is free. (There is a pro subscription). You can literally throw your class notes in there, with videos, images, galleries, annotated pics, graphs, timelines, quizzes, surveys, and other connections to services like quizlet.
I. Freaking. Love. It.
The only draw back: I have kids without digital access outside of school. My solution: Condense each reading to a single double-sided handout for the students to walk out of class with and read. (I have been selling them on my TpT store, usually embedded in a unit plan. I also include a bibliography so you know I am not full of crap.)
Continuous Learning is Legit.
Here is what I have done this year:
1. Attended a weekend seminar at Montpelier to talk about Congress with Dr. William F. Connelly out of William and Lee University. He was amazing. I had so much fun, ate great food, toasted with new friends I still talk to on FB, and geeked out for a weekend. It was free. I am itching to go back, but they so damn popular it is hard to get in! Good for them!
2. Worked with a close friend at my school to create a unique unit on Comparative Government and monetary and fiscal policy. I did this simply because I wanted to attend the Virginia Council of the Social Studies Convention in October 2014. They accepted our proposal to come and talk about it, and while we had a humble turnout, I really enjoyed sharing our experience with these fellow educators. I asked my school district to pay the entrance fees, and I am incredibly blessed to work with a group of administrators who like to say, "Yes." If you can, do something with your state Council of the Social Studies. It is fun.
3. I started saying yes to taking time off to go be a student of government. In September, I attended a campaign finance conference put on by the Sunlight Foundation, which was free. I heard Senator Jon Testor speak about his experiences with campaign finance... I was tickled since he was featured in Frontine's Big Sky, Big Money.
Immediately after the election in November, I went to a conference put on by Virginia Public Access Project to discuss lessons learned from the Warner/Gillespie campaigns, which was free. Equally gripping was listening to the campaign managers discuss tactics, victories, and losses during their campaign experiences. All of these things can be packaged up and brought right into your classroom.
December brought me an experience of a lifetime; another close friend was able to get tickets for her and I to attend the Supreme Court for two hearings, back to back. Listening to the audio files of hearings are enjoyable, but it is electrifying to see the Justices in action. To see Justice Breyer fall asleep during oral arguments, joking around withScalia and Thomas... to see RBG flip through her resources, and hear Sotomayor get testy with the Petitioner and Respondent's council is pretty cool. Equally impressive is the mental fortitude it takes to hear and present oral arguments. Literally, it has to be my best day to follow along with every point and counter point. To be stripped of my cell phone and easy access to reference material is exhausting. I was so focused for the first hour's more mundane discussion that the second hour had me nearly collapsing out of fatigue.
All of these things were free. I know that the Supreme Court is truly unique to living in the DC area, but much of these opportunities are replicated around the country. Do yourself a favor; take a day and be a student of government. It is fun to be on the other side of the desk. In fact, I am going again to another FREE event with the Brennan Center.
Taking it to the web
Some of these networks are created the old school way, by meeting people at events, meetings, etc. Swap those contacts, get talking. I am looking to work with some of my new friends this year on units yet to be created, and I am pumped.
But I have found Twitter and Facebook to be valuable resources, too. Most Sundays you will find me hangin out on Twitter at 9pm EST chatting with gov educators coast to coast. Look up #hsgovchat, and join us. I have gotten sooo much out of this. Let me tell you, I have met some exceptional educators on-line, and feel blessed to be in their presence.
Try reaching the media, special interest and non-profits via Twitter and Facebook. They will reach you back. To date, I have chatted with @StampStampede, @VoteSmart, @SunFoundation, @TheNewsLP, @YourWeekly, @aljam, @CSpan_Classroom @NormOrnstein, and @MateaGold.
Here is where I am: No precise resolutions for 2015; just more of the same. Each experience makes me love my content, which really gets back to giving my students the best damn education I can possibly muster. And you can do it, too.