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).
Every job has occupational hazards. I have learned in talking on a regular basis to 1300 of my nerdiest peers that one for government teachers is that we like to talk politics. This can be hard even among peers. There is a lot of feverish "typing-and-backspacing-and-retyping-and-double-checking-and-OMG-did-I-come-off-too-strong"-ing going on.
This gets even harder in the classroom. I tell my students all the time ALL THE TIME my opinion is irrelevant; think for yourself; I will challenge all views; I will present all sides; and most importantly what do you think.
I have this class this year that really wants my personal opinion. I get all shy and bashful and awkward...
"No, kids... I'm not important."
"No brainwashing going on!"
"Some __ would say this... while others would say this..."
But these kids, they are relentless.
A discussion the other day centered on what-I-have-no-idea because I was trying to teach, but in essence they were trying to guess who I have voted for in the past.
I interrupted to say, "HEY! LET'S WORRY LESS ABOUT SILLY LITTLE ME AND MORE ABOUT YOU!"
But I caught a snippet of what one kid said about my vote.
"I betcha she is probably ___, but knows too much and so she can't decide how to vote most of the time."
Oh? Am I that transparent?
Why, yes. Yes, I am. (But guess what: We all are.)
So you ask, why is this an occupational hazard?
See, peeps don't like indoctrination in education. Not at all. So I have to be delicate, respectful, and most importantly: balanced. And I respect that. A lot. It teaches compromise to students; after all, cooler heads prevail. Kids dig it because it makes it okay for their ideas to develop and change... to be fluid.
But I have a new occupational hazard. (I will approach carefully.)
I like kids doing democracy. That's lower-case democracy. No, not Democrats, not unless they want to. Same thing for Republicans; not unless you want to. Heck, as long as decorum is in the classroom and we are not being offensive, you can be any party you want. Key. DECORUM. Key. NON-OFFENSIVE. Key. RESPECTFUL.
See, I have a very diverse student population. Kids constantly amaze me with their lives, and I have learned MORE from my students than they have from me. And that diverse population is asked by myself and my school district to participate in politics in ways from old-school canvassing to new-school twitter chats.
Some kids dig it; some don't. But what is making me really sad these days is that I am very nervous to encourage kids to do any and all volunteering, but especially any brand of political volunteering.
Why? Because no one is showing respect these days. Yes, some are worse than others, but from White House pressers to candidates doing other, more disrespectful actions (of which I will not name because what is the point?), I feel like my little government bubble is bursting. In essence, I can't wake up and tell myself my kids are going to like doing democracy, much less be safe.
Not to be all kumbayah, because I respect the fact that we are all entitled to our views. I am not here to tell you not to have them. Particularly, I understand the economic and political forces that are frustrating so much of American culture... The shrinking middle class... the perception that no one is on your side... interestingly enough, this is a perception alive for whites and minorities alike. These are very real problems. However, the signal is lost in the noise. These discussions, bound in facts, that is what makes discourse compelling and influential. (At least for me. Read The Victory Game and you will find personal contact and emotion is what wins votes.) But I take my discourse with a side of data, not dirt. I try to teach my kids the same thing; that personal attacks and rhetological fallacies will kill your argument. Always check yourself before you wreck yourself.
I have been thinking about this a lot. In fact I was lost deep in thought this morning... I found out Diane Rehm, one of my favorite people is retiring, and her reflection on the radio encapsulated so much for me...
Things are different politically in America. I would not be so bold to tell Americans that you are not entitled to your opinion. That is that privilege of an independent mind. However, discourse that is civil... and maybe a bit more of the "typing-and-backspacing-and-retyping-and-double-checking-and-OMG-did-I-come-off-too-strong" would be in order to really examine these issues. If for nothing more than your own kids are watching. And trust me, they know a lot more than you suspect.
The other day, my daughter asked me when I had last written anything on LovGov.
It was an interesting comment from my astute little ten-year-old, seeing that LovGov takes time away from the family. I asked her why she wanted to know, and it seems that she is "proud that [her] mommy cares so much."
Driving into work today, I wondered if I would have time to squeeze in an entry, seeing that I have a million things on my plate. After firing off emails for an hour, I decided I could drop a line to assure readers that there are still good things to come, it just may take me a while. Here is why I am distracted (aside from the usual work/life balance).
New School, New prep(s)
In June, I said goodbye to my family of eight years at a certain high school in Northern Virginia. I was leaving behind great friends who were a bit like family in search of a shorter commute (you'd have to live here to know) and a chance to teach AP Government.
I have landed in a new school, and have found myself challenged with AP Government and US History. Two new preps! US History has been a challenge as I have not taught it in eight years, but I have found a great CT who has been a total asset to my transition and has allowed me to continue to geek out government style.
Switching to AP Government hasn't been that bad. Why? Here's the deal. Yes, there is an accelerated curriculum that is far more rigorous and detailed than Honors. Yes, I have FRQs (free-response questions). Yes, I have to get all of this done by May 10th, 2016. (Trust me, the pacing is the hardest part). But, I have found that if you ask for help, help you shall receive. I have two great co-workers who help me out, as well as two great mentors in Ken Halla and Frank Franz of usgovteducatorsblog.com with whom I periodically chat on Google Hangouts. And to cap it all off, I have the AP Government Facebook Group. Seriously, I couldn't have found a greater support group. I can't get you closer to Ken and Frank, but I can tell you that the Facebook group is a life-saver, just like co-workers and mentors! And these are resources you can use! (Warning: Membership in the FB group requires some proof of your status as an AP Gov teacher.)
Switching to Standards Based Grading
I have also decided to switch to standards-based grading. I was skeptical at first, and have found some self-doubt at time, but the time and effort that goes into restructuring your grading practices to emphasize mastery instead of whatever we call the old-school program is eventually worth it. I feel better about what my kids are learning, particularly in advance of the AP test.
More about that later. I promise.
Advocating for Government Teachers
In short, I have been trying to "lobby" organizations like the American Bar Association, Sunlight Foundation, Virginia Public Access Project, iCivics, and OneVirginia2021 to create materials for the high school government classroom.
Sounds weird, I know. But let me assure you, I am not a self-appointed anything. What I am is someone who listens to my peers and seeks solutions. I love this content, I want to make this content understandable and teachable, and sometimes I find that I need to rely on subject matter experts to do this.
So, I write emails, make connections, and try to bring challenging content in textbooks to these individuals to encourage them to think about using teachers as a way to encourage civic engagement.
It doesn't always work, but I have had some pleasant results that I will have to write about in the future. Another entry for another day. That's two now.
Going to the Big Ball
Humble Brag: I got to present at NCSS this fall! Exciting! I will admit, that was very cool. I did not get to stay the whole time, but it was fun to run into old friends from other PD I attended in the past (Shout out, Trish, a former contributor who has added "Contributing Editor" at Politicolor to her awesome resume! )
I did some work with the National Council of Social Studies to help pilot their C3LC Inquiry Arc framework in a non-Common Core state as best practices. The framework is a great way to add direction and affect to your lessons, and I am proud to say that I use it frequently in my class. Again, more on that later.
I figured that my students take you more seriously when you show them that as a teacher, you make a commitment to civic engagement beyond the classroom. This year, I became an election officer and then a chief election officer for a precinct in my area. It is fascinating work that helps me teach elections, voting, and campaigns a bit better. I highly recommend it... although it is a long day. And one day, I will tell you a story on that, too.
So, now I owe you four stories in the upcoming year on what I have been up to that may (or may not) be informative to something important to you... And with that, I bid you adieu. Lesson planning and grading call this teacher out of the land of the blogosphere.
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.