Ed Reading: A Review of the New A.P. U.S. History Framework

lendol

Lendol Calder, professor of History at Augustana College, leading thinker and writer on the teaching of History, member of my exclusive Club PLN and family friend, has published an excellent op-ed on the new College Board curriculum framework and test for A.P. U.S. History courses (APUSH). The piece was published in The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, for which I’m certain you have a subscription. And if you do not, consider yourself judged!

In any case, before committing to an elementary education career, I was quite interested, as are most meandering History majors, in teaching social studies and history on the secondary level. Dr. Calder provided some guidance, pointing me in the direction of Bruce Lesh, the Stanford History Education Group, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts by Sam Wineburg and many other good authorities on teaching History who are listed here. In addition, I have collected some of my own social studies and history resources, my list on Twitter, my Google Drive folder and a subscription to the Gilder Lehrman newsletter. In spite of the lamentably limited opportunity to teach social studies on the primary level, my interest has not waned. I am determined to stay current on the best thinking and best practices in the field so that when the opportunity or instructional hours present themselves, I’ll be ready.

Below is a collection of notes and quotes from Dr. Calder’s piece, The Kids Are (Going To Be) Alright. Please keep in mind that I have very little context and expertise from which to judge Dr. Calder’s assessment of the new APUSH framework. I have not taught A.P. U.S. History, nor have I done a deep dive of the new standards. I did take A.P. U.S. by the venerable Dean C. Brink at Roosevelt High School in Seattle. And I did well enough on the APUSH test to earn college credit, which I used to save me some coin without regret. I am also biased towards agreeing with Dr. Calder. So, take my notes for what they are worth; a superficial exploration of a teaching interest.
The APUSH Kids Are (Going To Be) Alright

Dr. Calder starts out by making clear just how much the new APUSH framework has been politicized. And to be fair, unlike science (or maybe just like science), history has always been inherently political.

On the right:

The APUSH framework has been denounced by the Republican National Committee. It has been censured by school boards in Colorado, Nebraska, and North Carolina. APUSH has been threatened with defunding by lawmakers in Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee. Channeling the spirit of Nikita Khrushchev, conservatives believe the College Board’s history test makers are powerful and dangerous.

On the assumed left:

I’ve listened to professors questioning whether the new APUSH will deepen students’ knowledge or just put a College Board stamp of approval on continued ignorance…..There will be professors who say the test makers havespoiled everything,” deemphasizing content knowledge in order to promote mushy ‘thinking skills.’

I guess it takes the current lightning rod issue in education, namely testing, to have Americans up in arms over a subject we infamously ignore; history.

And if you don’t think there can be serious consequences for teachers and students when the politics of the culture wars enter the classroom, think again. Let me remind you of the most recent major U.S. curriculum scandal that grabbed headlines around the world; the banning of Tuscon’s Mexican-American Studies program. Check out Al Madrigal lampooning the ban for The Daily Show here.

In any case, Dr. Calder does not dismiss the APUSH concerns of either conservatives or liberals. Instead, he advocates for acknowledgement and engagement on the part of APUSH defenders, like himself.

The concerns of conservative critics should be welcomed and addressed. And especially in two places, I submit….

Many conservatives like to think of themselves as the party of reasoned deliberation as opposed to the Left’s alleged preference for indoctrination through political correctness. This means that by their own logic, conservatives have nothing to fear from a multi- perspectival history classroom, so long as the teacher doesnt put her thumb on the scale….

The answer – I should say, an answer – to concerns about how to bring coherence tothe APUSH course is to teach the conflicts.

To be coherent, courses need Big Questions. (emphasis added)

For Dr. Calder, the “Big Questions” in regards to the new APUSH framework are the following:

Are the revisions to AP History really changes for the better?

Will the new expectations of the exam make a difference in how teachers teach the course?
And can the new APUSH curriculum survive politicization in the rough and tumble of the culture wars?

The old APUSH model was based on coverage. Teachers were asked to generically introduce huge amounts of U.S. History dates, names, places, factoids and concepts. The complaints from students, secondary teachers and higher ed professors abound about the old “coverage” methodology. In fact, Dr. Calder and his History department colleagues at Augustana College do not accept APUSH test credits because of their founded concerns about the quality and meaningfulness of such a secondary history education.  

Thus, Dr. Calder seems to almost imply that nearly any change would’ve been a good change for the APUSH course and test. Nevertheless, he makes a strong case for the new APUSH framework, that it is not just any old change, but a thoughtful and meaningful one. The new framework drops the coverage model, picks up some research-based learning methods, encourages historical thinking, and gives a nod to what history professors expect of incoming high school graduates.

In the old course, history was one fact after another, a list of subjects to be familiar with. The new APUSH presents history as a murky domain of knowledge in which protocols and habits of mind are necessary to distinguish sense from nonsense and know anything about the past at all. The old test smelled like remember-ology. The new test measures how good one is with the intellectual discipline of history.

Dr. Calder thinks that the new methods and expectations for the APUSH will net serious results, not in small part because secondary social studies teachers are leading the push to improve history pedagogy. The bottom up reform from secondary to higher ed is reinvigorating history instruction in a new generation of academic historians and will, Dr. Calder argues, “work its way out and up to improve history education at all levels.” Indeed, even where history instruction is in need of serious professional development, the new APUSH framework simultaneously provides the guide and the incentive for stepping up to that challenge.

Last, Dr. Calder addresses the political sustainability of the new APUSH framework, a question which is extremely difficult to guess at in our current partisan political climate, but has some history to draw from.

Pushback from conservatives alarmed by the revised APUSH program triggers unpleasant memories of the mid-1990s “history wars.” When in 1994 Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch urged federal funding for voluntary national history standards, she called on UCLA’s National Center for History in the Schools to draft and circulate the proposed standards. In January 1995, after weeks of furious debate among historians, policy elites, and media commentators, the United States Senate voted 99–1 to reject the UCLA standards for presenting “a disproportionately pessimistic and misrepresentative picture of the American past.” No one wants to go there again.

But Dr. Calder doesn’t want the debate about what historical themes are important for us to learn in school, what meanings can be drawn from significant historical events, which historical events are, in fact, significant, and what patterns or continuity can be gleaned from a broad historical perspective. This is precisely why he advocates for engagement with both conservatives worried about anti-Americanism and history academics worried about instructional rigor. Both those debates revolve around what it is in U.S. History that is vital for us to know and think critically about. Thus, Dr. Calder point about teaching the debates.

…as in previous chapters of America’s history wars, disagreements over the new APUSH emerge from fundamental differences people have about the nature and purposes of history. These differences are not easily reconciled. Thus, our primary task as scholars, teachers, and citizens should, arguably, be to nurture the vibrancy of a dialogue that properly crosses ideologies, moralities, and pedagogies.

This call to arms of sorts, for history academics and secondary teachers, is so completely in line with Dr. Calder’s most salient point about how people learn best. There is a wonderful coherence between his point about teaching the debates and getting students to “do” history in order to learn it.

At least conservatives begin with a truth: that ideas matter, that the stories people tell have consequences. But defenders of coverage begin with a falsehood: that facts can be stored in the head like furniture in an attic, there to be pulled down some day when a situation calls for it. But that’s not how memory works. We remember what we do on a regular basis. If we want students to know who did what when, we must ask them to do something with that knowledge again and again.

Learning the relevant history of a past debate made current, or that never was settled, such is the nature of nearly all our culture wars debates, this is a compelling way to engage students in the doing of history.

______________________________________________________________

The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era / Volume 14 / Issue 03 / July 2015, pp 433-440

Part II: Skype in the Classroom

This article originally appeared in the September issue of BiBimBap magazine, an online journal for EFL teachers in Jeollanamdo, South Korea. You can view the ISSUU version here.

In Part I of the this series I outlined the resources, methods and potential best practices for leveraging one kind of information and communication technology in the classroom – Skype Education. In Part II of this series I’d like to share with you my experience using Skype in two of my 6th grade ESL classrooms, one being a recorded video exchange over a couple months and the other a live video class session.  

Whether or not the Skype VOIP service is best for keeping in touch with your friends and family back home is debatable, but there is no doubt that their service offers the richest platform for teachers trying to connect classrooms across the world. And remember, if you have a simple webcam, a monitor and a broadband internet connection in your classroom, like most of us do, you are one simple download away from getting started.

Recorded Skype Exchange

I mentioned in Part I of the series that I had made a connection with a teacher in Florida and a teacher in an American school in northern China. As it turned out, the exchange with the classroom in Florida just did not work out because of a combination of factors; the learning objectives of that classroom teacher and scheduling difficulties. I have come to think that this is the norm when seeking out a Skype in the Classroom partner across the country or across the world. I probably contacted close to ten teachers via the Skype Education platform in my initial search to find a partner teacher whose goals for the Skype exchange and schedule would work with mine. To date, I have successfully collaborated with two of those ten initial teacher contacts. Keep this in mind! Put a lot of hooks in the water and be patient if your schedule doesn’t immediately align with the first teacher that responds to you.

Nevertheless, I did successfully devise a #MysterySkype plan with the 5th grade teacher in an American school outside of Beijing. Ms. Hart’s homeroom class schedule and my schedule teaching five 6th grade English classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays did not initially mesh well, particularly because I had one deserving high-level, hardworking and outgoing 6th grade class in mind for this initial foray into a Skype exchange. Thus, instead of a live lesson, we settled on a recorded weekly video exchange over the course of a few months.

Since we both taught ESL students, we first established a geography-themed vocabulary list to review with the students in preparation of the #MysterySkype questions to come.  It included words like hemisphere, equator, prime meridian, province, and the cardinal directions. I also prepared a Powerpoint presenting the whole idea and purpose of the #MysterySkype game and showing them how the exchange would work with a sample recording on Skype. My co-teacher translated all and fielded many questions in Korean. Our goal was to have all the students fully understanding the process and intention of the activity so that they could focus on the language and not be confused by the strange new activity that was definitely not from the curriculum.

During April, May and June, Ms. Hart’s class and my specially selected 6th grade class went back and forth asking increasingly specific geographic questions in a race to figure out who lived where first. We started with, “Do you live in the northern hemisphere?” and ended with, “Do you live outside of Beijing in the Heibei province?”

In each successive round of question and answer I chose two new students to work with me to craft an answer to the other class’ question along with crafting our own new question for our mystery friends in China. We worked together at lunch time, where I would sometimes have them write the response on a whiteboard to read during the recording, or we would just practice the question and answer repeatedly until they felt confident they had it down pat. Then we recorded the video message on Skype with me leading and introducing the students. We would watch it once through together to assure clear speech and audio, send it on to Ms. Hart’s and then waited for their response. In the last five minutes of every class I would show Ms. Hart’s class’ latest video and it was always highly anticipated. My 6th grade class and their homeroom teacher resoundingly loved the exchange!

Live Skype

I also mentioned in Part I that I had a plan to do a #MysterySkype class with a 6th grade teacher in Hobart, Tasmania. After much scheduling and rescheduling, we finally connected our classes in mid June, this time with a different, yet no less competent, 6th grade class of mine.

Mr. Fitzpatrick’s class was a group of native English speaking Australian 6th graders. Therefore, I requested that Mr. Fitzpatrick’s class ask us questions about our location and limit my ESL 6th graders to simply responding ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to their geography questions. I was admittedly nervous about asking my students to create ever more specific location questions in response to the Hobart students’ answers in real-time in a live Skype session. Instead, I limited my students participation to primarily English listening comprehension as opposed to production. In addition, I leaned heavily on my enthusiastic co-teacher to keep all the students in the loop in Korean regarding the questions being posed.

I did ask a small group of higher level English speakers to prepare a show and tell presentation on Korean culture. The small group and I worked together to prepare a presentation on hanbok, ddeok, the danso flute and janggu drum. They practiced their English presentation three or four times for me before the live version.

The class was an absolute hit and went off without any problems except for, of course, a technical difficulty. Mr. Fitzpatrick and I did not test our VOIP connection on Skype before the actual class. Thus we were left scrambling to fix an unknown connection issue, then a mysterious microphone problem, and had to hang up multiple times until the connection magically strengthened and the audio righted itself via restart. It was frustrating and would have crushed the students and I if it didn’t eventually work out. So my big advice is to run a test Skype video call from the classroom computer you will use during the live session. Otherwise, happy Skypeing!  

Going Global in Korea with Skype

This article originally appeared in the May issue of BiBimBap magazine, an online journal for EFL teachers in Jeollanamdo, South Korea. You can view the ISSUU version here

Going Global

In 2012 the Korean Education ministry announced it’s ‘SMART Education’ plan, the ‘T’ of which stands for technology. In an effort to create an education system which is less passive, more creative and more adaptive, the plan called for wide scale integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). In fact, the plan set 2015 as the deadline for digitizing the entire school curriculum to make it more accessible to 21st Century learners. Yet in spite of the reported 67% of Korean youth ages 5-19 that have smartphones and the widely touted high-speed broadband access in Korea, ICT is not leveraged for learning in most classrooms yet.

This is where Skype in the Classroom comes in. Most of us have a broadband internet connection, a computer connected to a classroom monitor, a classroom document camera, headphones with a microphone, or, if you are an online “J-Distance” teacher, you have a webcam with a built-in microphone. This is all it takes to get started and begin using the ICT in your classroom to connect your EFL students with native English speakers the world over.

 

Where To Start

If you do not have a Skype account, you should start there. If you already have a Skype account, you can use that as your login for Skype Education. You can create a distinct teacherly profile name, like Mr. Short, add a professional profile pic, enter your location in the world and give a brief description of your aims for using Skype in your classroom.

Next, you can ‘find a lesson’ or ‘find a teacher’. There is a really cool map with classes and teachers pinned all over the world. You can zoom in and out and see more or less teacher pins appear as a result. If you click on a pin it will automatically scroll down to that teacher’s Skype Education profile and from there you can select that person and message them directly.

My suggestion is to ‘find a teacher’ first. I spent some time searching to ‘find a lesson’, I signed up for lessons, and did not get any responses from those teachers. However, when I started searching for teachers in our general timezone, for example, classroom teachers in Australia and New Zealand or International School teachers in Japan and China, I had much more success messaging them directly and proposing a Skype classroom collaboration.

 

A Global Lesson

The trending Skype lesson on Twitter is #MysterySkype. This is billed as a “global guessing game” where students in each class prepare questions, hints, show and tell items, etc. that allow the other class to guess their location. Skype Education recommends that #MysterySkype beginner classes start off playing 20 questions, preparing that set of questions and a few hints to give to the other class. This is ideal for our EFL students because it allows us to pre-teach the target language; questioning, locations, directions, place specific vocabulary and more. You can scaffold the whole process and interaction for your timid Korean students by helping them fully prepare before so they know what language to expect once you are in the Skype call.

There are many more ways that innovative teachers are using this all over the world to support a wide range of content learning. Students are brainstorming conflict resolution strategies via recorded Skype messages across the world and teachers are designing standards-based social studies lessons to compare and contrast their own customs and traditions with that of a foreign culture. The tool can be used as simply as a 21st century version of penpals or as complex as a collaborative research and writing project.

 

My Plan

I am currently planning my first #MysterySkype lesson with a 6th grade teacher in Hobart, Tasmania. For my first lesson I want to give my students the best shot at success, so we have agreed to limit the lesson to the Australian class guessing our location through questioning. This will allow my students to answer questions concerning basic facts about Korea, which they will know. And those questions and answers can be more easily supported by a bilingual Korean co-teacher. I suspect that the creation and translation of questions from Korean to English in order for my students to figure out where in Australia those students are would be very time consuming and possibly discouraging for both parties. At least this first time, I want to be able to scaffold this process so that both parties walk away feeling successful and encouraged.

The other way you can use Skype in your classroom is via a recorded message exchange with another class, similar to the old school pen pal programs. This allows for classes to have an exchange or do #MysterySkype in spite of impossible time zone differences. So, for those of you who know a teacher back home in Canada or the U.S., there is a way to connect with them even though they are in school there while we are asleep here.

I am working with two teachers right now to set up this kind of recorded message exchange, one classroom is located in Florida, U.S.A. and is interested in doing a basic show and tell cultural exchange, while the other classroom is in northern China and wants to do a #MysterySkype lesson over the long-term. In both cases we are planning on recording one short message per week.


Our first message from Ms. Hart’s class in China.

Final Tips

As you can imagine, considering the timidity of many of our Korean students to produce authentic language on demand, planning, preparing and practicing a recorded lesson might lead to a more fruitful exchange than a live Skype lesson. However, there are ways to prepare students for the live chat as well, introducing key vocabulary, sentence stems and making it completely clear in Korean the purpose and goal of the Skype exchange.

The planning and preparation will generally require significant buy-in from your Korean co-teacher, which I know may be a tall order for many of you. You may have to put significant effort into identifying your curriculum’s target language that will be used authentically in the Skype lesson. You may also need to start with a baby step like recording a simple message for another class one time, and then checking in with the co-teacher about the possibility of an ongoing exchange. It is probably obvious to you that the value of the lesson and the time it will take to schedule and plan it may not be immediately understood and committed to by your co-teacher.

Lastly, it is important to strategically choose a class you feel has the makeup to do well and get something out of this kind of global live lesson. You know your students best and you know the ones who are outgoing and who try and chat in English with you all the time. The first few times you experiment with this kind of lesson, you should lean on those students and those classes, if you have them.

I will check back in with more info and tips once I get a few Skype lessons under my belt.

Links:

https://education.skype.com/

https://education.skype.com/collections/skype-guides?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_2015_jan_literacy

https://www.edsurge.com/n/2014-12-11-how-you-can-actually-teach-beyond-your-classroom-s-walls

http://genproedu.com/paper/2013-01/full_003-009.pdf

Twitter:

@mysteryskype

@SkypeClassroom

#skype2learn

Birds Korea in the Classroom

Birds Korea Logo

Birds Korea is a conservation and research non-profit that collaborates with governments, non-governmental organizations, scientists and academic institutions within Korea and internationally. Andreas Kim, a long-time German expatriate member of Birds Korea and birding enthusiast in his own right, visited my classroom for a special English language presentation on the birds of Korea, birdwatching, and habitat conservation. The guest lecture also included a walking field trip down to our nearby marina where my 5th grade students were able to do some real birdwatching and document their scientific observations.

You can view the Korean language report of their birdwatching observations that my students wrote for the Birds Korea website here. Below you can watch a short video/slideshow of the highlights of Andreas Kim’s visit to Ansim Elementary.