Hollywood History: What really happened to Anastasia?

My Social Studies Methods class at the University of Portland recently published a free multi-touch iBook – Exploring History: Vol IV. It features eight engaging questions and historic documents that empower students to be the historian in the classroom. For more info on our project and free download of a pdf or multi-touch iBook version click here.

To better publicize student work, I’m featuring each chapter in it’s own blog post. See more in the series here

The Real Romanovs: How media affects people’s perception of events by Kelly Marx

Kelly introduces her lesson with a generative question:How does media affect people’s perception of events?

Anastasia Nikolaevna was the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last sovereign of Imperial Russia. After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the Tzar and his family were murdered. Persistent rumors of her possible escape circulated the globe and provoked many books and films. This lesson will examine the differences between the movie “Anastasia” (1997) and what actually happened to the Romanovs and the Tsarina.

Image credit: “Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia”
Library of Congress LC-DIG-ggbain-05700

What do Historians do when the Written Record is Missing?

My Social Studies Methods class at the University of Portland recently published a free multi-touch iBook – Exploring History: Vol IV. It features eight engaging questions and historic documents that empower students to be the historian in the classroom. For more info on our project and free download of a pdf or multi-touch iBook version click here.

To better publicize student work, I’m featuring each chapter in it’s own blog post. See more in the series here

Mysterious Bronze Age Collapse by Sam Hick-Savage

Sam introduces his lesson this way:

Over the course of a century many of the great civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean vanished. Literacy nearly vanished. Even today, many textbooks shift their focus away from the Mediterranean and never mention this cataclysm that shows that civilization is fragile. The lack of a written record should not be seen as a reason to skip over this event, but rather as an opportunity. This is an invitation to you as a student to be a historian. Review the records. Theorize about what may have happened. Free from the constraints of a clear narrative and neatly arranged facts, your goal is not to memorize each fact, but to use the evidence to form your own opinion.


Image credit: By Kerstiaen de Keuninck (Coninck) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

WWI and the Human Costs of Total War

My Social Studies Methods class at the University of Portland recently published a free multi-touch iBook – Exploring History: Vol IV. It features eight engaging questions and historic documents that empower students to be the historian in the classroom. For more info on our project and free download of a pdf or multi-touch iBook version click here.

To better publicize student work, I’m featuring each chapter in it’s own blog post.

WWI: The Human Cost of Total War by Anna Harrington
Find Anna at LinkedIn

Image credit: Gas Mask WWI by Paul

How To Teach EdTech to Future Teachers

I’ve been asked to pilot a new edtech class this spring for undergraduate ed majors in University of Portland’s School of Education. I’m still in the brainstorm phase and I thought I’d like to share some of my initial thinking.

First off  – a few things that I don’t want to do:

  • Oversell edtech. Too often educators try to force the latest edtech tool into the classroom because they think it’s cooler. Faster. Shinier.
  • Focus on teaching apps. Oh how I hated being forced to sit in a computer lab and suffer though PowerPoint professional development as a teacher. When I need students to use a specific app, I typically create a YouTube channel of short screencast how-tos. Or students can use the University’s Lynda account for more.
  • Take sides in the platform / device religious wars. These students will end up teaching in different settings, each with it’s own unique edtech landscape. They’ll need to be able to use what ever they find in their placements.

Instead I’d like to first “teach” adaptability – the mindset that’s helped me navigate the ever-changing edtech environment since I began my career in the early ’70s – an era of filmstrip projectors, 16mm movies and ditto machines. I’ve always thought first about my instructional goals, then tried to leverage whatever resources I could find to reach them. That calls for flexibility and a willingness to figure things out on your own. I couldn’t wait around for some school-sponsored PD.

A second, equally important goal would be to teach critical evaluation of the intersection of good instruction and technologies. A good teacher is skeptical, always re-assessing what’s working and what’s not. That’s especially important in the dynamic edtech world.

I envision a problem-based approach where I layout a series instructional challenges (opportunities?) and invite student teams to come back with a plan for achieving the goal using as much or as little technology as they saw fit. They would be expected to find a way to share their work in or out of class (why not flip that as well?) We would then go though a group evaluation, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t. Was the juice worth the squeeze? Move on to the next instuctional challenge. Reflect, rinse, repeat.

Here’s how I thought I might open my first class:  “Good instructional often begins with a pre-assessment. This is an edtech class, so as a starting point we need to get sense of where everyone resides on edtech landscape.”

  • What would be useful to know?
  • How should we gather that info?
  • How do we store and share (represent) what we find out?
  • Would any digital technologies be useful in this task? If so, which ones?
  • How do we set that up so that your peers can be successful participants?

Brainstorm over: Any thoughts on this approach? Anyone else out there teaching an edtech course and care to share?

Image Credit: Civilian Conservation Corps, Third Corps Area, typing class with W.P.A. instructor ca. 1933
National Archives and Records Administration Identifier: 197144

Teaching: The Opposite of Magic?

The Great Levante in Wellington, 1941

Like all youngsters, I went through the phase of wanting to be a magician – got a how-to book, assembled a few props and began to practice my “illusions.” I even put on a “show” for a few (younger) neighbor kids. That phase didn’t last long, but I learned that magicians rely on secrecy and redirecting the audiences’ attention.

Magician didn’t work out for me, but I’ve had a long career as a teacher, now teacher educator. As I finalize plans for my social studies methods class, I find myself thinking that good teaching is the opposite of magic. Unlike magicians, teachers draw attention to how thing are done. Teaching is thinking made visible. And if that’s true how do you teach how to teach?

My methods course is based on the premise that it should model the instruction we hope to see these pre-service teachers using in their classrooms. So, for example, it’s not enough to talk about PBL or student-centered learning. We have to use it in our methods instruction.

We know that students need a more authentic audience for their work than the teacher, so our methods course assignments have a public product. Our work has received recognition – including this shoutout from one of our inspirations – Sam Wineburg of the Stanford History Education Group. #humblebrag. 

My methods students are participant observers. They don’t simply following my lesson, they experiencing the learning as a “student” and then put on their “teacher hat” and reflect on “how did he set that up?” Unlike the magician, we make the thinking behind the lesson planning visible.

This year our University of Portland program is transitioning to edTPA. There’s much for all of us to learn and I’ll be doing that right along side my students. 

Here’s a visual intro I prepared for my students. It illustrates the three goals of the course and examples of how they are taught.

  1. Learn to think like a historian (or other social scientist).
  2. Become a skillful instructional designer.
  3. Develop skills for reflection, growth and professional networking.

Click to view intro mediaClick to view intro media

Image credit: National Library NZ on The Commons
The Great Levante in Wellington, 1941
Opera House Wellington, The Great Levante … Hows Tricks, 1941, Chromolithograph, Printed Ephemera Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: Eph-D-CABOT-Magic-1941-01

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