Teaching and Learning Resources by Peter Pappas

Envision the Moon: From Verne and Méliès to NASA

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

Imagination, Innovation & Space Exploration by Molly Pettit

Molly introduces her lesson with an essential question: What is the relationship between imagination and innovation within the context of space travel?

Imagination and innovation are two key forces that drive history. The stories are everywhere – the phones in our pockets, the computers on our desks, the cars we drive, the medicine we take when we’re sick, even the indoor plumbing we use in our homes.
This chapter will examine how imagination and innovation have influenced space travel throughout history. Using historical thinking skills such as contextualization and close reading to examine text and media sources to unravel the relationship between imagination and innovation, students will analyze how both influenced one of the biggest dreams of the 20th century, and fueled ambitions for the future.


Image credit: By Georges Méliès [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Teaching Big History

Big historyI just registered with the Big History Project – an online course that weaves scientific and historical disciplines across 13.7 billion years into a single, cohesive, science-based origin story. I always was a big picture guy. Here’s a link to the course guide and more about about the Common Core aligned program from the projects FAQ

What is big history?
Big history weaves evidence and insights from many scientific and historical disciplines across 13.7 billion years into a single, cohesive story. The course highlights common themes and patterns that can help us better understand people, civilizations, and the world we live in. The concept arose from a desire to go beyond specialized and self-contained fields of study to grasp history as a whole. Big history explores how we are connected to everything around us. It provides a foundation for thinking about the future and the changes that are reshaping our world.

What is the Big History Project?
The Big History Project LLC (BHP) is an organization focused on bringing big history to life for high school students…. BHP is sponsored by Bill Gates, separately from his work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For more on the Big History approach watch “David Christian: The history of our world in 18 minutes”

How is the course delivered?
All of the content is available online. A completely web-based model ensures the content is up-to-date, relieves schools of the need for costly textbooks, and also helps teachers engage students by providing approachable, media-rich materials that can be used in different ways. Pilot participants and anyone who requests a username and password is able to access the course. Students and teachers are issued a personal login to gain access to a specialized site that houses all courseware and content. It is up to each individual teacher to determine optimal approach to using the site. For example, in-class time may focus on group projects or discussion, with students absorbing online content for homework, or the site may be used as a core element of the in-class experience.

How is my school supported and what does it cost? 
Our goal is to ensure that big history is taught effectively with no cost to schools. We provide, free of
charge:

  • All content and courseware
  • Free PD/teacher training program
  • Access to core project team for support, assistance and feedback
  • A teacher and school subsidy to cover any direct expense and provide support for teachers

Most importantly, a spirit of partnership imbues everything we do. Our singular goal is to get big history in the hands of educators and students, we promise to listen and collaborate accordingly.  In return, we expect schools to collaborate and communicate with us to improve the program. Specifically, this means: incorporating BHP courseware, content and assessments into the lesson plan, participating in professional development activities, and regularly updating the project team about what is happening in the classroom.

How is the course organized?
Big history is broken down into 2 sections and a total of 10 units spanning 13.7 billion years. Within each unit there are between 20 – 30 specific content modules covering specific issues, topics, projects and assessments.
Section 1: Formations and early life: Theories and evidence of origins of the Universe, planet formation, elements, and life.
Unit 1: What is big history?
Unit 2: The Big Bang?
Unit 3: Stars & Elements
Unit 4: Our Solar System & Earth
Unit 5: Life

Section 2: Humans: The development of humans, civilizations, and key milestones in our progress.
Unit 6: Early Humans
Unit 7: Agriculture & Civilization
Unit 8: Expansion and Interconnection
Unit 9: Acceleration
Unit 10: The Future

How to Create A PLC with Google+ Hangout

G+hangout logo-featured

I critiqued the “top-down vision of innovation in schools” in a post Innovations in Teaching and Learning: Top Down or Bottom Up?

Want to find out more about instructional innovation in action? That won’t cost you a thing either. Just jump on my Twitter feed and you find superb teachers willing to share their latest student projects. And that free flow of information contrasts with a second “top-down” approach to innovation in schools – the professional learning committee. Imagine being told that, “teachers will now attend PLC meetings.. and don’t forget to fill out the PLC report form and turn it in to your administrator.” No one at the top seems to notice that teachers who want to network have already created their own “bottom-up” support systems via the social web.

PLCs for singleton teachers?

A recent post by high school physics teacher Casey Rutherford, describes how he used Google+ Hangouts (free video conferencing) to create his own PLC. A Physics PLC: Collaboration at a Distance. Casey writes:

This year my school district, like many others, implemented PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) as the driving force behind how we collaborate to help students learn. The directive was that all teachers should meet in a PLC weekly for approximately 30 minutes. This sounds, and can be, great, but I had a problem. …. For 7 years I had been the only physics teacher. …

Enter Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter almost two years now, and I have learned more on Twitter in these two years than the previous six, which included a masters degree. Among other things I have managed to build a pretty awesome PLN (Personal Learning Network) that includes a couple hundred incredible physics and math teachers from around the country.

Casey posted a tweet with a link to Google doc soliciting members for his online PLC:

My name is Casey Rutherford. I am entering teaching for the 8th year, my 7th teaching physics, and my first using Modeling Instruction. I have a relatively odd request.

My school is implementing PLCs, certainly a worthy task. The problem is that at this point there is not a logical person with whom I would form a PLC. Thus my request. I am wondering if any of you would like to form an online PLC with me, working together approximately 30 minutes/week to compare student work. My thought is that we can do a lot with formative assessments, using photos of student whiteboards to form the basis for our conversations. I am, however, open to other ideas as well. …

What follows is Casey’s step-by-step description of how his team used a G+ Hangout to manage their PLC sessions. It includes details about managing the Hangout, using it to analyze student work, and building meaningful collegial relationships. It’s a very helpful post for anyone looking for practical information on using G+ Hangouts. 

Rutherford-g-hangout

Hat tip to Marshall Memo for leading me to Casey’s piece.

Screenshot credit / Casey Rutherford

How to Motivate Student Writers

My last post, What is Writing For?, concluded by offering three ideas for motivating student writers:

  • Let students make some choices about their writing.
  • Let them write for a more authentic audience than the teacher.
  • Use more peer evaluation and self reflection.

We read everything over to see if it made sense to our audience ~ 6th grader’s reflection

I thought readers deserved an example of these principles in action. Here’s a project I did that exemplifies choice, authentic audience and self-reflection.

I worked with a team of 6th grade teachers to demonstrate the power of comparison skills to help their students build vocabulary and content knowledge about the functions of various organs of the human body. (Based on Robert Marzano’s Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement and Classroom Instruction That Works). Additionally we wanted to enhance technology skills and demonstrate the power of student choice and self reflection in a PBL setting.

Students are motivated by writing for an authentic audience. “Publishing” helps students master content and develop project management and teamwork skills. The power of publishing enables students to think like writers, to apply their learning strategies and to organize and express their learning. It exemplifies the best of the information revolution – students as creators of content rather than as passive audience. 

Project overview:

  1. Students were tasked with developing books to teach the organs of the human body to third graders.They decided that the best idea was an ABC book - ”Traveling Through the Human Body with ABCs”
  2. Teams of students chose an organ and had to develop a description of function suitable for 3rd grade audience. Then they were asked to compare the organ to something that functioned in the same way and develop a comparison that 3rd graders would understand.
  3. All the content developed by students went through a peer review process for accuracy and suitability for 3rd grade audience.
  4. PowerPoint was used to layout graphics and text. Update: you might consider design and publication using iBook Author.
  5. Students and teacher were guided through a series of reflective prompts.
  6. The PowerPoints were converted to PDF files and used to publish a few copies of each classes book using Lulu print of demand. 

Teacher reflections included:

  • Students learn best from doing and from doing it together with support but no interference from adults. Students can explain concepts and ideas to each other in “kid-friendly” language more easily, sometimes, than adults can.
  • The lessons are more lasting because they happened in a social context rather than the “top-down” structure of a traditional classroom.
  • Project-based learning creates a student centered classroom with the students doing the real work of real learners. The teachers’ work is primarily off-line.

The book is available in print from Lulu as an iBook at iTunes.

Finding Math in Nature’s Patterns

Succulent spiral
Succulent spiral

As I recently wrote in Don’t Teach Them Facts – Let Student Discover Patterns 

It’s unfortunate that student don’t get to use their innate perceptual skills more often in the classroom. Instead of discovering patterns on their own, students are “taught” to memorize patterns developed by someone else. Rather than do the messy work of having to figure out what’s going on, students are saddled with graphic organizers which take all the thinking out of the exercise. 

“Doodling in Math Class: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant” captures the fascination of patterns in nature. Discover more patterns from Vi Hart – Mathemusician

Image credit: flickr/Duff Axsom

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