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

Text to Text: A Strategy for Common Core Close Reading

The-Scarlet-Letter-1917The NY Times Learning Network has just launched a new series of lesson plans called “Text to Text.” It’s a simple approach that pairs two written texts that “speak to each other.” I think it’s a Common Core close reading strategy that could be easily replicated by teachers across the curriculum – great way to blend nonfiction with fiction and incorporate a variety of media with written text.

Each lesson includes a key question, extension activities and additional resources to expand the basic lesson. Here’s two graphic organizers to help student organize their “Text to Text” thinking. (free PFD downloads)
Comparing Two or More Texts
Double-Entry Chart for Close Reading

The NY TImes plans to continue the series at the Learning Network – tagged Text to Text
To date they have created three sample lessons:

“The Scarlet Letter” and “Sexism and the Single Murderess”
Key Question: To what extent is there still a sexual double standard, and how does that double standard play out in contemporary culture?
It pairs a passage from “The Scarlet Letter” with a recent Op-Ed article that, together, invite discussion on societal attitudes toward female sexuality.

“Where Do Your Genes Come From?” and “DNA Double Take”
Key Question: How are recent advances in science changing our understanding of the genome, and how might this affect fields like forensic science or genetic counseling?
It matches a Times article with often-taught scientific, historic, cultural or literary material. This edition is about new findings in genetics.

“Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg”
Key Question | Is Snowden a Hero, a Traitor or Something Else?
It pairs two Times articles that capture parallel moments in history: Daniel Ellsberg’s surrender to the police in 1971 after leaking the Pentagon Papers, and Edward Snowden’s public admission in June that he leaked classified documents about United States surveillance programs.

Image credit: 1917 Film version of ”The Scarlet Letter” – publicity still (cropped)
L. to R Stuart Holmes, Kittens Reichert & Mary Martin Date

PBL: I Come to Understanding by Making

Matthew ShlianWatch this short video as Matthew Shlian talks about himself, how he learns and the role that curiosity plays in his work. Then think about the kind of classroom that would foster Matt and learners like him. Matt states: 

I failed at math. I failed at Algebra. But I can understand things if I can see them. And I can actually understand them better if I can hold them in my hand. … A lot of my work is about curiosity. I come to understanding by making. If I can see what something’s going to look like when it’s finished, then I don’t want to make it. That would be like filling out a form.

Ghostly International presents Matthew Shlian from Ghostly International on Vimeo.

If I can see what something’s going to look like when it’s finished, then I don’t want to make it. That would be like filling out a form.

As the video description notes:
Matthew Shlian works within the increasingly nebulous space between art and engineering. As a paper engineer, Shlian’s work is rooted in print media, book arts, and commercial design, though he frequently finds himself collaborating with a cadre of scientists and researchers who are just now recognizing the practical connections between paper folding and folding at microscopic and nanoscopic scales.

An MFA graduate of Cranbrook Academy, Shlian divides his time between teaching at the University of Michigan, mocking up new-fangled packaging options for billion dollar blue-chips, and creating some of the most inspiring paper art around.

Ghostly teamed up with the Ann Arbor-based photographer and videographer Jakob Skogheim, to produce this feature short, which combines interview and time-lapse footage of Shlian creating several stunning new pieces. 

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

Think Like a Historian: Close Reading at the Museum

I’m planning for an upcoming full-day workshop for Chicago-area middle school teachers entitled “Think Like a Historian: Literacy and the Common Core.” The Common Core encourages students to more closely read a text (in all it’s multimedia formats) by answering three critical questions

  • What did it say?
  • How did it say it?
  • What’s it mean to me?

If you were apply those questions to my workshop you might answer them like this:

  • What did the workshop say? For all it’s controversies, the Common Core provides a basic road map for helping your students to “think like a historian” and enhance their literacy and critical thinking skills.
  • How did the workshop say it? Don’t lecture at people. Model the strategies and let teachers experience them in a classroom-like setting.
  • What’s it mean to me? What are the workshop’s strategies and perspectives that I could feasibly incorporate into my classroom to support Common Core skills?

Now that I’ve “flipped” the workshop, here’s a brief lesson in using Common Core questioning. I’m currently visiting Turkey and I thought I’d model a Common Core close reading of my visit to an Istanbul museum exhibit. I’ll dig a little deeper into the three questions with a few more prompts and provide brief answers as if I were a high school student reflecting on their experience.

First the setting: I visited the “Anatolian Weights and Measures” exhibit at the Pera Museum in Istanbul. It’s one large room with exhibit cases around it’s perimeter. A very manageable number of artifacts, labeled in both Turkish and English. I spent about an hour there. So here goes – Common Core close reading prompts, followed by “student responses.” Left: Roman steelyard weight – Hercules

1. What did the text (artifacts / exhibit) say? Summarize the key ideas and provide supporting details.
A: The museum exhibit is a roomful of measurement tools – weight, volume, distance. When I first walked in I turned right and looked at some tools from the 1900s. As I continued around the wall I realized that I was going back in time. Sort of an interesting way to look at the artifacts.

As I progressed “back in time” to the Egyptians era, I realized how important measurement was to civilization. I realized that if you were going to trade things, you needed to measure them. The same was true for owning land. You needed to have a way to measure it. Plus people need to have some way to agree on the “official” measurements. That means the ancients needed some sort of government or rules for trade. You can see that many of the weights had “official” seals on them.The exhibit showed that the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks created standardized systems for measurement.

Common Core close reading prompts, followed by “student responses.”

2. How did the text (artifacts / exhibit) say it? How is it organized? Who created it and what were their goals? What patterns do you see?
A: I’ll answer this one from two perspectives – first the creators of the original artifacts and then the curators who designed the exhibit.

The weights were all designed to serve a function, but they were often very artistic as well. At first I wondered if that was because craftsmen wanted to personalize their work. Then I thought the artisans might have decorated the weights to make them harder to counterfeit. Ancients would want to be sure that weights were accurate and that some trader wasn’t ripping them off with a phony measurement. I think the weights were also designed to look official to give people confidence in the measurements they were getting.

The curators of the exhibit used a chronological approach to present the artifacts. But they also grouped items together by themes to help you make connections across time. For example there was a section featured mobile scales from different eras. They were designed for traders that needed scales that they could easily bring with them. That got me thinking of the long history of trade routes tranporting goods from far off lands.

18th C Money Changer's Balance 18th C Money Changer’s Balance

3. How does it (artifacts / exhibit) mean to me? How does it connect to my life and views?
A – The exhibit is called “Anatolian Weights and Measures” and it makes it very clear that every artifact was found in that region. I think one of the goals of the curators was to prove that Turkey has had a long history of civilization and trade. The exhibit showcases thousands of years of measurement tools that reinforce the idea of Turkey as as the crossroad of different cultures. That echoes the image of modern Turkey as a gateway between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The exhibit also makes me realize that the idea of a global economy is actually not a new thing. People have been trading across vast distances for thousands of years.

In one way, in the exhibit reminded me of how some things never change. It seemed like there was little difference in the scales used in Egypt or the portable balance of 18th century money changer. The basic physics stayed the same. The Roman steelyard balance works using the same principals as a locker room scale with sliding weights.

But in another way, the exhibit reminded me how much the new technologies have changed things. The exhibit included a set of linked folding metal measuring rods that today are easily replaced by a small laser distance finder. They would could both measure distance, but the technology, accuracy and portability of the tools are dramatically different.

Image credit/ Pera Museum Pinterest

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