Monday, May 26, 2008

Skills, not content

When reflecting on what was learned this year it is my hope that students consider the non-content related things they may have learned. My last post was dedicated to the content that was taught, but that is only part of what I was trying to teach this year. How about skills? Not the type of skills that Napoleon Dynamite was referring to, but real skills that will help students be successful citizens and students. Here is an outline of the most important skills we worked on:


  1. wikis (American Revolution project, Project Citizen wikis, Wikipedia)
  2. blogs (Class Scribe, Debate This!, Final Project)
  3. Google (Gmail, Reader, News, Groups, Blogger)
  4. Delicious--social bookmarking
  5. Animoto

Be able to apply these resources to real learning by communicating and collaborating more effectively


  1. researching local issues
  2. identifying local officials
  3. preparing presentation (binder, poster board, wiki)
  4. public presentation to public officials

Understand that you have a role to play as a citizen, and how to effectively play that role

Writing and Thinking

  1. Summarizing (Cornell Note taking Method, gist statement, mini-saga)
  2. Supporting a point of view (Moodle Discussion forums, Blog comments, Debate This! posts)
  3. Challenging a point of view
  4. Cause and Effect (unintended consequences of public policies, Causes of Civil War)

Be able to make sense of the world around you by understanding information presented to you in written and oral form

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

American Cultures Word Cloud

Here is a tag cloud I created based on some of the topics we studied in class this year. This is not a comprehensive list, but it is a good place to start a reflection on what we learned this year. The larger and bolder the term indicates that more emphasis was placed on it during the year. The Gettysburg Address is at the beginning and end of the tag cloud, since it was the theme for the year.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Amazon Online Reader : A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

Amazon Online Reader : A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

I read A Whole New Mind a few months ago and was impressed by author Daniel Pink's view of the increasing importance of creativity in the world today. Pink argued that the modern forces of abundance, Asia, and automation has created a need for people in the United States who are willing to be what he called "high concept" and "high touch". We have moved in history from the Agrarian age of farmers, to the industrial age of factory workers, to the Information age of knowledge workers, to where we currently are: the Conceptual age of creators and connectors. Pink believes that because of this modern reality the people who embrace the "high concept" and "high touch" senses will have an advantage in the Conceptual age. The 6 senses of the Conceptual age are:

  • Design (as opposed to just function)

  • Story (as opposed to just argument)

  • Symphony (as opposed to just focus)

  • Empathy (as opposed to just logic)

  • Play (as opposed to just seriousness)

  • Meaning (as opposed to just accumulations)

With Pink's thesis in mind we have been studying the Civil War a bit differently than students in my class have in the past. I have been focusing more intently on teaching the Civil War through Pink's 6 senses. For example:

  • The trip to Gettysburg highlighted the STORY of soldiers from Virginia who were caught up in an event beyond their control. Each student recieved the identity of a Virginia soldier who took part in Pickett's Charge. After hearing the STORY of their experience and walking the same ground they walked, students found out the destiny of their soldier. Students then had to EMPATHIZE with their soldier by writing a letter detailing their soldiers experience at Gettysburg.

  • The study of the advantages and strategies of the North and South during the Civil War gave students a big picture view of the War, much like a Conductor needs when conducting a SYMPHONY orchestra. We didn't just focus on one aspect of the war, rather we focused on the advantages and strategies allowing us to make MEANING out of the flow of the War.

  • Students are currently finishing up their online debate on the statement: The Confederacy was doomed to fail in the Civil War. Students have had to accumulate many points of view and pieces of information to make MEANING, in order to effectively communicate their point of view in the debate.

  • Students have read an actual account of a Civil War soldier (who by the way was my great, great Grandfather) who escaped the Confederate Prisoner of War camp called Andersonville. The STORY illustrates another reality of the Civil War and the time period of the mid 19th century. Students then had to DESIGN an illustrated Storyline (looks like a comic strip) taking 6 events and using direct quotes and illustrations to tell the STORY of my great, great Grandfather.

  • Currently we are working on creating a Civil War STORY based on an actual Civil War photograph that I posted on VoiceThread. In telling the story students will need to make a point or moral that illustrates a larger MEANING. They will also need to DESIGN their story with a twist or irony, making their STORY more interesting. The students who will succeed the most in this assignment are those that not just good writers, but also able to use SYMPHONY to their advantage. It is difficult to include all of the aspects of the STORY that I want and do the Civil War part of the STORY justice if students were not able to see a larger picture than what the photograph shows. Therefore, we are using Ambrose Bierce's An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge short STORY as an example of how a well DESIGNED STORY can illustrate the experience of a Civil War soldier.

  • The last of the 6 senses that I have yet to mention is PLAY. During Civil War Day students got to learn a lot about the Civil War and life in the 19th century from various reenactors. However, a full day of going from station to station hearing the serious aspects of the Civil War can be a bit much for the average 8th grader. With that in mind, Mr. Finkill, Mr. Beamer, and I presented the 3rd bi-annual Civil War skit. WIth Mr. Finkill as the "straight" man informing the audience of various aspects of the CIvil War, Mr. Beamer and I had fun torturing Mr. Finkill. Based on the laughter it was apparent that our PLAY (and we did PLAY) had the effect of educating while entertaining. In addition, students seem to have a good time PLAYING with the cannonball.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Civil War Day

This is an Animoto video I made for Civil War Day. The 8th grade social studies teachers (mostly Mr. Finkill) organize Civil War Day every two years since it is such an undertaking. Regardless of the forcasted rain tomorrow I am sure everyone will learn a lot and maybe even be inspired to learn more about our past.