Student Empowerment in a Digital Era

Students today face an incredible challenge.

Smartphones, social media, and the internet provide students with an inexhaustible stream of content. Whether it be in the form of advertisements, news, or pure entertainment, consumable media is seldom out of reach. The ease at which this content can be produced heightens the threat of misinformation and the spread of false narratives. In order to responsibly engage with the abundance of digital content at our disposal, the need for critical, reflective thought is paramount.

Students also face an incredible opportunity.

With the amount of online resources at their disposal, the speed and efficiency of communication and the ability to use these tools via a mobile, handheld platform, students have unprecedented access to the world around them and the capacity to learn from it. Not only is it important for students to think critically about the ideas they encounter in the digital realm, they should also come to know and understand the platforms that supply them.

My goal as a social studies teacher is to provide students with many opportunities to learn and engage with the mediums that shape their worldviews. As more individuals begin to embrace digital lifestyles, our notions of literacy will continue to develop to reflect these patterns in digital consumption. We should equip our students with the necessary skills to navigate these changes with proficiency and critical minds.

As you explore this site you will find a number of activities I have designed for students to engage with various forms of media. Each activity prompts higher-order thinking and reflection, encouraging students to find connections with the material and their own lives.

Project Showcase

This first assignment features National Park Posters from the New Deal Era. After providing some necessary background knowledge, students are asked to explore the image and reflect on the relationship between art styles and production methods. This is an opportunity for students to discuss how a medium can influence the final product – in this case, a silkscreen print. How do other platforms, like Instagram or Twitter, shape the outcome of their content? This assignment features a Google Form to collect student responses, which can be exported to an excel document for further review and assessment.

This post features a method, Visual Scribing, which can be used both as an instructional tool and a form of student assessment. Scribing is a strategy for taking large quantities of information and arranging it, artistically, in visual space. It’s great for visual learners, and adds an additional layer of planning for students who are assigned to scribe as an assessment. How do we represent ideas visually? How can I incorporate symbolism and imagery into my work? Scribing deepens understanding by prompting students to think about ways in which ideas connect in both logical and visual space.

This third assignment was developed as a final portfolio piece: a complete unit in which students can explore a social studies phenomenon through documents, videos, cartoons, and audio clips. Each document is accompanied with background information and questions to prompt critical thinking. This assignment explores an enduring question through the time period of the McCarthy era. Students will use history as a lens for engaging with problems that are just as relevant today as they were during the Red Scare.

The goal of these assignments is a common one: to present students with opportunities to ask questions, by developing historical thinking skills such as contextualization, sourcing, corroborating, and by using these skills to perform effective, thorough historical analysis.

We teach to the times we live in. By providing students with the means to become responsible consumers of information, make informed decisions, and deepen their understandings of themselves and the world around them, we can help ensure that future generations are better equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century. My goal is to help students see that “history”, while rooted in the past is not confined to it; rather, that history is a constantly evolving dialogue, influenced by the present as much as the past.

My Learning Through Methodology

I will have to admit that when I first entered this methodology class in the beginning of the summer, I had no idea what was going on or what to expect. The professor that we were having had been in with my cohort in the summer to give us a brief presentation on using technology in the classroom and incorporating it into our lesson plans. Little did I know how much further I would be diving into the use of technology in the classroom after we had our first class session. If anyone is to know much about me and technology, it is that I’m not well versed in how the other actually work or its innovative aspects. Despite being from the generation that has grown up with technology, I’m not quite as adapt as one might think. For the most part, I use technology only because how I can make it work, and if it doesn’t work, then it is not my profile to be able to fix it or necessarily figure out why. So after this first class, I went into things with a glass half empty, glass half full approach. I knew technology, when used correctly, could elicit some of the most engaging, enticing, and rewarding experiences with students in a classroom experience. I also knew that when not done to the best of its ability and without sufficient knowledge from the instructor, that it could be the complete opposite experience. I knew I was in for an adventure.

When looking back at my work, as demonstrated here on my portfolio for this site, I’m happy about what I learned, the resources I have explored, and the tools I now have been able to put into my toolbox. In this course particular, I have learned to work with Google Forms, Padlet, Adobe Spark, and Chronicling America among other resources. Having these tools have served great benefit in terms of me having confidence in incorporating technology in the classroom. An example of using technology is for a lesson I can do for when reading The Outsiders text in my humanities class using Chronicling America. Chronicling America is an online resource through The Library of Congress that allows for individuals to look through digital copies of newspaper articles from the 1700’s all the way until 1963.

For this lesson, I would use Chronicling America, the resource upon which you can look at digital copies of newspapers from a period up till about the 1960’s, in conjunction with the reading of The Outsiders text. This activity would take place at the beginning, right before students will actually begin to read the text. It would have students look up newspaper articles from the 50’s and such in the Midwest, particularly Oklahoma, where the story of The Outsiders takes place. This lesson would begin with an intro to how daily life and the roles of people in society were drastically different during the 50’s and 60’s in midwestern America and highlight some of the ways or places in which differences might be found.

Another big benefit I took away from this class was a particular point in which we learned about and talked about different discussion point strategies that we can use in our classes. It isn’t only important to incorporate technology or other cool tools or resources in order to carry out a lesson, but it is also important about how you have the students engage and make the lessons their own. We went through a wide variety of different strategies that varied from Gallery Walks and Philosophical Chairs to Socratic Seminar and Fish Bowl. One strategy that stood out for me and in which I was able to dive deeper and understand more than I had before was the classic strategy of “Think-Pair-Share”. I was able to incorporate this into my teaching in my 8th grade humanities class on The Outsiders text. Throughout this unit plan and this specific lesson I taught, I had plenty of times woven into the instruction where this strategy would show up. Prime examples of this were after any of the write-up times. This could have included either the warm-up questions or the reading responses. I had students think about the answers to the questions and or what they had written or organized their thoughts into. After the thinking, they were asked to share their ideas and such with partners at their tables. The fact that the partners were already chosen by expectation that it was their table mates checked off one of the parts in which Jennifer Gonzales said was key to getting the most out of this strategy in her post of it. Another one of the checklist elements that was being done, was that I wouldn’t just sit at my desk chair or be on my computer while this was happening, but rather I would walk around, listen to the conversations being taken place, and engage and respond to the conversations. The last element that was present from this checklist was that after students had gotten the opportunity to share in pairs, I mostly always opened it up to the class and had at least a couple people share out loud to the whole class their ideas.

I learned that this strategy was great and effective for many of the same reasons upon which Jennifer highlights in her post. First and foremost, this was a helpful strategy because it served to break the content into smaller size pieces. The reading and deeper understanding of The Outsiders text and such is a lot of work and can be complex and overwhelming. This strategy allows students easier and more wholesome opportunity to interact with the text and their ideas and their thoughts. Another reason is that it allows the students to be active in the classroom and in their learning. The students are no longer just sitting there all day and just getting information. They are doing work to verbally process it and be able to take ownership of their learning. The last big benefit is the idea that it gives an opportunity for me to formally assess the students. Just by toning in to the conversations and engagement of the students, I am able to begin to grasp an idea of those students who are understanding the content at hand and those who might need more guidance and help.

Overall, when reflecting on this class and the work that I completed, it will be remembered as a place where I was able to think more about ways to reach students and for them to be able to reach back and engage in the materials themselves.

Making Students the Historians: An Approach to History Instruction

When asking my peers of their history education background, I tend to get one of two drastically different answers. Some respond positively, speaking of how they love to read and discuss their findings in a classroom setting about historical topics and themes they are passionate about. Others perceive learning history as tedious, or even worse, irrelevant. Pointing to their own experience of memorizing names, dates, and events in order to get the “A” on the test, those with a negative perception towards learning history fail to see the relevance of studying the field.

I myself was once one of these people who saw learning history in a negative light. Entirely focused on the grade, I didn’t understand how studying stuff that already happened could be beneficial. This changed entirely my 3rd year in high school, when my teacher introduced me to a way of studying history drastically different than what I’d experienced in the past. I learned history through living in it, diving into primary sources and understanding what life was like for the people I had previously read about in the dry and boring excerpts from my textbooks. I no longer remembered facts; I now took a stance on topics that while they remained in the past, still somehow seemed timeless.

My love of history grew so much from that period that I, one who once dismissed history as interesting but useless, devoted myself to becoming a high school history teacher during my freshman year of college. I knew I had to prevent students from going down the path I once walked down; I had to make history fun, interesting, and most importantly, relevant and meaningful to my students.

I knew textbook question and answers was not something I was going to rely upon, but how would I exactly accomplish my goals of making history fun, interesting, relevant, and meaningful to students, especially those who already had poor perceptions towards history as they entered high school? The answer as an idea was simple, however more complex in execution: I would allow my students to become the historians.

This idea somewhat shocked me. How would my students be able to transform into historians? What would my place as the teacher be in all this? As someone who favors organization and order, I did not know how allowing my students to be the drivers of their education would play out in reality. Regardless, I had to try.

My first attempt at this new approach to teaching is detailed in my post “Thinking Like a Historian“. Merging technology through a google forum with a primary source document, I made my first attempt to allow my students to become the historian. Placing proper scaffolding questions to assist my students who needed the help, they were now in charge of their learning, and I was there to help them along the way. However, this was just used as a small activity within a lesson. How would I create an entire lesson, or better yet, an entire unit centered around this approach to history?

In my most recent work, I’ve attempted to construct an entire lesson devoted to learning about WWI through posters from the era. Titled “World War I Through Posters“, students learn about key ideas about the “Great War,” such as how the nature of this conflict differed from those of the past. Students learn about the vast social change in the world that stemmed from this conflict, key historical ideas such as “Total War”, “Propaganda”, and “Nationalism” through this lesson. Instead of a textbook providing them the information about these key topics, the students discover what these terms mean themselves through analyzing WWI primary sources. They then get to live in the time period by constructing their own WWI era poster utilizing techniques they’ve observed from the primary sources they’ve examined.

While I have not tried out this lesson yet, I plan to utilize it during my instruction of my first WWI unit next semester. With greater trust in my students to guide their own learning made possible by my increased ability to construct effective, student led lessons, I aspire to be a history teacher that makes learning history fun, interesting, relevant, and meaningful for all of his students.

Breaking Baseball’s Color Barrier

Essential Question: How do we evaluate the impact that Jackie Robinson had on racial segregation by breaking baseball’s color barrier.

Historical Context

Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the Major Leagues on April 15, 1947, when he suited up in competition as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Up until the point that Robinson took the field that day, it had been 50 years that Major League hadn’t had a single person of color on one of their teams. Not only did Robinson taking the field that day open up an invitation for colored players to be included in baseball, but also opened up an invitation for Jackie to receive insults and other threats/comments from other players, teams, and fans alike. It is the noble and honorable way in which Jackie handled this that is a big reason we as Americans honor him today.

Jackie Robinson in his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform (Link)

The greatness about Robinson’s story is the fact that it doesn’t nearly begin and end that April day in 1947 when he took the field. He would become a person who’s legacy reflected a life-long journey of activism.

Jackie went on to attend UCLA where he earned the achievement of being the first athlete, no matter of race, white or black, to letter in 4 different sports (track and field, football, basketball, and baseball). While in school, Robinson did amazing in the classroom and demonstrated great character. A couple years after college, he was drafted in the United States Army. As a result of his qualities and achievements above, Robinson should have been a no doubt recipient for Officers Candidate School in the army, but his color of skin denied him and others of the same race. Not deterred, Jackie would turn towards a friend of his and heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, who was at the same Fort Robinson was applying to, and within a few weeks, with the help of Lewis and the determination of Robinson, the other candidates of color and Jackie got into Officers Candidate School.

When Jackie was discharged from the army, he went on to go back to playing baseball, signing with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League, a baseball league of all colored players in which they were allowed to play. It was at this time, that the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, a fellow by the name of Branch Rickey, had heard of Jackie and who he was and decided he would make Jackie the one to break the baseball color barrier.

While becoming the first African American player in the majors could have been his legacy on its own, Robinson made sure that he wasn’t just a name in a box score that one time in 1947. He starred for the Dodgers, winning the 1947 Rookie of the Year Award, helping Brooklyn reach the World Series (they lost to the New York Yankees). That year, as per an agreement with Rickey, he also learned how to fight back without fighting. Rather than react to the constant racial abuse from fans and other teams alike, Jackie used unfathomable restraint and poise, turning the other cheek so as not to give his detractors any reason to end Rickey’s “experiment.”

When Jackie made it to the big leagues, it would have been a big enough story as it is on its own that he was the one to break the color barrier. Jackie made sure that his story didn’t end only with that. He won the 1947 rookie of the year award, given to the top new player in baseball, and he helped the Dodgers make the World Series. He would go on to have a hall of fame career.

Historian’s Process

Image result for american racial segregation
A girl at a colored people designated water fountain (Link)

This site gives you the chance to “be the historian.” As you analyze each document, take into account both the sources of the documents and the point of view that’s expressed

  • Who created the document
  • What was the creator’s goal
  • How does the document reflect the views and opinions of the time period
  • How does multiple documents support or contradict one another?

Use these guiding questions to stop and think more deeply about each document:

  • How did Jackie Robinson help to improve the lives of other Americans not only during his time but for people today?
  • What does this document tell me about the American racial segregation during this time period of Jackie’s life
  • Take a position on these questions presented with the documents and defend it with evidence from the documents and your understanding of contemporary America

(1) When Robinson is Called Out

According to the writer of this Editorial, what is it that Jackie Robinson exemplifies that needs to be followed? Why might this be important

An editorial written in the Jackson Advocate

(2) Jackie Meets Detroit Mayor Candidates

How do you think having this photo taken of them with Jackie Robinson could either help or hurt the candidates for mayor at the time?

Photos taken with a caption in the Detroit Tribune

(3) Jackie getting Interviewed by Reporters

In this transcript of this interview with Jackie Robinson, he compares players from the South all of a sudden having to be on his side to his him having to root for his college rival, University of Southern California. Think about an example of this that would relate to your life? What would be difficult or awkward about this?

A Transcript of an interview done with Jackie Robinson posted by The Library of Congress

(4)“The Jackie Robinson Story”

How does this article show the great progress and change of perception from 1947, when Jackie first broke the color barrier, to June of 1950, when this article was published?

A Story about “The Jackie Robinson Story” a new film, from The Evening Star

Jackie Robinson, Civil Rights Advocate

(5) Letter to the President

According to Jackie, What is his main concern/desire he wants from the president and what specific events/happenings cause this concern?

MAY 13, 1958 

The Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that States must integrate their public schools, but few began to do so voluntarily. Although Arkansas had begun desegregation elsewhere in its school system, in September 1957 Governor Orval Faubus, hoping to gain political favor, used National Guardsmen to block entry of nine black students who were supposed to attend Little Rock’s Central High School that school term. Faubus alleged that without such action, violence would have erupted.When President Eisenhower reluctantly sent in Federal troops to protect the students and ensure their right to be at Central High, Jackie Robinson, now a coffee and food vending executive, was reasonably pleased although he believed that decisive Presidential action on civil rights was overdue. Over the years, he had grown increasingly impatient with what he regarded as Eisenhower’s failure to face up to the hard facts: Not only did racism exist, so did white efforts to physically intimidate Southern blacks who dared to challenge segregation. He therefore called upon the Chief Executive to guarantee the Federal Government’s support of black attempts to exercise rights already granted under the Constitution but in practice denied them because of white resistance. 
Letter Jackie Wrote to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in May of 1958

(6) Jackie Robinson Quotes

Choose one of the quotes from Jackie Robinson and argue why you think it might best represent who he was, what he desired, or his message, based on what you have learned so far about him.

Different Quotes by Jackie Robinson

Media Credits

(1) When Robinson is called out / Chronicling America – Library of Congress

(2) Jackie Meets Detroit Mayor Candidates / Chronicling America – Library of Congress

(3) Jackie Getting Interviewed by Reporters / Library of Congress

(4) “The Jackie Robinson Story” / Chronicling America – Library of Congress

(5) Letter to the President / National Archives

(6) Jackie Robinson Quotes / National Archives

Photo of Jackie Robinson (Historical Context) / Pixabay

A colored girl at a water fountain (Historian’s Process) / Wikipedia