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.

Teaching Pedagogy

At the beginning of the year, I felt lost thinking about how I could create lessons that would be informative, while also engaging for my students. I wanted the students to be able to learn the necessary course content, while doing so in a way that was interesting to them. This all goes back to aspects of my teaching pedagogy that include creating a culturally inclusive and responsive classroom that uses technology to further help students learn what they need to, while taking a student centered approach to their learning.

While many teachers strive to make their classrooms culturally responsive, it can be hard to change what they thought was working for so long. I want my current and future students to always be thinking about how different events throughout history would affect different groups of people and why. I want to focus as much on the experience of minority groups because their stories are often brushed over in schools and sometimes even more interesting to students than the history that is followed throughout the textbook. Going into my student teaching classroom and future classrooms, I have already created and delivered a couple lessons that are culturally responsive and inclusive. For example, the final project that I chose to include for this class is one that was based off of lessons I taught in my student teaching placement about the 1920’s. Throughout this unit, the main question students were to be focusing on was “Were the 1920’s “Roaring” for everyone?” This question assumes that students understand that the in the United States, the 1920’s was a decade that was remembered as being a prosperous and favorable time for everyone that lived through it, when it was not the case. After each lesson, students were to add what they learned that day to the positive or negative column in their learning target notes and why the events they learned about that day affected different good positively or negatively. When I teach the 1920’s again in a future classroom that I am in, I want to try out the lesson that I created for my final project in this class. FINAL I think this would be an interesting way to test students understanding of the topic so far as a formative assessment or as a summative assessment at the end of the unit.

Another aspect of this class that I was nervous about was the use of technology. I know that I want my future classroom to make use of technology, but I was unsure of how I could incorporate it. One way I was able to incorporate technology around my lessons were through the use of interactive maps. I’ve learned how to incorporate lessons that are specific to the content my students are learning, but also other ways to look at data through websites such as, GapMinder, Google Trends, Chronicling America, Two Centuries of US Immigration, White Supremacy Mob Violence, and Mapping Green Book. In my classroom this past semester, I did a lesson during my 1920’s unit that incorporated the White Supremacy Mob Violence interactive map. I really liked how this lesson allowed students to be able to visualize where and to who all these mob violence attacks were happening. This allowed students to get a better understanding of what White Supremacy Mob Violence was and how it affected different groups of people. This helped my students synthesize the material we were learning and get a better understanding.

I also want my future classroom to be student centered. I’ve noticed throughout my time in the classroom that many students don’t respond well to 50-minute lectures, even though there needs to be some kind of lecture for introducing new information. While this is something that I’m still working on perfecting, this class helped me see a few ways to go about that. This is an aspect of my pedagogy that overlaps with other areas of teaching and learning as well, including the technology aspect of things. Using these specific maps in my teaching or having students work in groups together to accomplish little tasks together will be more beneficial to their learning. Another way I’ve gone about this in my student teaching already is to relate the past to more present events and problems. One of these lessons that I was able to try out in this class that helped me before going in to teach it to my students was comparing two songs, one from the time period we were studying and another more recent song from the past five years. This lesson allowed students to hear music from the time period we were studying and understand what was going on during that time, while comparing it to something they were more familiar with from a few years ago. The lesson can be viewed here. I really appreciated taking this class because it helped give me ideas for how to construct as well as accomplish lessons that I did not think I would be able to.