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Teaching With Primary Sources Lesson: How does imperialism impact a country?

In previous posts (here and here), I’ve described the work high school teachers from the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts did in a professional development cycle funded and guided by the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources Western Region affiliate.  This blog post is one of five describing specific lessons created by teacher teams and explored through demonstration lessons using this protocol.

This demonstration lesson, taught at the beginning of a World History unit on the Age of Imperialism, was taught at Heritage High School February 16, 2012.  The students used primary source documents to consider core questions regarding the historical theme:  What is imperialism?  In what ways does it benefit countries? How does it hurt them?

The debrief led participating teachers through some provocative questions: In what ways do primary source images help students? How do they lead to miscues? How can we help students attend to text? Why is sourcing documents important? What is the “right” question?  As with many of the lessons, the tension between providing too much – and too little – context was explored.

The following artifacts from the lesson and its revision are posted for your consideration:

The lesson study team was composed of Julie Harris and Tami Perkins.  They join me in encouraging you to use the comments section below to discuss the lesson.

What do you see in the lesson and the student work?

How did you adapt it for use in your classroom?

How did your students respond?

Teaching With Primary Sources Lesson: The “White Man’s Burden”?

The Sleeping Sickness Gordon Ross (1911)

In previous posts (here and here), I’ve described the work high school teachers from the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts did in a professional development cycle funded and guided by the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources Western Region affiliate.  This blog post is one of five describing specific lessons created by teacher teams and explored through demonstration lessons using this protocol.

This lesson, taught to a 10th grade World History class in a demonstration lesson at Mountain View High School on February 23, 2012, asked students to consider questions as relevant today as they were during the so-called “Age of Imperialism”:

When, if ever, is it valid for one nation or culture to intervene in another to impose its values?How did the imperializing countries justify imperialism?

Students, organized in teams and small groups, explored those questions through primary document sets.  The students demonstrated interest in the documents and the period and formulated interesting observations and analyses.  During the debrief, teachers discussed perennial questions:  How much background information is necessary for students to make sense of the sources?  What are the tradeoffs between quantity of documents and quality of interrogation?  How can we best organize individual responsibilities within a group setting?

Artifacts from the lesson are posted here:

My favorite moment during the observation came from one of the students whose attitude through much of the session might best be described as blase and above it all: Her contributions to the group discussion – and her attention to interpreting the materials – were minimal.  After analyzing each document, the groups were asked to ascribe a rating the document’s creator might place to the question of whether or not country’s have a responsibility to intervene in other nations’ affairs.  After comparing ratings on one doc, she suddenly awakened to the activity.  I’m wondering, she asked her group, why the other groups gave this document such a different rating than we did.  Are they seeing something different than we are?  Her comment reminded me of the value not only of asking students to make ranking decisions but also of the worth of fostering inter-group conversation during groupwork.

Within the debrief, the teacher team discussed key instructional dilemmas including the question of how much background knowledge is sufficient to guide inquiry, the challenges in accessing parody, and the challenges of fine-tuning questions to invite appropriate connections.

The lesson study team was composed of Jeanne Silvey, Larry Asher, Jim Stoda, and Natasha Flak.  They join me in encouraging you to use the comments section below to discuss the lesson.

What do you see here in the lesson and the student work?

How did you adapt it for use in your classroom?

How did your students respond?

Teaching With Primary Sources Leadership Team: Recap

In my last post, I described the work I was doing with high school teachers from the Evergreen and Vancouver districts funded by the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Western Region division.  I thought the project went great – and so did the teachers.  Breeze through a few representative quotes to get a feel for the participants’ enthusiasm:

I learned that the kids are able and willing to think for themselves – that they’re willing to jump in and give it a shot.  It’s all about getting kids to think… not just compliance.

We just went through the same inquiry process looking at the student work as [the students] went through with the documents.

This was not like a learning walk.  I worked on a lesson related to my work, and I’ll use it.  This is the way professional development should be.

It was great to work with other teachers who have such expertise.  This shows what teachers from different schools can do with each other to benefit kids.

We’re all after the same thing: Seeing kids being able to connect with the material and make their own meaning is the big payoff.

We lit the fuse, and the kids took care of the rest.  The collaboration was valuable…  Hearing others’ observations reinforces the idea that I can relinquish some control and that the questions are as important as the answers.

The conversations and questions that we had today make me hold off on retirement.

I wonder: How far can this go?

I think there were several fundamental reasons why the project was so successful:

  1. The folks from the Library of Congress Western Region office were fantastic.  They were able to introduce the Library of Congress archive in a way that both demonstrated its immensity and its usefulness. They emphasized the role primary sources play in catalyzing student inquiry and meaning making. They were flexible in adapting their approach to our needs.
  2. We used a lesson study approach. This helped teachers explore the immediate application of the approaches in the classroom. It guided collaboration in an authentic and accountable fashion.
  3. The teachers displayed true professionalism. Throwing a bunch of strangers together, providing them with new resources, and asking them to play with each other required a willingness to be public learners and not let vulnerability shut down the process. They met the challenge head on.

If you’d like to read more about the project, I’ve posted the final report here.

Click here to learn more about the grant program.

In the next several posts, I’ll share the lessons teacher-teams developed through this process. Sharing these does not mean to suggest that any are “Super-Lessons”  (if any such thing exists.) I think that they are interesting as artifacts of a powerful professional development process – and they’ll probably get you thinking about great ways to guide student inquiry in your classroom. If the lessons are kept alive by your testing and tweaking, if the comments section is used to share what changes folks made and how their students responded, then the process continues. Here’s hoping!

Teaching With Primary Sources Workshop

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The best historical inquiry - and teacher professional development - leads to laughter.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of working with high school teachers and coordinators from Vancouver and Evergreen Public Schools in a workshop led and funded by the Library of Congress Teaching With Primary Sources Western Region Program.  Through the workshop, teachers learned about the immense resources available through the Library of Congress website and discussed ways to guide student historical inquiry using primary sources, including the development of Annotated Resource Sets.  Using a quick version of the lesson study cycle, teacher teams designed lessons that will serve as the basis for demonstration lessons and debriefs throughout February (for which we’ll use this debrief protocol.)  After the demonstration lessons and debriefs, teachers will share their new insights with their school-based Professional Learning Communities.

The agenda wiki, filled with fantastic links, is posted here.  I’m looking forward to attending all the lessons in February!

History Day Judges Needed!

Followers of this blog know that I love National History Day.  National History Day challenges teens to investigate historical questions and present their findings in papers, websites, exhibits, performances, and documentaries.  Students discuss their work with interested adults as they strive to rise above the competition first at the school, then at the district, state, and national levels.  All this depends on interested individuals offering to talk to these young historians. Will you show them you care about their learning?

The Southwest Washington History Day Competition will be held Saturday, February 25 at Wy’East Middle School in Vancouver.  Judge orientation will begin at 8:00.  Preliminary round judging will conclude by 1:00; if you’re available to stay for the finals round, you’ll be done by 4:30.  Clock hours will be provided.

If you’re able to join us to judge, please email me.  Whether or not you can join us, please spread the word!

History on Location 2011 Day Two: Salem

Link to Day One’s post here.

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Day Two started at the Harvard Club of Boston, where John Demos talked about the visible and invisible worlds inhabited by the New England colonists.  We then went to the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, where we toured the Nurse home and graveyard then relived the trials in the reconstructed meetinghouse.  Next, we toured the Peabody Essex Museum, a museum’s whose roots are closely tied to Salem’s maritime history.  We closed the day there with Gloria Sesso, who shared ideas about how to incorporate art into history lessons.

Teacher-participants, I turn this over to you:

  • What do you think were the big ideas we studied here?  Why do you think these are valuable episodes and themes to study?
  • What historical questions were answered here?  What new questions developed?
  • What new ideas or questions about teaching and learning history did this exploration leave you with?

History on Location 2011 Day One: Plimoth Plantation

As part of the Causes of Conflict Teaching American History Grant Project, teachers travel annually to historically significant sites for study produced in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  In previous years, middle school teachers studied the Civil War and high school teachers studied the Civil Rights Movement.  Descriptions and resources from both of those trips are posted on this blog; use the search tools to find the entries.  This year, elementary teachers studied the New England colonies, from early contact through the American Revolution.

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Our study began with talks by John Demos, followed by a trip to Plimoth Plantation.  Demos started with a talk Sunday night on just who the Puritans were, disavowing us of our inclination to think of them as repressed, guilt ridden, and austere:  in short, the Puritans weren’t puritanical.  Monday, we went to Plimoth Plantation, a living history site interpreting the Wampanoag and Plimoth experience.  There, Demos helped us understand the worlds of these early settlers:  their home and community lives.  Interpreters on the Mayflower II, the Wampanoag Home Site, and the 1627 English Village brought these worlds to light.  Education specialists Summer Confuorto and Kim VanWormer guided our visits and analysis of the 1621 Treaty as described in Mourts Relation.

Teacher-participants, I turn this over to you, as I will the next several entries:

  • What do you think were the big ideas we studied here?  Why do you think these episodes and themes are important to study?
  • What historical questions were answered here?  What new questions developed?
  • What new ideas or questions about teaching and learning history did this investigation leave you with?