Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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U.S. Immigration: Legal v. Illegal (Part 2 of 3)


[IMMIGRANT FAMILY LOOKING AT STATUE OF LIBERTY FROM ELLIS ISLAND] (ca. 1930) courtesy of Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-50904].

View “Part 1: Ancient Immigration” of this series on immigration.

We’re used to hearing about “illegal immigration” in the U.S. today. Emotions run high as people attack and defend modern immigration to the U.S.

All this clamor can hide the fact that this is really the first time in U.S. history that there has been a problem called “illegal immigration.” Yes, Chinese immigration was halted by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” of 1907 allowed the U.S. to stop Japanese immigration by having Japan outlaw emigration. And the Immigration Act of 1924 was an attempt to sharply lower the number of Jewish, Catholic, and Asian immigrants entering the country.

But the very success of these measures meant there were no “illegal immigrants” in those periods. Unwanted groups were effectively kept out or their numbers lowered—they did not continue to enter the country in large numbers. The immigration “issue” was how to manage existing (legal) immigration populations.

Today, there are no groups targeted as “unwanted” in the way those earlier groups were: people from all nations are welcome to emigrate here—the only caveat is they must do it legally. But the definition of “doing it legally” has been fundamentally changed over the decades since WWII.

For the majority of our history it was just very easy to enter the U.S. legally. If you were not part of an “excluded” group, gaining permanent residence in the U.S. was simple and quick. There were no written exams. The tens of millions of people who came here through Ellis Island only had to have their name appear on their ship’s register and pass a physical exam so brief that the doctors giving it called it the “six-second exam.” Some had to show the address of a person already living in the U.S. who they could stay with. That’s it. Those immigrants were free to live the rest of their lives in America, and become citizens by passing a civics and history test.

That easy entry began to change after WWII. By the late 20th century, gaining permanent residence required a permanent visa, and citizenship required having a visa, a full-time employer who would pay to sponsor you, and other requirements that cost money, required good English skills, and took years of dedicated effort to fulfill.

This means that people today who claim that immigrants back then “followed the rules” while (illegal) immigrants today don’t are on pretty thin ice. When it’s easy to follow the rules, people do it. When getting into the U.S. legally is very difficult and expensive, people either don’t or can’t do it.

When you’re teaching the topic of immigration, consider discussing these points with students:

  • Beginning with Irish immigrants in the 1840s, there has always been a “bogeyman” immigrant group that native-born Americans were told to fear: Irish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, Eastern European, Mexican, etc.
  • Most of those who stirred up panic about and/or violence and laws against new immigrants (Nativists) were themselves immigrants or first-generation Americans trying to find a way to move the negative focus from their own group to another.
  • Fears about immigrants were usually religious: Irish, Italian, and Eastern European Catholics sent Nativists reeling with terror that the Pope would take over America. Eastern European Jews were not welcome either. This is because the majority U.S. population up until the late 1800s had been Protestant, and change always scares people.
  • All originally “unwelcome” groups eventually gained acceptance in the U.S.; our history is one of continually expanding our welcome, and emigration to the U.S. continues to grow.

Engaging students in a conversation about the role of immigration in their families (past and present), in their town, in their state, and in their region is a good way into the topic. Everyone in your class is touched by immigration; if it is a politically charged topic in your school, town, or state, it’s important to look at the history of immigration in your area to see that new groups are often feared at first but find acceptance as time passes. This can help students see that immigration has often caused controversy but always improved our nation.

Most Americans don’t know a lot of facts about immigration past or present. For a historical overview, see American Passages,  “Coming to America: Immigrants at Ellis Island.” For the present, go to the Statistical Portrait of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States, 1960-2013 by the Pew Research Center.

Additional Resources for Teaching About Controversial Topics:

Should schools allow discussions of controversial issues?

The Learning Classroom: Theory Into Practice, session 5, “Feelings Count- Emotion and Learning

Social Studies in Action, “Dealing With Controversial Issues

Teaching About Columbus and the New World

Christopher Columbus, bust portrait: Published by W.H. Lowdermilk and V.G. Fisher c1892 (Paris), LC-DIG-pga-03191

In the United States, the Columbus Day holiday was created to commemorate Christopher Columbus’s landing in the New World in 1492. While this was an achievement, Columbus has also come to negatively represent conquest and colonialism. The following resources provide a multi-faceted view of Columbus’s New World encounters.

Global trade started with Columbus’s arrival in the New World. America’s History in the Making, unit 2, “Mapping Initial Encounters” details the trade practices that occurred between native peoples, Europeans, and Africans in theme 1 of the video. This unit also presents primary sources that illustrate different perspectives of these initial encounters.

Examine how archaeological and scientific evidence has changed the way Americans think about Columbus Day in Bridging World History, unit 2, “History and Memory,” video part 1, Commemorating Columbus. Columbus’s early image as an explorer and civilizer is contrasted with resulting conquest, colonialism, and the destruction of peoples and habitats.

American Passages, unit 1, “Native Voices,” Stories of the Beginning of the World presents the literary voices and oral traditions of Native Americans.  How did the New World encounters influence the lives of Native Americans?

A Biography of America, program 1, “New World Encounters,” looks at the beginnings of American history from west to east, following the first Ice Age migrations through the corn civilizations of Middle America, and the explorations of Columbus, DeSoto, and the Spanish.

Native Americans had established a rich and highly developed tradition of oral literature long before the writings of the European colonists. American Passages, unit 2, “Exploring Borderlands,” explores that richness by introducing Native American oral traditions through the work of three contemporary authors: Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), and Luci Tapahonso (Navajo).

In Social Studies in Action, grades 3-5, program 9, “Explorers in North America,” see Rob Cuddi’s lesson on the theme of exploration in North America. The lesson poses three essential questions: How have people in history affected our lives today?; How do the human and physical systems of the Earth interact?; and What role do economies play in the foundation of our history?

How to Incorporate the Arts in All Subjects

PuppetsArt is a valuable tool for students to learn how to express themselves, work through a process, work cooperatively, and gain respect and understanding for others. How can we teach the arts in all subject areas so that students benefit from the learning opportunities that art affords them? For more ways art instruction benefits students, read “Ten reasons why teaching the arts is critical in a 21st century world” by Elliott Seif.

Below are examples of the arts blended with other curriculum areas, helping students to draw out a deeper understanding and appreciation for both familiar and unfamiliar concepts.


See art as a tool to make meaning of our relationship with the natural world in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”

Seventh graders combine science, dance, and language arts as they compare the anatomy of a frog and a human and then debate whether a frog can join a ballet company. Connecting With the Arts Library, program 11, “Can Frogs Dance?” has the video and student materials.


Mathematicians understand symmetry differently than the rest of us, as a fundamental aspect of group theory. Learn more in Mathematics Illuminated, unit 6, “The Beauty of Symmetry,” which includes a symmetry interactive. Students can manipulate a wallpaper design to practice common geometric motions such as rotation and reflection.

Language Arts

Students explore Greek myths using puppets in Connecting With the Arts Library, program 2, “Breathing Life into Myths.”

Artifacts & Fiction, session 1, “Visual Arts,” shows how visual art, paired with literature, can be used to enhance students’ understanding of the predominant culture and historical setting of a work of literature.

World Languages

Latin students learn the difference between translating and interpreting the language using music and literary works of Mozart, Vergil, and Cicero. See Teaching Foreign Languages K-12, program 24, “Music and Manuscripts.”

In Teaching Foreign Languages, program 29, “Interpreting Literature,” students discuss “Dos caras” (Two faces) by New Mexico author Sabine Ulibarri. They act out scenes and make comparisons to a painting by a local artist.

In program 27, “Interpreting Picasso’s Guernica,” students write and deliver radio newscasts interpreting the scene in the famous painting.

Social Studies/History

Fifth graders in The Arts in Every Classroom, program 6, “Teaching Visual Art,” view portraits, looking beyond the face for historical cues. They continue the lesson by creating new portraits that reveal clues to the lives of their subjects through clothing, expressions, and background.

Use the Focus In tool with middle and high school students to analyze photographs curated by topics such as “Protest and Politics” and “Economies and Empires” in Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. Also, hear a photo editor at National Geographic and a professional photographer discuss their work in the video “Story.”

Music and Art

Start a music program at your school based on the El Sistema program or borrow ideas from the programs presented in our new series The Power of Music: P-5 Teaching Inspired by El Sistema. The El Sistema philosophy presents music making as a collaborative process—one that teaches individual self-confidence, creates caring citizens, and builds cohesive communities. The program includes ideas for teachers of all subjects, not just music.

Watch art, dance, and theater teachers use scaffolding as they help students gain knowledge and fundamental skills while fostering creativity and active self-directed learning in The Art of Teaching the Arts, workshop 2, “Developing Students as Artists.”

Additional Resources:

To learn more about why arts education is important and how to connect the arts with big ideas in other subject areas, view Connecting With the Arts, program 2, “Why Integrate the Arts?”  and program 5, “What Are Connecting Concepts?”

These ideas just scratch the surface of all they ways arts instruction can be incorporated in other curriculum areas. Please feel free to share more ideas in the comments.

Ancient Immigration (Part 1 of 3)

Original caption: Viking trading ship of the 8th century leaving on an expedition from Dawn Ladir Cliffs, Norway. ca. 1901-1933

Original caption: Viking trading ship of the 8th century leaving on an expedition from Dawn Ladir Cliffs, Norway. ca. 1901-1933

Immigration is a hot topic in the U.S. today, loaded with political meaning and characterized by heated debates over who is coming to this country and why, and who should be allowed to come here and who shouldn’t. It seems like a very modern problem, but immigration has always been a part of human life.

From migration to immigration

Of course, in prehistoric times, there was no immigration, only migration. The “im” means “into”, and was adopted once kingdoms and then nation states were created and people had a political identity based on where they were born. If they left the state they were born in, they weren’t just moving to unclaimed land; they had to move “into” another political state. Before this political in-migration, there was only migration—moving from one territory to another—and that’s what humans did, constantly.

As we’re learning with each new fossil discovery, moving over long distances did not start with homo sapiens: very early human species were leaving east Africa and covering thousands of miles to move into Asia and northwest Africa. This travel wasn’t just something we did, it’s likely what made us who we are. The “Human Migrations” unit of Bridging World History explains how traveling and encountering new climates, landscapes, animals, foods, and challenges led to the development of the first human cultures. Language, music, tool-making, and social organization were all responses to the needs and challenges of migration.

Why did we move so far and so often?

Anthropologists believe that climate change was the key motivator. During the Pleistocene Era which lasted from about 2.6 million years ago to about 11,700 years ago, there were a series of ice ages. Each one drove humans to leave the places they were in as they became colder or dryer, following familiar livestock or searching for new sources of food. We can never know what really happened then. Did people communicate with each other about their growing problems? Did advance groups travel and return to tell about better lands elsewhere? Did people compete with each other, racing to be the first to reach better territory?

What we do know is that over tens of thousands of years, moving became ingrained in the human lifeway. City-states, empires, kingdoms, and nations with borders you have to get official permission to cross are all recent, upstart ideas invented mere seconds ago on the historical scale. When the Sumerian city-states were formed in the fourth millennium BCE, they were a sharp rebuke to millions of years of free human travel. Creating Great Walls, sentry posts, border crossings, citizenship tests, and passports were all steps away from the old human tradition of free migration.

How do we begin to teach about immigration?

Knowing that free, long-distance migration is in our genes and our blood, how do we teach it today to students who will likely never experience it for themselves? First, we introduce them to this part of their human heritage by studying the past. Anthropologists have debated the date for the first arrival of humans into the Americas for decades, but now they are also questioning long-accepted timelines for human entry into Asia, Australia, northwest Africa, and Europe. Homo sapiens were not the first humans to enter these regions, and different species of humans did not fight each other to the death, leaving only homo sapiens to inherit the Earth. Different types of early humans mingled and produced new generations of mixed humans, who then mixed with homo sapiens. We all carry Neanderthal, Denisovan, Erectus, and other human DNA. Different types of early humans lived and worked side-by-side. Migration was not a threat but an opportunity to the first humans.

We can study how that attitude changed over the millennia, as human societies became richer and more organized, and humans began to claim land as their own and fight anyone who tried to enter it. This eventually leads to the history of city-states, empires, and kingdoms, and right up to the modern nation-state. That’s where we’ll pick up in our next post on the topic of immigration.

How to Teach Negative History

Distant view of crowds during mass demonstration of students and workers during general strike in Paris on May 13, 1968. Picture was taken on Rue De Turbigo with the Place de la Republique in the background. (AP Photo/Eustache Cardenas)

Distant view of crowds during mass demonstration of students and workers during general strike in Paris on May 13, 1968. Picture was taken on Rue De Turbigo with the Place de la Republique in the background. (AP Photo/Eustache Cardenas)

We all know that uneasy feeling you get when you have to teach a difficult topic or time in U.S. history. How do you stand in front of a classroom of students and talk about slavery, the Indian wars, Jim Crow, Japanese internment, the Red Scare, lynching, the Trail of Tears, the Chinese Exclusion Act, resistance to women’s suffrage, the Know-Nothings, and more low points in our history without a) embarrassing students, b) making students whose ancestors may have been the victims of these actions feel singled out or victimized themselves, or c) leaving students with the feeling that the U.S. is a pretty terrible place?

The good news is that teaching negative history has very positive results when it’s done well. It’s only by thoroughly understanding why negatives happened that we reassert our national commitment to ending them and preventing them from happening in the first place. Every injustice committed in our history produced a backlash from Americans who would not accept that injustice. The knowledge that our founding principles demanded something better—liberty and justice for all—drove Americans to fight every injustice you can list in American history.

There’s a good basic approach to teaching negative history:

  1. Provide context: Too often historical events are depicted as coming out of the blue—“in 1892 Congress passed an act to ban all Chinese immigration.” But every action is a reaction to long-term trends, debates, tensions, and changes in society. An objective, non-cynical yet unapologetic explanation of the historical context of even the most horrible events gives students a way to understand how it could have happened that isn’t just “people are just racist/sexist/xenophobic”, etc.

Example: Essential Lens, “1968, Year of the Barricades,” uses historical context to explain the political protests that rocked America and Europe at a time when the young people protesting seemed like they had nothing to be upset about—they were living in some of the richest nations in the world.

  1. Let the actors speak for themselves: Why should you have to parrot the beliefs of proslaveryites to explain them to your class? Let students hear their awful beliefs from their own mouths by giving them primary resources to read. And, on the flip side, why should you paraphrase the arguments of Americans who resisted slavery? Let them speak for themselves, too, through their own documentary record.

Example:Slavery and Freedom,” unit 7 in American Passages, provides a list of antislavery and abolitionist activists; click a name to get a background essay, then click the Activities box on the right to go to artifacts about and writing by that person.

  1. Acknowledge subjectivity: The historical record is not perfect. Often it has more records from one side of a debate than the other (for instance, we have a lot more documents from 17th-century white colonial settlers than American Indians). Sometimes both sides of a debate are equally represented, but they say such wildly contradictory things that it’s hard to tell which side was right or if both sides were confused or just plain lying. For instance, there were Cherokee groups who left the southeast willingly and maintained that the agreement they signed with the U.S. to give up the Cherokee nation was fair—but that’s not what the Cherokees who were physically removed from their homes, kept in cages, then put on a forced march west said. And sometimes the historical record changes: for instance, in the 19th century the Puritans were depicted as heroes. By the 21st century, they are most often depicted as harsh and destructive people who started the Indian wars. Which is the truth? Acknowledging that the historical record does not have all the answers actually inspires students to read both sides and empowers them to construct their own interpretation of history.

Example: “History and Memory,” unit 2 from Bridging World History, offers a roadmap for teaching students about interpreting history, and helping them to see the historical record as not carved in stone, but a living, breathing, evolving organism.

  1. Put students in someone else’s shoes: It’s easy to sit back and judge our ancestors in hindsight. But they weren’t making decisions based on careful research and study—they were reacting to events as they happened. This means they often did not have all the information they needed to make the right decision. Interactive websites that allow students to make choices based on limited data help them to understand that they are just like the Americans who came before them: doing the best they can with the information they have, likely to make mistakes, and then likely to try to fix them.

Example: “World War II,” program 22 of A Biography of America, has a “You Decide: Japanese American Internment?” feature that starts with one sentence of information and asks students “Was the wartime internment of Japanese Americans appropriate?” Students click to get started, and are offered a choice of clicking Yes or No. Clicking either one takes them to a new page that gives more information that could make them rethink their decision. This helps battle the judgments that hindsight makes very easy and shows students how people can make the wrong decision with the best of intentions.

Please share ways you teach the negative side of history in your classrooms in the comments.


Breaking the Mindset Barrier

123rf_guzhanin_Brain copy

Image Copyright: Dmitry Guzhanin

One of the staples of American storytelling is the tale of the underdog athlete who became a superstar through relentless practice. Countless magazines have told the story of Boston Celtics basketball legend Larry Bird, discounted in adolescence by coaches, dedicating himself to hours and hours of daily practice. Alone on a shabby outdoor court, Bird would shoot and shoot and shoot, day after day, week after week, month after month until—voila!—he became a superstar. Even after he was a pro star, Bird would spend hours alone in the Boston Garden practicing his shots—before team practice even began. This is what made Bird “Larry Legend.”

Bird’s not the only one, of course; we love stories about athletes who drill and drill from sheer love of the game and a burning desire to become the best they can be. We tell our own young athletes that they can achieve anything if they really want it badly enough. Before the U.S. women’s soccer team won the 2015 World Cup, their captain Abby Wambach made an inspirational video in which she repeatedly said that the team could win the cup if they wanted it: “we’ve just got to believe.”

…so why don’t we have the same approach to academics? Why don’t we tell students that they can achieve any academic goal they want, from understanding math to writing lab reports to analyzing literature, if they want it badly enough? Why don’t we tell them it will take hours and weeks and months and even years of practice and failure, practice and incremental improvement?

Instead, we tend to tell students, directly and indirectly, that school is not really designed to help them set and achieve goals through unlimited practice. We tell them that school is about doing a little practicing, and then taking a test that does two things: permanently end practice of the skill that was tested and put a permanent label (a grade) on the student’s skill level.

When we test students after limited practice, we’re telling them that they have a set ability in a certain subject that can’t really change much no matter how much they practice. When we study a unit for two weeks and then test students on it, we’re saying, If you can’t master this in two weeks, you have a problem. Everyone should be able to master this in two weeks.

Tests and test grades tend to send the message that everyone is somehow born with a set amount of academic potential—a mindset—and they need to spend the rest of their school years managing (or concealing) that limitation. It’s like an academic caste system: a few lucky students are gifted; the rest are “average” or “struggling”—and they always will be. The first few tests students take that seem to “confirm” that they are forever stuck at one skill level kill all initiative. While athletes can be made, we send a message that mathletes (and others) are strictly born. See “What does this mean for me?” at the Mindset website and Reading & Writing in the Disciplines: Big Ideas in Literacy for more on this harmful and unfounded message.

In the mindset system, school is not about working hard until you achieve a goal, no matter how long it takes. It’s about struggling to achieve a goal on someone else’s timeline. The whole point of our inspiring sports stories is that the athlete took things into her or his own hands: they decided how long to practice, when to practice, and, crucially, why they were practicing. They were tested only after they felt they were ready to present their skills to a coach or a team. As Bird put it, “I really don’t count my shots. I just shoot until I feel good.”

Unfortunately, school calendars and state standards don’t allow this kind of flexibility. Students have to show mastery of a certain (large) number of learning objectives and state standards by the end of each school year, each term, even each quarter. They can’t “shoot until they feel good” on that kind of schedule.

Students aren’t the only ones who struggle with this, of course; teachers have to teach on someone else’s timeline (the one assigned by their state standards). They are required to test their students regularly. Few teachers have the option to simply stop testing and allow unlimited practice. But there are ways to reinvent testing so that it is as much a part of practicing as it is an assessment of practice; see Neuroscience & the Classroom: Making Connections for a real-world test case.

The section gives one example of how testing and grading can become tools you use to help your students develop skills. They can become part of your ongoing formative assessment of how their skills are developing and part of your teaching process, rather than an interruption of teaching and learning. When students see that testing and grading are a measure of their existing skill level, they resist both. When they see that testing and grading are a prompt to their developing skills, they embrace them as part of a collaboration with the teacher that will help them advance. Test until you feel good!

Lessons for Teaching 9/11

MakingCivicsReal_7On the anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, use the following resources to address the many layers of meaning in the commemoration of the day.

What it means to be responsible for others — Watch as history teacher Martina Grant engages her students in a discussion about their own “universe of obligation” and how the priority order changes when people are faced with tragic events. Students posit reasons we don’t always act when we see a wrong and what it takes before we act. See Teaching “The Children of Willesden Lane,” program 7, “Introducing the Universe of Obligation.”

Balancing conflicting interests with public policyMaking Civics Real, workshop 7, “Controversial Public Policy Issues,” helps students build on their own opinions and experiences to develop a deeper understanding of key public policy issues. In this workshop video, JoEllen Ambrose leads her 12th-grade law class in studying the role of the government in protecting citizens while also protecting their civil liberties. Students also reflect on their feelings and experiences with racial profiling after 9/11 and in other situations.

Patriotism — A government class at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC designs a Museum of Patriotism and Foreign Policy. The student committees present exhibits that express, through their particular majors of dance, theatre, or visual arts, their understanding of the link between patriotism and foreign policy in the light of terrorism. Go to Making Civics Real, workshop 5, “Patriotism & Foreign Policy.”

National security yesterday and todayAmerican Passages resource archive contains an excerpt from the NSC-68: U.S. Objectives and Programs for National Security, written in 1950 during the height of the Cold War. Students can compare U.S. foreign relations of the past and post-9/11 and how these objectives and programs have changed.

Teach the Constitution and the Bill of Rights


On Constitution Day, the U.S. celebrates the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. The important Bill of Rights, ratified a few years later, composed the first ten amendments to the Constitution. It guaranteed personal liberties such as free speech and the right to trial by jury, while limiting the government’s ability to restrict our rights. The following resources provide multiple entry points to the Constitution and our rights and responsibilities as U.S. citizens.

  1. Ethics in America uses the Socratic Method to interrogate officials and public figures on the tensions between our guaranteed rights and moral responsibilities at the individual, institutional, and societal levels.
  2. Democracy in America, program 4, “Civil Liberties: Safeguarding the Individual,” examines our civil liberties and the flexible interpretations of the Bill of Rights by the judicial system when civil liberties conflict.
  3. In Making Civics Real, workshop 1, “Freedom of Religion,” watch Kristen Borges’s 9th graders interpret and apply the Constitution to a past Supreme Court case on the First Amendment.
  4. Key political, legal, and media professionals engage in spontaneous and heated debates on controversial issues such as campaign spending, the right to die, school prayer, and immigration reform in The Constitution: That Delicate Balance.
  5. A continuation of Ethics in America, explore gripping hypothetical and familiar dilemmas in Ethics in America II.
  6. A Biography of America, program 5, “A New System of Government,” explains what led to the creation of the Constitution of the United States. This program includes an online interactive that allows you to decide if Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson had the more enduring vision for the United States.
  7. Teach elementary students about how different levels of government function. What is the connection between citizens, community issues, and civic leaders?

Other Annenberg Resources for Constitution Day

  1. Get ready for Constitution Day by browsing the Civics Renewal Network website for a wide array of free civics education resources from a consortium of nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations including Annenberg Learner. Follow @CivicsRenewal on Twitter for resource links and announcements.
  2. Visit the Annenberg Classroom: Resources for Excellent Civics Education and browse a smorgasbord of multimedia resources for teaching about civics and the Constitution.
  3. View the Sunnylands Classroom page to find a Q&A session with Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Stephen G. Breyer and a group of high school students discussing the need for a written Constitution.

Share what you are doing for Constitution Day in the comments. If you use Learner in your classroom, consider submitting your lesson plan to share with others on this blog. Follow the post instructions.

Moving From Routine to Rousing at #ANEW15


Sara works with a newspaper from the Newseum archives.

Post written by Sara Romeyn, high school Honors Global History and AP United States History teacher and participant in the 2015 Newseum Summer Teacher Institute: “Primarily Digital: Teaching Media Literacy to Plugged-in Students,” sponsored by Annenberg Learner. Look for the #ANEW15 hashtag on Twitter. 

I was fortunate to take part in the “Primarily Digital” workshop in late July. I have attended many professional development workshops in my 20-year career as a teacher, but this was one of the standouts. It was relevant, well organized, hands-on, collaborative, and exciting. Our classroom was buzzing with energy and participation. Teachers came early and stayed late. As I reflect on the experience three weeks later, I realize that the workshop organizers and leaders continually modeled best practices. My big goal for the coming school year will be to further integrate those best practices in my own classrooms.

So, let me take each of those best practices in turn and explain in greater detail how they might influence my teaching:

  • The “Primarily Digital” workshop was well organized. We began each day with a review of the agenda, which was projected at the front of the room and in our notebooks. The agenda provided both a schedule for the day and the learning objectives. I usually post an objective at the beginning of my class, but I will make it a more intentional practice in the year to come. I will also include a specific time schedule. Such a practice will help frame the work, keep us on task, and give the students a sense of what to anticipate for the day.
  • The “Primarily Digital” workshop was relevant. The instructors and leaders continually drew connections between the materials introduced and our own classrooms. There was a practical link to current events. In my own classroom, I think students appreciate understanding why we learn something and how it might inform or influence modern events. With the study of history, it is important to draw connections to the present day. I will continually focus on that objective.
  • The “Primarily Digital” workshop was hands-on. We had the chance to physically examine historical newspapers. We created a social media campaign and designed our own buttons for a political cause. We were up and moving and engaged in the task of “doing history.” This approach was so much more engaging that a lecture. Again, I want to bring these practices into my classroom, whether it is a gallery walk where students analyze photographs or a project where they utilize artistic talents.
  • The “Primarily Digital” workshop was collaborative. We worked in small groups on multiple occasions during the three days, and we learned so much given the opportunity to share our ideas and perspectives. Group work gives a voice to students who are less bold in front of a large class. The ability to collaborate is a key life skill…how does one listen carefully and respectfully?
  • The workshop was exciting. The organizers made fresh and interesting use of social media, including the visit to the Berlin Wall gallery where we tweeted as an East or West Berliner. In the Vietnam exhibit, we engaged in an on-line debate about the power of the media in a time of war.

I appreciated many aspects of the workshop. I came away with valuable resources, such as tools students may use when evaluating a source. I was introduced to several new tech tools, and discovered novel ways to use familiar tools. Ultimately, however, it was the structure of the workshop that was the biggest “aha” moment for me. By using multiple best practices for the classroom, the workshop leaders provided a powerful and engaging three days. I believe the best teachers are life-long learners, and when we use the summer to grow and have new experiences, we become better teachers. I look forward to recreating these practices in my classroom in the coming year.

See what else Sara was up to this summer on her blog. After spending a week in the “Primarily Digital” workshop, she left for a teacher exchange program to South Africa. In addition to learning about the history of Apartheid, she spent several days teaching in a high school in a township. 

Exit Slip: Neural Pathways and Political Discussions

Copyright: ikopylov / 123RF Stock Photo

How does it feel to be back in the building? I always enjoyed the first two weeks of the school year, meeting new teachers and reconnecting with peers, receiving class rosters and wondering what my new students would be like, setting up the classroom, and planning like crazy.

At my school we sometimes held informal discussion groups about articles related to our teaching practice, much like a book group would. Here is some food for thought collected from the web this week, either to consider on your own (and comment on below!) or share with others. This week, we are thinking about how we build students’ skills gradually in order to meet instructional goals and how to safely and fairly discuss political issues with students.

1. Guest Column: Don’t Short Circuit Education, a June post on Learning Lab/WBUR written by Alden Blodget, is about the importance of focusing on the learning process, instead of just focusing on achieving the goal. “We need to create schools that nurture the growth of neural pathways, the circuits, that result in engagement and recall. And educators need to trust that, if students build the circuitry, the lights will go on.” Learn more about how you build these paths in Neuroscience & the Classroom. Alden Blodget is a content contributor to the series.

2. In Politics in the Classroom: How Much is Too Much, by Steve Drummond on NPREd, Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy discuss whether or not politics should be allowed in the classroom and if controversial topics should be used as learning opportunities. Hess says, “My view is that if you’re going to have students involved in authentic politics, then it’s really important to make sure you have issues for which there are multiple and competing views, and you don’t give students the impression that there’s a political view that they should be working toward.” Read the article to find valuable considerations for class discourse. Do you talk politics with your students? If so, what has worked for you to create a safe and well-rounded discussion?

(Image Copyright: ikopylov / 123RF Stock Photo)