Posts Tagged ‘history’

Various staff members in our building were trying to band together to be Nintendo characters for Halloween this year.  Emails with suggestions were sent out multiple times with people calling dibs on the iconic Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Link, and Donkey Kong (one particularly hairy teacher).  I had things narrowed down to the dog from Duck Hunt or a Nintendo controller that I would craft out of WB Mason paper boxes.  Even though I love group bonding and team building like this, I decided last minute to swim against the current and use a costume I could tie to instruction.  As my US History classes study the Robber Barons and Captains of Industry that shaped big business after the Industrial Revolution, I felt I couldn’t waste an opportunity to make learning come alive as much as possible.

Just two days ago, I was playing devil’s advocate with a student who was writing a persuasive essay trying to prove John D. Rockefeller as a Robber Baron.  As we went back and forth, he finally said, “Why don’t you just go as him for Halloween?”  I thought to myself what a great suggestion that was and immediately committed to it by saying “I WILL!”  It didn’t take much planning as I am just wearing an old suit I got from the Salvation Army for $12, a hat that cost $2 and a golden chain that was $0.25 from a vending machine.  All of these items were previously used when I went to a Titanic theme party on the 100 year anniversary of it’s sinking; since then everything has just been sitting in my closet waiting to be used again.

Dressing up is nothing out of the ordinary for me, as I always go to ridiculous lengths for learning.  Some students notice immediately that I am John D. Rockefeller as I throw quotes around like “The most important thing for a young man is to establish a credit — a reputation, character” and “Try to turn every disaster into an opportunity.”  I stood at my door handing out dimes to every student that walked in.  As a class we had just learned about how Rockefeller was one of the first people to hire a PR agent to cast a favorable light of public opinion upon himself.  One of the first suggestions this man gave was that Rockefeller carry around dimes in his pocket and hand them out to every kid he saw in the streets every single day.  Rockefeller did this and his popularity skyrocketed.  The equivalent today would be if someone walked around and handed out $2.27 to every child they saw.  What kid would not like that?  It was good review for my students who had already mastered the study of this business tycoon.  It was good reteaching for my students who had forgotten a bit and needed a refresher.  It was a good first glimpse at the material for my students who are habitually absent or hard to reach by traditional means, but were more alert and interested because today is Halloween.


The best part about the day is teaching people I don’t have in class.  Everyone is curious about costumes and wants to know 1) What people are dressed up as 2) Why they chose that particular costume.  The guesses got hurlded at me like pumpkins out of a trebuchet (http://science.discovery.com/tv-shows/punkin-chunkin/videos/punkin-chunkin-trebuchets.htm) as I walked through the halls this morning.  “Al Capone” “Dick Tracy” “Frank Sinatra” were all good guesses, but not quite on the mark.  Sure, I could just tell people and make them happy, but I have just accomplished the goal that every good teacher tries to reach daily- I got people interested.  I succeeded in building hype and anticipation, people were yearning for an answer.  Instead of an answer, I gave clues and let motivation and the power of self interest inquiry do the rest.  I told people I was the richest man in American History (possibly even world history, although some dispute Rockefeller to actually be at #2 there).  I said I was the biggest oil tycoon who has ever lived.  I dropped quotes, handed out dimes, and left the conversation just when I knew people’s interest was piqued enough where they would actually search out the answer.  Let’s be clear here…this was not just with students, but staff as well.  So sure, I could have pulled off an awesome costume like this http://i.imgur.com/hUIBq.jpg, but instead I chose one that would have more impact.

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Today, I just happened to stumble upon this article on CNN entitled, “America’s Students Failing to Learn History.” (well except there weren’t capital letters in the title because CNN doesn’t do that for some reason).  The statistics actually broke my heart a little bit, as they would any history teacher or anyone who cares about the future of our nation.

It’s vital that young Americans learn the history of our amazing nation.

Being an American requires knowing what it means to be an American. It’s the fabric that binds us together and helps us understand who we are.

Today, unfortunately, many of our students are failing to learn American history, including our founding principles and values. And they’re failing to learn why America remains an exceptional nation.

For two generations, we’ve watched our nation’s memory of the past slip away.

The problem of historic amnesia is widespread, as evidenced by alarming results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests students in grades four, eight and 12 in several broad subject areas every few years.

Among the survey’s most frightening findings is our students’ lack of knowledge in U.S. history. Just 20% of fourth-graders, 17% of eighth-graders and 12% of 12th-graders were at grade-level proficiency in American history in the 2010 exams.

This lack of knowledge goes to the very basics.

Only one in three fourth-graders could identify the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Less than half understood why George Washington was an important American leader. And a majority of fourth-graders didn’t know why the Pilgrims left England.

These are frightening statistics, indicating that our children lack an understanding of our nation’s history and the traits that have made America great.

As the author of three children’s books on American history, I’ve visited many classrooms across the country to share the adventures of Ellis the Elephant, my time-traveling pachyderm, with children ages 4 to 8. I’ve found most young students to be energetic, enthusiastic and eager to learn.

We can get children engaged in learning at an early age if we as adults have enthusiasm for learning as well.

Our history includes wonderful role models. In writing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (published this week, in which Ellis the Elephant discovers the American Revolution), I was reminded that the brave men and women who fought to win our freedom were surprisingly young. Thomas Jefferson was 33. James Madison was 25. James Monroe was just 18, barely older than a high-school graduate. And yet these patriotic heroes were engaged in profound, often dangerous work. They were models of sacrifice, civic-mindedness and determination.

With education surveys showing dismal results, we must find creative ways to teach our children American history. In “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and the Ellis the Elephant series, my goal is to highlight the wonderful achievements of our country, to arouse a love for America and to communicate why America is indeed a special nation.

Like children’s books, educational video games, too, have enormous potential to make history come alive. And we are only beginning to see the potential of online systems like Khan Academy to revolutionize learning. There are many ways to improve the challenged state of education, but parents, teachers and mentors must pursue them eagerly.

It was 232 years ago this month, on October 19, 1781, that the British surrendered to George Washington’s Continental Army at Yorktown. This pivotal moment concluded an eight-year war in which thousands of brave men and women gave their lives to win the freedom we enjoy today. Yet we are for the first time in our history beginning to lose sight of our founders’ sacrifice and wisdom. We must fight historical amnesia to ensure that future generations continue to appreciate the greatness of our nation.

-Callista Gingrich

Callista Gingrich, while presenting data that makes me want to scream also presents the important point that all across the world, we now have unprecedented potential to get people hooked on history by making it FUN.  Every day in my classroom, I strive to make history come alive the way my teachers in high school failed to do for me.  I’ve ventured into the flipped class and gamification because of the benefits it offers students. Engagement is up, learning is increasing and visible daily, and we are acquiring more skills overall.  It used to be enough to simply teach facts and dates, but in this day and age, teachers need to be curators of interesting content and entertainers.  My students don’t care about how many little random facts I know, but they do care about how fun we can make learning together.  If we want students to fall in love with history, we have to make them fall in love with the way we teach.

I once worked for a man who called himself Mr. Salmon (no joke), but I’m not one to fight the current and swim upstream on everything.  My students are digital natives and grew up with Youtube, cell phones, and video games.  Leveraging that technology has been a gift from the heavens in terms of how they consume information under my supervision.

*Side note: While pivotal and of the utmost importance in the Revolutionary War, the surrender of General Cornwallis did not effectively end all fighting, as battles raged on for almost another year.

Here’s what a colleague of mine had to say in reference to the above article:

Here’s my theory on this…

  1.  The popularity of STEM education.  Less focus on history and social studies.
  2. The popularity of getting students “career ready.”  Don’t need to know history and social studies if you’re an Accountant or Engineer, etc.
  3. The popularity of a Howard Zinn approach to history and social studies.  Washington and Jefferson owned slaves is what kids remember rather than their other contributions to our government.
  4. The popularity of comparing U.S. students to Finland, China, etc, and how we do in Math and Science, but not history or social studies.

Humanities departments in colleges are facing enrollment issues in history, religion, philosophy, etc. majors.  My view is that not everything in education or college should always have to translate to “skills needed for a future job.”  Sometimes, it’s good to know our history for the sake of being an educated, well-rounded, and civic-minded citizen, not just seeing the world in dollars and cents.  Thank god our Founders knew their history when creating our government.

P.S. – This reads like an op-ed but I think about this topic a lot.”

Spoken like a true analytical thinker, especially when considering this email was fired off in the four minute passing period between classes.  This is no surprise to any historians, as earning a degree in this worthy discipline really just means you know how to think critically, analyze anything thrown your way from Puritan thought to the NY Giants (lack of) offense, and write with such a connected flow we seem like children of Ernest Hemingway and Diana Ross.  Weird combination? Ok, so we are strangely clever too.  We need more historians in the world and more historical education.  Long live history!

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