Monday, September 1, 2014

The Journey Ahead

Demetree Learning Commons at
Bishop Kenny High School
Photo Credit: Mr. Tim Yocum

Another busy summer has passed and already, the new school year is in full swing.  This new year brings a lot of excitement and anticipation as Bishop Kenny launches its second year as a 1:1 iPad learning environment, along with the grand opening of the new Demetree Learning Commons - a collaborative, multimedia workspace for teachers and students.  Of course, every year I enjoy welcoming a new group of students into my classroom and I look forward to teaching each day.  However, this year's students have already impressed me with their inquisitiveness, intellectual curiosity and unique personalities.  If the past two weeks are any indication, this is going to be an outstanding school year.

At the beginning of each new year, I ask students to complete an opening survey regarding their interest and knowledge of history.  Here are the results:

This is a promising start!  As I tell my students, I did not like history until my sophomore year when I had an amazing history teacher at Bishop Kenny.  Maybe I'll change a few minds?  Even if students do not like studying history by the end of the course, I hope that they will still gain an appreciation of our nation's past and at least, enjoy the class.

World War II always ranks as a favorite time period of students!  I'm glad to see the American Revolution making a comeback.

Given that we live in a technology-driven world and the school is on its second year of iPads in the hands of every teacher and student, the comfort level is increasing.  This is a good sign as we hope to develop a digital skill set within students that adequately prepares them for the real world.

I also ask students to name historic sites or places that they have visited recently.  St. Augustine and Washington, DC top the list.

This year also begins the new College Board Curriculum Framework for AP U.S. History.  This new framework represents the largest change to "APUSH" in forty years and brings with it some notable controversy.

Some of the headlines:
The old curriculum included a simple, bullet-point outline of names, dates and facts.  The new framework is much more descriptive and whenever a change is made from a list of history to descriptions of history, interpretations will vary regardless of the authors. If you are reading this far into my post, you may be curious what I think.  Is the new framework slanted?  Of course - and given recent trends in academia, we shouldn't be surprised.  Examining the nine historical time periods paints a history of the United States that is often dark, critical of American society and ideals and encompasses a heavy balance of race, class and gender topics while only briefly mentioning other foundational concepts in our nation's history (see the links above for other criticisms).  However, that certainly doesn't mean that my students are limited to this point of view.  I encourage my students to challenge all interpretations of the past.  If the new framework presents one point of view on a particular event or time period, in class we will discuss other points of view.  My job as the teacher is to provide the balance.  Too often it is easy to just follow one narrative, usually the narrative of a single textbook.  This year, instead of a single textbook, my AP students will be reading a collection of articles that present various points of view and they will be challenged to find others.  As a teacher, it is my solemn duty to teach them how to think, not what to think.  This also represents what I find exhilarating about the study of history - the work is never finished.  To truly study history is to consume countless pieces of evidence, multiple interpretations and various debates with the intent of deriving one's own argument of the past.  As one poster in my classroom reads, "History is an argument about the past."

I look forward to the journey ahead with all of my students!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Creation, Curation and Collaboration: The iPad and the History Classroom

Student presenting a Google Map from his
iPad using AirServer
This year, Bishop Kenny High School embarked on a bold 1:1 iPad initiative with 1,200 mobile devices now in the hands of teachers and students.  This initiative aimed to fundamentally transform teaching and learning at Bishop Kenny by providing the means for developing a digital skill set where both teachers and students could easily "create, curate and collaborate" in the learning environment.  Of course, launching devices on such a large scale did present some challenges with bandwidth, resources and student use of the device.  However, from my perspective as a teacher, this inaugural year has been an overwhelming success.  Sure, the iPad can be a device of distraction, but the potential of having a device readily available for each student far outweighs the temporary distractions.  It also affords students an opportunity to learn not only a digital skill set, but also some self-control and discipline.  Devices are becoming much more prevalent in our society and in the workplace - everyone, young people and adults, must develop the digital etiquette of knowing when to power up and when to power down.

Looking back at this school year, I've noticed that students are much more engaged in their learning than ever before.  I'm not sure all students fully realize how far they have come since August, but as a teacher, it is amazing to see how launching the iPad really has transformed the way we learn at BK.  It is gratifying to watch students helping other students and students helping teachers learn new skills and develop new ways of interacting with academic subjects.  I would like to share some examples from my own classroom this year and of course, take the opportunity to brag about the incredible 126 juniors that I had the distinct honor and privilege to teach and to learn from this year.  Below are a few examples of activities we conducted using the iPad:

Bringing documents to life using DocsTeach from the National Archives:

Reading primary sources is an essential skill for historians and can be a challenge, especially when the documents are handwritten.  Prior to the iPad, I had to book a computer lab to examine original documents or just rely on text translations of the documents photocopied for classroom use.  This year, we were able to carefully examine original manuscripts and artifacts using the DocsTeach app.  Reading original, handwritten documents was challenging for students, but it did help them focus on every word.  It is also very neat to inspect the real artifacts!

Getting away from "PowerPoint" and finding new ways to collaborate and present historical information:

RWT Timeline App
This year, students collaborated on various topics in history using a variety of apps and tools, rather than just making (boring) PowerPoint slides.  When I first began assigning presentations years ago, I would have to book a lab and spend 15-20 minutes explaining to students exactly how to complete the assignment.  Now with an interactive device in the hands of every student, they have taught me new ways of curating materials and how to create compelling presentations of history.  Linked below are some examples with the names of the apps used:
Playing trivia games with QuizUp:

For years, I gave a "Presidents Quiz" where students created a chart of all the Presidents and then used that chart on a skills quiz.  While the grades on this quiz were always okay, this year, my students inspired me to try something different.  Students taught me how to play QuizUp and the game has a category for the Presidents.  Instead of the traditional paper chart and quiz, students earned a quiz grade by reaching Level 10 in QuizUp.  The assignment is linked here for teachers interested in trying this activity.  I loved when students played me in the app and it was really gratifying when a student beat me in a history trivia game!  I think he was surprised that I was so excited about losing to a student.

Collaborating to create history movies:

Two years ago, I started an annual project where students would create a video on an event, topic or person in U.S. history.  This year's project exceeded my highest expectations.  While most groups used Windows Movie Maker on laptops, they also used their iPads to gather music, images and write captions.  A couple groups decided to experiment with iMovie for iPad instead of using the laptops.  The final products were absolutely remarkable and completed in only four class days!  By this point in the year, students were pros at how to quickly create, curate and collaborate using their devices - certainly a skill that will pay dividends in the future.

I encourage you to check out these videos!  Every one is amazing and compelling, covering a wide range of diverse topics (and chosen by the students):

One of the advantages of moving to digital learning is that now students have many different ways to communicate with me and with each other.  We collaborated on study guides throughout each unit using Google Drive and extended our class discussion online through Schoology.  Students were able to stay up-to-date with class assignments, activities and due dates using Schoology.  Also, when I left to attend conferences in St. Louis and Orlando this year, I could still keep in touch with the class and answer questions from virtually anywhere!

What's exciting is that this is only the beginning!  I can't wait to see what students will teach me next year!

Using Socrative to review for the AP Exam

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Capital Tour, #BKinDC

With such a busy semester, it has been quite some time since my last blog post.  However, an hour and a half flight from Washington to Jacksonville gives me an opportunity to share with you the most memorable teaching experience I have had in my career.  This week, I had the privilege to take six students from our school to Washington, DC for a four-day tour of the capital and surrounding areas.

As a teacher, my ultimate goal is to inspire a passion for learning in all of my students and as a history teacher especially, to give my students an understanding and appreciation of the past and help form them into responsible citizens.  While I strive to do this everyday in the classroom, this trip to Washington really gave me the chance to see that passion for learning come to life.  Throughout a very packed four day tour, I had the opportunity to witness these six students be genuinely engaged in learning and take an interest in all the sites and exhibits we visited.  They listened intently to all of the lessons given by our outstanding tour director, Monica Martucci.  They stopped to read exhibits, to take a closer look at historical artifacts, to ask questions and really take in the sites.  Of course, they also stopped to take multiple photos and selfies!  Who can resist a selfie with George Washington or a perfectly posed shot holding up the White House?  Nothing can be more exciting as a teacher than to see your students huddled around a historic document, carefully examining the text and reading all of the surrounding information.

This is what learning is all about - not memorization, not random facts, but real experiences that expand horizons and create lasting memories.  I am thankful that these students had such a great trip and I am grateful for the opportunity to experience Washington with them.

I am thankful for EF Explore America and our consultant, Christine Moore, for expertly planning all of the logistics for this tour.  I am also appreciative of the Bishop Kenny administration for allowing this venture and especially my wonderful wife for being so supportive of me and allowing me to be away from home for four days of Spring break.

Parents, thank you for making this opportunity possible for your children and most importantly, thank you Anna, Kelvy, Sarah, Emily, Caitlyn and Maribeth for an amazing adventure!

If interested, check out our pictures on Twitter or Instagram: @michaelbroach or #BKinDC

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