Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Learning Stations: Crisis in the Weimar Republic

May 14, 2010

Last year my co-teacher and I were a little crunched for time when teaching the interwar years in Europe.  We wanted to get across the economic and social problems that Europeans faced and how it influenced the choices they made, so I designed these learning stations to allow students to use primary and secondary sources to discover these facts for themselves.

We set up the classroom with the documents (printed from the PowerPoint, attached below) for each station taped to the walls around the room in clusters.  Students worked with a partner to complete the questions on their worksheet (included below).   The questions included reading graphs, analyzing political cartoons, and using photographs and quotes to find facts and make judgments about what was happening to the German people in the 1930s.  The PowerPoint and worksheet can be downloaded here:

The PowerPoints: learning stations_weimar republic

Worksheet: weimar_worksheet

At the end of the activity, we read excerpts from two speeches from major politicians in Weimar Germany* (the last two slides on the PowerPoint, above).  They were read without the candidate’s name.  The class then voted on which candidate they thought would best solve Germany’s problems.  The majority of students chose candidate #1, who they were then told was Adolf Hitler.  (The other candidate was Heinrich Bruenning.)  Students were generally shocked, and we had good discussions about what lead to our choices and how it must have happened in 1930s Germany.

Most of all I wanted students to think about how terrible things, such as the election of a dictator, happen.  I believe that people usually do what they think is right, as German voters did in the 1930s (and many other people at many other times in history).  Thinking that those people were unusually stupid, naive or sinister is dangerous, because it obscures the fact that it could happen here or anywhere else if people do not do their homework, read between the lines, and think for themselves.

*Note: I selected the speeches and translated them from Germany personally because I am sometimes a little wary of translations of Hitler that can be found online.


Cold War Learning Stations

May 14, 2010

One lesson format I use again and again for my high school classes is “learning stations.”  In groups of 2-4, depending on the class, students work with primary and secondary sources to answer questions.  I usually structure it so they can go to the stations in any order.  I never do it on the first day of a unit to introduce a topic, but rather on the third or fourth day, so they can use what the prerequisite knowledge they’ve learned to interpret the documents.

I am including the learning station documents as a PowerPoint.

Sputnik and the Space Race Learning Stations

This set of learning stations was designed for an 11th grade US History II class.  It includes oral history, photographs and newspaper excerpts about the Space Race and how it impacted ordinary Americans.  The PowerPoint slides were printed out and stapled into packets for students to use at each cluster of tables.  For some classes, I have given each group all the stations at once, but for most classes it’s nice for them to move a little bit and have a change of scenery.  I am including the student worksheet questions below.


Westward Expansion for Summer School

April 26, 2010

I had the pleasure of teaching a summer school history course for high school students who hadn’t been successful in the other summer school class.  It was suggested I had the students read the book and I would check their answers to the questions in the book and write tests, but they weren’t motivated to do that and neither was I.  I ended up writing packets for the last two topics in the class (westward expansion and causes of the Civil War) including pictures, primary sources, questions interspersed within the reading and most importantly questions worthy of able young minds, not just defining key vocabulary in one sentence, which would end up being copied out of the book word for word. They had to complete the packet and any questions that were incomplete or wrong had to be redone until they were complete.  Each student worked at their own pace.  When they were done with the questions, we discussed it together, they completed a review sheet, and when that was perfect they were allowed to take the test.

Here is the packet I used to replace the textbook for Westward Expansion with the questions, as well as the unit test at the end.  I did not want to make the test too difficult, but I wanted students to have to read in order to pass it.  One of my students in particular was so used to the rhythms and techniques of textbook tests that he could spot the right answer without having done the reading.  I wanted to challenge that young man, and the other students, to take their reading seriously and answer reasoning questions rather than just recall– although there is certainly some recall of major facts and ideas.

Westward Expansion

Part I: The West before Europeans

When Lewis & Clark explored the Louisiana Territory in 1803, there were already millions of people living there, mostly Native Americans.  Many historians estimate that there were over 400 different tribes each with their own unique language and culture.  Northern tribes such as the Ojibwa and Ottawa relied on hunting, fishing and farming to get through the harsh winters.  Tribes such as the Sioux Nation on the Great Plains became dependent on hunting a single species: the Bison.  Tribes traveled seasonally, following the bison herds.  They supplemented their diet with fruits and vegetables they gathered, as well as some farming.  Other tribes such as the Haida of the Pacific Northwest had a plentiful diet of fish and plants to readily available, which freed up their people to concentrate on religion, the arts, and social matters.  Still other tribes, such as the Powhatan in New England, had by the 1800s been mostly destroyed by white settlement.  Some tribes were peaceful and lived in harmony with their neighbors, while some tribes practiced warfare as a way of life.  The tribes of North America are so diverse that the only trait that they all share is that they lived in America long before Europeans arrived.


The Pledge of Allegiance

March 30, 2010

I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with the pledge of allegiance.  I think this NPR article offers some interesting insight into the origins of many parts of the pledge. I have worked (and attended) schools that required it and schools that didn’t, as well as schools where students recite it faithfully and schools where students were reluctant to even stand.  What meaning did it hold for students and staff?  Was it an empty set of motions or an honest pledge of devotion?

What do you think?  Should kids be required to say the pledge at school?

Cold War Assessments

March 29, 2010

Not everyone is good at expressing what they know through a timed test.  Everybody knows that, but most classes still rely on tests.  I designed these assessments for my 11th grade US History II classes, both honors and standard level.  The results were mostly quite good, especially the oral history assignments.  I did have students complete an open-notes pop quiz (they were warned in advance, but did not know the exact date) to hold them accountable for their notes and classwork.

Positives: Students had a choice, and some students absolutely threw themselves into their work.  One student in my honors class brought in a diary twice as long as the minimum requirement with detailed descriptions of her character’s family and personal life, in addition to the required historical elements.  Another very shy boy in the standard-level class brought in an excellent oral history paper based on an interview with a Korean War veteran he worked with.  A few students interviewed their grandparents, several watched “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” although by far the diary was the most popular option.

Negatives: As I began teaching halfway through the year with these students, this was the first non-traditional assessment I did with them.  A handful of students did not complete the assignment and had various excuses, many of which did not hold water.  I had cautioned students that the film paper was not actually the “easiest” assignment but many students chose that, thinking it would be easy.  Two students said they could not find any of the films or any other suitable ones, and another said that the film was too boring to watch all the way through.  One student copied a synopsis of the film from Wikipedia.  These were exceptions, but I wish I had done more to support them so they could have completed the assignment as planned.

The Assignment: I am including the text of the assignment sheet I gave to students.  Feel free to modify this and use it for your own classes.  I am also including the text of a “tips” sheet that gives extra guidance and suggestions, as well as a template of the film paper.


Making a Point with Math

March 26, 2010

When I taught 11th grade, I taught several classes where a good handful of students did not regularly turn in homework.  Many of them completed all of the work late and turned it in for half-credit, which for many of them was enough to boost their grade just above failing.  The first batch of quiz grades revealed that this strategy was a bad idea, but it was hard to convince students of that fact.  I decided to use math to prove my assertion that turning in homework on time is a good idea.

I did this by making a table (with no identifying info other than what class a student was in) of how many assignments a student completed on time, and what their quiz grade was.  I graphed the resulting charts and showed them to all the classes.  Here is an example of one of those charts:

Some students needed an explanation of what the graph means.  If you have students in the class at a high enough level of math to explain it, have them help you.  If not, pull out a couple examples (e.g. “Look at this student who turned in 9/9 homework assignments on time.  What grade did they get on the test?) and explain that the graph is sloping up, meaning that the more homework assignments a student turned in on time, on average their test scores were better.  Of course there are exceptions, but are most people an exception?  No.

Positives: For some students seeing proof of the trend will help convince them to make different choices.

Negatives: Did this convince everyone to change their wayward homework habits?  No.  At least hopefully now when they

1992: Presidential Campaign Songs

March 26, 2010

The first election I really paid attention to was the 1992 presidential election.  To this day when I hear “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac, I can see Bill Clinton and Al Gore triumphantly waving amidst star spangled balloons.  Today presidential campaigns don’t use one monolithic song the way they did for generations, which saddens me a little.  I wrote this brief, lighthearted lesson to introduce the Clinton administration as well as to get students thinking about the way media is used to shape political image.

Positives: It’s short, sweet and to-the-point.  With a group of juniors, this took less than half a class period and produced some good discussion.  It also got kids asking good questions about current political campaigns.

Negatives: It doesn’t cover any particular state standards, but at the end of the year when students are in a frenzy to study for finals, a little relaxation isn’t a bad thing.


-CD or MP3s of “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac, “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie (or any other folk singer), “Crazy” by Patsy Cline.  This can all be easily obtained on iTunes or inexpensively.

-Printout of lyrics for students (could be done with a partner)


School lunches – interesting link

March 26, 2010

A friend introduced me to a very interesting blog about school lunches.  I found this article particularly interesting, describing school lunches in Japan from an American perspective.

I have often wondered about school lunches at the schools for which I’ve worked.  Students came to school with McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts in hand and negotiated with friends to get a ride there after school.  Admittedly, more often than not I also came to school with a DD coffee and a bagel.  Should I have set a better example for them?  Should I have banned fast food in my classroom– or would that have had any impact?  How much does economics play into food decisions? These are tough questions, but as child obesity is on the rise, we need to try answering them.

What can/should teachers do to promote healthy eating in their schools?

Memorials – What do they mean?

March 3, 2010

I have not taught this lesson yet, but I think it could be an appropriate warm-up activity for the Vietnam War, the Abolition Movement, or really any unit about a war, social movement, or several prominent individuals (the presidents, space travel, etc).  I want to get students thinking about how/why we remember people and how our actions in the modern world can affect how people are remembered.

Pairs of students can choose one of a small group of photographs of two or three famous memorials.  (You might also give each pair one in particular, if you are not worried about anyone getting stuck or frustrated by lack of choice.)  Students will then answer the following questions:

1) What do I see in this picture?

2) What person/event might this be commemorating?  What information do I get from this picture about that person/event?

3) What emotions would a person feel if they went to this place?

4) What is important about this person/event?

Here are some photos I have taken of famous memorials.  Older students or students with more knowledge of history might be given the more obscure ones.  Younger students or students with less knowledge of US/world history might be given the more obvious or narrative photos.  You also might decide whether you want to label the photos to give students a clue, or leave them without explanation and allow them to make guesses themselves.

(Holocaust Memorial, Berlin)


You’re invited to a 1950s Party!

February 19, 2010


From: Ms. Nielsen

Time to meet and greet some of the biggest names of the 1950s!  There will be authentic 1950s music and entertainment, as well as refreshments.  Be prepared to rock around the clock!

Date: Tuesday 3/17, E period

You need to Bring:

  • Yourself in character (see back of invite)
  • Notes on your character
  • Food or drink to share (make it 1950s appropriate, look for products or recipes that were available in the 1950s)
  • Costume or prop for your character (5 pts. extra credit)