Saturday, August 25, 2012

cats and corn

I just did something stupid.

I should back up, however, because if I just come right out and tell you about it, it won't be stupid.

I'm engaging in an annual procrastinative (that is now a word) activity I call, "cleaning my house."  See, school starts soon, and I have tons to do to get my classes ready, get my mind ready, get my psyche ready, so I don't do any of those things, and instead I decide that this is the best time to get everything in my house clean. Everything.

As a result, I'm walking around the upstairs and the downstairs listening to the radio and picking up cat toys, which is new this year, as my cats are also celebrating their one year anniversary with me and my children. (You can guess whose fault it is I have cats. Right. Mine.) The radio is on, loudly, but, in a fit of trying to appear informed about the world, it isn't playing music, it's broadcasting NPR, which, of course, is talking about all the many ways that our world is collapsing into chaos and despair.

So I'm whistling to drown out the bad news.  But, despite my best efforts, some bad news filters through the whistling and I register the impact (pending, it isn't here yet, the experts declare) of the drought on food prices.  As we have decided to tie everything that we eat to corn in some way or another, it seems that since there is no corn, thanks to the drought caused by our consistent poisoning and altering of our environment, everything connected to corn will be more scarce, and thus more expensive. Hence, tortilla chips, soda, and especially meat are all going to be scarce in my home this fall, because, naturally, all meat bearing animals are fed corn.

And it is here I did something stupid.  I began to calculate how much the armful of cat toys cost. Then I added in litter (which, ironically is made of corn. Really. World's Best Cat Litter. Look it up.).  Then I added in vet costs. Then I added in their food, which is, of course, meat, given the carnivorous nature of felines, and I began to realize the expense of having pets was not going to get cheaper, and perhaps I should not have cats anymore.

I descended to the downstairs and deposited the toys in the basket we've designated as their toy bin. Both cats came running to see if there were any new toys, or toys that they may have forgotten since the last time they saw them. The insidious nature of cat toys, I tell them, is that they are all, individually, not very expensive. $.50 to $1.00 each. But collectively, they add up. The cats don't care. Rolling on the ground, one pounces on the other. I tell them that their food is going to be more expensive, and they need to tighten their belts and be prepared to be thinner. One stops pawing her sister and starts licking her tail.  The other walks over to the basket and proceeds to methodically scoop out the toys, looking at me the whole time as she swats them across the room. Tail clean, her sister butts her head against my hand, demanding to be loved, and I oblige her by scratching her head and chin. She then ignores me picks up a toy mouse in her mouth and trots off to another room to play with it.

It was stupid to think I can do anything about the expense they cause me; it is clear that they are in charge.  I just hope they don't decide to eat me when meat gets too expensive...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Common Core Social Studies activity for 11-12

Continuing with our posts (my colleague Michael Milton ( and I), below is a sample activity for 11 and 12th graders using the Social Studies Common Core Literacy standards. 

I decided to make use of John Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government, particularly his views on Natural Law in Chapter II, because that helps our students to see how the Enlightenment thinking practically impacted the creation of the primary documents of American government.  These could be directly used in any US history course, AP US, or AP Government, and indirectly could be useful in AP World History and AP European History course. You can, of course, use more or less of the document as you see fit and to fit the needs of your curricular standards!

Once again, I am breaking down the standards into our Green Circle, Blue Square and Black Diamond levels, and incorporating some technology into the activities. However, each of the activities could be done with no technology at all; just good old pen and paper would be fine!

At the end of the activities (linked as before to the standards) I will include links to the documents I would use as supporting these lessons. These do not necessarily translate well to the 9-10 or 6-8 Common Core standards, but, with some creativity and alterations, they could be adapted to those levels.

Key Ideas and Details (Green Circle)

RH.11-12.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

1. What is the overall purpose of Locke's Second Treatise? How do you know? Compose a 5 sentence paragraph on your blog in which you describe his purpose and state your evidence in your own words.

RH.11-12.2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

2. What is the most important idea of Locke's Second Treatise? A) Compose a paragraph in which you support your answer with 2-3 pieces of evidence. B) if you feel ambitious, distill his idea into a 140 character tweet.

RH.11-12.3. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

3. Is Locke correct in his descriptions/depictions of how people act when left to their own devices? Provide three real-world examples in the behavior of teenagers that proves or disproves Locke’s ideas.Tweet your examples (in words or pictures) with the hashtag #stateofnature

Craft and Structure (Blue Square)

RH.11-12.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).

1. Locke states in Chapter II, Section 6: “But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence: though man in that state have an uncontroulable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it.”

          A. Based upon your understanding of the document create a near definition (which means you may not use a dictionary or word defining app of any sort to reach a definition) of the following terms in the context of the author’s work.

          B. Using your new understanding of the terms above, rewrite the sentence that begins Chapter II, Section 6. Post the near definitions and your new sentence on your blog.

RH.11-12.5. Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

2.  Read Chapter II, Sections 7 and 8. Explain in a blog post: how do they both lead to the final sentence of section 8?

3. In a paragraph you post to your blog, answer the following question: Why does Locke conclude Chapter II, Section 15 with the statement “But I moreover affirm, that all men are naturally in that state, and remain so, till by their own consents they make themselves members of some politic society; and I doubt not in the sequel of this discourse, to make it very clear.” Is this consistent with how he began Chapter II, Section 4?

RH.11-12.6. Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.

4. Show, using educreations or showme, how do the documents (Second Treatise of Civil Government and Document 3) define the State of Nature? Do Locke and Hobbes use the same concepts to reach their definition(s)?

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (Black Diamond)

RH.11-12.7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

1. Use Document 2 to compose a blog post in which you demonstrate why Christianity's creation myth supports the notion of a state of nature for human beings.

RH.11-12.8. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

2. Read Document 3. Compose an argument for/against Locke’s explanation of natural law and either write on your blog or record yourself (using audioboo or your iPad's camera) giving it. You must use the contents of Document 3 and at least two examples from current events to support yourself.

RH.11-12.9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

3. Read the selection from the textbook pertaining to the writing of the Declaration of Independence, and the Declaration of Independence (Document 5) itself. The textbook claims that Jefferson was heavily influenced by Locke’s work and beliefs. First, find two selections from the Declaration of Independence that support this claim and post them to your blog. Then compose answers to the following: Are the authors of the textbook correct in making this statement? Why does the textbook place Jefferson in the same context as philosophers like Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau? Is this comparison valid? Why or why not?

Second (or as a separate activity), explain in a blog post why would Jefferson not embrace Hobbes’ views on the state of nature and natural law? What events in America’s early colonial history would predispose the Founders to reject Hobbes and embrace Locke?  If they had embraced Hobbes, how would the Declaration of Independence have been written differently?

Document 1: John Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Goverment, Chapter II, sections 4, 6, 7, 8, 15. Document is available at:

Document 2: Painting of Adam and Eve, by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553). A digital copy of this image is available at:

Document 3: selections from leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes, CHAPTER XIV, section 1, 2, 3, 4 available at:

Document 4 is selections from your own textbook account of the writing of the Declaration of Indepenence. (If your book doesn't have this, or, fortunately for you, you don't use a textbook, you can use wikipedia's entry on the subject.)

Document 5 is the Declaration of Independence, located at:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

iPad Activities for the Common Core in High School Social Studies

My colleague, Michael Milton, and I have been working this summer on how to integrate the Social Studies aspects of the Common Core's reading and writing standards into our 1:1 iPad environment.  Over the next week or so, we'll be rolling out our ideas and rubrics on this blog and on his:

We broke down the standards into three categories: Green Circle, Blue Square, Black Diamond.  Mike came up with the idea, mostly because he misses skiing in the summertime, but they do represent the degree of difficulty that the standards pose, not only for to students to attain, but also for teachers to implement!

The standards themselves are linked up here.  Inserting them into this document would make it incredibly lengthy, so I'll cross-reference them based on their number. (RH refers to Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, and the # refers to the numbered standards in the 9-10 band)  However, though these are the 9-10 standards, the activities work just as well in the 6-8 and the 11-12 band. (or, if you prefer, Padawans, Jedi Knights and Jedi Masters can do all of these too...)

Below, I've compiled a preliminary list of ways that the iPad could be used in class to hit the various standards laid out for grades 9-10. Wherever possible, I am using only free apps. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is what came to mind while thinking about the standards and how to use them in my class.

Green Circle ideas:

RH-1, 2, 3 History Head activities (picture of an empty head in profile, use any drawing app to draw or write or paste in words and images inside and around it): what was the author thinking? What's the purpose he or she was trying to express? What are images that represent the ideas of the document? Students can then post the filled head to their blogs, email it to the teacher, share (using Bump) with a partner and write about what you included that the partner did not.  You could also do this using VoiceThread and students can comment/write back to each other.

RH-1 Timeliner activity. At the start of the class, students should create a chronology of events (or the teacher can provide one) that they modify as the class proceeds. Students should place the documents they analyze on the timeline of contemporaneous events made using, constructed through other apps like doodlebuddy/educreations, or on paper and photographed and shared via bump, email, blog, twitter or edmodo.

RH-2 Summarizer activities: What do you know, what do you think you know, what do you want to know about what this document tells you, use educreations/showme to create slides and record the students voices articulating their answers to the above prompts.

RH-3 Cause and effect: what happens first, second, third, and show causation using educreations or showme--talk through the events of the document with accompanying text. Students could also use a diagramming app like InFlowChartLite to map out the events using different geometric shapes to contain the event sequence.

Blue Square Ideas:

RH-4 Twitter vocabulary activities: tweet the word, an image to define the word, a sentence that uses the word, hashtags for the document so the teacher can project the tweets on the board with an lcd, or students can follow using Hootsuite's app to view the feed, then vote on which images best capture the meaning of the word in a Google Form, or again, through Twitter itself by re-tweeting their favorites. (Note: Sadly, many schools block Twitter.  You can get much of the same functionality through isn't exactly Twitter, but it is, as they say, a "walled garden" social network that schools should find acceptable. It's free and web-based, but doesn't have an app as far as I know. would also do for this type of activity as well.)

RH-4, 5 Electronic take a sip: import a PDF'd document into Notability/SundryNote/Evernote, and go through and indicate the most important word/sentence/point in a paragraph, or in the document by highlighting/circling/underlining/color-shifting, then share with partner to see his or her agreement/disagreement with the selections. Students can then share into a group of 4 then report out to the class by any of the following: plugging into the LCD projector to show, use bump to share, tweet the document, post on their blogs. Students can also decide what tags/labels to apply to the document, rendering it then searchable within their notes, and compilable with similar documents

RH-4, 5 Wordle creation: political words, economic words, track repetition of terms and create a wordle. The problem with is that it doesn't work on the iPad (Flash based). So students could compile words and share them with the teacher (through any cloud-based app), who can then use a laptop to create the Wordle, which can then be shared with the students to discuss the meanings of the words, why it is that some words were more prominent than others, and what that says about them as a group that they chose these words

RH-4 Blog post/wiki/Google doc/form with definition of terms: originate and share a running term sheet that students add to using their own words. The teacher can create a Google Form with the words ahead of time and provide space for the students to write in a definition to the term and suggest alternative words--synonyms and antonyms, for example. The final spreadsheet can then be shared back with the students, or incorporated into the Wordle activity above.

RH-5 Students can demonstrate their understanding of the structure of a document by using InFlowChartLite or another diagramming app like educreations/showme to diagram the structure of the document.  Prompt them with questions like: How is it set up?  What is the order of the presentation of information? What are the points the author wishes to convey and what is the evidence he/she uses to support those points? What if you re-order his or her argument? Does that make it more or less effective?

RH-6 You can also modify the above History Head (RH 1, 2, 3) activity to show different points of view on the topic. Or you can use an app like Instagram to encourage students to take and then modify pictures related to the document. For instance, the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, or Columbus arriving in this hemisphere.  What do they wish to convey through their modifications to the image?  How do the modifications change the impact or meaning of the original document?

RH-6 Venn Diagrams: compare and contrast two documents for similar and different points. There isn't a good app that I've found for creating Venn Diagrams including text yet. So they would have to make their own diagram.  They could do this in their own notetaking/productivity app, or they could draw them by hand, then snap a photo and upload it to their blog.

Black Diamond Ideas:

RH-7, 8 Data: make graphs and charts using population/demographic data; share graphs and charts through qr codes and then have students answer questions that are posted in a google form. (Apps like Graph, Glimpse allow for this creation; a Google Form can also be used to generate charts, graphs, etc. similar to what excel can do, but this works best on laptops, not iPads. So far...). They can also create their graphs/charts the old-fashioned way and snap photos of them. Students can then embed their data into blog posts that analyze the document in light of the data--are the claims accurate? does the author's use of data match up with a secondary source's use of the data?

RH-8 Two columns of opinion vs. evidence.  use educreations/showme/inflowchart/sundrynote to discriminate between the two opinions. Use the same apps to present the evidence used in more than one document and record themselves talking about which is better, then share it. Students can chart out the author's argument and point to areas of strength and weakness in the claims and evidence used in support.  In the event that the author is still living, students can also see if he or she has a Twitter feed or Facebook page and then contact the author to discuss his or her argument. Students could also model the authors' argument via a wikispace.  One student represents one point of view the partner takes the opposite.  Students must then write their argument in the wiki and incorporate evidence to support their points. Because most wikis will only allow one person to write at a time, they have a built in wait time to see what the other student writes before they jump in.  A Google Doc will do the same thing, just allow for simultaneous writing.  At the end, have the class decide who "won" based on who used the better evidence, and who presented the clearer opinion as a result of the better use of evidence.

RH-8, 9 Students can use Blogger, WordPress, Posterous, or Tumblr apps to compose a blog post reflecting on comparing and contrasting different treatment of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources. They should be encouraged to select the "best" document and explain why that is their choice as the most effective document of the options. They should then be encouraged to post back and forth on the blogs about the contents of the original posts. Their posts do not have to be only words either.  They could use a series of scaled images to represent varying degrees of effectiveness, again, Wordle could be used, collages of facts...blogs can be more than just words on a screen!

Monday, August 13, 2012

How to make a no-narrative history class

I'm pondering the structure of my history courses as I watch Shark Week, and feeling quite happy that Megalodon is no longer on this planet...

What if there were no narrative to support a high school history class? No book, no textbook, no wikipedia account, no nothin'?

Teachers, understandably 'cause its how we are trained, tend to look at history as a linear progression of events. Start at 1776 and proceed to 1865. When this happens, there is a concurrent feeling that there must be a linear account and description of those events, and those events are written by human beings who have perspectives on those events.  "The Founders assembled in Philadelphia during the hot summer of 1787 to replace the failed Articles of Confederation and compose what would become the Constitution of the United States of America...." Biased language gets used, whether inadvertently or advertently, and decisions are made about what gets included and what gets excluded.  Most of those decisions are made by the authors of the texts, who tend to be knowledgeable experts, but sometimes those decisions are made by editors, and sometimes (gasp) by publishing companies, seeking to curry favor with larger states textbook adoption boards...

So what if we left it out? What if, rather than forcing our students to read a pre-digested, biased or boring account, we instead did this:

1) Assemble a chronology of events. This could be comprehensive for the course, or broken down into a consistent periodization. (My reasoning: Dates tend to be pretty free from bias and interpretation...though, yes, the calendar you are using can convey a sense of perspective...) As the teacher, I decide what needs to be on this chronology, working with the standards articulated by my state/my department colleagues;

2) Give the students that chronology and teach them to work with these five Habits of Mind (HOM):
      Concern for Evidence (How do you know that? What's "true"/"false"?)
      Viewpoint (Who said what and why?)
      Search for Connections (What causes what?)
      Hypothesizing (What if? Could it have been otherwise?)
      Relevance (Why does this matter?);

3) And then ask them to come up with a way to demonstrate that they have found the answers to these questions/tackled the chronology using the 5 HOMs. (Or I could tell them how I want them to demonstrate this understanding, but I think it would be more interesting to have them do it.) They would need to research on their own (again, I could structure this or not) to gain an understanding of the events and their connections;

4) And perhaps also add another layer by asking them to be able to answer some Essential Questions using evidence from the Chronology. (i.e:  How does the tension between a federal central government and individual state governments work its way out or not over a 200 year period?).

Wouldn't we then have gotten around the need for a pre-digested narrative? I think so...I will be giving this a try this year, stay tuned!

Monday, August 6, 2012

What to do with your AP students after the test?

Maybe you have this same problem: the AP exam is in May, but your school goes right along into June?  Mine does this for about a month before the final exams start. So from May 17th-ish through June 20th-ish I have a group of juniors who must adopt the identities of the greatest leaders from all time and who then enter into a competition to see who the greatest world leader of all time is.

I usually have a small number of seniors and they become my accomplices in setting this up before they depart early.  They create a list of leaders we've covered during the class.  Their parameters are that they must be leaders who impacted more than just their immediate region, and American and European leaders are limited to 4-5.  Once they compile the list, it gets cut up and juniors draw names at random out of a hat.  Once the leaders are established for each class, the seniors then have to rank the leaders from 1-20 (-ish. This depends on the size of the class.)  I then make up a single elimination bracket for each class on big paper, place the leaders into their numbered slots and the competition is on! Each class generates a champion, and they meet in a final round after school on the last day of classes.

All students must create a biography of their leader, and a VoiceThread ( in the first person explaining why he or she is the all time greatest leader of world history--they treat it like a campaign ad for themselves. The great thing about VoiceThread is that students can post responses through writing, drawing or recording. The website is very intuitive to use, and the iPad app retains nearly all the functionality of the website.

Students move through different debate styles with different scoring rubrics.  Defeated leaders must become the minions (or lackeys...terms vary with my mood) of the leader who won, thus building up a stable of assistants to do opposition research and assist in the debates.

I share results via Twitter with the #maymadness and update the brackets in my classroom and on the class blog.

The handout describing the project is linked up here.
The description of the rounds is linked up here.

I'll share the scorecards and brackets in a bit. They have some flaws that I'll be working on next spring, so I'll come back to link them up once they are done.