Kids Say the Darndest Things

Every semester when we begin our feudal Europe unit, I bring out the above picture.  In the past, I had students examine the picture on a laptop using the Photo Analysis worksheet.  This year, my students wrote two column notes because I wanted them to focus on specific aspects of the picture:  people, objects, and activities.
The essential question for this assignment:  What types/kinds of people, objects, and activities are found on a manor?
This is the first step to a bigger investigation about life in feudal Europe.  On MyBigCampus, I have a bundle set up with videos, pictures, and excerpts for students to examine and analyze.  Last semester, students worked across periods to create a presentation using HaikuDeck.  But to be honest, it was a logistical nightmare.  So I’m scrapping that assignment.  This semester, students are going to work with peers in their own classes, but they will have the opportunity to collaborate with peers in other periods who are examining the same primary/secondary source.  I’m not sure if I’m going to have students use GoogleDocs or our HaikuLMS class.  Guess I better decide pretty quickly.
The lesson went pretty smoothly on Friday.  I loved walking around, listening to students discuss what they are seeing.  Here are a couple of memorable student remarks…
Student 1:  Is that a guy hanging himself?
Students 2:  I don’t think people hang themselves.
Student 1:  I think that guy is doing a cartwheel or somersault.
Student 2:  That’s not a guy.  It’s a horse.
Student 1:  No, it’s clearly a guy.  I just don’t know why he’s doing a somersault.
Student 3:  That’s not a guy.  It’s a horse.  See the face?
Student 1:  You can’t see his face because he’s taking his shirt off!
Student 2:  Because he’s doing a somersault?
Student 1:  I guess.
Kids say the darndest things.
I can’t wait to see what they come up with on Monday as we take this examination a bit further.  We’ve been working with visual context clues and citing textual evidence to prove a point.  Based on their interpretation of the picture, students (as a group) wrote a inference about manor life and two unanswered questions (which will be the impetus for a possible research assignment).  As you can tell, this project is still in it’s fluid stage.  I’ve been doing variations of this type of lesson for many years, but having the iPads has allowed me to experiment with using different technology tools as my students practice utilizing tools of a historian.  It’s days like this that make teaching so worthwhile.  =)

UP-Leveling the Think Factor

A good history teacher makes examining primary and secondary sources a priority as opposed to an after-thought.  Most primary sources are difficult for middle schoolers to read because of the readability level.  But it’s even more so for World History when we need to rely on translated copies of the real thing.

But because I feel it’s important to push my students beyond their comfort zone, I’ve added a new lesson to my Japan & Europe Units – examining a variety of primary and secondary sources that specifically focus on honor and oaths of loyalty for the samurai and knight.

Now last Friday, I introduced an activity which asked students to define what is honor within the context of a soldier’s action.  It was difficult to get students to explain their thinking and if I’m being honest, I was a bit frustrated.  But there was a glimmer of hope when there was an impromptu debate during my 4th period.  Now THAT’S what I’m talking about!  Last Friday was a block schedule, so I only saw my Periods 2, 4, and 6.  Tomorrow, I have all six periods, so I’m going to try the honor activity again with my Periods 1, 3, and 5.  But they are going to put their responses on a GoogleDoc.  The reason why I didn’t do that last Friday is because our iPads were commandeered for testing.  But we get them back tomorrow for one day and then permanently by Thursday.

Whew!  This teaching without the iPads is for the birds.  I don’t think I’ve ever made that many paper copies in quite some time.  The because of iPads is that most of the documents I use are online and thus, I don’t have to spend my time making copies, nor do we have to use several reams of paper.  So, believe me when I say that I’m glad to have the iPads back at the end of this week!

But I digress.

So Periods 2, 4, and 6, because they already examined honor are going to jump into analyzing primary and secondary sources, looking for examples of honor.  They are going to use the Keys to Questioning/Keys to Learning to help them write a coherent response.  Part of our department’s frustration with student writing is that it lacks analysis.  It’s hard to teach students to think deeper, to elaborate on their writing, to cite evidence and explain how it supports their statements.  It’s an uphill battle for sure, one that we’ve been fighting for many years.  The goal for this particular activity is to help students answer a Level 5 question about the role of honor in Japanese society.  Now Level 5 questions are optional, so though many students will choose NOT to answer the question for the unit test, they have no choice but to analyze the primary and secondary sources as a class activity.  Gotcha!