Friday, 27 January 2017

Stories of Worldview Case Study: Intercultural Contact Between the Spanish and Aztec Empires of the 16th Century


UP NEXT: After research comes creation

Step 1: Research
After critically examining the Age of Exploration, we have started digging into a case study of intercultural contact from that time, the empires of the Spanish and the Aztecs. Our goal is to create some kind of artifact that visually demonstrates the worldviews of both of these great empires, as well as includes examples of their intercultural contact, be that conflict or merely contact. In order to tell this story, we needed to find out some details in order to develop an understanding of these events. The resources we used to start our research were predetermined, with extra research limited to specifics, not just random Google searches. <skills!>

Students also considered with their groups how best to organize their research Google docs, after some suggestions and feedback from me; this is part of the assessment of this project.

The next step is for students to put together a proposal for me to help ensure they start off on the right foot, and once approved, students will create their artifacts. Next week will be a flurry of creativity: I can't wait!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Age of Exploration continued


We really dug into the Age of Exploration, formerly known as the Age of Discovery, working to answer the question that came up during a class discussion a few weeks ago: why was it the Europeans doing all the exploring? We explored a possible answer to this by watching parts 1  & 2 of the documentary based on Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs, & Steel. Students were asked to develop an understanding of Diamond's theory of "geographic luck" and consider if it holds up. Most thought it did, but a few had some concerns centred around problems with deterministic theories such as this not taking into account individual actions and decisions, an issue echoed by some in critique of this theory. (Good job, grade 8s!)

We will now keep this theory in mind as we move into a case study of the Age of Discovery/ Exploration/Expansion, the intercultural contact between the Aztec and Spanish Empire of the 16th century.

Next Level Writing

We started last week exploring the five-paragraph essay as a model of "academic" writing, examining its pros, and its cons. Some specifics include:

  • introductions (hook, general to specific, thesis)
  • body paragraphs
  • conclusions (touch back, hit the heart, look to the future, and zinger)
  • topic sentences
  • just write it
    • This refers to novice writers' use of superfluous phrases such as "In this essay I am going to" or "I believe that." While there may be a place for phrases like this in certain types of communication, I am encouraging students to avoid telling me what they are going to write, and to just write it!

Now, students are re-writing their Renaissance test long answer responses (I am referring to them as a mini-essay) and working to utilize the positive aspects of the form we have examined. I have purposely organized this in a way that students are forced to work in drafts, returning to their revisions with fresh eyes every day or so. Through an informal poll, all students are making changes, and most are making significant changes to format, and some even to content.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Age of Discovery? Exploration?


UP NEXT: Why were the Europeans the ones doing the "exploring?"

Renaissance Projects Showcase
We finally had our Renaissance showcase on Monday. I divided the students from both classes into four groups based on topic and/or format in the hope that each group had 12 projects to explore that would expand their thinking on the topic, and maybe even inspire them to try something new themselves next time. They were asked to complete a guide as they did so, eventually determining which projects demonstrated the best outcome in each of our four assessment categories. Due to the weather and lots of late busses, the showcase was a little messier than planned. Now, I start the task of reviewing each student's work, using their reflections and completed assessment tools to help me.

The Bridge Between Then and Now: The Age of Exploration
My approach this year with this curriculum is to really focus on our place in history, and ensure students are aware that history is not just dead people and events, and that there are always multiple narratives and perspectives to consider.

Is this a more accurate image of history?
And so, with that in mind, we started on the Age of Exploration with a  lecture and class discussion, that included another Crash Course History video!

We need to critically consider the Age of Exploration, and our guiding question will help us:

Why were the Europeans the ones doing the "exploring?"

The Crash Course video already has us critically considering this through its exploration of Zheng He and Vasco de Gama alongside Columbus. By the end of next week, students will have a possible answer to this question!

We are also using the textbook (pp. 94-115, 120) for this portion of our study, and we talked this morning about how to take good notes. Some pointers are:
  • Write as little as possible, but include as much information as possible (we did an example of this).
  • Consider the Talking to the Text strategies.
  • Create a vocabulary section.
  • Pay close attention to any lists you encounter as lists usually break down big ideas, and also, teachers often use those for test questions. ;)
  • Use the tools available to you: bulleted/numbered lists, fonts, colours, size, underlining/bold/ italic text to organize your notes. Your brain does not easily process large chunks of unbroken text.
Students will finish their notes in Monday's class.

Writing Skills
In last week's post, I mentioned that we would do some targeted work on writing this week and next. Students wrote a long answer question on their Renaissance exams, and as I read through them, I thought they would benefit from some lessons on organization. We are starting at rock bottom with the much-maligned 5-paragraph essay; the only way from here is up!
Intro Paragraphs from Jaime Groeller on Vimeo.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

A test, by any other name...


UP NEXT: the European Renaissance Inquiry Showcase 

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to do a test. 

The twist: we try to make this test work for us. 

Quizzes/tests/exams are a source of great anxiety, and even fear, for many students. By de-mystifying and de-stressing the process to some extent, I wanted to allow students to work on some skills through this process, rather than just existing in a state doubt and fear before, during, and after. The right amount of stress, and a little uncomfortableness, is what I was aiming for.

At the beginning of this short week, I told the students we would have a test on the Renaissance on Friday, and that they would get time in class to prepare for it. This was their first test of the year in my class. Here is how we prepared:

Step 1 - Effective Studying
Partial review for most students, we had a mini-lecture and class discussion on HOW to study. We talked about a few things that the students can elaborate on:

  1. Environment - where, when, who, mindset, comfort, breaks
  2. How - passive versus active studying
The students took advantage of class time to try a variety of study skills. Most of them chose to study collaboratively to some extent, but all avoided "just reading over my notes" and worked to actively engage their brain as much as possible. 

Step 2 - Effective Test Taking
We did another mini-lecture and discussion on the best ways to take a test. We discussed strategies for all kinds of questions including multiple choice, short answer, and long answer/essay, all of which would appear on the test. 

Step 3 - Take the Test, Round 1
Friday morning, students individually took the test, many obviously employing the strategies we had talked about in class. (Reflection on this for students to come next week...)

Step 4 - Take the Test, Round 2
In the afternoon periods, students took the test again, but this time worked through it in small groups, discussing the answers and working to create the best test paper.

Step 5 - Reflection (coming up)
Next week, I will ask the students to reflect on the process of taking the test, asking them to identify what worked and what didn't, and engage in some meta-cognition.

Image from here.

I also do a lot of reflection with a test, using the answers to determine what went well and what didn't go well, and where I need to focus my efforts and attention (which is really what a test should be for both student and teacher). Which brings me to...

Step 6 - Diving Board
After a quick review of the long answer/short essay responses, I have decided to use this as a jumping off point to teach some pointers on writing essays, trying to navigate through the rough rapids of writing, versus writing for school.