Sunday, November 25, 2012


by meehanf

I have been thinking about food alot lately. You could blame it on Thanksgiving but it has been on my mind for much longer. We started a family garden a couple of years ago and that started a shift toward paying more attention to what we eat. Right now I am reading Fast Food Nation which although slightly dated is a really interesting take on how American eating patterns have influenced our culture. Then to top it off my pastor preached about the concept of the table today and immediately after much of the same things were said by Michael Doyle on his blog (to summarize them both, every living thing depends on the death of other living things to survive).

But what has been going through my mind lately is how enjoyable food and eating is. Steak, mashed potatoes, apple cider, dark chocolate, fresh fruit, I could go on and on. We have to eat or we would die, but it doesn't have to be such a great experience. Food could be like gas in our cars and have no flavor or worse taste bad. But no we have tons of choices of foods and flavors. Breathing is necessary too, but we rarely even notice it. Mostly only when the air is bad or we are out of breath. Breathing is not usually enjoyable. But food is enjoyable. It is required at parties, celebrations, and holidays around the world. Each culture has specific foods for certain seasons and celebrations.

So I know from my viewpoint that it is no accident that the body function of re-fueling is such an important part of being human. So I am thankful for my Creator making such simple daily rituals to be so pleasing. I will leave you with a link to Perhaps the World Ends Here by Joy Harjo which says better than I how much of life revolves around food.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why social studies should teach empathy

I have seen some teachers argue against teaching empathy in social studies. I admit I don't really get their point of view, but in danger of simplifying it, it sounds to me something like "it is not our job to teach students how to feel about a topic" or "you are presenting history in a (liberal) bias on this topic."

I totally disagree. It is our job to teach multiple points of view. And to be honest almost all history textbooks are extremely biased towards WASP viewpoints (aka the "winners" of history). That is why I use Howard Zinn in my classroom to show the other side (but of course not exclusively). My other argument is that every person, every source, and yes every teacher is biased. Therefore just by the materials the teacher selects she is making a biased decision. The best option is to give multiple sources from multiple viewpoints and PBL takes it one step further by encouraging students to go out and research and find these different views.

The problem with student research sometimes is that it too is biased. Students often lack the historical background to start their research and identify different viewpoints. My approach to this is that during "work time" I give them specific articles, primary sources, etc to steer them into interesting questions and alternative viewpoints for their topic. Then I encourage them to continue to research on the topic and go deeper. Then we come back in a class discussion or Socratic circle and they can discuss different aspects of it.

Case in point is the 9/11 project we are currently working on where students will design a monument commemorating that time period. Students immediately gravitated toward the American victims/heroes side of history. But our driving question was "Why did 9/11 happen and how should we respond to terrorism?"
We read Ender's Game and used the concept of "Speaker for the Dead" to shift students to think of 9/11 and the following wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from a Middle Eastern perspective. After researching all of the American Interventions since the end of the Cold War students were able to see (but not justify) the motives of terrorism. Looking at the events post 9/11 such as the civilian casualties in the wars, Abu Graib, Guantanamo Bay, and abuses of the Patriot Act students were also critical of many of our responses to 9/11. Now students are designing much more complex monuments that are not just American "hero worship" but actual critiques of history.

In reality I believe we do our students an injustice if we do NOT ask them to be empathetic and look at history from the viewpoint of its "losers"-the weak, the down trodden, the humble citizens who are just trying to raise their families and live the best they know how. Because that is ultimately the category that most humans (including myself) fall into as few of us will ever be famous or huge centers of power. I also think most of the greatest heroes humans in history such as Gandhi, Dr. King, Mother Theresa, and Nelson Mandela fall into the "loser" category but rise above through humility, justice, and love. And isn't that the goal of social studies? To teach students to be responsible, critical thinking citizens? But what good is critical thinking without an empathetic heart to go with it.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Stopping students from "cramming"

by Alex. Schultz
So it is the end of the quarter and the past two weeks I have been bombarded by students "re-assessing" their standards. We use standards based grading and students can re-do any of their assessments until they meet the standard fully. It is supposes to be a process of student submitting work, getting feedback, and then refining their work and understanding. This is happening with some students, but what has happened this week has been more of an "Oh crap" moment of poor grades from students and/or their parents. So then they quickly write up and re-do as many standards as possible, often of questionable quality of work.

With the new quarter starting Monday I am instituting two changes to try to correct this gaming of the system and to encourage students to really wrestle with the content without focusing on grades. First of all to prevent the wait until the last minute attitude, students will be required to initiate a re-assessment of a standard within two weeks of the first assessment or they forfeit the opportunity to re-assess. With a re-assessment attempt they will gain another two week window to continue to work on the assessment. By this I hope to encourage students to begin re-assessment immediately and build in a habit of doing and receiving feedback and doing again and of course eliminate waiting until the end of the quarter to cram.

The second thing is also quite simple, but I think that it will be powerful is I realized an easy way to withhold grades from students. I think many teachers realize that as soon as a grade has been attached to any assignment students have been conditioned to view it as "done" and are not motivated to continue in it. We use an LMS called Echo(similar to Blackboard or Moodle) where students submit their work and we assign grades. What we normally do in our class is have students submit a link to a Google Doc where the actual work is done. We then add comments to the GDoc and put a score in Echo. The change I plan to make is that I will not "publish" the grades in Echo. Therefore students will not be able to see the score I have assigned to it. Instead I will tell the class that I have read their assignments and left them comments. I will give them time in class to look at the comments, revise their work, and re-submit. By not showing them their scores I eliminate the student who says, "I have a 70% (or a 80% or even a 100%) and that is good enough for me." In a way I can force the first cycle of feedback/re-assessment without the students thinking about the grade. Hopefully they will continue to fix things even after I finally hit publish.

Of course if neither of these changes prove helpful I will adapt and look for other solutions to encourage students to always view their learning as a process rather than something that they are "done" with.

#edcampgr PBL presentation stuff

Slides of overview of PBL

  PBL Project Outline Form