HistoryRemix: Reliving history?

March 4th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »

I’ve never been one who bought into the the whole cyclical / “wheel of life” philosophy of history. We can and do learn from mistakes. Our repeats are not truly repeats, though perhaps they are “unlearning” (in the sense that we forget the lessons learned). Still, today my daughter sent me an eerily echoing speech delivered by FDR in 1936. That these words would resonate with a young person as relevant to her own times speaks of the value (or importance) of history education, particularly when it is delivered to students in the form of primary documents to be reconsidered and transferred to the present through critical thinking.

“We have not come this far without a struggle and I assure you we cannot go further without a struggle.

For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.”

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

HUSH: A Vignette of Genocide in Rwanda

February 25th, 2009 llcowell Posted in game theory, HistoryRemix No Comments »

This deceptively simple ‘rhythm’ game created by a student in the USC Interactive Media program packs a powerful message. The object of play is to calm your child by singing a lullaby while the Hutu sweep the area in search of hidden victims. The letters that drop slowly down on the screen must be pressed when they’re at their brightest. Anxiety is heightened as the persistent sounds of death (gunfire and screams) impede on the player’s concentration. Each missed letter results in increasely frantic cries from the baby. The game lasts just minutes, simply impossible to win. The impressions made on th player last much longer!

HUSH:  Rwanda, 1994Download the game here: PC or here Mac

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

HistoryRemix: On being the expert…

February 9th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »

In Rounding Up Unusual Suspects: Facing the Authority Hidden in the History Classroom, Robert Bain explores the predicament faced when history teachers, criticized for their “omniscient tone” attempt pedagogical reform amid a “ritualized and traditional deference that students afford to the authority of texts and teachers.”

Not many classroom history teachers I know at the secondary level, place themselves in the category of content expert. Rather they are generalists, much like myself (library media specialist) dedicated to re-exploring history at the same time it is revealed to their students. Still, it may be all to easy to throw hands up…in frustration…and settle directly into what is expected. Textbooks and chronology…facts and the familiar cadence of prescribed cause and effect…memorizable, if not memorable. Those students aren’t necessarily stimulated, but the “learning” is predictable. Many of those same students may complain about boredom, but at least they “get it.”

Bain’s article spotlights his own experiences as he attempted to wrestle with the problem in a unique way. Yes, he asked the expected question: “What might encourage students to raise disciplined suspicions of the typical sources of scholastic authority?” How he arrived at the answer is what is unique. He asked himself: “What might we learn about history instruction by trying to situate textbooks and teachers within the realm of historical inquiry–that is, making them the objects of students’ historical study?”

Being, myself, thankful for the handful of history instructors I had over the years that didn’t give-in to the temptation to “formalize” instruction into rote learning…I found it an encouraging read.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Enduring Understandings and Curriculum Revision

February 5th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »

Our district has been going through the process of reconstructing our curriculum. This sort of thing happens all the time. Not just in our district … in all districts. There’s been a continuous flow of curriculum (re)designs as long as I’ve been alive. They come and go, and I have to wonder the fate of this reconstruction period.

When I was growing up, my parents told me about the Madeline Hunter method. Hunter proposed that there are several elements that teachers and curriculum designers aught to consider when preparing effective lessons. Sadly, her research was distilled into a so-called Seven Step Lesson Plan scheme. Administrators were led to believe (and worse, allowed themselved to believe) that every lesson had to include every element, and that teachers should be marked-down on evaluations if they were observed to vary from this rigid structure.

My parents, like all good teachers, scoffed at the foolishness of principals showing up for an annual evaluation with a clipboard, on which a Seven Steps checklist was secured. Check, check, check … “satisfactory, but lesson didn’t include modeling or closure.”

My mom, a veteran elementary teacher, said, “Madeline Hunter saw what all good teachers know and do. Of course a good teacher starts the class with a brief review of what children worked on the day before, or she starts the lesson with a little exercise to get the students thinking. But the check list … Madeline Hunter didn’t intend that. And she certainly didn’t think her model should be used in such a restrictive and mindless way. You don’t always complete the lesson the same day, so of course you don’t have a ‘closure’ activity every day. Morons.”

The problem wasn’t in Madeline Hunter’s research or proposal, it was in it’s condensation into the absurd. The bitter taste of curricular convulsions like the Seven Step Lesson Plan movement – and its kin that litter the road of educational reform over the years – has lasted throughout entire teaching careers. Veteran teacher view any new idea coming down the path as a failure from the past making another round.

When I started teaching, WIDS, a computer program that forced teachers and curriculum coordinators to wedge their units and lessons into restrictive spaces, was the rage. We abandoned WIDS for another model, UbD, and now are doing a sideways slide into whatever this new process is called, which includes “enduring understandings” and “essential questions” and some sort of lesson “targets”.

Don’t let the tone of that last sentence fool you into thinking that I’ve petrified into a stodgy old teacher. Sure, I’m a little frustrated, and I grumble on occasion about all this curriculum work we’re doing. But I’m embracing this stuff and doing the best I can understanding it and seriously trying to make it work.

Why? Because what frustrates me more the this curriculum model is realizing that we have students in our school who are bright and creative and full of life and are numbed by the way my colleagues and I teach them.

I’m not the only one who feels that way. I’m blessed to have been thrown in with a bunch of teachers in my social studies department that are tough and jaded, but who also care deeply about the students they teach and the work they do. I know they feel the same frustrations because we talk about it.

Awareness is a brutal mistress … but ignorance is death. When you have awareness, in this case awareness about effective and ineffective education, you’re stuck in a state of dissonance. You know what you’re doing isn’t right – it’s not the best thing for the kids or for you – but you don’t know how to get out of the patterns and practices ingrained in you.

That’s why, despite my grumpiness and occasional sarcastic commentary on curriculum revision in our district, I’ve decided to grab a-hold and wrestle with it.

I’m not sure what this new curriculum system is all about, but I know my parents were good teachers. I remember what they saw in Madeline Hunter years ago. They saw the essence of Hunter’s research through the inane caricature presented by administrators and workshop leaders. They sought the truth and ignored the babble of mindless charlatans. I can see the essence of this new thing, and if my colleagues and I keep our wits about us, we’ll come out of this better … rather than bitter… teachers.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Birth of a …. blog (or the inadequacy of early efforts in new media)

January 26th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »

If you’ve ever watched “Birth of a Nation,” you have some understanding of the complexity of conforming old ideas about thought and narrative to a new medium. The effect can seem both profound and ridiculously short of it’s mark. Having just spent “a bit” of time configuring this site that Matt and I have just begun to “think” on…following a round of posting old Craig photos to facebook…it’s hours too late to “go to bed at a decent hour.” The birth of a blog (especially a collaborative blog) is a difficult thing. Particularly when one’s scholarship is grounded so thouroughly in a thoughtful and deliberate planning/research/writing/revision process. It’s a major paradigm shift, thinking about teaching a generation the processes we ourselves value while still respecting/embracing the newer methods they so easily employ to use their voices on-the-fly…to think out loud (and on a grand public scale).

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Teaching history…

January 20th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »

Listening to President Obama’s inaugural speech for the second time on a day that IS history, it seems a good time to put into play this online conversation…rethinking how we can use history to teach students rather than simply teach history to students…a history remix.

The first time I heard these words–Obama’s words–today, a group of teachers and staff (and a smaller group of students) clustered around a TV we’d pulled into the LMC. It was lunch hour, and I was both attentive to the history being made…and distracted by the disinterest shown by so many students in the LMC at that time. I wanted to shush them for disturbing the solemnity. I wanted to rouse them to embrace the thrill of witnessing something that will happen only once…something that only a few years ago would have been unfathomable. I worry about the disengagement so many of our students exhibit…not so much from the dusty history I hold dear, but from the history that surrounds them today.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Historic words, among many

January 20th, 2009 llcowell Posted in HistoryRemix No Comments »

Printed in the NYT, these are the words of Poet Laureate Elizabeth Alexander’s Praise Song for the Day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button