A gentle reminder ...

The goal of this blog initially was for Mr. Mc to show his students and friends what he doing while in Pennsylvania and DC in 2011. Now it's being used as a place for him, travelling colleagues and former students to discuss edumacation and history related "stuff" as well as ... well, anything which pops into his head. Mr. Mc would never knowingly embarrass either the school he loves or the family he is devoted to. By joining in the discussion, he expects the same of you.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Who cares about the War of 1812...

This shot was taken facing west from the top of the St. Louis Arch--St. Louis is the point of departure both before and after the War of 1812 for Westward Expansion

Ok, after a few weeks away from the USS Constitution and the NEH program I attended, I  may be ready to answer the question posed the first day of the seminar. I don't think my answer will make all the the 1812-ers happy, but it links into a more important question for me.

This is from the deck of the USS Constitution facing the Boston Harbor. By sending it east, we will be able to take much of the west.

Why teach the War of 1812 in the first place...

I am going to to admit that I don't always teach the War of 1812. There. I said it. In the past, I've had one semester to get through US History from the Colonies to Reconstruction. That means I barely touch on several decades of US History. In the era of instant access, I don't feel entirely bad about not teaching everything. Part of my goal is to give them tools to find the information when they actually need it.

I'm recalibrating my schedule and will have more time to teach US History and so wanted to attend the War of 1812 seminar to see what I should teach from this era. I sat through five full days of discussion and tours and I have a pretty solid grasp on the conflict. The struggle is that I'm becoming smitten not with the war itself but the legacy of the war. The war has some really interesting stories, like Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans, Dolley Madison and the Landsdowne portrait, and USS Constitution among others. But there is no real gain to the war from a strategic sense. The real gain is the development of national narrative that is quintessentially American. The war gives us:

This model of the USS Constitution was presented to its captain after its success again the HMS Guerriere and HMS Java in 1814. It model is part of a maritime exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum and has been used by historians to refurbish the actual boat.
This was Andrew Jackson's first home at The Hermitage in Nashville. After his success at the Battle of New Orleans propelled him into the national spotlight, a newer, more refined house was built on the property.

This is the front entrance to the new house. The challenge of photographing The Hermitage is that the trees which line the entry to the mansion are so large you get only a third of the house in your viewfinder.

I am playing with teaching the war in the context of westward expansion. Let me make sure I'm understood: it is not a war for expansion and we were expanding just fine before the war. The issues with the Native Americans over expansion is tangential to the war (See, I was paying attention in class, Dr. Hickey.). The real issue was the impressment of sailors. There is a notable Indian Wars segment to the war, but it's a lesser concern. The war is important because of what happens after the war and how the war is used by later generations as we continue to cobble a national identity together. Prior to the war, there is expansion; after the war it is expansion on steroids. The affect of the War of 1812 is that this new national identity requires a larger nation. That sends thousands out west, beyond the Northwest Territory to the 'new' west. The result of the war is that we begin to think about our 'God-given right' to 'sea from shining sea'--a Manifest Destiny. That sense has a shadow side to it which includes Jackson's Trail of Tears, the development of the Antebellum sensibility and rhetoric, as well as tensions with Spain and then Mexico.

We should care about the War of 1812 and I will let the naval historians, those smitten with the interior and Great Lakes theater have their day. I wonder, however, what would happen if I taught it backwards...the legacy first and then fill in the blanks with the great narrative stories of the war. Hmmm. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sumo historians

Several weeks ago at a history professional development I attended something happened that I have started to see as a trend. It isn't the first time and I'm not sure if I should be troubled by it. Since this is my place to put my thoughts, here they are.

The facilitator for the session was a historian who has been published in this area and I have no problem calling him an expert. His session was fine-content was good and he seemed like the kind of historian I would want my kids to meet. And then another historian took the stage.

The second historian agreed with the historian one on 90% of their content and offered some interesting ways to look at the subject. They finished and historian one proceeded to dissect the argument at a level well beyond what we needed as teachers. It was awkward to watch a Phd talk to another Phd in a way that felt dismmissive and rude. It struck me as odd but the other historian took it in stride and made his case, which was again dismissed.

I wouldn't have thought much about it except, at the next session, it happened again. And then again at the next session. Even during an Q and A with teachers, this historian dismissed any idea that wasn't in line with his premise in a way that felt combative. A teacher started to ask a question and was waved off and even growled at before he could finish his thought. 

By the end of the seminar, there was a running joke about historian one as the 'Sumo Historian'. There was talk at the beginning of the seminar of the honor of differing ideas and questions, but in the end, anyone who differed or questioned figuratively found 400 pounds of angry historian coming their way. His demeanor stopped the flow of conversation on the topic, which hurt the seminar. His need to be the only expert made him less of one.

Now, there are historians who are jerks. I've been to enough professional developments to know that. However, I think it has implications for me as a teacher. There is an old saw about economists which fits historians and teachers as well: ask five historians a question and you will get five answers (six if one went to Harvard). There are going to be different ways of interpreting facts, but how I do it as important as the facts themselves.
What I'm taking away is this:
  • Listening doesn't mean you agree, it means you're listening.
  • Just because you've heard the question before doesn't mean the asker is wasting your time.
  • A thesis almost aways has another viewpoint that can be explored.
  • The focus in education is not on the teacher but the learner--is what I'm doing getting in the way of that?
  • Passion for a subject is not an excuse for mean-spiritedness.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"One time...at EdCamp..."

The family pulled into the driveway on Friday night and by 8 a.m. on Saturday, I was seated in a chair at the Wichita State University Education Department for EdCamp. What was I thinking!

Edcamp is the brainchild of teachers in Philly a few years ago. EdCamp challenges teachers to take control of their own professional learning. They shy away from pre-set components--teachers at each event decide at the start of the event what they want to facilitate and what classes they want to attend.

This  format lends itself to a sort of chaotic feel to the uninitiated, read that as me! Large Post-it sheets had sessions for each room, but as choices changed, so did the sheets. It was a little chaotic, but there was enough structure to guide us to the first session and then to the next and then to the next. It was nice not to be tied to a specific 'track' or feel like you could change your session selections mid-conference. The word they use is organic and that is a fair description.

EdCampKS had three morning sessions and I learned something in each.

android, base, evernote icon

Evernote is an app that I knew very little about but could see me using the snot out of. For an hour the facilitator talked us through its use and we played with the app. There were several other teachers there who were also very knowledgeable and so they were encouraged to jump in. There was a teacher take away there for me--the best teaching occurs when the teacher is secure enough to give the reigns to others. The faciliator maintained control of the group but was genuinely open to others insights about the application.

g+, google, google plus, plus, plus one icon

Google is more than just a verb and this session explored it. One of the things I learned was that by adjusting the search metric, students could find microfiched newspaper from as far back as WWI. It can also narrow a search based on the pixels and type of an image. We also played with the audio capabilities and the facilitator suggested several uses which were things I hadn't thought of using the audio function for (for instance--instead of guessing how amistace, arminstase, armistice is spelled, why not just let the google version of Siri help you out.)

blog, blogger icon   wordpress icon

One of the sessions I was really interested in was on blogging. The facilitator is a big proponent of WordPress and I use Blogger. I was curious to see if he would get me to change my mind. He did not. WordPress has some cool bells and whistles, but I think I'll stick with what I know. Besides, if I do want to change my blog over, WordPress will pull my whole Blogger archive over when I move, so its kinda a win-win for me.

After lunch was a session where everyone presented apps they use and wanted to recommend. This session, called a smackdown, was a brilliant concept. Teachers talking to other teachers instead of the IT guy giving a laundry list of what they might suggest. Teachers talked specifically about how they used it and what they liked and didn't like about the app. There are some really knowledgeable teachers and it was cool to hear from people in the classroom.
The final session of the day was called Rocks-Sucks and it was exactly what it sounds like. Topics were given and you chose Rocks or Sucks. A short period of time was allowed for both sides to defend their position. Someone said this is a staple of EdCamps all across the nation. Our topics included: tenure, Common Core, Bring Your Own Device, 1:1 initiative, firewalls, and State Assessments. What was fascinating was that there was a diversity of opinion and insights and you found yourself waivering as your 'opponent' made their case. I have done something like this in class, I need to do it more.

What I walked away from EdCamp KS is that the reality is that teachers need to take faculty meetings, professional development and in-services away from well-meaning administrators. That isn't a slam against them. They are doing what we don't want to do. Today, however, showed that with a little organiation and leadership, teachers can train themselves, thank you very much.

More Boston -- a couple weeks late...

After a week with the family on vacation I am finally getting around to putting a few more photos on...will post some thoughts later...again when wifi is working. These photos were taken aboard the Fame, docked in Salem. The statue is Samantha from the TV show Bewitched and the ship's instrument is from the Peabody Essex Museum, also in Salem.