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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

An open sourced education

Source: The White House

Happy Lincoln's Birthday ya'll. That's not the topic of the post, but part of my thoughts have come from events surrounding Honest Abe.

I have been thinking about this idea for some time. What if we ignored all the edumacational stuff and just told kids they were in charge of their education? What if we got out of the way? What if we asked them where they wanted to go and then helped them chart a path to get there.

As people who are further on the journey, teachers have some insights they need to hear, and we can and should offer them. However, when did education become about the adults? We're done with our formal education-and the system did right by most of us. I don't think the system has done right by its most recent acolytes. We carry some of that blame.

I keep coming back to the idea of open sourcing...
Let them search for themselves, ask each other, use the tools of today to answer the questions left by the past.

I've restructured my Civil War unit as a little thought experiment. Its not a new idea so I won't even begin to take credit for it. Instead of me as the sage from the stage, I guide from the side and let them assume the mantle of the expert. (Extra credit should be given for using three hackneyed educational clichés-don't you think?)
  • Step one--read the chapter--don't take notes, just read and try to understand.
  • Step two--read and annotate a section of the chapter--try to become really familiar with that portion of the Civil War.
  • Step three-research one topic (Battle of Antietam, Freedman's Bureau, Stonewall Jackson...) for three days and then report your findings to the whole class.
  • Step four--take notes during your classmates presentations (in our case--using a study guide)
  • Step five--the teacher ties any loose ends that may occur. The reality is I need to assess how well they understand the Civil War and the study guide helps put it all together.

What has been encouraging has been my student's willingness to roll up their sleeves and become an expert. I'm there giving them suggestions, but they are doing the work. Their questions of clarification are solid and even when stuck they haven't given up--they've just asked for help to rock the tires out of the rut.

There has been a sense of partnership that is missing on lecture days. I am hoping that it gives them confidence to look for their own answer to those things that matter most to them. I am not a fool, not everyone is a history nerd. and that is okay.

In looking at what has helped me with open sourcing, one thing that's been central has been the acceptance that, while I am a smart guy, I am not the Lone Ranger on that account, even (or especially, for that matter) in my classroom. I shouldn't be the only 'expert of things historical' in the room. That is just silly. I have the privilege of teaching curious young women and men and they blow me away with their insights and questions. A valuable tool in the open sourcing of my classroom has been technology and social media--information and experts are at your fingertips.
A case in point:

The bed in question

One of my kids asked this morning at about 9:30 am CST about Lincoln being shot in a theater but dying in a boarding house. That got us on a rabbit trail about what happened to the room where Lincoln died. I started to tell them a story about the boarder in that room, but couldn't remember his name. One Facebook post and three minutes later and we had it--the bed on which Lincoln died was in the room rented by William T. Clark. I told them that Clark would end up sleeping in that bed and they asked if he changed the linens. One more Facebook post and about ten minutes later and we had our answer--yes, he did. The teacher-scholar with this information also shared information about Lincoln's boots and their connection to Mr. Clark. By 11:20 a.m. CST, we had the full story of Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Clark, Lincoln's boots and the Peterson House. Kids came by during passing periods to ask if I had more information. When was the last time a kid wanted more information after leaving class?

Its the part of teaching that makes it all worthwhile. Messy and loud and with bursts and starts...but worthwhile.

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