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.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Day three of the Smithsonian institute ...

Yes, I know ... ten days later ...

I've been safely back in Kansas for almost a week and have spent the last several days getting back in the thick of it.  Love being home and seeing my wife and two of the kiddos. Talked to one of the older boys and getting in touch with the other two is on my list for tonight. Am glad to be back at school. I'm chasing the wind trying to get everything ready but ... its all good.

The third day of the Clarice Smith National Teacher Institute was part art and part technology. During the morning we padded out into the gallery to try a couple more exercises. The one I liked the best asked you to look at a piece, in our case they were photos by artist Lee Friedlander, and write a postcard length description of what you saw. Mine was a marker showing the western-most part of the US in 1793. In my 'postcard' I mentioned that the marker was evidence our our 'wanderlust' as Americans.

This would be a great short writing exercise. Don't think of it as 'edumacation'. Just write a note to a friend.

Am going to try this with my students. I think I'll start with these photos. The bottom one is from the Sedgwick County Historical Museum. The top one I've used for a year or so but don't know its story.

AJ Pullian (photographer), Hamilton Intermediate School, ca. 1925. Sedgwick County Historical Museum.

The afternoon and much of the time remaining at the Smithsonian was dedicated to working with technology. The interesting thing about the way they introduced it was that nothing we used was 'cutting edge'. The idea seemed to be to use current technology well. They introduced us to Audacity, Voicestream and Prezi. Audacity and Voicestream are audio capture programs and were used to record a podcast we'd been asked to create for out piece of art. Prezi is a presentation format. Think of PowerPoint except non-linear. The goal was to create a podcast and then a five minute presentation incorporating the technology and out pieces of art. I didn't see our podcast online but like this one so I'll show it as an example.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

"Reading Art"

Day Two of the Institute highlights...

Melanie Layne worked with us today on how to 'read art' and how to help students make sense of art when we use it in the classroom. Some of my notes:

Most art can be placed in a continuum from representational to non-representational.



Abstract--abstract fits in between representational and non-representational on the continuum. Sometimes the 'representative' idea (in this Sheeler you can seen the buildings amid the geometry) can be easily seen but sometimes what looks non-representational has some sense of representation when you know more about the artist, the subject, the process.

Ms. Layne then walked us through a way of analyzing art with students. She broke the process down in seven steps and asked us to look at the art from level one; 'objects, lines and shapes' to level five 'location'. The first five are really identifying what you see--the decoding of the piece from general to more specific. The last two involve the interpreting of the art and then bringing all the separate levels into one cohesive connection.

Then we were taken into the gallery and asked to read 8 or 9 pieces in a 30 minute period. All of the pieces were from the 30s or related to the 30s. As a team, we tried the process. I wasn't shocked that it worked but how quickly we moved from art novices to eagle eyed interpreters of the peices. Once done, they asked us to reflect on the pieces and then write a six word story based on the collection. I'll give you a sample of one of the peices and my story. It will lose something in translation but ...

(BTW-the six word story is a cool tool to use with students. How do you get your point across in only six words? The most famous six word story is by Hemmingway: "For Sale. Babies Shoes. Never Worn.")

Diamonds are refined through intense pressures.

We then fused all of the six word stories into a poem or sorts. The cool thing about the process was that what I struggled to express in these images or missed completely, someone else got. It was powerful and I can see it translating back into my classroom.  I could also see this process working with historic documents as well. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

"What's going on in the picture?"

This afternoon we played with Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). It is a series of three questions designed to help with observation and articulation of thoughts about a painting, sculture, document, ... VTS is designed to be a starting off point for discussin visual mediums. It is a great way to wrestle with primary sources so I was intrigued. It centers around three questions:
  1. What is going on in the picture?
  2. What do you see to say that?
  3. What more can we find?
Those are the only questions a facilitator may ask. They are encouraged to listen carefully in order to paraphrase each speaker's thought to make sure everyone is looking at the same in the part of the picture; remain neutral to any response and link comments which relate.We were then taken into the gallery and practiced the process on four different pieces. It is alot harder than it sounds. If it is an image you are really familiar with-you have to facilitate without giving away too much. If you aren't familiar with the piece-there is a whole different challenges. The goal is a directed dialogue focused on the piece of art. don't worry about who painted it, or when or even the title. Those aren't important - as a matter of fact, they may get in the way of the exploration.

Let's try it, okay? Look at the image belows and ask yourself the three questions. Remember, you have to prove your point with something specific to the image. Figure out why you have that gut feeling. Be specific. Think in terms of narrative and story? Think in terms of perceptions, prior knowledge even personal biases. Just be ready to name it a perception or bias.

Is there really no such thing as a bad question?

This is the 22 foot mural in its entirety.

Note: I wrote this on Monday but decided not to post it until today (Saturday). This conference was a challenge for me in that it travelled roads I don't know I've gone down as a teacher. I've spent the better part of the week processing what I've seen and how it can be translated into the classroom. Unlike the Presidential Academy, there was only a little prep for the Insitute. We selected a painting to research and did a short reading. It has been an intense week and I will do my best to highlight what we did. I'm still processing though so if my thought seem more incoherent thatn normal ...

Day one of the Smithosonian Institution's Clarice Smith National Teacher Institute. I have to admit, I was worried about burn out. The Presidential Academy was intense. So much preparation and a packed schedule. To sit for an hour and listen to art historian and tech people might be problematic. I shouldn't have worried. I walked out of the American Art Museum with more energy and excitment that I thought I had in reserve.

The big idea behind this conference is an exploration of how teachers can integrate art and technology in 'traditional' classroom. We were asked to select a piece to focus on and I chose a Thomas Hart Benton piece called Achelous and Hercules. Its the piece at the top of this entry.

The keynote today was by Ron Richhardt from Harvard University. His research looks at effective communication strategies in the classroom. His suggested that there were five types of questions in a class:
  • review: content, terminology, process...
  • procedural: classroom management; directing the work of the class; not content-based information 
  • generative: exploration of the topic or 'wondering out loud' questions;
  • constructive: questions which help build understanding and
  • facilitating: questions which promote the learner's own thinking and understanding.
One of the things his research documents is something that most teachers know but seems counterintuitive to many folks. There more you focus on review and procedure (think; teaching to the test) the lower the assessment scores are. When students are engaged through generative, constructive and facilitating questions, the higher the test scores. The more a student is challenged and encouraged to look past the 'quick and easy' answer to real understanding, the better they do on content-driven assessment.

Dr. Richhardt also outlined what he thought were four key qualities for classroom instruction:
  • Novel application-it has to be more than just 'practicing what they know'.
  • Meaningful inquiry-they need to wrestle with new understandings and insights
  • Effective communication-lock in  understanding by talking, sharing, debating, ...
  • Intrinsic value-a sense of accomplishment or appreciation
I'm still trying to wrap my brain around what these might mean for my classroom, but wanted to get them out there. One of the values of being on-site is that I have the luxury of time to think about what is the best way to teach my charges.  I miss my family like mad but I hope I'm using my time to wrestle with what I can do better as a teacher. My students deserve no less.

Nerding it up between conferences ...

The Presidential Academy ended on Thursday. That morning, I watched my collegues for the previous three weeks head back to Philly and I went to the hotel I would be staying at for the rest of my time in DC. Its weird, after 20 or so days of being on a strict schedule and seeing the same people day in and day out, freedom was kinda awkward. It took me at a day to shake it. In case I haven't said it, these women and men were phenomenal. I really admire them. Some of them work in amazingly challenging situations, whether it be inner city or at risk populations or with children of affluence and apathy, they inspired me. The perspective of teaching civil rights in the Deep South. The perpective of being the only person your race in a school of 2000. The perspective of surviving your first year teaching or your 35th. We got to be friends and I wish them all the best. Thanks for letting me tag along and listen in.

On Friday I earned my history nerd union card. I went to the Madison Library of  Building and got my Library of Congress 'reader card'. I am now authorized to research in the Library of Congress for the next two years. How cool is that! I went in twice, once to look for a novella by Ralph Ellison that Dr. Morel suggested and the other to look for information on James Madison's stepson, Payne Todd. Am going to try and get over there at least one more time this week.

The place you get the reader card is in the Madison Building. You didn't think I would get a picture of Jemmy in his LOC building?

Library of Congress Reader Card. Yes I know I'm not smiling. I was going for nonplussed but it went more toward mugshot.