Another mythconception…

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“The United States was founded as a Christian nation.”

I have heard this mythconception my entire life and as a Christian and historian, it bothers me on multiple levels. First, the United States was not ever intended to be a “Christian nation” but rather a nation in which there would be no “state religion.” As products of the Enlightenment and some of the most well-educated individuals of the time, the founding fathers knew and had seen the perils that had embroiled the nations and kingdoms of Europe. Just look at Great Britain as a sample…Henry the VIII had six wives, some were Catholic and some were Protestant. So, after his death, you had Mary, a Catholic, that persecuted Protestants. Then, she dies, and you have her half-sister, Elizabeth I, a Protestant, who persecuted Catholics. And it just goes on and on. Depending on whomever was king/queen, you might be the person being persecuted. So, when we say people were settling in the colonies in what would become the United States for religious freedom, a more accurate description would be that they were actually avoiding religious persecution. If they were in the colonies, they would be farther away from the persecution happening under the closer watch of the king/queen.

Aside from that, let’s take a look at the faith of the founding fathers. As with many people, faith is an ever evolving part of one’s life and it was the same for the founding fathers. But, to say that they were Christian is historically inaccurate. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, was not a Christian, but a Deist. As evidenced in the Declaration, Jefferson believed in a creator/supreme being/God. He wrote, “…the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…” and “…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” but this does not mean that he believed in Jesus as the Christ and Savior. He even cut out and re-wrote (maybe reorganized is a better term) his own version of the Bible, taking out any references to Jesus’ divinity, leaving what he considered to be an excellent set of morals. You can read more about his Bible here. And then there’s the other founding fathers…John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and the list goes on. While it is true that some of those founding fathers were, in fact, Christian, or at least members of Christian churches, we can not make a blanket generalization that the founding fathers were all Christian. The historical record simply does not support this view of the history of the founding of the United States.

This is probably one of the hardest mythconceptions to fight against, because it goes so deep. Generations of people in the United States, including my parents, were taught this. They were also in school when reading the Bible and praying was a part of the daily classroom routine in the public school systems. This brings up an enormous amount of other issues, but to stay focused on the mythconception, some of the reason this myth continues to be perpetuated is because the people that were taught this generations ago, continue to pass down the idea to their descendants and anyone else who might listen. In my opinion, another reason this perpetuates is because churches help to pass this myth along. Having attended three churches in my life, two with my parents, and the current church without my parents, this is an interesting one. At those three churches, the pastors and other leaders are good at making sure they don’t make blanket statements, political statements, etc. about one or the other of the main political parties or their platforms. I think they recognize the issues that this might raise with attenders/members (not to mention the IRS). But, in private conversations, I have often found myself wondering why people continue to have this idea…not necessarily the pastors or other leaders, but the attenders of the churches. I often wonder how to explain to other Christians that the United States was not founded as a “Christian nation” while still being respectful of them. The minute I am not respectful is when people will stop listening to what I have to say. So, I have to carefully choose my words, examples, etc. so I can make my point as well as I can.

Yet, another of the mythconceptions of history…

Columbian Exchange Lesson

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One of the lessons I have been teaching for probably 10 years or so is about the Columbian Exchange. When I first started teaching this lesson, I had some cards with names of different foods on them and had students figure out how to group the different foods on the cards. But, that didn’t really work out too well and the kids were not engaged in the lesson. So I tried to figure out a way to make it much more engaging and I didn’t want them to simply read about the Columbian Exchange and take notes or the like because we know that is truly not engaging. Then, I came up with the idea to use the actual foods themselves in the lesson.

When I was in college I learned an instructional strategy called Concept Attainment which is explained here. Basically, students make a T-chart, labeling one side “Yes” and the other side “No.” The teacher has already determined the attributes of the “yes” items and thus the “no” items are anti-examples of the concept. The teacher then shows the students a few examples and anti-examples (in random order) and tells the students if the item is a “yes” or a “no.” Students take notes on this information on their T-chart while trying to determine the attributes of the “yes” group. After the first few examples, the teacher begins to ask students which group they think the example should be placed in and why. But, the teacher does not indicate if that student is correct or not. The teacher simply places the item in the correct group, based on the original attributes.

So, I took this instructional strategy and applied it to the Columbian Exchange. The Columbian Exchange is the idea that certain foods, animals, diseases, etc. originated in particular areas of the world. So, the yes items in my lesson would be those things that originated in the New World (or the Americas) while the no items are the things that originated in the Old World (Europe, Africa, and Asia). During the lesson, I do try to direct students into particular ways of thinking by showing several fruit examples from one of the groups, and several vegetable/non-fruit items for the other group (but still maintaining the original attribute of New or Old world). Then, the students think, “Oh this is easy! It’s fruits and vegetables!” Then, I freak them out by showing them a non-fruit example, but then placing it in the group with the fruit items. Thus, the students have to rethink their idea about fruits versus vegetables.

Here’s a couple pictures of the foods I’ll be using this year.

DSC06555

DSC06556

I try to get a wide variety of foods, some of which the students have seen and some of which some of my students may not have seen before. It’s really engaging for the students because they get to identify the food item, some students see foods they have never seen before, and they have to do all of the thinking and explaining of where the food item goes and why they think so. All students are able to engage in this sort of lesson because it is not based around being able to read at a certain grade level, they are working together as a class, they help each other, but they also, statistically, will remember much more about this lesson simply due to the engagement. They are learning even if they don’t realize they are! After the examples are gone through, I do add items to the notes that I did not have examples of, including animals (horses, cows, chickens, turkeys, etc.) and diseases that were exchanged. This way, students see it is not just about foods, but about the overall exchange that occurred.

As a follow-up to the lesson, usually the following day, students are given a blank piece of white paper. They are asked to draw a picture of one of their favorite foods that has more than three ingredients. They label each of the ingredients on the picture and then identify, using their notes, if the ingredient is from the Old or New World. This helps to show that the foods that we have now are, for the most part, a result of this exchange the occurred due to the clash of cultures that happened as a result of the European voyages of exploration.

Thoughts?

Snow Days

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We’ve had our fair share of snow days this year. The district in which I teach has, for the past several years, built in snow days to our calendar. What that means is that, we are required, by state law, to have schools open for students for 180 days, but our calendar has actually had 185 student days. If we don’t have snow for 5 days, we don’t use those days. But, if we do have snow, we use those days to still qualify under the state law of being open 180 days for students. Once we are closed for more than 5 days, we do add on days, or use professional development days, etc. I remember a year when I was in high school we had so many snow days that we started adding 15 minutes on to the end of every school day. Every so many days of the 15 minutes added on, equaled one student day. Next year, on the approved calendar, we don’t have snow days built in to the calendar, so we will simply add on to the end of the year for each day we have to close.

This year, so far, we have used all 5 built in days, plus 1 more. The last snow day we were closed was actually during a state of emergency as declared by our state governor. Thus, this means that each district can apply to the state department of education for a waiver of that day. This means that we would have only been open for students for 179 days, instead of 180.

This year, the snow days we have had have been 1 day here and 1 day there, not continuous. This creates issues, not only for parents who have to try to find childcare while they go to work, or even having to stay home from work with their children, many times using up vacation time, but it also creates issues for teachers. As much as we like a snow day or two during the year, we actually would much rather be in school with your children. We would much rather be able to maintain routine of the school and classroom, be able to have consistency and continuity in our lesson plans, etc. It is quite difficult to teach one day, have several days off (such as this past weekend, with President’s Day as an already scheduled holiday, in addition to the snow day last week), and then have to remind the students what we had done 5 days ago so that we can continue whatever it is we are teaching and learning. This is especially important in the early grades, when students are learning the foundational pieces of their knowledge so that they can build upon that in later years. But it is still important in the middle and high school grades so that students have consistency, rather than holes in their understanding or knowledge. What I have decided this year, due to the snow days, is that I will teach as much of the curriculum as I am able to, well. It is not that I don’t think the curriculum is important, it is simply that I would much rather have my students understand and learn some of the information well, rather than trying to teach it all and having my students not understand it.

As a side note, please understand that teachers only get paid for the days we work, regardless of when those days occur. What I mean by that is I only get paid for 190 days (in my district, we work several professional days that are closed to students). So, the snow days are actually not paid time off for teachers. It is simply delaying the day we do get paid for.

Student Portfolio

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A few weeks ago I started an activity with my two gifted and talented classes about the history of Latin America. While the students in the on-grade level classes will be learning about the same objectives of Latin American history in more directed ways, I wanted to find a way to differentiate with my gifted and talented students. Several months ago, I found this image with a list of the differences between an above average/bright student versus a gifted student.

brightvs-gifted_000

Seeing characteristics such as asks the questions, is highly curious, draws inferences, initiates projects, only needs 1-2 repetitions for mastery, enjoys learning, manipulates information, is an inventor, and thrives on complexity, I decided I needed to have an assignment that incorporated these, while still providing a framework for the students to work within. I had also been seeing several postings and pins about student portfolios and how they are used in various subject areas and grade levels. Thus, I combined these into my own student portfolio idea. After my initial ideas and thoughts, I sent an email to my principal and my curriculum supervisor for thoughts and feedback. My curriculum supervisor for social studies provided some really great feedback to include the incorporation of a peer evaluation component, and self reflection component, and a “contract” that outlined the time frame and goals for each week during the completion of the assignments. So, here’s the pieces of the assignment.

LAm portfolio G-T directions

LAm Portfolio rubric

Portfolio contract

LAm portfolio peer eval

LAm History port self reflect

The first few days of the assignment, I provided my own books as well as books from the school’s media center related to these topics, and the students could only use those materials (not computers). After the first several days, I have had one of my school’s mobile computer labs for the students to use, either to research or use to complete assignments. So far, it is going well, so we will see how it turns out at the end of the three weeks when the students turn in the assignments.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Other feedback?

Usage of popsicle sticks!

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Several months ago, I posted about having bought a box of 1000 popsicle sticks and what I was going to do with them. One of the ideas was to use them for Jigsaw activities, where the colors would represent the home group and the number would represent the expert group. You can see the idea of colors and numbers in the image below.

Jigsaw popsicles

Last week, I started a group activity with my students in which I needed three groups and I wanted to do something different than simply numbering off the students 1 through 3. So, I took the popsicle sticks I already had for the Jigsaw activities and took out all the fours and fives. Thus, I was left with numbers one through three. Since I had 8 different colors, I had 24 sticks. My largest class doing this group activity was 25, but there was at least 1 person absent from each class, which worked out perfectly! So, I mixed up the sticks of numbers 1 through 3 and put them in one of my mason jars. I went around the class, and each student selected one stick out of the jar. I explained that for this activity the color meant nothing, all they needed to pay attention to was the number written on the stick. Students then moved to sit with the other students that had their same number. All the ones sat on one side of the room, the twos sat in the middle area, and the threes on the other side of the room. (My classroom is set up in table groups, with 6 tables)

So, keep in mind using what you already have in different ways. I had intended to use these sticks for Jigsaw activities, but using them to group students in simpler ways, only paying attention to the number or color, worked well. Another idea is to use playing cards for the same purpose…you could use the numbers and/or suit to group students.

Thought-provoking

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My sister shared this article with me and wanted to know what my thoughts and opinions were in response to it. Of course, as an educator in a public school system, I have many thoughts and opinions. I’m going to try to put them in some semblance of order so that I don’t get all distracted and go off on tangents.

(1) Jacob Barnett’s story – another story that has caught a lot of attention recently because he was identified as special ed, but has turned out to be a genius. I will say that “special education” is typically a term that people apply to students that have learning difficulties, physical maladies, etc. However, special education also applies to students that are gifted. Both populations of students need specialized instruction, albeit in different ways. Additionally, I have had students in my gifted and talented classes that have had IEPs (Individualized Education Plans). Currently, I have at least one student that has an IEP in one of my G/T (gifted and talented) classes and I have had several in years prior (14 years of teaching). I think the general public’s understanding of the term “special education” is quite limited, and that limited understanding is due, in part, to public education’s use of the term and having a “department” devoted to students that have difficulties. I think it is also due to people that don’t understand the term using it inappropriately (news media, etc.) when it really applies to all student groups that need differentiated instruction across the spectrum of ability levels, demonstration of understanding, ways of assessing, etc.

(2) “Instead of having creative and out-of-the-box-thinking people, the current style of education creates more submissive, obedient and trained graduates so the current system is always maintained.” – I have major issues with “submissive, obedient, and trained graduates.” I would venture that there is reason to have rules and regulations, policies and procedures that people follow. I have rules and regulations that I have to follow in my job as do most people, regardless of the type of employment you have. (Yes, there are some that don’t.) However, these adjectives do not describe the type of education that is coming down the pike. The idea behind many of the objectives and outcomes in the new “voluntary” curriculum standards actually is for students to have to have their own opinions and ideas and to be able to defend those opinions or demonstrate those ideas. The math teachers at my school, implementing this new curriculum, are teaching in new ways and teaching multiple methods of solving a problem so that students can use whatever method works for them, rather than a rote “this is the way to do it because I said so” type of teaching. They are also giving students real world examples so that students really understand why this is important to know and that they will use math in their lives in the future. I’m not sure this would fall under “submissive” or “obedient.” I teach social studies, and much of my teaching is not simply a rote memorization of names, dates, and facts, but rather encouraging students to engage in discussion of why historical events happened, their causes and effects, developing their own opinions about those historical events and people and being able to defend that position using documents and evidence. I may not necessarily agree with the student, but that is not the point. Most of the time, my students can’t figure out my own political opinions, etc. because I argue the opposite of whatever the student is saying. I do this so that the student has to defend their position, rather than simply regurgitating what they have heard on the news, their parents say, etc. It also encourages them to look at the complexity of the issue and to understand that it is not always yes/no, right/wrong, black/white, etc.

(3) “standard education is focused less on each individual and their growth” – Partially true. Along with the new set of objectives/outcomes, we are also in the midst of establishing new methods of teacher evaluation. Part of this is focused on showing that the students in our classrooms are learning and showing growth in whatever skills we are teaching. However, I can not possibly be focused on “each individual” in my classroom. I teach 120 plus kids every year. In 14 years of teaching, that would be over 1,680 students that have come through my classroom! I have established a good rapport with the majority of the students that have come through my classroom in that time. I work hard to connect with each of my students and let them know that I care about them and about more than just what they do in my classroom. We talk about sports, if that’s something that interests that student. I talk about the books they are reading and what I’ve read before that relates or offer suggestions about what they should read next. I ask them about their other classes, teams they play on, older siblings, etc. That being said, there is absolutely no way that public education can be focused on individual students (as much as we want it to be). Would we apply this same statement to medicine or other professions?

(4) “In my view, home schooling is much more likely to create a creative, adaptive, and forward thinking person who is less conditioned to think only within the small confines of a crumbling system.” – See above comments about teaching students to have their own opinions, defend them, etc. I think there is A LOT wrong with the current public education system we have in the United States and there is no one easy solution that will address all of those problems. But, there are A LOT of GOOD teachers, GREAT teachers, and AWESOME teachers that are doing our damndest to teach our students in spite of all of the other crap going on, all of the other crap we are expected to do to prove we are doing a good job, all of the people that think they know the answer and telling us how to do our job when they haven’t done our job for even 1 day. Come into my classroom and look at the castle projects my kids created. More than 20 kids out of 60+ built a castle or manor. Yes, built it! I had kids that used cardboard they had at home, cut it out, glued it together, etc. One of my students used plastic cups, cereal boxes, etc. to build the manor. Several students built the castle or manor out of legos. They were amazing! Don’t tell me those kids are not creative!

(5) “This isn’t to say homeschool is for everyone, but I truly believe that a drastic, and I mean drastic, change in the way our education system functions needs to happen, and soon.” – Agreed on both points. Homeschool is not for everyone. I am so grateful that we live in a place where people have a variety of options for their children. Public school, private religious school, private non-religious school, homeschool, etc. Each family should evaluate these options based on the individual child, the options available in their local area, and what their goals are in making that decision. I am a product of a public school education from K-12th grade, but attended a private, religious college for my undergrad, and then a public university for my graduate degree. For 14 years, I have taught in the same public education system that I was a student in. I was in Girl Scouts with a girl that was homeschooled. One of my best friends has chosen to homeschool her son this year after two very difficult years with her son in public elementary school. Another of my friends has sent her daughter (receives special education services) to the public schools in the area in which they have lived (a few different places). Several of our friends have sent their children to private schools, both religious and non-religious. I’m just saying that everyone has to make decisions that are good for their own family and children. Don’t judge someone else because you would not have made that decision. You don’t know all of the struggles that person or family is dealing with and what is influencing their decision. Just because my parents sent my sister and I to public school, doesn’t mean that we are any better or worse than my friends that attended private school, were homeschooled, etc. On the other point, there are A LOT of things wrong with our current public education system, as stated before in this post and in many other posts here on this blog. But what I’d really like to see is a celebration of the things that are great about it. Trust me, there are great things happening across this nation on a daily basis in classrooms at all levels. We need to celebrate those teachers and the hard work they are putting in, rather than tearing down all teachers based on the few bad ones.

Why do these myths persist?

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My previous two posts about the mythconceptions in history prompted a discussion with my parents, after I showed them the posts. My mom commented that she was, in fact, taught some of these myths, to include Columbus discovering America, etc. So, I wondered is that why these myths persist or is there something more to it?

I think part of the issue is education. I am not trying to offend anyone in this observation, it is merely an observation based on my own experience in a middle school social studies classroom for 14 years. One of the issues I find with some of these myths persisting is that many are perpetuated by the learning of inaccurate information when students are in elementary school. Many elementary school teachers are not specialists in the field of history, and I don’t expect them to be. Elementary school teachers are expected to teach all subject areas so that students have a basis for learning subject specific material when they move on to middle and high school. Thus, they have to have general knowledge in all fields. So, in having some general knowledge, they rely on what they were taught in elementary school as well as what they can find in resources (thus, resources should be better!), etc. Elementary school is also the time period when many things become ingrained in a child’s mind and understanding. Thus, if they are taught something that is not accurate, and then have to re-learn it when they are in middle or high school, often they will revert back to how they originally learned it. It’s like practicing a musical piece incorrectly and then realizing you’ve been playing it incorrectly, you have to practice so much more the right way and really think about playing it the correct way so you don’t revert back to the incorrect way. Of course, this brings up another debate about including social studies in an elementary school curriculum…a debate for another day.

Another reason for the perpetuation of these myths is they are often included in books, TV programs, and movies. As I noted in one of the posts below about the inclusion of Lincoln freeing the slaves in an episode of The Big Bang Theory (one of my favorite shows!), most people would have not caught the error in Sheldon’s supposed fact. Pocahontas becoming one of the Disney princesses influenced a whole generation of young girls (and still does) to believe that Pocahontas and John Smith fall in love and get married. The same could be said of the animated film, though not Disney, Anastasia and the idea that she somehow survived the kidnapping and murder of her family. The movie is based on the idea that she survived, but the story the movie tells is in no way even related to what actually happened regarding the Bolshevik takeover, other than the location, her name, and the inclusion of a character named Rasputin. Do directors and producers of movies and TV shows have to make certain decisions about what to include in the story and what to leave out? Absolutely. Yet, in my opinion, there are ways to provide a more realistic picture or story of what did happen without completely fabricating history to make it fit what you want it to fit.

Children’s books are other places that you will find these myths, which brings up another issue. What is the point of writing the children’s book? Is it to teach a child a real historical event or is it to teach them some sort of “moral of the story?” Often, children’s books are written to teach the child a skill, character trait, or moral, through the telling of a historical event. So when we learned the George Washington cut down the cherry tree, was confronted by his father, and supposedly said “I can not tell a lie,” the point was to teach a child about honesty rather than something that George Washington actually did. The inclusion of the historical figure gives the story more “umph” by making the story seem real (a real person is in the story, it must have really happened, right?), giving it a nationalistic or patriotic feel, and implies that because Washington was honest with his father in this story, he must have been honest throughout the rest of his life, helping him to become the president. But if a child has learned these kinds of stories, just as they have learned things in elementary school, they become ingrained in the child’s mind and it is hard to overcome those myths with the historical facts and stories.

I’m sure there are other reasons why historical myths persist. Why do you think they persist?

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