Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sidewalk Chalk Art Review

By Jeff Burns

It’s the end of the year, and teachers are always searching for fun and meaningful ways to review material and prepare for those end of course tests, finals, and AP exams.  Why not take it outside and engage your students’ creativity in the process.

For a couple of years now, I have taken my AP US history classes outside to do sidewalk chalk review.  It’s simple and takes just a couple of periods.  First, I assigned each group one of the APUSH time periods. Their instructions were simple: design and create a sidewalk square that illustrates the most important themes, concepts, events, ideas, and people of the assigned period. They had one period to plan, and one period to draw. 

It doesn’t require much:  administrator’s permission and sidewalk chalk.  Dollar stores have cheap sidewalk chalk.  I got it for $1 a box at Dollar general.  Some students even brought their own.  Other useful tools that students brought included stiff dust brooms for erasing and spray water bottles. To get their best effort, I offered a replacement grade to the groups with the best squares, judged by the other US history teachers in my department.  


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Using Games to understand Historical Narratives

Looking of interesting ways to engage students in examining a time period as the end of the year approaches? Consider historical narratives as a way to develop an understanding a time period. The modern historical narrative has moved beyond the book to include movies, documentaries, and games. Each format offers the viewer a look into another historical period.  Use the steps below to use examinations of computer games as historical narratives in your history class.

Step 1: Define historical narrative.
Historical narratives blend historical facts with fictional people, places and details. Key elements of historical narratives include the focus of one individual’s point of view, accurate historical elements, and chronological organization.  

Step 2: Use a model narrative to explore the historical examination process.
Select key moments in a historical narrative. Provide opportunities to students to connect elements from historical narrative to historical period.
·       What historical event is linked to the narrative?
·       How does the narrative help to illustrate the significance of historical event?

Step 3: Provide opportunity for students to play games.
            Possible Games:
            Rail, Sail, Overland Mail!

Jamestown Adventure                     

Fling the Teacher-World War II

Step 4: Task students with independent analysis.
            Sample Tasks:

Directions- Play games related to the subject you have studied this year from the list provided. Respond to the questions below.

Name of Game:
What is the historical context of the game?
What role do you play? What is the goal?
How do you know if you were successful?
What features of the game did you enjoy?
What historical event that you studied was a part of the game?
What key terms that you used this year were illustrated by the game? Provide two examples.
Did the game emphasize the significance of the event? Explain.
Can this game be described as a historical narrative? Use the rubric below to assist you in your determination.
Historical Narrative Rubric
Are events presented in chronological order?
Are accurate historical elements included in the work?
Does the work blend fictional elements with historical fact?

Overall Summary:

Step 5: Choose an extension activity.
            Sample Extension Activities:
·       Critiquing Historical Narratives
·       Game Reviews and Recommendations
·       Writing Historical Narratives

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rolling Back the Years: History through High School Yearbooks

By Jeff Burns

Students walked into my classroom to find their desks arranged in groups.  At each group of desks, they found two school yearbooks, one from the early 1960s and one from the early 1970s.  Of course, they start exploring.  The first question they ask is “Are you in these?”  Seriously.  I know you think I’m 75 but seriously?

But seriously, this is how I introduced the counterculture and the tumultuous changes in American society that occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s.  We had already delved into the conformity the 1950s and the challenges to the status quo that started erupting.  I heard the idea to use yearbooks, pre and post 1965, from another teacher at a conference, and I was fortunate to find 10 yearbooks, dated 1963- 1973, at a local estate sale.  Well worth $1 each.

I put the books on the desks and my instructions were to look them over and discuss.  Compare and contrast pre 1965 and post 1965.  Compare and contrast then and now.  It was a hit.  All were involved. Of course they immediately commented on clothes and hair (Beehive pictures are always a big hit.), but their group discussions hit on all topics. Then we all shared as class.   It was quite a fun activator.

One drawback with my yearbook find is that they were all southern schools, and a couple were from private Christian schools, so the differences between the two time periods were kind of subtle but it also led to productive questions and discussion about regional differences and integration.  I’ll continue to be on the lookout for more varied books in the future.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Puzzled By Jigsaws?

By Jeff Burns

Have you ever wondered about the history of jigsaw puzzles?  Me neither until recently.  A retired teacher who substitutes at my school recently stopped me in the hall and said, “I have a strange question.  My husband collects Great Depression Era jigsaw puzzles and is looking to reduce the collection.  We wondered if you would like some for your classroom?”  She obviously knew who to ask.  After all, I have written a Histocrat blog and presented professional learning sessions titled “History Teacher or Hoarder?”, and my classroom shelves are full of various objects collected over the years.

I said sure, and she started telling me the jigsaw story.  While jigsaw puzzles were invented as educational tools in the mid-1700s, they reached new heights of popularity during the Great Depression.  When the housing market collapsed, some enterprising entrepreneurs in the building supply company came up with the idea of printing images on their surplus board, cutting it, and selling it.  For 25 or 50 cents, a family could enjoy hours and hours of entertainment to take their minds off of their economic hardships. The images were often escapist, beautiful – sometimes magical -  scenes of cozy cottages or natural wonders that families wouldn’t necessarily see in their neighborhoods, allowing them to see the world.  Some of the pictures are very patriotic, pieces of Americana.  Many of the boxes provide no picture at all, just a one-word description like “home”, meaning you didn’t know what it was going to be until you were done.  Puzzles also were given away as advertising premiums.

To make a long story short, she delivered several dozen puzzles to my room a few days later.  My plan is to use some with small groups as we discuss the Depression.  Students can think about and discuss the imagery:  why was this image chosen?  How did it reflect the Great Depression?  Why did it appeal to the customer who bought it originally? What was the role of the jigsaw puzzle in family life during the Depression?  Compare and contrast to family entertainment in other eras and today?

Want to read more? Here’s a great introduction to the history of Jigsaws.