Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mangled History

Jay Leno has made his “history test” a regular feature on his show. He supposedly chooses people at random (I wonder if it’s all planned) and asks them various questions on historical topics. It’s amazing and embarrassing what people come up with for answers. Society has several reasons for the public’s low retention rate of historical information. Some say it is the teacher’s fault for teaching straight from the text and it’s just too boring. Some say curriculum has been watered down while others say the curriculum is too rigorous. Some say too much emphasis is put on certain events in history such as the American Revolution and the Civil Rights era while ignoring whole sections such as the War of 1812 or the Korean War.

Well, it seems that the United States isn’t the only country who has citizens who are illiterate as far as historical data. The Brits are easily confused as well according to Alan Coren in his article “How Henry VIII Lost the Battle of the Bulge, and Ofsted Went to War” published in The Times (December 28, 2005). You can see the entire article here. The Chief Inspector of Schools in Ofsted claims that students in Britain are historically illiterate because the curriculum over emphasizes the Tudor Era and World War II and that students are unable to remember key dates or major events.

The article goes on to quote the answers students used on their end of term tests. From this Coren determines the Chief Inspector of Schools may be correct. Here are some of the more entertaining answers:

It was Richard III who got the Tudors started, by losing the Battle of Britain. The poor sod never stood a chance against the House of Lancaster once it had invented the four-engine bomber. Also, his Scandinavian allies let him down fatally by staying neutral so’s they could make ball bearings for both sides. His last words were: “A Norse! A Norse! My kingdom for a Norse!”

The reasons for her remaining the Virgin Queen were that the only two blokes to get anywhere near her were Essex and Raleigh. She turned the first one down because it was better to be called the Virgin Queen than the Essex Queen. She turned the second one down because, although he got rich after inventing the bicycle, he was stingy, and only ever gave her fags or chips, neither of which she could get the hang of. Chips made her cough.

The Dam Busters raid was led by Wing Commander Sir Francis Drake, who got the idea for a bouncing bomb during a game of bowls at Plymouth Argyll. The bombs were built by Wallis Simpson, aided by Gromit, but one went off accidently before the raid and killed Drake’s dog. I know the dog’s name, and would like to get an extra mark for writing it down, but I am not allowed. Can I get an extra mark for saying that Sir David Frost is remaking the film of the raid? I do not know much about the new script, except that when the Lancasters arrive over the Ruhr Drake chucks open his cockpit window and shouts at the Germans: “Hallo, good evening, and welcome

In the reign of Henry VIII, the second most important man in England was Cardinal Wolseley. He not only invented the police car, he also designed the engine for the Churchill tank. This was to play a major part in the Battle of the Bulge, so called because Henry VIII, who had originally planned to lead the English armoured brigade into battle, made the mistake of having lunch first, and was unable to squeeze himself through the hatch.

They are the six wives of Henry VIII. After the fall of London, he took them all up on the roof of his Hampton Court bunker and shot them, to stop the Russians giving them a seeing-to.

Notice the mangling of details between the Tudor era and World War II. At least these students made an entertaining effort instead of writing “Beats me”, “I don’t know”, or the ever popular sincere apology. “I’m sorry Mrs. Elementary History Teacher. I didn’t have time to study.” I would be tempted to at least give students points for creativity and for effort though. Note I said tempted….not that I would.

At the fourth grade level students write about the content they are learning. I do this to emphasize to students that writing is not just for Language Arts. I also feel that by writing about what they are learning they can make connections on their own and retain the information better. At their level I have to give them lots of support and usually have to give them a strong idea of where I want them to go. We do a lot of writing together in the beginning before I can release them to compose on their own simply looking at their notes. I don’t test using the essay format. Most of my testing is multiple choice and short answer response. I sympathize with the high school and college level educators who do need students to construct elaborate responses to questions like those above. Recently in a post titled “I Love My Job But…”, A History Teacher advises about the extraordinary amount of time it takes to grade student essays. Twenty plus hours! My hat is off to you. I spend many hours grading papers but grading compositions is extremely tedious even when I devise a rubric.

As a history teacher and especially one that introduces the discipline to students I am bothered by mangled history. How does it happen? Why does the public have a collective dislike for the subject? My students seem enthused so at what point does apathy take over? I need to ponder this more.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Odds and Ends

Try out your knowledge of history by taking a quiz here. I reaffirmed myself by earning a 100.

My seventh grader received a digital camera from her generous aunt for Christmas. She loves it. She used up the batteries in 5 hours the first night she used it. Finally her darling daddy went out and bought her rechargeable batteries----we decided it would be cheaper in the long run. As of today she has amassed many pictures, figured out how to store them on her own, and has downloaded them to the myspace site we allow her to keep.

This is a self portrait with three of her friends.

I love how she took a picture of their shadows. Notice how the girls have spelled “love” with their fingers. Young folks can be so creative when you just let them be.

This morning on CNN I saw an interview with a woman who was telling parents to not allow their teens to have a Myspace site or any other type of website. I agree for 90% of those out there. I have seen several of the sites my former students maintain. Oh my gosh….the language, the pictures, the information they so freely put out there. We have also had a problem in my school district with students slamming each other on their sites. I blame parents for this. So many kids are online with no controls whatsoever. Are we surprised? Most children watch television constantly----the only control they have is the remote control. We visit my daughter’s site constantly, her 20 year old brother and his friends visit her site constantly, and her grandparents have visited her site. If there is anything questionable we see it. The computer she uses is in the family room----not in her room. From time to time I have had to tell her to take down a picture or delete some content, but for the most part it has been ok. She has her site blocked and no one can send her a message unless they are on her approved list.

The great thing about these sites is the communication they can provide. When I graduated high school I lost touch with so many people. We split up into hundreds of different paths and over the years we lost touch. My son was a member of a great group of friends in high school. They are still in touch----three years later----sometimes daily through their emails and Xanga sites. They can support each other when they have had a bad day and applaud their accomplishments.

Though I have visited the sites of some of my former students I would never contact them through their sites. It’s just too risky to be accused of something. I have had former students email me through my school email address and I always answer them, but I also always print out their message and my reply and keep it in a file. Gee...that's kind of sad that I have to constantly think about liability issues, but educators really do have to think through every situation. I don't want to be the lead story on the 5 o'clock news.

Now here’s a student any teacher would be proud to have…..

I have no idea who this is. I just wanted to depict an average student on my post so that non-educators out there would see what they are missing every day.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Thursday 13 Blogroll

The new Thursday Thirteen hub can be found here.

Monday, February 20, 2006

My Favorite Place

I recently returned from my all time favorite city in Georgia.....Savannah. Savannah is the first city of Georgia. It is the spot where James Oglethorpe came ashore in 1733 with 114 settlers to begin the Georgia colony. Of course, Oglethorpe's experimental idea of a debtor colony would eventually fail as greed took over, but it was a noble idea. Savannah is where Forrest Gump and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil were filmed. The city where anything is accepted....as long as it's done politely.

I was in Savannah with a few of my colleagues to attend the GCEL Conference. GCEL stands for Georgia Compensatory Educational Leadership. The group supports Title I funding and promotes the success of various Title I programs such as ESOL and Remedial/Intervention type programs. Various schools present strategies and programs they have found success with. I feel we represented our school and the money spent to send us to this conference well. We split up and we each attended 8 presentations in two days for a total of 24. I have been busy preparing a powerpoint to present our information we gathered to our faculty at a meeting tomorrow.

Savannah has always been a favorite place of mine to visit. I get excited knowing I can walk on the same spot where Oglethorpe first landed at Savannah and where he pitched his tent as he was marking off the simple square design of what would become the first city of Georgia. I can walk by the very balcony where LaFayette spoke to the citizens of Savannah. I can eat at the Pirate's House which was once a nefarious tavern where pirates hung out. It is believed they d used underground tunnels to smuggle kidnap victims out to their waiting ships. I can take a carriage ride past some of the beautiful squares of Savannah and walk down the cobblestones of River Street. While on River Street I can dine in a converted cotton warehouse that is 270 years old while I watch modern cargo ships several stories high sail past heavily laden with cargo containers.

The powerpoint I prepared for the faculty meeting is pretty good. I filled it with our data plus padded it with pictures we took of each other and some of the sights we saw. I showed it to my homeroom today and discussed all of the places we saw and their significance. They were most interested in the picture I took of the candy store on River Street since I bought them saltwater taffey there for them. They were also fairly disinterested in the picture I had of Armstrong House until I told them that the owner of the Georgia Bulldog mascot, "Uga", is a partner of the lawfirm that is housed in Armstrong House today. No, I didn't get to see "Uga", but I was just steps away.

We had just finished up our colonies unit before I left for the conference so I was able to actually show them many of the things I had previously told them. It made for a nice impromtu history lesson.

Friday, February 10, 2006

A Great Way to End a Tough Week

I am leaving Sunday morning to travel to Savannah, Georgia to attend a teacher's conference. I am looking forward to going but have been bogged down with sub plans and other assorted things to do all week. It was nice to come home and read a few of my favorite blogs to read. I was most entertained while I read an interpretation of how many dogs it would take to install a lightbulb over at Kibbles n Whine. It was a howl!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Good Intentions and the Paperwork Fairy

I've really had good intentions over the last few days but paperwork has gotten in the way. I'm frustrated---really frustrated. Over the last few days I've thought about several things I could post. My ideas usually run through my head and then I have to frantically find pen and paper so I won't forget them. Unfortunately though the Paperwork Fairy landed on my desk around February 1 and she crapped all over it. So all of the ideas that have run through my head on my drives to and from school or late at night when the house is finally silent has had to wait. Very frustrating.........

Currently my desk contains the following papers-------
*3 student write up forms in duplicate
*assorted parent notes that need to be filed
*requisition forms for my team's supply needs
*student writing samples that need to be filed
*a remediation form to fill out for students who did not master sections of curriculum for the
last marking period
*notes from team members regarding concerns they want me to report to leadership
*team meeting agendas that need to be filed
*my plan book with various notes, forms, and mail tucked into the pages
*a survey to complete concerning ways to improve our school (Where's the place to check
decrease paperwork?)
*a list of questions and reading passages for our next benchmark test----it has to be typed
up by Friday
*Progress reports that go home tomorrow----they have to be signed and comments written
*Expense forms to use for a conference I am attending next week
*a student to student note I took up ("Do u lik me? Chick yes or no")
*2 articles about backwards design I have to have read by Friday---Yikes, there might
be a test.....
*4 substitute lesson plans to be filled out by Friday morning for a 1/2 day Friday and
Monday through Wednesday
*a stack of copies and lesson attachments I have collected this week that must be sorted and
placed with the appropriate sub plan for next week
*a counseling request to have our school counselor meet with our fourth graders because we
have had too many instances of our boys calling each other queer and other assorted
synonyms for that word
*a manila folder full of new magazines from Kids Discover on the American Revolution---my
next unit
*forms the nurse needs me to fill out for a diabetic student
*forms to complete for the counselor-----a student has told me her family is moving to a
homeless shelter
*3 phone message slips (2 vendors, 1 ex-student who calls periodically and leaves me
*a stack of lesson plan ideas that I keep meaning to get to but some of them are still on
my desk from the first year I taught
*fieldtrip forms with a Post-It note attached to tell me who hasn't turned in their form
and finally----a to do list telling me about the other things I need to do-----notes to write,
emails to send, copies to make.

Calgon.....take me away!