25 February 2009

The Triumph of the RedHead

I win. Maps have been reinstated at school. I sent a few choice words to the principal, and she relented. And by a few I mean several.

It's long, and somewhat technical, and I don't really exect anyone to read it, but I'm proud of my letter. And so I present the winning argument:

[Professor Umbridge]

Maps, graphs and charts are an integral part of the Social Studies curriculum. Having the students create maps that demonstrate their understanding of historical and cultural information is an invaluable tool that is an essential part of an effective Social Studies classroom. Map assignments help the students master the TEKS, perform well on TAKS, and function at higher levels on Blooms Taxonomy.

The following TEKS require the use of map assignments:
WH.2A- identify elements in a contemporary situation that parallel a historical situation.
WH.11A - create thematic maps, graphs, charts, models, and databases representing various aspects of world history
WH.11B - pose and answer questions about geographic distributions and patterns in world history shown on maps, graphs, charts, models, and databases.
WH.12A - locate places and regions of historical significance
WH. 12B - analyze the effects of physical and human geographic factors on major events in world history
WH. 12C - interpret historical and contemporary maps to identify and explain geographic factors that have influenced people and events in the past.
WH. 26C - interpret and create databases, research outlines, bibliographies, and visuals including graphs, charts, timelines, and maps
WH. 26D - transfer information from one medium to another, including written to visual and statistical to written or visual
WG. 21C - construct and interpret maps to answer geographic questions, infer geographic relationships, and analyze geographic change

A significant majority of the questions on the Social Studies TAKS test are on maps, graphs, and charts. A student that does not have the ability to correctly interpret the information on a map cannot pass the TAKS test. In our department we have found that students are better able to decipher and analyze a map if they have had practice not only in seeing maps that other people have made, but also in being challenged to present information on a map themselves. Students who complete map assignments constantly throughout the year are better prepared to score well on TAKS

When a student is asked to create a map they are operating at a very high level on Blooms Taxonomy. They take information from a variety of sources (usually written and oral) and synthesize it into an organized visual collection of information that demonstrates a high level of understanding. In all of the map assignments our department gives the assignment takes that synthesis one step further into evaluation when the students are asked high level questions about the map they have created.

Maps are also a valuable form of differentiated instruction that can reach students who are visual and kinesthetic learners, and are a good way for ESL and LEP students to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject without the interference of a language barrier.

24 February 2009

Madame Guillotine

It is once again the time of year for state mandated writing samples. Fortunately this falls right in the middle of the French Revolution, and the kids have enough of an opinion on the guillotine to easily write a decent page. The writing prompt was “The guillotine was invented to be a humane form of execution. Do you think it was? Why or why not?”

Here are some of my favorite responses:

“Chopping someone’s head off is just disrespectful”

“It was really fast and that was a good thing because there were a lot of people that had to be executed.”

“There should have been another way to execute people, like poisoning them”

“Because people are cheering when for their death they will get hurt and sad.”

“It was almost like hanging somebody, but in this case they would lay them down and cut their heads off.”

“The crime has to fit the punishment, or whatever that thing is called that’s included in the Bill of Rights. But wait, that was France not America. French people got issues. Like who in the world chops someone’s head off. That disgusting. Seriously.”

“Unlike being drowned or lit up on fire, the guillotine was a quick and painless death. If you were to be drowned you could at least hold your breath til someone came and recued you, which probably no one did, and that really sucked.”

The assignment also produced the best piece of writing I have ever seen from a 10th grader:

"Lifeless bodies lying in heaps, severed heads on spikes for exhibition, and a cheering multitude glorifying the cold blooded Madame, La Guillotine.

The Guillotine was created during the French Revolution, and was the preferred 'humane' way to execute prisoners. Everyday the Guillotine was assembled, and every day many souls were striped of their earthly forms. Large crowds formed to see the executions and in an amount of minutes equal to the amount of heads on spikes that were later paraded around, the 'big show' was over.

A clean cut was the guillotine’s greatest attribute: painless and bloody. The guillotine was on of the most inhumane machines ever created. Many lost their lives, several were wrongly murdered, and all was done in an act of hypocrisy.

La Guillotine, a femme fatale of the ages. Dominated the French Revolution and brought 'justice' to those who lacked it. Her frigid, cruel, blade devoured millions of lives."

20 February 2009

Educational Decree #27

My principal has just decreed that the Social Studies department is no longer allowed to use maps.

She will hereafter be referred to as Professor Umbridge

16 February 2009

When in the Course of Human Events...

I made my kids read the Declaration of Independence. Actually I read the Declaration of Independence to them. Despite what my students think, I did not come up with this assignment because I hate them or because I am trying to ruin their lives. Mostly I want them to be culturally literate and have some exposure to historically significant founding documents. I was curious about how much they could actually understand of the very archaic and somewhat loquacious language. So I told them to translate the Declaration into modern-everyday- teenage-ghetto-inner city-high school language. They rose to the challenge magnificently. Here is my very favorite translation.

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

“Hey Great Britain…We need to talk”

09 February 2009

Straight From the Horse's Mouth

This week I introduced my students to the Scientific Revolution. It took some time to convince them that the Scientific Revolution was not a war, but rather the introduction of a radical new idea: the Scientific Method. They were disappointed until I assured them that some people were killed during the Scientific Revolution. The Catholic Church wasn’t really happy about losing their position as the only source of all knowledge and so made a habit of burning scientists at the stake. Mentioning the inquisition was sufficient to convince them that the Scientific Revolution might actually be interesting. With that introduction I decided to teach them the scientific method the same way that Francis Bacon first introduced the idea in 1620 and explained to them the problem of the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth.

While greatly oversimplified, the lesson goes something like this. In 1620 only two sources of information and knowledge were recognized: 1) the writings of the Great Aristotle, and 2) the Bible. One day a man wondered how many teeth were in a horse’s mouth. The question perplexed him for some time, and finally he decided it was worth some investigation. First he read the complete works of Aristotle. After many days of study he was disappointed to find that the Great Aristotle had not settled the question. The man then went to his second source. Surely the bible could answer his question. After reading the entire Old and New Testaments he found that the Bible in fact did not shed any light on the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth. Therefore the man came to the conclusion that the amount of teeth found in a horse’s mouth was unattainable knowledge. It was one of the great mysteries that man could never solve. The answer to his question was beyond the grasp of human understanding.

At this point my students, being the post-Renaissance thinkers that they are, adamantly declared that this man was stupid. I explained to them that this was Francis Bacon’s point. He wanted people to see that they could learn things through their own observation and experimentation, i.e. the Scientific Method. My kids really got into this idea and wanted to design an experiment to determine the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth. I expected someone to suggest simply finding a horse and counting its teeth, but they had some more adventurous ideas.

1st period wanted to have the horse bite my arm after which they would count the number of puncture wounds in my skin.

2nd period decided that they should shoot the horse and then count the number of teeth that it had.

3rd period wanted to make a mold of the horse’s mouth much like a dentist would to make a retainer. This experiment served two purposes: first the number of teeth could be accurately determined without exposing me to the risk of infectious disease, and second a fashionable grill could then be made for the horse.

5th period thought that rather than shooting the horse they could just tranquilize it prior to counting the number of teeth. I suspect that this class might have been influenced by the PETA. I did have to explain the word tranquilize to half of the class, but once they knew what it meant they thought it was a good idea.

6th period was the most thorough class. One kid suggested chopping the head off of the horse to count the teeth. This significantly distressed one of my special education students who asked “but Miss, what if the horse we chose lost a tooth or something? Then we would get the wrong answer.” Another of my students allayed her fears by suggesting that they could chop the heads off of three horses and take an average. That answer satisfied her.

For those of you who care horses have between 36 and 44 teeth by the time they are five years old.