Wednesday, January 30, 2008

“Make Politics Personal for Students”

Do your students recognize the government’s role in decisions about the standardized tests they take, their recruitment to the military, and the future of Social Security for themselves and their parents?

Helping students understand the power that election outcomes have on their present or future lives, and the lives of their family, can help engage them in the election process. When students recognized the impact of laws and lawmakers on their personal lives, I believe they would pay more attention to all elections. And, once they “get it” the political process could serve them throughout their lives.

In her article, “Schools urging students to learn about major issues and participate in elections: Primary election is setting the stage for civics lessons”, Akilah Johnson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinal, relates how “Thousands of South Florida teens and 'tweens are getting their first taste of the electoral process not through cyber campaigns or virtual debates, but in actual classrooms and real-world polling places”. Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

She describes how students from West Palm Beach to Pembroke Pines have studied the roles of race and gender in politics, voter registration in their state, caucuses, primaries and political parties in civics lessons in the advent of Tuesday's primary election and tax referendum in Florida. 

"You've got to find your voice. You've got to make people hear you," said Jay Lowe, an American history teacher at Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach. "That's my thing. Whoever has the biggest microphone in this country gets the attention."

Lowe said his eighth-grade students have honed in on three issues that could affect their lives: the war in Iraq, education and Social Security. 
"Their first thing was: 'Well, I'm 13 years old. I don't care,'" he said. But after a couple of lessons about the Army's recruitment struggles, the draft and the politics behind the state's dreaded, high-stakes FCAT, his students started paying attention to the candidates and their issues in preparation for a mock election which coincides with the Florida primary. 

Through its “Kids Voting Broward” program more than 5,000 students have cast votes for presidential candidates, mayors and the property tax amendment.

Related Articles:

“Thompson Sets Social Security View”, Wall Street Journal

“Without Medicare fixes, Social Security is sunk”, The Seattle Times

Ask Yourself:

  • Would our students be more interested in the political process if we connected it to their personal lives?

  • What issues or candidates would spark our student interest?

  • How could we use upcoming elections to increase learning?

  • How could we encourage students to have a voice in their community?

Monday, January 14, 2008

History is a Perfect Fit and the Primary Resource for Curriculum at U.S. History Schools

Joelle Chevrier, a student at Spanish River High School, found a spark to ignite her passion for learning. “I’m learning a lot more stuff about [historical events] than I ever knew existed”, she said during a break from a recent Saturday-morning economics lecture on the role of cotton in the economy of the antebellum South.

Yes, I did say Saturday-morning lecture.

I don’t know about you, but the weaving of content with the social context of a students life just seems a GREAT way to pump them up for learning that makes a difference in their lives and the lives of others… and a “bonus”… they will remember what they learned for a long time, if not forever.

“At a time when many social studies educators are bemoaning the dwindling focus on the social sciences as schools focus on reading/language arts and mathematics—the subjects tested annually under the federal No Child Left Behind Act—as well as science and technology, a small but expanding network of schools is putting U.S. history at the centerpiece of the curriculum”, says Education Week writer Kathleen Kennedy Manzo in her January 8th article, Let History Reign.

Manzo was reporting on U.S. History Schools, a network of 40 schools and 21 affiliate schools presents a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum with expanded offerings in American history. Its sponsor, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American Studies in New York City, provides financial support, historical documents and resources, and academic support from history scholars and experts.

Creative teachers make it happen:

Teachers are enjoying their participation, according to Brett Burkey, an economics teacher and the chairman of the Spanish River history department. “I incorporate so much more American history into my economics classes now,” he said. “It’s added a significant dimension to what I do.”

Bettina Hoffman, an English teacher committed to the process, designed an advanced-rhetoric course in which English students pick apart famous speeches in history and analyze the purpose and effectiveness of each. When the class watched news footage of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, a Mormon, discussing his own religious beliefs recently, “the students were jumping out of their seats to talk about it and the similarities with President Kennedy,” Ms. Hoffman said.

Other impressive integration came from a dance teacher who infused the subject into her classes, a music teacher who enhances the jazz-studies program with important events from our History, and a theater department who invited professional actors to the school to act out scenes from state history.

Ask Yourself:

  • Is History the natural “fit” for engaging students in thinking about how our society evolved?

  • Would connecting historical content to the every day lives of our students increase learning?

  • Would comparing old History texts with newer ones help students see change over time?

(When I was Assistant Superintendent, I asked my Social Studies teachers to try this exercise when we adopted new texts after nine years, and they said students “got it”. Many teachers continued to use the exercise every year.)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Happy New Year To All Educators Effecting Lives of Learners of Any Age

I thought you would enjoy the “Quotes Educators Shared Most” in the 2007 School Year
(from ASCD Smart Brief )

“A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worthwhile."

--Herm Albright, writer

“When you step into a turnaround situation, you can safely assume four things: morale is low; fear is high; the good people are halfway out the door; and the slackers are hiding."

--Nina Disesa, as chairwoman of McCann-Erickson Worldwide

“If toast always lands butter-side down, and cats always land on their feet, what happens if you strap toast on the back of a cat and drop it?"

--Steven Wright, comedian, actor

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense."

--Thomas Edison, inventor and businessman

“One of the hardest tasks of leadership is understanding that you are not what you are, but what you're perceived to be by others."

--Edward L. Flom, CEO of Florida Steel

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right -- for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't."

--Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady and American political leader

“The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they're OK, then it's you."

--Rita Mae Brown, writer and activist

“People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone."

--Audrey Hepburn, Academy Award-winning actress, humanitarian

“Rule No. 1: Use your own good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules."

--Bruce, Jim and John Nordstrom, co-presidents of Nordstrom department store, in the employee handbook