Friday, July 31, 2015

Tilting at Windmills, Vol. 1, No. 12

How I plan to Teach American History from 1865

     Yesterday I wrote about what I was going to teach when I covered Reconstruction in my American History after 1865 course this fall. In today's post I am going to cover a bit on how I will teach this era which serves as a thought process for teaching the entire course. I feel that when I articulate my thoughts I develop them in a far more realistic manner instead of focusing on idealism which turns out to be impractical in some classroom situations. 

     Keeping in mind that I will have a small class with anywhere from six to twelve students, I decided to go with three groups apiece. There is only one three section chapter, five four section chapters, seven five section chapters, and three six section chapters. Four groups would be optimal for this course, but I dislike two man groups except for my film course. Group size will be three people and the peer assessment evaluation will be in play.

     Peer assessment evaluation is used so that students make an active contribution to the group work. I send an e-mail out for each module of four chapters. Students can reply to me indicating that a team member is not doing the work and that the other members are carrying the load. Since much of the grading is through the group activities, slackers get penalized for up to half the points possible. This addresses the issue of group coasting where on student rides the coattails of the others. 

     This summer's course used 24 lessons and I currently have 26 listed now using the days system. I think I'm going to cut two of them out by turning two of the five section chapters into three group lessons instead of six. There is an overload of five section chapters in the second half of the class and that will allow for some balance and provide a cushion for the inevitable cancelled classes. 

A Bit Too Complicated
     The four essay assignments, mid-term, and final stay in place. The 24 quizzes will continue as well. I find those prompt students to do better or to even do the work because they know there is a quiz at the end of each lesson. Some of them are take home while others are in class. I prefer to mix that up because it keeps students off balance as well. I do have fifty points to put into the system as we do not have the Constitution to cover. I may insert a short section on Missouri History as two lessons although I have to confess I am not really wanting to. I would love to insert a game into the class and my old high school teacher Mr. Dorson had a nice pretty simple game he used for WWI in his Recent American History class. It took up two hour long class sessions, maybe three and that would fit perfectly here coupled with a short game essay. If I can remember enough of the rules I may use that instead. 

     I have decided that for Fall I will require students to present an index card with three questions written on it in place of the social media page that we used in the summer. I had originally tried to go with Twitter, but that seemed to be too difficult for people to develop an account for. When Canvas is up and running for my classes in future semesters I may change again. For now, the card will suffice for their attendance taking. 
     The key is still the lessons for each chapter. By having them read the chapter and then zero in on a section as a group by analzying it in greater depth with video, primary sources, and websites for more detail each group develops a better understanding of that particular section. When the groups present what they learned to the class, it is an opportunity for additional learning on all parts. While no student is able to develop a deeper grasp of each section, they at least learn more than just the book. They also put the pieces into the larger theme through the use of Wikispace and their essays. The exams will feature more essay work than ever because I believe that is the only way to truly develop an understand of what they have learned. 

     All in all, I think this course promises to be exciting. The lesson development phase is underway and will probably last most of the course as I refine parts of it, especially the PowerPoints I will have for back up use and in future online versions of the course. I think the students will like it as well. The best part is the first day is the last day for lecture!

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