Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reflections on the 2009 - 2010 School Year "Best Of"

This was a great year.  I am super happy with the progress of my students.  Only two did not get credit for the year.  I am proud of that.  It definitely is a measure of the fact that I have GREAT students.  And I am committed to doing whatever it takes to help kids learn World History.  I think it is also a reflection of the kind of system I have created to assist students, so that learning is the only thing that matters.  Here's a quick look at the system, in a nutshell:

If a student gets any grade below an 85, they can come to tutoring to make up the work and reassess it.  They can not reassess during our class period, only during tutoring.  My tutoring times are Tuesday and Thursdays from 2:45 to 3:30.  It is up to the students to get in there after school to improve their grades.  But, the grade is just the carrot.  When I get them into tutoring, I'm checking their notes, orally quizzing them, helping with future assignments and working with them to be sure they understand the material.    There are time restraints.  A student can not come in to reassess after our next test.  For example, they can come in and work on Chapter 2 assignments all the way until we test for Chapter 3.  That's the deadline.  So I am not grading and re-grading forever.  The deadline is important.  For last work, they get a 50 if it's late until they come to tutoring and can earn up to an 85 if reassessed and orally quizzed that they indeed know the information (to be sure they did not copy/cheat).  If students do not turn work in before the deadline - it's a zero. 
Many would look at this and say it is watering down the course or worse, 'giving grades.'  But, the kids have to earn it.  They earn it by showing me that they have learned the material.  In the long run, this is all that matters.  And I love having the ability to say to a student (or parent), "Why didn't you come to tutoring to raise any grade that was below an 85."  Number one it's a win-win scenario for me and my students.  That pressure that it is on them and them alone to make the effort and be sure they understand the material... it just puts the pressure where it should be - on the student.  And it puts me in a support role, doing whatever I can to help and assist in the learning.

The year was also wonderful because of the many great and spirited service projects that our school committed to.  We raised over $7,000 for Haiti.  Through NHS at our school, students raised about $6,000 on a balloon campaign  for a young elementary girl dying of cancer so that she could go to Hawaii as her "wish."  Many of my World History and AVID students participated as judges for elementary school student's competition in Ecobot Challenge.  I believe they caught the "service bug."  We committed loads and loads of time as a school into community service and it made our school a much better place to be at in 2009-2010.  Really awesome.

So at the end of the school year, it is time for some reflection.  My first piece of the reflection will focus on a part of my survey.  Each spring I ask my students to fill out a survey that is a reflection of the school year.  Here were some of their comments that stood out or were repeated often:

Best Activities or Assignments of the Year:

Trench Warfare (Video)
It was really fun, although I hid behind a backpack like a coward.
We were allowed to throw paper at each other and did not get in trouble for it!
It was better than using real guns!

Video Project 
Everyone got to do what they wanted.
I loved getting to use computers.
I had never created a video before, so I learned more doing that than anything.
they were so creative, it was so much fun to watch what people came up with.
because we got to go into detail about a subject that we felt strongly about.

Castle Project  (Rubric) (Video)
Such a creative project.  When we are creative on things like this it keeps us more interested in the class.
OMG So much freaking fun!
I loved picking my partner.  We worked so well together.
Building a castle was just pure fun.
Loved being able to work with friends on the Castle.

College & Career Project 
It taught me what I should be looking for in a college.
I thought it was fun and interesting and got to hear what people wanted to be.
I liked the opportunity to do the resume.
It really helped me prepare for my future, Thank You Mr. Duez.

Ball Toss  (Video)
I really liked the ball toss because it allowed us to be active and involved.

Philosophical Chairs 
I really loved PChairs because it made me question my own opinions and views.
I loved debating all the topics.
It was always exciting and got me thinking.

Socratic Seminar  (Edmodo Experiment) (Video)
Using was one of the coolest things.

Rock ArtCollege Essay
It introduced everyone to each other and showed who we are to you.
It was the perfect ice breaker to start the year with.  I felt like I knew everyone after having gone through it.
I got to use my imagination

Human Rights Project 
I liked it the best because everyone had to do their part and we all learned the whole thing together.

World Leader Project 
I liked this one the best because we had a complete say in the leader that we wanted to do.  I loved learning about him.

My Reflections:
I will definitely swap when I do the World Leader Project and Video Project.  This year I came into the school year with a plan to do the Video Project twice because it was such a huge success the previous year.  But, the Video Project needs to happen in the 5th Six Week's Period.  (See last year's awesome videos from spring 2009 here)  It gives the kids more time to know each other better and they can work more cooperatively in teams.  They are also a bit older and more ready to work on videos, work with the technology end of it, and most important do the kind of research it deserves.  By the 5th six week's period the students know me better and are more comfortable asking for help.

The World Leader Project in the second six week's period will give my year a big shot in the arm.  I'll be giving them a research project right out of the gate and that will really help.  We will be working with multiple sources much more quickly and it will lay a great ground work for the kind of research we'll be doing all year long.

I loved the projects we did this year.  They were very similar to what we have done in the past.  But the biggest change was adding rubrics to better direct their writing.  This gave me the chance to add writing rigor to these projects that were not there in the past.  These students wrote better than any previous year that I have had.  I think a lot of that was attributed to the fact that I pushed them to write more and in a more complex way.  (Thesis writing all fall and then working with Documents using DBQs in the spring)  That has to continue next fall and be stronger to get them even more prepared for AP US History.  They don't call it "A-PUSH" for nothing!  It is a signal to me to push these kids even harder, but with lots of support.

I'll add another blog post or two this summer regarding what the student responses were about other questions in the survey, like:
 "What they will remember 10 years from now,"
"A Song, Book or Movie Title to describe the class,"
and their "Words of Warning" to next year's students.

I'd like to thank my friend MissTeacha, a fellow World History teacher, for lots of help and assistance this year.  She has a wonderful way of listening and giving support.  Thank you!


  1. Awww, you giving me WAY to much credit, here! I steal all of your ideas!!!! Seriously.

    How do you combine the rock art with the college essay? I think I might do something similar to this year. My goal for the next school year is getting my students write more.

    Thanks for sharing resources that will help increase rigor in our classroom. WTG!!!

  2. Thank You MsTeacha!

    The Rock Art Project is all about the kids telling the class about who they are (writing coded message on the rock art poster, drawing at least 3 symbols to represent them). So the same essay they will need to write for their college essays is kind of similar in that way. They will be telling a college about who they are. So I combine the two.

    I used to have them write about the actual rock art, but I find this puts the emphasis from day one on college and that's why they are in my class. Plus, there is a real skill/art combination to writing the essay. The prompt is what person impacted you the most. But, colleges and universities don't really care about that prompt per se. They want the student to explain the impact of that person on the student and how it has shaped them. So I try to focus them on that part of it. Many of the students make the mistake of writing completely about the other person and not drawing the parallel to themselves.

  3. Sounds like you had a great year. Thanks for stopping by my place, on my last day. After 21 years, it's time to do something else. I no longer have the energy it takes to do the projects you just rattled off, so it's time to go. In reviewing 21 years of photos, we kept finding these of me doing goofy things and I had to laugh because I did do crazy things in the 90s, when I first got started, although I don't think my students ever appreciated all the hard work. It sounds like you have some amazing students.

  4. Thanks dkzozdy. That is definitely a factor - my kids are absolutely AMAZING. So they give me a lot of energy. I have been going through some pretty awful health problems that make teaching almost impossible, but the kids give me so much in return that it has helped. I really can't wait for next year. (Hopefully I'll be feeling 100% by then)

    Good luck in your future endeavors. I'll check your blog to see where it takes you.


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