Tuesday, September 23, 2014

People I Do NOT Want On My Jury

I mentioned recently that I had jury duty this month. While I was not chosen, I did spend 8 hours in jury selection for a murder trial.

While I was there, I had a conversation with one of the sixty others in my jury pool that blew me away.

I didn’t learn her name. She was an older woman with an indeterminate accent. She was tiny, with  child-sized legs and feet but with the mouth of Estelle Getty from Golden Girls. She was furious that she had to show up that day. She didn’t drive and complained loudly about her need for a ride that was waiting outside. She made a fuss about the possibliity of being chosen for the jury and needing a ride for multiple days.

Outside the courtroom, in one of the sleek, marbled halls, she grumbled during a break. “I don’t know why we need to be here anyway. I know the law says “trial by jury” and all but really, they should just throw the guy (the defendant) in jail and be done with it.

My jaw dropped a little and I struggled to balance my “social studies teacher” side with my “this is an adult and I am not necessarily here to teach her” side. I looked at her and said “It IS a pain, but I hope that if I am ever accused of a crime, that the judge and lawyers will be careful choosing MY jury some day.”

Um. Wrong thing to say, I guess?

The woman got a little agitated and said “Of course he did it! Why else would he be here? Everybody knows he did it. Just throw him in jail and let us all go home!”

The social studies teacher inside me had a heart attack.

The polite person inside me tried one more time. “People are wrongly accused of crimes all the time. I hope this guy (the defendant) gets a fair trial like everybody else”.

It was hopeless. She came back with “I don’t care. I’m sure that guy did it. Just look at him! This is BS. You only get a fair trial if you didn’t do it. We should all go home.”

Oh. My God.

I do NOT want that woman on MY jury.

I think I just heard the best argument in a while to explain why our kids need to learn SKILLS as well as CONTENT.

That woman knew her content. She knew that we, as citizens, are guaranteed a trial by jury. But she didn’t have the historical or civic skills to USE or APPLY that info to real situations.

And I freaked out, relating this to the Civics EOC. Linda often says “every kid’s vote will count the same”. I think that we have to raise that to a new level. My new real-world pressure is that “every kid could potentially be on my jury.”

Yes, even THAT kid might be on a jury. Could be MY jury some day.

And I want him or her to have the skills necessary to give me a fair trial.

One of the MAIN arguments behind the Civics (and HS US History) EOC exam(s) is that our kids need to be informed and skilled in using civic and historical information to make choices.

The reasons those tests are so tough is because they are of higher complexity. They ask kids to analyze, apply, and use those historical, geographical, civic, and economic skills. The tests don’t just ask for recall. One of our colleagues once told me “I don’t mind an EOC if they would just TELL me what set of trivia they’re testing.”

But those tests aren’t trivia tests. They aren’t solely fact-based. They’re based on skills.

What kinds of skills? Reading skills, writing skills, and historical thinking skills.

“Be more specific, Trace” I hear you saying.

Ok. Take a look at your course benchmarks in two places -- yes, even elective courses!

Here’s how.
  1. Click “Course Descriptions” along the top
  2. Click “Grades PreK-12 Education Courses”
  3. Click your level (grades 6-8 or grades 9-12)
  4. Click “Social Studies”
  5. Click the subcategory and find your course under that.
  6. Click the blue box with a number and the words “Course Standards”
  7. Now, look at the LAFS (LAFS = “Language Arts Florida Standards”, the Standards Formerly Known as the Common Core). Those will tell you the reading and writing standards assessed. Those are a big part of the EOCs, the district-developed EOCs, and the FSA (the test replacing the FCAT)
  8. Now, scroll through your standards until you come to the ones that start with an SS (Social Studies).
    1. The coding should say SS and then your grade level (like SS.6 for 6th grade or SS.912 for grades 9-12).
    2. After your grade level should be a letter. A=American History, E=Economics, C=Civics and Government, W=World History, G=Geography, and P=Psychology.
    3. So once you have the “SS”, the grade, the topic, the next number should be a “1”. That number one corresponds to SKILLS standards. Economic thinking, historical thinking, geographic thinking, historical thinking, civic thinking. For example:
SS.6.W.1.1 or SS.912.E.1.10
  1. Take a close look at those skill benchmarks. Here are a couple of examples:
    1. SS.912.A.1.2Utilize a variety of primary and secondary sources to identify author, historical significance, audience, and authenticity to understand a historical period.
    2. SS.6.W.1.5Describe the roles of historians and recognize varying historical interpretations (historiography).

When we dig into our “skills” standards, we can get a better idea of how to teach those skills in our social studies courses. Those skills are not one-time lessons but they are topics and abilities students should tackle throughout the year.

I want skilled citizens on my jury, not just citizens with a bunch of Google-able facts. And I definitely DON’T want that woman on my jury. I might be in big trouble if she is.

Your students need skills in addition to content. Check out the ones related to your course and tell me -- which ones do you already focus on? Which ones are “duh” skills? Which ones are you less comfortable teaching? Which ones do you need help with? As always, I love to hear your thoughts! Email me at newmantr@pcsb.org

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Federalism Part 2: Shake Your Fist

There is a lot of blame and frustration in our jobs. We, as teachers, are trying to change the world one student at a time. And we sometimes don’t actually achieve that goal, completely. Hence the frustration that lies in the middle between what we WANT to accomplish and what we ACTUALLY accomplish.

It’s a frustrating job.

My husband likes to mock the people who vent their frustration in the wrong direction (and me, incidently) by shaking his fist in the air and yelling at the president every time it rains or every time we get stuck in traffic. It’s just his own teasing reminder that we can’t blame everyone for everything. (Note: no matter what your politics are, you will agree that Obama does not control either the weather or the US 19 traffic).

So, last week we talked about Federalism as a serious point of confusion for students. We talked about the huge difference between Federals, federalism, federalists (and anti-federalists), the Feds, the FED, and the federal government.

I want to add another point to talk about: Federalism as a part of our jobs.

It can be very confusing to be a teacher. So many different directives come from so many different places and levels, no wonder half of us give up and just say that the mysterious “They” are behind everything.

You know -- our kids are always worried about “Them” too. “They” are going to make us wear uniforms. “They” are going to change the bell schedule. “They” are going to make us go to year around school (one of my favorite rumors).

Federalism is knowing that “They” are real people in real jobs. “They” have names.

Federalism is knowing who to blame. Or who to praise. Or who to talk to about this issue....

Federalism is not just something Civics and Government teachers teach about. Federalism is a factor in our jobs.

So, you don’t like the school lunch? Grumpy at the lack of soda in the machines? Many of our students eat free and reduced lunch from a federal (national) school lunch program. But how those dollars are used for lunches and what those free or reduced lunches look like are different across states, district, and even across different schools!

Another example of federalism mixed up in our schools revolves around testing.  Florida Senate bill 736 (state level) determined that teacher evaluations must be determined, in part, by student assessment scores. \State Statute in Section 1008.22 (state level) also determines that students in 7th grade Civics and high school US History take state-written end of course exams (EOCs).  But because of that SB 736, the state has determined that other courses need district-written or district-selected exams (like AP tests). And the federal (national) Race to The Top grant also calls for Florida to use "high quality interim assessments".

State, National, District level are all mixed up together. And your SCHOOL may have a different way of interpreting all these different rules, leading to differences between one school and its neighbor.

Whew! No wonder our kids and their parents -- and teachers in general -- are pretty confused about federalism! Who should I shake my fist at?

So all these new tests, EOCs, district-assessments, and all that -- are part of federalism. They are all mixed up in the national, state, and local levels.

I had mentioned last week that I had jury duty. One of the interesting things the judge talked to us was about our role. He asked us, point-blank, “Do you recognize that you are here today in this county courtroom to uphold the law? To decide whether or not a person broke the law? Do you recognize that you are here to evaluate the EVIDENCE, not to evaluate the LAW? Do you understand that if you do not like the law, that the place to deal with that is Tallahassee, not this courtroom?”

Yikes! It’s important for us, as social studies teachers who often teach federalism and who teach in this federal (multi-level) system, which rules or laws come from Tallahassee, which come from Washington, and which come from Largo PCSB.

Here are some federal tidbits you may or may not know.
·         The Regents Exams, in NY, were first administered in 1865 for middle school and 1875 for high school!
·         The first Standardized test in Florida, the CSE, was given in the 1971-72 school year.
·         No Child Left Behind in 2001 (national) required that all schools who receive federal funding give standardized tests annually and make AYP (adequate yearly progress)
·         Florida School Improvement and Accountability (1999, state) measured schools using standardized tests and started School Grades.
·         The state Statute Section 1008.22 authorized the role of EOCs in 2010
·         The first state-wide EOC, Algebra 1, was given in 2011
·         Senate Bill 736 (state) was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Scott. This bill determined that 50% (or 40% if teachers have less than three years of data) of teacher evaluations be based on standardized test data, “statewide assessments ... or for subjects and grade levels not measured by statewide assessments, by school district assessments”
·         Part of the impetus for SB 736 in 2011 was for Florida to gain a federal (national) Race to the Top grant.
·         Pinellas County School Board has either selected assessments (like the AP exams) or has district-written (like the district-developed EOCs) starting in the 2014-15 school year, all based on the course standards.
·         Course standards come from the Florida Board of Education, with input from the public.

Federalism is the sharing of power between national, state, and local governments. All this testing -- it comes from all three levels! I’m not even touching the other pieces of testing, like FAIR and PM the standards formerly known as Common Core and so on...

I know that testing isn’t anyone’s favorite subject and I know many folks are frustrated enough to shake their fists and curse the president about it. I’m by no means telling you what to think about it all -- just which parts come from where.

As we teach our students about the federal system of government with all the confusion and shared powers that come along, it’s important for us to understand the effects of federalism in our own jobs. It’s important to figure out who to lobby, who to praise, and who to talk to about a certain issue -- what we do and don’t have direct control of.

Does this make it all “clear as mud”? Do you have a better idea of how federalism works in our jobs? Any more good examples of Federalism in our lives?

As always, I want to hear from you! Email me at newmantr@pcsb.org

Tracy Newman
Reading-in-Social Studies C

Federalism Part 1: That’s a lot of F-words!

So I had jury duty yesterday. I don't know if you've ever made it past the first level in jury selection, but I totally felt like I was on a reality show. Or a weird video game where most people's goal is to NOT move up to the next level.

My whole courtroom experience really made me think of federalism. Courts, of course, come in what sound like logical levels -- county courts, circuit courts, district courts, state Supreme Court... it sounds like Federalism at it’s easiest.

But if federalism were that simple, we wouldn’t all be so confused, right?

So, today is about federalism. And Federal. And Fed(s). And Federalists.  

That’s a lot of F-words!   

Federalism affects us in two ways. First, because of federalism, as a teaching concept. Second because of federalism, as a factor in our jobs. Today, we’re going to talk about the first part. If I can get my thoughts together coherently, we’ll talk about Federalism as a job factor next week. Maybe...

So, you know federalism as a teaching concept. It's something Civics and Government teachers teach explicitly and US History teachers teach implicitly.  And Econ teachers teach it both ways.

Most seventh graders really did poorly on the Progress Monitoring questions about that concept last year. And no wonder! We often talk about federalism in it’s classic, yummy metaphors -- as if it were a layer cake (the national government is "over" the state governments) but also as a marble cake, where both the state and local governments are combined in a lot of different ways.

And then, we smush all our cake all over the table, just to be weird. And confusing. And to add in the other F-words.

Federalism is an f-word for a reason. It’s super-confusing.
Some possible meanings of the words Federal and Fed
  • The confusing relationship between the state and national governments (federal system)
  • Just the national level of government (the federal level)
  • Union Soldiers in the civil War (the Federals)
  • The FBI (Movies often refer  to "the Feds" for the FBI)
  • The Fed is a nickname of the Federal Reserve
  • Street slang calls local police “Feds”
  • Don’t even add in the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists and their accompanying “Papers”.

And we teach kids to figure out words based on root words and word families! But the F-words don’t follow those rules. And they’re pretty big, important concepts in our various courses.

No wonder kids (and adults) get confused! Federalism is complicated.

Help your kids out when you are teaching topics with numerous vocabulary terms and a high probability of confusion. Check out a Semantic Feature Analysis.

A Semantic Feature Analysis is a simple chart. Vocabulary terms are listed vertically and features of those terms are listed horizontally. Students can then make distinctions between the concepts according to particular features or criteria.

All students need to do (if you are preparing the terms and features for them) is put an x or a check in the box when a feature applies to a term.

Bingo. Instant distinctions.

Try this strategy the next time you have words that are confusing. I used to use it for the many different terms for Colonist and British sides in the American Revolution (Tories, Whigs, patriot, loyalist, redcoats, etc.).

After your students become more comfortable with a Semantic Feature Analysis, up their game. In the basic idea that scaffolding is a crutch that is later taken away when kids don’t need it any more, try to decrease your scaffolding by having the kids add the vocab terms or the features/criteria later in the year.

So I sat in a county courtroom with a circuit court judge to talk about whether someone broke a state law -- and honored the 6th Amendment to the national US Constitution of an impartial jury.

Federalism is complicated. But the F-words don’t have to be.

Will you try this out with some confusing terms or concepts? Let me know how it goes! I always want to hear about it! newmantr@pcsb.org

Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lecturn

Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lectern*
*To be sung to the tune of Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover”

The problem is all inside their heads
She said to me
The answer is easy if you
Take it logically
I'd like to help you in your struggle
To be free
There must be fifty ways
To leave your lectern

You just turn and chat, Pat
Try a journal write, Dwight
You don’t need to just talk, Doc,
Just listen to me

Don’t make a fuss, Gus
You might need to discuss much
Pull up a chair, Blair
And set your kids free

So I am a lousy lecture student. I am not an auditory learner and I have trouble listening. And paying attention. And taking decent notes without a book in front of me.

I am grateful that I went to a small college for undergrad and was in a small grad school program where I wasn’t one of thousands in a class. I’m pretty sure I would have failed any class where my teacher didn't stop and breathe every few minutes.

We often think we are preparing our kids for the next level (middle school kids for high school; high school kids for college) by teaching them how to learn through lecture. We lecture with the promise that they will thank us in college when they are good lecture-learners

So imagine my pleasant surprise when I found a wonderful book last year called “50 Ways To Leave Your Lectern” by Constance Staley. What surprised me is that this is a book for college professors. This book is full of ways to break up lectures and help college professors move away from the long lecture mode and into small chunks and other teaching methods.

So if *some* college professors are trying to lecture less, that should lessen the pressure on us as middle and high school teachers, to do as much preparation for lecture-style learning. We can take one thing off our gigantic “to-do” lists and spend a little less time worrying if our kids will be good in traditional style college classes.

I read a recent article in Science magazine about a University of Washington, Seattle meta-analysis of 225 different studies of undergraduate teaching methods. A new study finds that undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, so-called active learning methods.”

Teaching approaches that turned students into active participants reduced failure rates and boosted scores on exams by almost one-half a standard deviation. Um, I haven’t taken stats in a while, but that’s HUGE!!!!

So how can we adapt our lectures? The best way is to mix it up every ten minutes. Set a timer and when it goes off, switch gears. Turn and talk. Do some reading, some writing, some discussion. Let kids move their bodies, use their brains, be active.

I’m not sure I can give you fifty ways to leave your lectern without completely plagiarizing that book, but how about....

FIFTEEN Ways to Leave Your Lectern! (set reasonable goals, right?)
1.    Turn and clarify, Mai
2.    Quick write, Dwight
3.    Thumbs up/thumbs down, Brown
4.    Draw a picture, Fisher
5.    Analyze a doc, Jacques
6.    Analyze a practice test item, Tyson
7.    Answer the benchmark, Clark
8.    Turn and ask a pal, Sal
9.    Gimme five, Clive
10.  Quick debate, Nate
11.  Gallery Walk, John Locke
12.  Graphic Organize, Guys
13.  Annotate, Kate
14.  Write a recap, Chap
15.  Elaborate, Tait
I double-dog dare you to try TWO or THREE of these this week consistently. Train your students how to build these into your short lectures and let me know how it goes!

As always, I love to hear from you! Let me know how it goes!