Tuesday, September 30, 2008

State NCHE meeting

We offered our current grant teachers the opportunity to attend the joint KS/MO NCHE meeting in Blue Springs. It was the caliber of a national meeting not only with an excellent schedule but keynotes by Sam Wineburg and Bill Brands.

Glenn Wiebe from ESSDACK beat me to the punch in calling Sam a stud. I thought everyone already knew that . . .

This is the first time since his March 2008 Journal of American History article on American heroes that I have heard Sam speak. He was his usual engaging self with the audience. It's clear he knows how to connect with whomever is his audience. Since most of our grant teachers took an online course on Historical Cognition centered around Sam's work last fall, it was even more meaningful them to see him live and in person.

Bill Brands is also an engaging speaker and keeps me interested in topics like Benjamin Franklin and Andrew Jackson that are normally beyond my 20th-century-heavy focus of interest. His forthcoming book on FDR should be especially interesting.

Both scholars are quite personable and enjoy speaking with teachers. It probably doesn't hurt that both started out life as teachers.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute had a presence at the conference and I was proud to see one of my former students and one of our MA grads through Project eHIKES names the Kansas History Teacher of the Year - congratulations, TJ!

I picked up a Colorado colleague whom I encouraged to attend downtown after he and his son arrived on Amtrak Thursday morning. I met up with them at the Liberty Memorial and then we met Elise at the National Archives and headed over with Reed and Diana to eat at my all-time favorite - Gates. We also got a meal in at On The Border and Bristol's downtown. On Saturday, we headed to Lawrence so Rich could show his son his alma mater. Then, I headed home to the farm to recharge. I'm noticing I'm not 25 anymore . . . if I could just keep getting more of the "calm" energy that is supposed to come with being 40+ . . .

Yesterday in my teaching methods class, we talked about historical thinking and Wineburg. I told students we would read some more work by him later and do a sample "think aloud". I explained it wasn't quite time to do that given our current involvement in developing lesson plans - they are already overwhelmed, in other words given that they are finishing up their first full blown lesson plan. We start by putting a lesson plan they find online into the template that seems to fit what many area schools use. It is an interesting challenging getting teacher candidates to start understanding what will really be expected of them in the professional world that goes so far beyond and is quite distinct from the primarily paper-and-pencil passive tests they have been taking throughout their student careers. Only after student teaching do they fully come to realize that there is a method to my madness.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008


This video was helpful today.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Conservatives on Campus

Backlash is part of the normal cycle of things. Our job in colleges is to teach students to think . . . .http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/22/education/22conservative.html?ex=1379822400&en=fffc74715f9dcef6&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Where Should Education Go Next?

The September 17, 2008 issue of Education Week contains two articles that caught my attention. I'm increasingly interested in education policy, especially as I begin to better understand how policy becomes practice. As a historian, even though I am not formally trained in the history of education, it is intriguing to discover how recommendations get translated into real world practice. For example, I've been on the front lines of experiencing how NCLB put necessary pressure on schools of education to ramp up their teacher training programs. The formal education establishment passed along the pressure to other constituency groups, which is a normal human thing to do. But, ultimately, we still are not weeding out the bad teachers and, in my particular situation, our hands are often tied by the fear of lawsuits if we tell potential teacher candidates (our undergraduates) that they just might not be suited for a career in front of the classroom. Liking a subject area like history is simply not enough and neither is liking kids. Even if you possess both of these stated traits, good teachers are still born and not made. I see too many students choose teaching as the 'easy route' and am continually thankful when I have students who truly see teaching as a calling. I know they will succeed in the long-term.

James Paul Gee, now of Arizona State and formerly of U of Wisconsin-Madison, co-authored the Commentary article, "Let's Get Over the Slump", on the back page of this EdWeek issue. he and his co-author, Michael H. Levine of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center in New York, make the following recommendations:

1. Establish a "Digital Teacher Corps".

2. Design and test alternative assessments and new standards.

3. Create "a place in every community".

4. Establish digital-partnership schools.

5. Modernize public broadcasting.

These are laudable goals but I actually see them as attainable. Let me explain why point-by-point.

1. Teachers do need this type of assistance. They are so overwhelmed with meeting the standards that they just simply don't have time to self-acquire new skills - especially those beyond their comfort zone such as technology. In Kansas, our standards are quite prescriptive and while they give a clear path for teachers to follow, there is little opportunity to take the meandering journeys just beyond the strict fences setting the boundaries of the standards path. There is so much breadth and depth in our state's standards that teachers are constantly forced into a state of panic about whether or not they can cover it all. Providing mentoring assistance in technology would certainly be helpful if we really want teachers to acquire an incorporate enhanced technology skills not only into their teaching but into student learning.

2. We keep talking about this but it won't change as long as state tests are paper and pencil and test companies continue to rake in the dough.

3. Students need a place to feel comfortable in order to learn. That doesn't mean we get rid of the competition to earn an good grade but, instead, provide a strong foundation to do so. Children and young adults have already created a safe space surrounding their cell phone and we should build on that existing experience to support enhanced learning opportunities. Students have to feel like they own their learning in order for it to happen.

4. Yes, we certainly need models with real teachers not just those who rise to the top on their own - that example isn't replicable in the real world in any circumstance. And models that are accessible to urban, suburban, and rural schools.

5. I actually think private sector sponsorships are the answer here - especially if we want to connect with what business and industry says that they need from their community schools at all levels.

Augmenting the above recommendations, a teacher and board member argues in an unrelated Commentary essays that there are common-sense ways to improve education without a tax increase:

1. Control benefits and pensions.

Here are the facts and figures according to the author: 85% of each education dollar goes to staff salaries and benefits on top of which many can retire in their early 50s if they started teaching right after the traditional four-year-college experience.

2. Pay to play.

Pay for extras with waivers for families needing financial assistance. I remember how much cheerleading uniforms costs almost 20 years ago . . . .

3. Corporate and university partnerships.

Yes! Yes! Yes! - the ultimate community buy-in

4. Create a K-11 graduation option.

I'd like to see more on this option first - there's also the social experiences that go with this plus the additional maturity many students need to have under their belt if they actually want to succeed in college - especially during their freshman year.

5. Stop reinventing the wheel.

Quit changing the curriculum constantly. I agree - especially when it comes to state standards. Tweak them occasionally but don't overhaul them every few years - it costs both time and money that is better spent focusing more directly on student learning and treating teachers like professional who know what to teach. (And if they don't, they shouldn't be in a classroom.)

6. Use the technology we bought.

This is a good place for business and industry partnerships to help schools keep up-to-date and prepare students for the actual workplace they will enter.

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Friday, September 19, 2008


and the market thinks so, too!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

still busy

several deadlines met this week and tomorrow is friday; tgif!!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

1908 - When the Democrats First Came To Denver

The AHA Blog pointed to this online multimedia project by the Denver Public Library and other historical institutions in the area.

1908, When the Democrats Came to Denver from The Denver Public Library on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Drawing Wisdom from the Tragedy of 9/11"

A financial article this morning takes a retrospective look at 9/11 seven years ago. I'm sitting where I was sitting then. Earlier in the morning, NPR had reported something about the World Trade Center and, I thought, why are they talking about 1993?

A little later, watching CNBC, I watched the second plane hit. Only then did we even surmise that it might be something more than a small plane that hit the first tower. I was away from everything but the radio news most of the day and people panicking about gas prices and gas shortages made me wish I hadn't left town with less than half a tank of gas earlier that day. I was with my best friend that day and she headed home with a sense of disbelief of what had happened on what we thought was just another normal day.

Those lost and their families and friends are still in our thoughts and prayers. I thank God that there hasn't been another similar attack since that fateful day. Only much later from now will we actually find out how many attempts were actually made - both big and small - and how they were thwarted. That's the part of history that can't be revealed until much later, if ever at all.

I grew up during the Cold War and was a high school history teacher when the Berlin Wall came crumbling down as the physical symbol of the end of the Cold War. The students in my classes today are barely old enough to remember 9/11 except that they talked about it in school. The world has changed so much. I grew up knowing who the enemy was and that they were over "there" (Soviet Union). After 9/11, we know they can be anywhere. Living in a rural area and not anywhere near a major population center provides some sense of safety but none of us ever knows.

Tears came to my eyes as they just had a moment of silence on the stock exchange and in Washington DC to remember the time the first plane hit. We are so lucky to be living in America.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Conventions as Professional Practice

This morning's Chronicle email blast included a link to a Careers column blasting conventions.

I have had the complete opposite experience with conventions. First, it's usually a good idea to attend them before presenting at them. That way, you know what to expect all the way around.

Someone needs to tell you to be overly prepared?

Travel glitches are part of the deal and are only getting worse given the recent airline cutbacks.

Waiting in line? How dare an academic have to wait in line? (Try arriving early or going later rather than at prime time. Simply supply and demand from Econ 101 here.)

The author also mentions practicing self-restraint when bragging about yourself? What about asking others what they have been doing. A polite person will ask the same in response and, if they don't, they don't care anyway so it doesn't matter.

It still amazes me how many basic civil societal norms seem outside the realm of some academics who think the world caters to them. I would tell this anonymous author that she's lucky that she was accepted to the program and not give off the impression that the whole experience was beneath her. If she wants to conduct her career by only associating only with those in her narrow subfield that read her work, she'll find herself increasingly marginalized in the larger profession and, I'm afraid, not any less unhappy with her profession.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Emily Dickinson and Academic Life

I was reading the latest Chronicle that showed up in my mailbox. In reading the Observer column, That Side of Paradise, by Thomas Washington, I wanted to share his final paragraph.

While I contemplate, from my chair at the library reference desk, the other side of paradise (however delusional) inside the university walls, maybe I need to follow the example of Emily Dickinson, who left Mount Holyoke after just one year. Reclusive yet alive with imagination - she wrote poems on the back of candy bar wrappers - she created lifelong bliss within the confines of her own homestead in Amherst, Mass., just beyond the college gates.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

September and Courses

It always seems to take until about the third week of classes for students to fully demonstrate that they realize the semester has indeed started. That's especially true when Labor Day shortens the second week.

We had enrollment the Friday before classes started on Monday. However, more than a few students waited until Monday to come to campus to handle diverse issues that could have much more easily been handled on Friday - especially if it meant attending class on Monday and/or arriving in class at the start time. It still amazes me that students will bang their way into a closed door instead of waiting until the door is opened for them. But I digress.

I always like to get a "feel" for my students before finalizing the semester's assignments and always reserve the right to tweak assignments to ensure that students fully understand what is expected AND that I've been as clears as possible in conveying those expectations. I continue to reiterate to them that earning an "A" does not mean that they "met the requirements". Instead, that means a "C" or average. I have used some of the explanatories that Liz Lawley has used over the years to try to more clearly express this to students. That goes along with explaining that grades are earned and not negotiated.

A large project is about to be put to bed and for that I will be more than thankful. It's been more stressful than it needs to be by design - especially given how much of it is out of our control. That's the nature of a group project. But, when it is out and available - hopefully within a year from now - it will have been well worth the various ensuing struggles. And, the best part is that I have gotten to know several colleagues much better and, as a result, have even more admiration for the work that they do. We do similar work as this project will attest but almost every one of us comes at it with a different mode of thought and/or approach. In other words, great minds think alike but also distinctly.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

September Rain

We experienced the very outer edges of the big storm today but it felt like the first day of fall. Instead of being a warm, steamy rain, it was a cool fall-like rain. And I am certainly ready! I love living where we have four seasons. All I wish for is a little more snow but I certainly can go places to find that at the appropriate times of the year.

So far I am on top of everything at school even though a few students who are trying to jump ahead of the curriculum are creating a few issues we will get resolved so that it works out best for them. Our program is increasingly judged by the success of our graduates not only in obtaining full-time employment but also on their scores on the national exam required by the state. I wish there were more ways to help them understand how critical that is to our even maintaining a program to offer them.

I'm still overwhelmed managing some people issues with colleagues but know that, in the end, the truth will win out. It's a good thing that some cliches are true.

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