A Whole New (AP) World...
It's been a long time since I've been new at something related to school.
I've taught different subjects, moved to different rooms, met and collaborated with different co-workers, and of course each fall I've met and gotten to know whole new groups of students - but that's not the same as being new.
The last time I was new, Bill Clinton was being impeached and the Euro was being introduced as a collective, unity-building form of currency.
Now I'm in a new town in a new state in a whole new district teaching a whole new class - at least to me. I like the area so far, and absolutely love the people and the district, so thankfully that's not an issue. I'm confident I can handle AP World History once things get rolling. If for some reason things don't start well, I'm blessed that I can turn to several of the best folks in the country at that sort of thing thanks to the relatively small universe of College Board consulting and training. Heck, I already feel supported by my new colleagues - even the weird ones.
On the other hand I'm not sure where the copy machine is or whether or not it's OK to use categories in my grading. I haven't met a single student or led a single class here. So while I'm not worried, exactly, I just...
It's all new. And I'm new to them as well. That's weird.
So I thought perhaps I'd try something new in Blue Cereal bloggery as well. I'm a big fan of Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes by Englishy-type Peter Anderson, and of Three Teachers Talk by Amy Rasmussen and Co. (there are way more than three of them, but hey - it's not a math blog). Anderson reflects with such transparency on a variety of things related to his role in the classroom while still keeping his overall focus on pedagogy and teacher effectiveness; I'm humbled to consider him a long-distance friend. And 3TT - the insights, the strategies, the cyber-collaboration? If I could just become them when I grow up, I'd feel totes legit forever.
Given that most of my time and energy is focused on this new subject and these new students anyway, I thought I'd try something similar and share some things I plan on using in the classroom as we begin this week. I may even follow up and let you know how they actually go.
My classes will be AP World History - some all Freshmen, others mixed grades. The district is in an area that has a small-town feel but faces challenges of the sort you'd associate with inner-city districts, although not nearly so pronounced. The student population is majority-minority, but we're not talking Freedom Writers or Lean On Me here. This is a nice community that's weathered some hard times in recent decades. But they've weathered them.
I know some teachers like to work on classroom procedures or go over the syllabus on the first day. I'm not criticizing that approach, but I prefer to set a tone and hit the ground running. I want to give students a good idea of what sort of content they'll be dealing with and get an idea of what they already know and can do. We'll get to the syllabus and all that soon, but not today.
The thing is, as a practical matter I have to take attendance and start learning their names. Partly that's just good foundation if we're going to have a useful relationship, but it's also required in my new district that I enter that attendance at some point early in the hour, and I can't do that yet without going down the list because these kids are all new to me.
So we're going to try to do both - the introductory lesson and the names. I'll call them one at a time, make corrections to my pronunciation or try to figure out if they seriously go by 'Booger' or if they're screwing with me, and so forth. But then I'd like each to tell me something they know about, or have at least heard of, that's ever happened anywhere at any time in world history. I'll record these on the white board as we go. No wrong answers - just finding out what they know or think they know.
I expect this to take a good 15-20 minutes, at which point I'll already be late putting in attendance on my very first day. But at least we'll be rolling in terms of learnage, yes? Here's hoping that offsets my tardiness on some rather critical bookkeeping.
There will be colored pencils and blank world maps at each table. I went a little crazy and actually made the maps 4-pages each - standard 8.5"x11" printer paper, with a quarter of the map on each page, taped together lovingly. I'm not sure this was entirely necessary, but it kept feeling like the way to do it, so that's how I did it.
See, I'm a big fan of listening to reason, and being practical, and even stretching yourself past your comfort zone. I'm an even bigger fan, however, of teachers learning to trust their instincts - especially when your gut keeps nagging you about something but won't quite explain to your head why you should do it that way.
My gut said make the maps big, so they're big.
My example doesn't actually look like what I envisioned theirs would look like. I wanted the sample to be readable on the screen up front, and my picture just kept getting bigger, and... there it is.
But upon consideration, mine looking so weird might be a plus. It's an introductory activity, not an assessment, and I hope to convey early on that what I'm usually looking for is thought and effort and ingenuity rather than strict adherence to directions. If they're placing the events they've chosen on the map and on the timeline with reasonable accuracy, how they make that happen is not overly important to me. There are times to be a stickler for format, absolutely. But I don't think this is one of those times.
What am I hoping happens? Why am I doing this lesson on Day One?
I'm hoping students find ways to work together and help one another at their tables; if that doesn't happen, I'll know we need to work on that soon. I'm hoping they'll utilize the resources in the room and whatever personal devices they have to procure useful information - in this case, dates and locations for events chosen by themselves and their classmates. I'm curious to see how they handle tasks without much guidance from me as to "how."
I'm especially curious how much they already know - what events they list, and how much they know about them going in. I'm curious how they do with some very basic research skills, and with working together. I'm wondering how they'll respond to me and my style throughout the process. And, if I'm being honest, I hope they'll find it engaging and slightly fun and curious about a few world history things. I hope it gives us all good momentum on Day One.
I was totally guess-timating when I asked them to choose 12 to begin with. They may easily do twice that in the time allowed, or may struggle to place half that number. I definitely don't want dead time if some groups are substantially faster than others. That, too, will be interesting to see. As any teacher will tell you, you never really know what to expect, no matter how many times you've done something or how good your planning. And in this case, it's all new.
Or did I mention that already?
I'm predicting there will be a definite bias towards events in North America and from the past 200 or so years. I'll go further out on that limb and speculate that many events elsewhere will be stuff that involved the U.S. in some way - WWII, the War on Terror, etc. But I don't know this for a fact, and I'm genuinely curious what we find.
Whatever the results, it's worth asking why. They'll be asking that a lot this year; might as well get in the habit now. Occasionally I might even help them find the answers, if they're the sorts which can be found. Not every time, though. That might make them crazy - we'll see.
Honestly, I'm hoping we don't get to this slide on Day One. That means the primary activity and discussion went well enough to fill 70 minutes meaningfully. But new classes and new schedules mean it will be a few weeks before I have a good feel for timing, and I hate "finishing" class with time left. There should always be a plan - ideally a productive or meaningful one. This is that.
Friday will apparently be a logistics/clubs/orientation day and we've been told we'll need to be "flexible." This sort of activity would fit well that day, if I haven't used it already. I might even add something about my being new to the area and ask them what I should know about it. It's not about my getting to know the area, of course, so much as the kids. That supports better teaching, and better learning. Even better scores, if that's your thing.
So I feel ready, mostly. It's not like I haven't done this before.
OK, not this, exactly - but things like this. In other places, with other kids, in other surroundings.
Here, though, it's all new.
I can't wait to find out how it goes.