I’m in full ed-tech geek mode today. It’s MACE tech conference time here in Kansas and I’m having a great time presenting and learning. The place is packed with educators who want to get better at what they do and want to use tech to do it.
I can’t think of a better place to be.
Wish me luck. I’m gonna try and live blog Nathan Bean’s afternoon session titled “Exploring the Pedagogy of Video Games.” And if you’ve been following History Tech for any amount of time, you know this is right up my alley. Huge believer in the power of video games to impact learning.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working together with a variety of different teacher groups in a variety of different places. But all of the conversations have somehow shifted back to the same basic compelling question:
What does an effective teacher look like?
It’s a great question to ask. We’ve always paid lip service to professional development and learning but it seems as if only recently has the question been taken seriously. The Common Core literacy standards for history and the newly revised Kansas history/government standards are demanding more from our kids – and from us.
So I started thinking about things we can do to get better as social studies teachers. Not stuff organized by our administrators. Informal sorts of things that can make us more effective. I came up with ten. I’m sure there are more but ya gotta start somewhere.
What would you add? Subtract from the list?
So what does a liquid network look like?
- Start by having a conversation about the themes of A Clockwork Orange and A Brave New World with your college-age son home for the holiday break. Realize that the topic has morphed over into brain research. Reference Steven Johnson’s book titled Mind Wide Open. During Mind Wide Open conversation remember that Johnson’s latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From, also references brain research and collaboration.
- Continue the conversation later on historyfriend’s blog post about creating a community of scholars. Reference Johnson’s Good Ideas book. Do search for link to book. Instead, find a TED talk by Johnson about his book. Listen to the TED talk. Suggest video to historyfriend.
- Share discussion with face to face office colleagues and online network. Gather more ideas about how best to organize classrooms for collaborative learning. Realize that these ideas would be perfect for your upcoming cohort session of 40 middle school teachers.
- Walk away smarter because son, Johnson, historyfriend, Amazon, TED, office colleagues, and online friends all combined to help you develop a new idea for how to organize a Teaching American History meeting.
One of my earliest memories of useful discipline-specific staff development was not organized by my school district or building. It wasn’t organized by my building or department chair.
It was designed by Ken Burns. Yeah. That Ken Burns.
The guy who directed and produced the awesome Civil War documentary that first aired in 1990.
I learned more about the Civil War and how to teach about the Civil War by watching that nine part series. Ken used amazing images, poetry, oral history, biography, and music to tell an incredibly interesting story. I began to realize that a big part of being a highly effective teacher of history is the ability to tell a great story. And more importantly, I realized that a big part of my job was to help my kids learn how to tell their own stories.
A recent article highlights a video that has Ken describing a bit about the process of telling great stories. It’s a sweet five minutes. Two things that stood out for me.
1. Ken says that a great story is the same as a mathematical equation. One plus one equals three: 1+1=3. A great story is greater than the sum of its parts.
2. Ken also uses a word that I’ve been using for years. And it’s a word that bothers some teachers. The word is manipulate. I love that word and I think we need to use it more when we talk about teaching and learning.
I starting thinking about manipulating the brains of history students several years ago while reading a great book by James Zull titled The Art of Changing the Brain. Zull suggests that a teacher’s job is to re-wire the brains of students so that new learning takes place. One way to do that is through positive manipulation of emotion.
So when I heard Ken Burns talking about using really good stories to manipulate how people respond to content, I got this deja vu / heard this before sort of moment.
The video is a nice reminder of what teachers can be working on between now and the start of school next fall – researching and perfecting great stories. Creating an emotional connection between content and kids so that their brains are re-wired.
Manipulation. It’s not always a bad thing.