Sunday, November 16, 2008

NCSS, Texas style

We had a great time at NCSS in Houston. The weather was great, the conference was even better, and the discussion on specific and general topics about history were hard to beat.

The highlight was presenting 21st Century Tools in the Social Studies with Matt Montagne. The presentation was well received, even if we had a technical glitch here and there and we flew through a ton of information. We received a lot of positive feedback immediately after the presentation and also later in the afternoon. Hopefully the participants will utilize our wiki and possibly revisit the presentation. Presenting is a challenging and valuable form of professional development, and the research that we both conducted will help us in our respective teaching settings. In addition, we used the collaborative tools to prepare the presentation. All in all, we consider the presentation a success.

Another highlight – meeting a true part of history. John A. Stokes was part of the Virginia case that was one of the five cases combined and filed as Brown v. Board of Education. He is a true pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement. His presentation was not only enlightening about the Jim Crow era (which we study), but it also exhibited the power of story and oral history. Best line – Someone told him “One day, there would black president.” His response was ‘What have you been drinking?” Mr. Stokes is now part of the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial - Based on the context of the current political election, his message and emotion was extraordinary. His final words discussing the election were “Kids don’t see color … it has to be taught. “ One word – powerful.

I visited a few great sessions on simulations in the classroom, reinforcing the use of those active exercises as both a teaching tool and for assessment. One presentation provided a very cool matrix to determine the success of student’s proposals in a simulation, and I will try to incorporate that in my Civil War unit. A geography and history session provided some great insight into using geography (not just maps) in teaching the nation’s past. I also attended some very content specific sessions on the Civil War, the Great Depression, the Reagan Era, and, creatively enough, teaching the song “Born in the USA” in American history class.

One of the most exciting ideas that I saw was a project week from a middle school and high school in the Houston area. They take a week out of school and have student complete collaborative projects based on topics of their own interest. The project groups go across grade levels and are student driven – teachers only serve as facilitators. Objectives have to be developed, and assessment is done in English, math, science and social studies classes. All teachers develop topics, and their principal even participated. Their school focuses on global issues for their project week, but it could easily be adapted to any other focus. It’s a pretty awesome undertaking.

I have also been able to make a few connections with other middle school teachers that I may be able to contact for collaboration and discussion. In addition, the professional contacts with organizations and members of the academic community are always great to have!

NCSS always re-energizes me (usually at a time when I need energy!) and gives me some momentum to end the calendar year with a bang. I have tons of ideas flowing through my head and I’m itching to out them in place in my classroom.

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