Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Discussion Strategy: Mock Trial

Recently, in my social studies methods course, we held two mock trials. Mock trial #1 put the Confederate statues on trial, to determine, through trial, if the confederate statues should remain or if they should be taken down. In the second mock trial, we put the border wall along the US-Mexico border on trial, to determine whether the wall should be built or not.
The process: Half the class participated in the border wall mock trial, while the other half of the class participated in the Confederate statues mock trial. Due to numbers, we needed two mock trials as there were too many people in the class for one mock trial. In the mock trial that the students were not part of, they served as the jury and fact checkers.
For each mock trial, the students were assigned to either the prosecution or the defense.  Students did not necessarily argue for what they personally believed should be done in regards to the issue. I believe this is important because it forces the students to think about and dive into both sides. Besides, if students were left to choose what side they wanted to argue for, we may not have equal sides and it could get too personal. In addition, some students do not want people to know what they believe in personally. Once assigned to a side, the group of students determined what role each would fulfill. There were two roles: attorney and witness. There were two attorneys and three witnesses per side. They were in charge of coming up with who their witnesses were. They submitted their 'witness list' to the court so the other side could see who would be called and prepare for cross-examination. Once the trial began, I acted as judge and facilitated the proceedings. Each side gave opening statements. Then, the prosecution called their three witnesses, with cross-examination each time. The defense then presented their case by calling their witness, with prosecution getting their chance at cross-examination. Finally, each side gave their closing remarks. The jury then deliberated until they had a verdict, consulting with the fact checkers on any errors that were presented in either side. The jury was supposed to make their decision NOT on what they personally believed, but who presented the best case for what they were arguing.
The mock trial is a very engaging way to generate discussion on a deeper level. It's a great way to discuss current events. It's a project so there will be a significant amount of time spent with allowing the sides to be prepared, in order to have a rich, deep discussion/view of the issue at hand. It's a discussion technique that can be used in many different content areas. It allows the students to think critically, listen, speak and prepare.
Perhaps there is a place for the mock trial in your classroom! 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Lakota Way: Thoughtfulness

The great thing about the United States, well, at least what I think is great about the United States, is that there are many, many cultures within its borders. We know it is horribly wrong to try to kill off a culture and get those people to assimilate into another culture. Instead, our cultural differences should be celebrated and shared! We should learn from other cultures, rather than shy away from them and treat them as inferior. Learning from other cultures can do nothing but help build empathy. Example:  We can learn from the Lakota culture that it is good to be thoughtful before responding. When a question is ask, or an issue arises, or there is some sort of problem, the Lakota way is to think about what has happened silently, reflect and process the situation before responding.  At times, in Euro-American culture (white America), we tend to respond instantly in a situation, without thinking it through. Something happens and we instantly fire back or respond or spout off, without care or concern for the other person's feelings. When there is a problem or disagreement, this can be especially harmful because when responding with emotion/anger, things can be said that are hurtful. The situation can become worse and feelings can be damaged.  I am as guilty as anyone, as just recently, there was a problem and I responded instantly in a very emotional way, which did nothing but make the situation worse and people feel bad.  I would encourage everyone to adopt the Lakota way. Before lashing out or ripping someone or immediately responding with emotion, think the situation/issue through. Process what is happening and look at the situation through their eyes, rather than just your own.

Adopt the Lakota way for handling problems. Be respectful and thoughtful. This, I challenge to you.

Monday, November 26, 2018

What I'm Thankful for

I know Thanksgiving has past and we are all back to school. I was thinking about what I am thankful for and it took me a while to process it all. So, here is what I am thankful for: 
I am thankful for many things. I am thankful for Sriracha mayo, Chewy Chips Ahoy, and Eggo waffles. I am thankful for books and learning. I am thankful for knowledge. I am thankful for movies and imagination. I am thankful for the first amendment. I am thankful for facts. I am thankful for Democracy and term limits (except in 2016).  I am thankful that the 2020 election is almost here. I am thankful for Iced Caramel Lattes. I am thankful for the fridge in my office. I am thankful for the days I have had and the days yet to come. I am thankful that Jon Snow and Daenerys finally met.  I am thankful for Amazon and my MacBook. I am thankful for Twitter. I am thankful my Dad didn't die in his motorcycle accident. I am thankful for those who are open-minded and empathetic. I am thankful for legos and lincoln logs. I am thankful for my JFK mug which makes hot chocolate taste especially delicious. I am thankful for culture. I am thankful for my garage door opener. I am especially thankful for the horse tranquilizers that I use to get Hazel to calm down at night. I am thankful for jokes. I am thankful for the sausage Breakfast Boy. I am thankful for my dragon goblet. I am thankful for all the articles people post on Facebook. I am thankful for sports and competition. I am thankful for people posting their workouts on Facebook. I am thankful for technology and iMovie.  I am thankful for the air in my lungs, the blood in my veins and the electricity in my brain. Mostly, I am thankful for people like Abby, Olivia, Isabel, and Hazel. People like my mom and dad (best ever). People like my siblings. People like my DSU co-workers. People like my students. People that uplift me and make me think. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The NEED for Social Studies

We need social studies. I'm not talking about an official study or formal research project. I'm just telling you what I think. I think we need social studies. We need to talk about and learn about other cultures, how else will kids develop into thoughtful, open-minded people? Ignorance is dangerous. People fear that which they do not know or understand. Through social studies, we can teach students to be empathetic. To accept differences in other people, but yet we are all human beings living in this world together. With social studies, we can teach students kindness, respect, and compassion. We can teach kids that it's bad to lie, no matter who you are or what position you hold.  We can teach kids that if something is untrue, it will remain untrue no matter how many times it keeps getting repeated. We need to make sure students understand that a lie is a lie, no matter how many times it is spoken. "Speaking things into existence" isn't a thing and should NOT work, but it will be if we don't teach our students to be critical thinkers! It's important that we have social studies in school because we need to make sure kids understand that you treat people with respect, unlike the horrible examples they often see on the news. Degrading people and hurling insults is NOT OKAY just because those people don't agree with you about something. We need social studies because then we can teach kids to listen, think, reflect and then respond with a thoughtful response. I believe that studying social studies is one of our main weapons to end racism.
A lot of people won't need to be able to solve elaborate math equations as an adult. Most won't need to conduct science experiments, or paint a picture, or write a poem. But ALL people, no matter what, should be empathetic, open-minded and respectful because we are all humans living in this world together. Imagine if that were true? Imagine what the world would be like, or just what this country would be like? This is what social studies brings to school. At least, it would if it wasn't constantly being eliminated and viewed as not as important as other subjects. It's as equally important as any other subject area.
Take a look at social media comments. People are so nasty to each other! They are setting such a terrible example for kids! We tell kids to be nice and respectful, yet then go off on someone on Facebook.  In today's world, with it being as divided as ever, I can see how it is difficult to bite your tongue and not respond. Trust me, I'm with you. But we must set a better example for our kids! Engage in dialogue respectfully.

Social studies every day. Physical Education every day. Read every day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Good enough" is not the goal

"Good enough" is not the bar we should be shooting for.
"How was the lesson?" - It was good enough. WRONG
"How was the lesson? - It could be better. I'm going to change this and this, etc." CORRECT!

The term "good enough" is fine for home DIY projects or things like that. But for education, teachers and learning, 'good enough' doesn't cut it. To be happy with good enough, don't settle for good enough. If something is 'good enough' then that means it could be better. So make it better! Sometimes we don't know how something is going to go until we try it. Which is totally okay! But after you try a lesson and it was simply 'good enough' reflect on why it was only 'good enough' and make a tweak for next time. 'Good enough'  lessons aren't disasters. They are not a total, epic failure, but they still fall short from making a real impact and difference in student learning.
Recently, I gave my students a task to explain something so a 5th grader could understand. The topic was to explain the three branches of government. They posted their video to Flipgrid. I gave them all 0/100. Sure, their videos explained the concept. They talked about the three branches, what they did, checks and balances, etc. The videos were, well....good enough. But that's not our goal! We don't want to settle for good enough so I made this point with something near and dear to their hearts: points and grades! Boy, once those 0/100 were posted, they were beating down my door, demanding an explanation. Which I provided: yes, you got a 0/100. It was good enough, but we are not striving for good enough. We are striving for greatness. You need to do better. More effort. More creativity. So, they were allowed to redo the videos and oh my! They were so much better. A clear difference between their first attempt and their second attempt. Way more creative, much more enthusiasm. They used props, music, actions. They were no longer good enough, they were great! That's what we are shooting for. Being great. Sometimes, it just takes a bit more effort.

Sit down and reflect on how you have been operating as a teacher lately. Have you settled for good enough? Change your mindset and perspective. Strive for greatness. Be willing to put in their effort needed to be great. It's in you. Just let it out!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

There is an Epidemic Spreading...

Holy smokes. Do you realize the crisis we are facing? Are you aware of this seriously frightening epidemic spreading throughout college campus all over the USA? Seriously, it's not good people. You step on campus for ONE minute and you will IMMEDIATELY see what I am talking about. But wait, no point in having to come all the way to campus to see evidence of this scary plague, because you can see it right where you are, I am willing to bet.  Just the other day, I was out for a nice stroll across campus and I almost became a victim of this epidemic FIVE times! And it's not even a very big campus. Sheesh. I'm telling you what. Something must be done. I don't think there is a vaccine for this. Not sure if there is a cure either. Oh, wait, there is. I know what the cure is. It's a sledgehammer. You may be thinking, "uh, what? What kind of epidemic is solved by a sledgehammer?? That makes no sense and I'm going to stop following this blog which is bad for him because I'm the only one who reads it."
This epidemic started out gradually. It started appearing, but only subtly and nobody really paid it much attention, in fact, most just joined in, willingly infecting themselves. No surgeon general's warning on the box to warn us of the dangers or to ward us off from diving in and joining the group.
It's too soon to see the long-term effects this epidemic will have. But the short-term results are in. And they are bad.  For me, I have witnessed plenty of people suffering from the horrible things caused by this epidemic: Black eyes from running into a light pole. Scuffed face from running into a brick wall. Tripping over a park bench. Dropping all their books. First degree burns after spilling their coffee. One person even missed the love of his life because of this!!! She walked right on by and he never even knew it. Had he been looking up, he would have seen her. An instant spark would have popped into his head and prompted him to say hello. This would have led to grabbing coffee later in the day. Then, dating. Then marriage. Then kids. A full life of happiness with his soul mate. But nope, none of that stuff happened because of the screen he was staring at.  It's terrible. I'm telling you, it's terrible! Cue the sledgehammer.
This epidemic is "Walking while texting" and it's out of control.  I was once standing in the hallway. Motionless, just watching a group of students walk towards me. One was looking down, on their phone while walking. I just stood there and do you know what happened? Yep, the person ran right into me. It was so awful (and awkward). Seriously! It's a problem. Even worse, some even text while walking backward. How dangerous! Not only for them but for the people around them who are actually engaged in the real world and not locked into a screen.  It seems everywhere I go, people are walking while texting and I fear that once they finally look up, they will see that 10 years have passed and they have done nothing but wasted it away on their device.  I offer a challenge! Put the device down. Look up while walking around. Perhaps you while notice the beauty in the world and engage in the present. There can't be anything that important that requires you to be walking while texting. And if it is an emergency or high priority, stop walking!
Social media makes people less social. I'm right there with them, inflected by this epidemic myself, but now I'm going to do something about it. What you ask? I deleted Instagram for starters. What's next? Probably Facebook. Then snapchat. Then Twitter (wait, no, who am I kidding. I'm not getting rid of Twitter). Or, maybe you don't have to delete any of that stuff, but just achieve some level of balance in life. Yes, perhaps that's the best route. I'll go with that. BALANCE!


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Anniversary of September 11th

Today is the anniversary of September 11th. I remember CLEARLY where I was when I found out about it. I was a freshman at Augustana College. I actually woke up fairly early this day, around 8:30 am and stumbled down from my loft and flipped on the t.v.  I thought I was watching something from a movie. I thought the first plane was just an accident. But then the second plane hit. Then a plane hit the Pentagon, then a plane crashed in a field outside DC. It was no movie. No accident. America was under attack, on our own soil.  It brought our nation together to stand up to terrorism and bring justice to those who murdered our people.  Spend some time today thinking about September 11th and the horrific tragedy that it was. Watch some Youtube clips of the coverage of the day.  We owe it to all those innocent lives lost that day to think about them and honor them. We owe it to the thousands of men and women of the military who answered the call of duty and laid down their lives to seek out the people responsible for this.

September 11th has a dual meaning for me and my family. On September 11th, 2013, my dad returned home from a horrific motorcycle accident that put him in a coma for five weeks, due to a traumatic brain injury.  79 days after he entered the ICU at Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls, my mom wheeled him to the front doors of Sanford in a wheelchair. He then stood up and walked out the doors on his own. We then drove back home to Worthington, MN and had a pizza party. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

So yeah. September 11th is quite the day for me. An emotional rollercoaster.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

I got a Blister on my thumb

Proof of my blister
So I was building a fire pit last weekend with pavers and gravel from Menards. Perhaps you are familiar with the process but at one point, you have to clear away the grass and level out the earth. Well, while doing this, after about 30 seconds of digging, I obtained a massive blister on my thumb. I guess my hands haven't developed tough callouses to ward off blisters from typing on my keyboard or turning the pages of my book. So yeah, my hands are, apparently, soft. So I got this huge blister and then I started feeling sorry for myself, especially after it popped. I was lambasting myself for not wearing gloves. A tried and true tactic to ward off blisters, even from the most vulnerable of hands. But nope, no gloves for me. I just grabbed that shovel and rushed into the action with reckless abandon, eager to clear that earth and construct the fire pit. So I was looking down at my thumb, trying to hold back the tears so my kids wouldn't see me cry over a blister, thinking about how horrible this was--to have a blister this big on my thumb. Having had blisters in the past, I knew the worst was coming---taking a shower! When a water blister pops open, the water from the shower stings so much. Just unbearable.  Plus, after the shower, when you are trying to dry off with the towel, it hurts even more for the towel to rub against the exposed, raw flesh underneath the skin that had blistered off.  Then, something miraculous happened. I had an epiphany! No, not about the best way to organize the pavers to make it look nice, no, not about a new strategy for consuming the most amount of S'mores in the shortest amount of time, but an epiphany on something far more important. I started thinking about the struggle I was going through and then started to compare that struggle to actual struggles people face. Real struggles. So I thought about my blister. Then, I thought about those who suffered during the Holocaust. Or those who toiled away building the Panama Canal. Or, those who endured countless oppression at the hands of racists. Or, those who stormed Omaha Beach and gave the ultimate sacrifice. Or, those who struggle through their lives, working three jobs to just get the bare essentials for their three kids. I thought about those who have suffered through long chemo treatments. Long rehab assignments for a variety of reasons. I thought about those who toiled away in the fields, under the unrelenting sun, behind a team of oxen pulling a plow, hour after hour to grow crops and build a better life for their children. I thought about John McCain and what he endured in Vietnam, never once giving up any information. I thought about Louie Zamperini and the extreme beatings he took, both physically and emotionally, day after day.  There's been some real struggles. The human spirit has prevailed in an awesome way throughout the annals of history. So after all that thinking, there was no progress made on the fire pit, but definitely a renewed sense of appreciation and gratitude for those who came before me.
So yeah, my blister, as it turns out, is not a big deal.


Monday, September 3, 2018

In Honor of Labor Day

Happy Labor Day to all. Today is a day to celebrate all those out there who work hard. Those "laborers" who have done so much throughout the history of our country to build it up to what it is today. Image those who built the skyscrapers of NYC in the 1920's. Imagine what it would have been like to build all those roads, interstates, highways, etc. Imagine the pain and misery of all those shinglers. Imagine the mental strain of trying to figure out how to build bridges over long expanses of water. The Laborer is truly someone to be honored and thanked. For we owe them so much. My question to you is this: Are you a Laborer? Do you work hard and put forth effort in your job, career, profession? As an educator, we owe it to our students to put forth maximum effort and to work hard at our jobs. We can't afford to go through the motions. Our students not only deserve a teacher that puts forth maximum effort, but needs that type of teacher! A few questions to ponder: Have you tried anything new recently in your classroom? Have you done any research to uncover a hidden gem of a lesson, idea or spark? Do you print off your entire year's worth of worksheets on day 1 and then be set for the year? Do you actively seek out passionate educators, have conversations with them and bounce ideas off each other? Do you sit and wonder? Do you contemplate and reflect on yourself as an educator? Do you engage in PD, not because you are forced to, but because it helps you grow and improve as an educator?

Be a hard worker. Put forth maximum effort. Work to be good at what you do. Putting forth effort is a choice. Please, for the sake of our children and future, make the right choice. Choose effort.