Schools Out.

This past semester has been a killer.  Not only did I take two classes for a MA program, I also taught 5 classes at an area high school.  So on top of my course work at college, there was planning, grading, classroom management, and much more.  This semester has taught me a lot about myself.  The first thing that I learned was not to spread myself too thin.  Unfortunately, this is the 3rd, 4th, or 7th time that I have learned this same lesson.  I guess it just doesn’t stick.

There were, however, many bright spots in this experience.  The units, lessons, and assessments that I created for my classes were some of the best I have done.  The class that I put the most time into was a Honors US History course for sophomores.  When I took over the course, we were just finishing up WWII. While I was their teacher, we looked at the Cold War through the lens of our essential question, “Did the United States actions, between 1945 and 1991, at home and abroad, compromise our nation’s democratic principles?”  It is obvious that this question covers many if not most topics for the Cold War.  The only problem is where to begin.

In order for the students to get a firm background for this Unit, we had to define democratic principles.  I used a concept development model to list all the items, words, ideas associated with democratic principles and guided the students as they created their definition.  Although both classes developed a different definition for democratic principles, they both developed a deep understanding for democratic principles.

Over the next couple of weeks we looked at the early Cold War, at home and abroad, up to and including the Korean War.  The focus of this portion of the unit was to identify and evaluate democratic principles as shown in history and understand why democratic principles are important to study in the Cold War.  Next, we turned to the Vietnam War and several Cold War landmarks that happened in the same time period.  Finally, as a capstone for the course, I invited a historian to speak on the differences between authoritarian government and democratic government, the significance of the Berlin Wall, it’s fall, and the collapse of the USSR.  With all of our study of the Cold War the students were able to engage and ask questions of the guest speaker, which created a dynamic experience for the students.

In preparation for the final exam, students formulated an essay evaluating whether or not the Cold War was a great victory for the United States.  Essentially, the students read two essays of opposing viewpoints and use this information along with their background knowledge for the topic to create their own essay which was graded according to a department rubric.  Overall, I was very pleased with the progress and higher order thinking skill displayed by the students.  This unit was successful.

Although I did use Understanding by Design strategies for this unit, I did not create the final assessment and teach to the test.  Instead, I determined 5 or 6 skills that I wanted to stress in this unit and taught and retaught until most (if not all) students had made significant progress.  Some of the skills I focused on were analyzing primary sources such as speeches, news articles, and political cartoons; writing paragraph responses; creating news articles; writing essays; note taking; and reading for information.

All in all, even though this was a tough semester, it was fruitful.  I brought my craft as a teacher to the next level.

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