Tag Archives: High School

Finals Are Approaching – How do you Prepare Your Students?

Our semester is drawing to a close (faster than most of us expect) and the great question on everyone’s mind (teacher, parent, and student alike) is how do we gear them up for final exams? It’s a tricky question and I don’t think that I’ve ever followed the same policy/procedure twice.

I can say that one thing I hate to do is a ‘formal review.’ As I tell my students, if I could put everything we went over the whole semester into two class days well then, we didn’t get much done! And even though review sheets make me uncomfortable (as they seem to give students blinders), I’ve come up with a few that make me more comfortable in their broadness (but probably don’t thrill students). Here are my general midterm formats for students (not including AP Art History):

Multiple Choice Section

I don’t like to give a lot of multiple choice as rote facts are not, in my opinion, truly ‘learning.’ It’s just regurgitating information. However, everything requires a little bit of rote (be it names, a timeline, events, etc). I keep it short.

Key Term Identifications

I put a list of 12 “Key Terms” (these can be names, events, battles, etc), students select 8 and define them. I usually let them do an extra one for some extra credit.

Slide Portion

As an archaeologist, I love objects. A lot. I show a lot of images when I lecture and emphasize the importance of material culture. As such, they do have a slide portion. Here is an example of a slide question:

Primary Source Materials

I am a big fan of exposing students to primary sources – ancient accounts of history, letters, journals, court rulings, newspaper accounts from the time, etc. As such, I always require that they do some primary source interpretation. It’s something that we have read and discussed in class. I put down two passages, they get to select one (again, I’m a big fan of choice). They must identify the author (if known), the title, approximate date it was written, and write a brief paragraph on its significance. The biggest struggle for my students with this is in not summarizing the piece, but analyzing. However, remember that they are just teenagers. I don’t think I “got” Thucydides until my later years of college.


I’m a huge proponent of writing, writing, writing. There is always an in-class essay on my tests – always. There are always two essays on my test and they must write one (approximately 3-4 hand-written pages).

So What About Review?

So, how do I prepare them for this now? If I don’t do a formal review what do I do for them? I do distribute a review sheet to them at least a week in advance. However, my review sheet is not too specific (again, trying to avoid those blinders). I list for them items that are “fair game,” which always includes: all assigned readings for homework, all in class readings, all lectures, any videos shown in class, and any in class discussions. In other words, “everything.”

Next, I divide the sheet up: A broad list of key terms (even if they don’t show up on the key term section, I warm them they could be in the Multiple Choice or relevant to their essays, slide questions, etc. I then put up the works from which I will draw their “Primary Source Analysis” (usually 4-5 pieces). I also then provide them with three “potential” essay questions, two of them will be on the test. I encourage that they not write the essays, but instead do a very detailed outline of each one.

What do I make Available to the kid?

I make a lot available to my students, but not everything. I’m a big fan of DropBox and have a shared filed for each of my classes. In this DropBox account I put electronic copies of any handouts I distribute (they know not to come to me for extra copies). I also put all of my PowerPoints on there – now my students learn early that my PowerPoints are not my lecture notes (those I don’t not make available). However, it’s where I draw my images for slide questions and is great for jogging their memory on earlier topics.

How do I treat review sessions? My students are instructed to bring their notes, handouts, textbooks, etc with them to class and we use our review days as a study hall. I am available for questions, I can help them with their outlines, I can provide guidance, and they can also work together and collaborate. They’re allowed to work in groups (at a reasonable volume – if their voices become ‘outside voices’ then they change to individual task workers).


So, I know that my system is not fool-proof. Often, I have students who want me to simply “tell them what will be on the test.” And of course, “have you looked up that question in your notes on the Roman Republic?” Often meet with… less enthusiastic responses. However, when I look at results, I find that my students midterm and final grades seem to reflect their overall performance in the class.

I’m curious about what other instructors do for their reviews. Is it formalized? Is it free-for-all? Is it a mix? I’m always open to constructive suggestions.

Using Blogs in Class – AP Art History

This year, I have been introducing blogging in my classes (to varying degrees). I have written on them several times in my previous posts: “First Week Using Class Blogs,” “Update on Blogging in the Class Part 2,” and “Update on Using Class Blogs.”

I have three preps and five classes: Ancient/Medieval History (9th grade), College Prep United States History (11th & 12th grade), and AP Art History (11th & 12th grade). This is my first year teaching AP Art History. I have taught Art History I and Art History II at the college level, as well as several advanced Art History Courses (Greek Art & Archaeology, Mediterranean Art History, Roman Art & Archaeology, etc). However, this is my first AP. Trinity Valley has done a fabulous job of providing me ample professional development – including sending me to the AP National Conference in San Francisco where I was able to meet with several colleague and gain numerous resources.

My students in AP Art History are phenomenal – often demonstrating more academic sophistication and thought than any of the college students I have taught in the past. Today, they presented their first significant project that was in two parts – an oral and a written component. It required that they do a bit of independent research and present a formal topic to their classmates. My intention with this assignment is to: further provide them with a visual catalogue, encourage them to develop their observation and analytical skills, and to further develop their writing skills in association with Art and Art Historical topics.

Here were the formal instructions:

Instructions: Select one image from either Chapter 3 or 4 (only one student may do each image, first call first serve).

Written Portion:

  • On the Class Blog Write the Title of the Work, Artist, and Date
  • Write a brief physical description of the image
  • Write a brief description of the image’s historical and social context
  • Minimum 100 words
  • Spelling & Grammar Count
  • Include a brief Works Cited at the end (MLA format), you should include at least 2 sources (including your textbook)
  • Be sure to put your name in the Tag

Oral Portion:

  • One Power Point Slide
  • Include a copy of the image
  • Include the Title of the Work, Artist, and Date
  • Indicate three principles of design
  • Prepare a two minute (minimum) discussion of the piece, its significance, and its history (this information should not be written on the slide).
  • Save the PowerPoint in DropBox at TVS Art History Share –> Student Projects –> Project 2.Last Name.ppt

The oral presentations today were clearly well prepared and researched. I was blown away. It was obvious that every single student put serious thought and effort into their project. While a few students brought up a couple of notes with them to reference (nothing was written out), they were clearly presenting “off the cuff,” having internalized a majority (if not all) of the information. I’m including a copy of one of the slides here:

Here was the student’s accompanied blog post – a well thought out, solidly researched, and concise description and contextual analysis.

Here is another post from a student (clearly much longer than assigned) as well as a comment by a classmate:

I have been struggling with how to use the class blog for my AP Art History class, but I am liking this format. It makes the information readily available to students and it will be there in the future for them all to access and assess (in abbreviated form and more comprehensible verbiage than a formal textbook). I am also leaving all of the PowerPoint slides from the presentations up on DropBox for the year so that they have this visual catalogue available to them when it comes time to study for the AP exam (for more on DropBox, see my post “DropBox – An Excellent and Free Resource for Educators“).

I would love any input or thoughts from educators or students here. Do you think that this is effective? Suggestions on how to improve it? General comments?

Recent Grads Say High School Wasn’t Challenging Enough (via @Scholarships.com)

A recent article at Scholarships.com asserts that recent high school grads recognize that their High School classes were not challenging enough to prepare them for college and/or the ‘real world.’ See the article:

Recent Grads Say High School Wasn’t Challenging Enough

What high school student doesn’t love the idea of selecting a course based on the common knowledge the teacher is totally laidback and you’re guaranteed an easy A without much effort? We’ve all been there before and with all the classes high school students are required to take, many attempt to pack their electives with cushy classes before the reality of challenging college courses set in. But at what cost? According to a survey of 2010 high school graduates released by the College Board, 90 percent said their high school diplomas were not enough to compete in today’s society.

Continue reading here.


Using Poll Everywhere – Day #2

So, I’ve become more comfortable using Poll Everywhere and especially the new (paid for) moderator features. I’ve had a few mix-reviews with my students but have found that my younger kids (9th grade, 14-15 years old) are the ones that are most excited about it. In fact, one of them asked me to email her mother to explain that she does in fact need her cell phone at school. While I’m not naive enough to think that 100% of cell-phone use was to contribute to our back-channel discussion, I can say that the majority of then were – while walking around the room I saw no quick ‘switch overs’ (when they quickly switch screens thinking you won’t notice) and for the most part, phones sat face-down on the desk. You see, my class rule is that the phone sits face down on the desk and is only picked up to participate in the back-channel (when that is permitted).

I decided to use the back-channel for our in class reading/discussion of the Epic of Gilgamesh. I used the main computer in the room to project the channel and then my iPad as the moderator. The moderator features allow me to approve any comment before it is posted. For my freshmen classes, every single post was permitted. Here’s an example of our discussion (in fact, we ran out of our 40 posts very quickly).

I was really impressed with some of the keen insight and questions that the children prompted – and they were far more open and chatty then I often see them in class. Also, from the nature of the questions, you can see that they were on topic and paying attention to the reading.

Poll Everywhere also has a very neat feature for paid accounts and that is the ability to create word clouds. I currently don’t have a use for it, but it looks cool so I made one and I’ll post it here: