Tag Archives: Humanities

Free Literary Texts & Resources for Teachers & Students

I recently discovered CommonLit, a free curated repository of fiction and non-fiction works for teachers and students. This is a great resource for educators looking to infuse content into their course work. Educators can browse for content by grade level, grenre, theme, literary device, or standard.

As a history teacher, I especially liked that works included related texts and media. For example, I could access the Articles of Confederation, under paired texts I could then direct students to the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and Shay’s rebellion. They also couple it with related Media, such as a Crash Course video.

Teachers can also use CommonLit with their students as a portal to assign readings, assess work, and track progress. It is an all-in-one resource for English, Humanities, and History teachers!

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Hacking the Humanities

7d05a9cdf2ae851e3c6e0ddd94902042The humanities teacher in me could not resist attending “Hacking the Humanities” with Lawrence Reiff. He starts out discussing the importance of the humanities – it’s not about STEM, it’s about STEAM!

Teaching the humanities is about collaboration – perhaps the most important skill of the 21st century. As an interdisciplinary subject, we have common learning goals that we can address across multiple classes (language, science, art, etc.). This allows us to view our discipline from multiple perspectives.

Epic of Gilgamesh, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Epic of Gilgamesh, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

These “mashed” social studies curriculums allow multiple perspectives on content. For example, teaching Ancient Sumeria (history) in conjunction with the Epic of Gilgamesh (literature). It also follows broader concepts like the idea of “the hero” throughout history. Constructing the class as a socratic seminar in a block schedule allows students to explore non-fiction, historical texts, philosophy, and classic literature in a single environment. This can be done in conjunction with team teaching. This format also requires a lot of technology integration – sharing information with colleagues and conveying material to the students. Specifically, the iPad allowed students to make connections across curriculum.

For example, Lawrence will email an image to all of his students. They then explore it in class together – they zoom in on specific areas and the students are able to explore the material both individually as well as a larger group. Additionally, he can incorporate a video, music, text, etc. This allows you to explore not just an individual topic, e.g. slavery, but broader topics – suffering. You can connect it to “real life”: bullying, cheating, self-harm, etc. Using technology, you can incorporate multiple modalities and media – art, literature, news, politics, and real life experience.

Another key element of technology is that the essay is not the only way for students to demonstrate mastery. The iPad allows students to demonstrate their understanding in multiple ways. Using the iPad, they have a film studio, presentation software, sound creation/editing, etc. Using an app like Touchcast, students can create a “news story” to relate a concept in a creative way. Having students record themselves speaking and reading, focusing on things like inflection, can provide great understanding of literature. For example, what’s the difference between: “I didn’t say he killed his wife.” and “I didn’t say he killed his wife.”

iBooks Author by Apple

iBooks Author by Apple

Using tools like iBooks Author or Book Creator, students can create their own version of Sparknotes for a text; they write plot and character summaries, create maps, include sound and imagery of their own and share with their teacher and their classmates. This is a great way for students to collaborate their own content, create, and collaborate.

Building lessons with the iPad allows you to connect ideas and content through time. For example, you can trace the origins of the English language in conjunction with a lesson on Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England, the social implications of Ebonics, etc. Students can explore how studying language can also be a history lesson as well as civics and politics. If you would like to see some examples of this, check out his free iTunes U course: “The Literature of Global History.”

Six Sites for Primary Source Materials

It is officially August and most educators are beginning to feel the pressure that is the beginning of school. As we start to look at rosters and enrollment, we start to pull out and revamp old lesson plans and search for new material. As a History Teacher (with a background in archaeology) I understand the relevance and importance of primary sources in the classroom. Primary sources are not solely essays or primary works, but art, photographs, and other avenues of popular culture.

Finding primary source documents on the web can sometimes be a bit of a scavenger hunt. I know that I have spent hours scouring the web for good translations, excerpted texts, or relevant materials. Additionally, incorporating primary source texts can be a challenge with high school children. My youngest kids are ninth graders and often, when I distribute an original text, it is the first time they have seen a document of this type. Additionally, as much as we educators do not like to admit, sometimes it is a challenge for us to come up with ideas and activities to effectively incorporate this material into our classrooms. How do we make this interesting? How do we make this comprehensible? How do we make this relevant? Bringing in an original work and simply tossing it into a classroom environment is a sure-fire method for failure – students will often be confused, bored, and overwhelmed. Teaching with primary sources requires preparation and method.

In this article, I am focusing on six websites that focus on providing primary sources for educators and students. These sites are all excellent resources for educators in the Social Studies with a broad range of topics: American History, World History, World Religions, Language, Literature, Art, and Politics. There are many more amazing resources out there and I encourage you to add yours as well! So, here are my favorite five (presented in no particular order):

1. Milestone Documents  (Subscribe to their Facebook and Twitter feeds (all free) for regular highlights of documents in their catalogue as well as lesson plan ideas.)

  • Cost: $106.20 for an annual subscription
  • Grades: High School and College  (the material is too sophisticated for elementary and middle school).
  • Subject(s): History
  • Geographic Focus: Milestone focuses heavily on American History, but includes a solid library of texts for all of World History (Ancient, Western, African, and Asian).
  • Additional Subject Focus: In addition to organizing the material by date and region, Milestone has sections of Social History including politics (heavily focused on American political history), religion, and women.
  • Material Types: Text-based documents
  • Navigation: The content area is easy to navigate and great for “browsing.” The search feature is excellent for when you know exactly what you need.
  • Teacher Resources: lesson plans, rubrics, and assessment material.
  • Web 2.0 Focus: Many of the lesson plans incorporate Web 2.0 elements – Google Maps, Mind Mapping, etc.

What sets Milestone apart from the free resources listed below is that each document is predicated with a succinct contextual/historical statement. Students and educators are provided with a solid background for the text. Most works are also followed up with a critical analysis essay as well as provocative questions. Milestone is an excellent investment for teachers and students alike.

2. EDSITEment – Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities,

  • Cost: Free
  • Grades: K-12
  • Subject(s): Art & Culture, Foreign Language, History & Social Studies, as well as Literature & Language Arts.
  • Geographic Focus: World
  • Additional Subjects: Current event topics, social history, politics, religion, popular culture, and more. There are many sub-categories that merit exploration.
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material, maps, etc.
  • Navigation: Easy to browse and explore content areas.
  • Teacher Resources: Educator’s using this resource can readily access a multitude of innovative lesson plans, activities, assessment materials, alignment with Common Core Standards, worksheets, and listings for additional materials and resources.
  • Web 2.0: Many lesson plans incorporate Web 2.0 elements

3. Smithsonian Education – Sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution

  • Cost: Free
  • Grades: K-12
  • Subject(s): Art & Design, Science & Technology, History & Culture, Language Arts
  • Geographic Focus: World (US History most thorough)
  • Additional Subjects: Current event topics, social history, art history
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material, audio recordings, maps, etc.
  • Navigation: Easy to browse and explore content areas.
  • Teacher Resources: Educator’s using this resource can readily access a multitude of innovative lesson plans, activities, assessment materials, alignment with Common Core Standards, worksheets, and listings for additional materials and resources.
  • Web 2.0: Many lesson plans incorporate Web 2.0 elements

4. Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

  • Cost: Free for Educators and Students (private citizens pay per use), must register for access to materials. Gilder Lehrman encourages schools to register as Affiliated Schools (numerous benefits and access to more resources)
  • Grades: K-12, College, Graduate
  • Subjects: American History
  • Geographic Focus: The United States of America
  • Additional Subjects: Social History, Politics, Civil Rights
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material, audio recordings, maps, video, interviews, etc.
  • Navigation: Easy to browse and explore content
  • Teacher Resources: some lesson plans and ideas, collaborative weblog, sponsored Teacher Seminars
  • Web 2.0: very little web 2.0 focus.

5. The Library of Congress

  • Cost: Free
  • Grades: K-12, College, Graduate
  • Subjects: History
  • Geographic Focus: Heavily focused on the Americas (national and regional histories), limited resources for World History
  • Additional Subjects: Folklore, local histories, veteran history, literature
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material, audio recordings, maps, video, interviews, etc.
  • Navigation: Tricky to browse and search, requires adaptability
  • Teacher Resources: Some sections have extensive teachers resources in the form of lesson plans and activities, others are more spartan in their construct. LOC offers grants for professional development.
  • Web 2.0: Some sections readily incorporate web 2.0 activities, others are more limited and traditional.

6. Perseus Digital Library – Sponsored by Tufts University

  • Cost: Free
  • Grades: 9-12, College, Graduate
  • Subject: History, Art History, Archaeology
  • Geographic Focus: Heavily focused on Greco-Roman (founded as a Classical Library it contains all Latin & Greek works), Arabic, Germanic, 19th century America, Renaissance Europe, Egyptian Papyri
  • Additional Subjects: Humanism, Literature
  • Material Types: Text-based documents, visual material; the Art & Archaeology Artifact Browser provides High Definition images of thousands of artifacts.
  • Navigation: Tricky to browse, excellent search capabilities. This is an fabulous tool so long as you know what you are looking for.
  • Teacher Resources: No lesson plans or activities, purely material resources.
  • Web 2.0: No web 2.0 incorporation.

As you can see, there are numerous and extensive resources readily available to educators. The six that I highlighted are a good start, but hardly an all encompassing list. If you have suggestions or additions, please add them here! In the meantime, get browsing for some great material and lesson plan ideas!

Day 1 of the Annual AP Conference – Art History for New Teachers

So, today was Day 1 of my attendance at the Annual College Board AP Conference. This year it is hosted in the beautiful city of San Francisco. Today is the pre-conference and I registered for the all-day workshop for New teachers of AP Art History. The group was led by the esteemed Michael Bieze, Ph.D. at the Marist School in Atlanta. He was an amazing resource providing lots of information on the AP examination itself as well as pedagogy and techniques. He even provided to us some examples of his syllabus, examples of primary sources that he incorporated, and various interactive projects and activities. It was a wealth of information!

First and foremost, it helped to calm some of my fears about the AP Exam itself. While I have taught Art History at the college level – Art History 101 & 102, Art Appreciation, and upper division Art History courses – I have never taught “the AP,” which is its own beast. I’ll admit, I was tossing and turning a bit about the simple wealth of material I’m expected to cover with the goal of students getting a 4 or a 5! This helped to assuage some of those concerns.

The most exciting project he presented, that highlights the skills students need in an Art course, is a visual PowerPoint analysis (or one could use Keynote, Preview, Adobe Illustrator, etc). In fact, it’s similar to my idea of having students make Infographics. Please note, the following are the content of Michael Bieze, Ph.D.

The Project Assignment is as follows:

  1. A list of art pieces are assigned individually to students.
  2. Students must create and present an informative PowerPoint slide outlining both essential information as well as informative/analytical points
  3. The slides are then assembled for dissemination to the class – a great use for DropBox!

These are the specific instructions distributed to students:

Your PowerPoint must include the following information at the top:

  1. Artist (if known)
  2. Title
  3. Date
  4. Medium/Media
  5. Size
  6. Style (period

At the bottom of the PowerPoint slide include

  1. Your name
  2. The URL or proper citation for the source of the work

Alongside your image include a brief description of at least 3 essential details of the work (one formalist and one social context) and 3 subtle details which require close examination

Additional Information and Requirements

  • If you have chosen a building or sculpture, you may include multiple views
  • Please make the background color and font simple and clear
  • Make the arrows clearly point toward the details being described
  • DropBox your PowerPoint in the “Shared” folder and it will be made available to the class as a study guide.
  • Be prepared to briefly discuss your findings in class.

Assessment (Rubric)

  • 25% completion of the assignment on time
  • 25% content of discussion
  • 25% formalism discussion
  • 25% iconography discussion

Here was the example that he provided for this assignment:

Some other teachers suggested some great other ways to take this, including assigning students to do this with local art pieces – exercising their analytical skills ‘out of the book.’

Another great project suggestion that he had was to provide students a canon of material – a bank of five or six images found at your local museum – and have them write a brief compare/contrast with an object of a similar theme from the book. Here is the example that he provided:

This is a short writing assignment that reflects the type of analysis they will have to do on the AP exam itself (when presented with an unfamiliar image). Forunately, the city of Fort Worth has a series of amazing museums that can provide a wealth of material: The Kimbell, the Modern, and the Amon Carter.

I also love that he provided us a great list of primary sources (as a historian, I love primary sources) that are instrumental in providing students context to the material – an invaluable tool for the arenas outside of my expertise (I’m looking at you early Chinese Art).

These ideas and the collaboration amongst colleagues has given me a lot of ideas for implementation – keeping the class from becoming a standard lecture, engaging the students, and teaching them the necessary critical analsysis skills that will help them to do well not only on the AP Art History exam, but in navigating the powerful world of imagery that confronts us every day.


California Curriculum to Now Include “Homosexual History”

California is the first state in the union to add a component of gay and lesbian history to its curriculum. Advocates are hailing the decision as on par with including sections on other minorities in the curriculum (African Americans, Women, Hispanics, etc). It is also part of a core-curriculum to address bullying in the LGBTQ community.

“This is definitely a step forward, and I’m hopeful that other states will follow,” said Mark Leno, California’s first openly gay state senator, who sponsored the bill. “We are failing our students when we don’t teach them about the broad diversity of human experience.”

“There is an increasing awareness in the public and among elected officials that we have to do something to address the problems of bullying, and the negative consequences” for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, said Carolyn Laub, director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

Still, the decision is not without controversy. Opponents of the addition to the curriculum state that its furthering a ‘homosexual agenda’ in public schools and equate the curriculum change with a legislative form of morality.

“It’s a sad day for our republic when we have the government essentially telling people what they should think,” said Tim Donnelly, a Republican state assemblyman from San Bernadino. Mr. Donnelly said the law prohibited schools from presenting gays and lesbians “in anything other than a positive light, and I think that’s censorship right there.”

As an educator, I think that this is excellent news. We should broaden the perspective and experiences that we present to students as they are developing and coming up with this connected, global community. Additionally, I always find it troubling when lawmakers disagree with providing students information and allowing them to make informed decisions – I also see nothing in the curriculum that requires only ‘positive’ views of homosexual individuals who, like all human beings, are complex creatures with flaws.

To read more about this story, check out the New York Times.