About Whitney Kaulbach

I teach High school and middle school students World History, AP World History, Reading Instruction, and Literacy Specialist.

I have one week and three days to go before students are released for the holiday break. It is such a difficult time of year to set goals, establish a workflow and keep the enthusiasm in student learning. Students carry the stress and the burden of the holidays on themselves in a myriad of ways which leads me to plan activities that are hands on.  Inevitably some students fall behind in work as they plan holiday concerts, work after school, balance homework with college application essays and the first events of the sports season. I have learned to create workspaces for students who need 1:1 assistance or time to catch up on assignments while I create lessons that are meaningful to students who are on task. Games, hands-on and role play fit the season splendidly.

Role Play. The InstituteofPlay.org once again came to my aid with a posted activity called Art Critic. One student plays the artist and another is the critic. They have a dialogue in front of a piece of art in which the artist must use details of the art to convince the critic of its value while hinting at a theme that the art critic must guess. This was unbelievably handy and fun for my AP world history class. Some students were finishing essays and I didn’t want to start a new unit without them. I took the remaining students to the hall to view various prints I had hung on the wall representing a period of history. In listening to the students dialogue about the art, I was struck by the realization of how difficult the task was.  Students are not accustomed to presenting their analysis of an art piece with a colleague face to face. They are used to being told what theme the art represents and are given time to answer this in writing. The critic could only ask but three questions and had only one opportunity to answer. Students enjoyed the pretense of attending an art gallery gala, they struggled to convey their thoughts into persuasive dialogue but bantered over themes that had escaped them. They saw this task as entertaining yet this construct provides the demands for improving communicative skills in historic context unobtrusively. I see this as a win/ win.

Games. This week celebrated the #hourofcode and for the first time, I attempted to participate. Let me rephrase. I found a means for my world studies students to participate. The skills of navigators (1500- 1800) could be considered analogous to skills of coding. I chose Hopscotch as an app and offered it as a choice assignment. Several interested students downloaded this, found games to play individually and in groups. A few of these students followed the code suggestions and video tutorials to develop their own games. From this a couple of students published their games to the Hopscotch community. I played one of their games and enjoyed a conversation about my foray into gaming as a complete beginner which seems to give my students a sense of pride as our roles reverse. I’m giving them the responsibility of presenting the relevance of coding to our studies to the rest of our class.  I think that their peers will be attentive and an incentive will be in place for those who catch up on work completion.

Hands on.  Last year I discovered a simple lesson for making light displays from LED lights and batteries.  With an emphasis on collaboration, I have given students tasks for illuminating current issues as they experiment with the various properties of light. By requiring students to demonstrate how they would use shadows or reflection, diffraction or spotlights (etc.) I’m setting them up to focus on a process as a final product. Their involvement in experimentation and explanation, on circuit creation and film editing and artistic expression, gives everyone something that should speak to a strength instead of a weakness.

In conclusion, students who focus on grade recovery are not penalized by falling behind on current classroom tasks. Students who are ambitious or on task do not need to feel as if they are held back. I have placed greater emphasis on the process of learning, but I do not think I have dissuaded anyone from wanting to produce work of a high quality. Each task holds endless possibilities for interpretation which is how we should all see ourselves in 2016. Happy Holidays and a Joyeux New year.

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