Virtual Field Trips and Student Tour Guides

After reflecting on my research topic and question this year, I think that focusing on primary sources has helped to increase both student understanding and engagement in my social studies class. I believe that students had a deeper understanding of the content being taught in class, which therefore helped to improve student engagement and class discussions. Students learned the process and importance of analyzing primary sources with the support of technology. This analysis helped create lessons that required students to critically think and synthesize information.

Last week I asked my students to complete a Google Form to get feedback from my students about primary sources. When asked how students felt analyzing primary sources at the beginning of the school year on a scale of 1-5, 66.3% of my students responded a score of 3. When asked how students felt about analyzing primary sources now 100% of students responded with a score of either a 4 or 5. I was encouraged to see that my students now felt more comfortable reading and analyzing primary sources.
IMG_2410 (2)I also received feedback that my student’s favorite primary source we looked at this year was Hammurabi’s Code. I agree with my students as these laws provide a shock value when learning what the laws were in ancient Babylon. This was an example of a primary source encouraging student engagement and interest in the content we are learning about.

Nearpod has been my main use of technology to help roll out the analysis of primary sources. This application allowed students to zoom in on images and it allowed me to focus on key points of a primary source. Nearpod allows you to share student work with the rest of the class. One student commented on the primary source survey “I like when you share my answer with the class.” In addition, I have really enjoyed sharing the Nearpod field trip with my students this year. This new feature on Nearpod allows students to virtually travel to the areas we are learning about in class. My students loved this feature! When teaching about the Parthenon, what could be better than taking a virtual field trip to the Parthenon itself? Here is a picture of a student enjoying the field trip. Field trip (1)One student wrote “the field trips are awesome because it feels like you are really at the spot we are learning about and you can see all around it.” Below is a picture of my students on a field trip to the Parthenon.

Next year, I would like to explore the use of Google Maps and Google Tours in my classroom. I am most interested in exploring Google Tours because this application will allow students to be the tour guides of the ancient cities we are learning about in class. Google Tours provides both visuals and an area for students to add a description. I plan to create a project using this application next year. Stay tuned to receive your own personal tour of ancient history!

Students on a virtual field trip to the Parthenon using the application Nearpod.
Students on a virtual field trip to the Parthenon using the application Nearpod.


Embrace the Future

As we enter into the “home stretch” of the school year, I thought I would share a few reflections on the research I have done this year.

A quick reminder for readers: I am a U.S. History teacher at Waltham High School and my research this year has been a qualitative analysis of technology integration in a classroom with no direct 1:1 technology. I have attempted to analyze the struggles, realities, and triumphs of embracing 21st century skills in a classroom with 20th century technology.

As mentioned above, I have attempted to integrate as much technology as possible into a classroom that has inconsistent access to 1:1 technology. The technology-based projects, assignments, and lessons that I created have primarily taken place in the four labs (three computer, and one iPad) in my school.

Part one of progress report I completed reflecting on my research question.
Part one of a “Penultimate” progress report I completed reflecting on my research question.

For the most part, I have been able integrate technology into my classes at least once each month. However, I have found it difficult to maintain an integrated classroom throughout the school year. Although applications have allowed me to sprinkle in technology, I am far from a place that is a truly integrated or “flipped” classroom.

As I reflect on the past year, I find it difficult to isolate just one or two reasons that I was unable to fully integrate technology into my classroom. I know that one of the reasons is that technology in my school is limited and in high demand. This leads to a race to secure coveted lab reservations. So, the lessons where I am able to fully integrate technology are only those which I am able to foresee weeks in advance and book space accordingly. For instance, I planned ahead to have my classes complete the Touchcast assignment and Paperless Research Papers. However, this advanced planning rules out spontaneity. If three days prior to a classroom lesson, I have a stroke of genius about a great way to integrate technology, I won’t be able to make it happen because the lab will already be booked.

The lack of 1:1 technology also limits my ability to give formative and summative assessments online. I have found this to be restrictive. For instance, if I did have regular access to 1:1 technology for my students, I would have been able to use Socrative, Poll Everything, and other similar applications more efficiently. (Aside: since most students have their own cell phones, I contemplated having students use them to access apps like the aforementioned. However, after some thought, I decided against it.)

Part two of my progress report. I reflected on a few successes and failures.
Part two of my progress report. I reflected on a few successes and failures.

Furthermore, it has been difficult to maintain a flow of lessons that embrace technology integration throughout the school year. I have struggled with the conflicting demands placed upon me as a high school teacher. Teachers are required to cover certain content by particular dates, as bookmarked by required student assessments. This demands a certain amount of teacher-centered learning. At the same time, however, teachers are encouraged to “flip” our classrooms and engage in student centered learned.

The assessments mandated by our school and state, remain traditional and primarily factual tests. For instance, this year I have been responsible for administrating four in-class writing assignments, a midterm, and a final. These are six assessments that took away from classroom time or interrupted the flow of a unit I was teaching. I am not saying that these assessments are worthless. But, in my opinion, they do not measure or give students credit for the skills and ideas learned through innovative, technology integrated lessons. Thus is life, but it hinders creativity.

I feel that we can never truly embrace 21st century learning as long as we continue to employ 20th century assessments. I believe this to be a fundamental problem facing education.

Despite these challenges, I do think I had a fair measure of success with integrating technology this school year. Although I felt restricted in my ability to secure lab time, I discovered useful apps like Google Forms, Google Classroom, and Remind. These apps allowed me to push my U.S. History students to use technology outside of school, for homework assignments. (I chronicled my trials with these apps in previous blog posts). Despite the challenge of sustained use, Google Forms and Google Classroom helped to transform a lot of my teaching this year.

Part three of my brainstorm where I reflected on the tension I felt this year as I attempted to integrate technology.
Part three of my progress report where I reflected on the tension I felt this year as I attempted to integrate technology.

Furthermore, at when point when I was able to plan far into the future, my Honor’s Level U.S. History II students completed projects solely using Touchcast. Touchcast allowed my students to participate in a “flipped classroom” while creating projects about a Cold War unit that in previous years, I had taught in traditional ways.

In the end, I have achieved one of my major goals for this assignment: next year, I will have at least two classes of tenth graders that come to my classroom with 1:1 iPads. I am sure there will be structural barriers to navigate, but I am excited to think of new ways to use this technology next year.

Moving forward, I have a few tools in my belt with some of the apps I tried and found success with this year. I have some interesting ideas about how to use iPads for formative assessments. Most importantly, however, I have a new way of thinking about my teaching. I maintain my ultimate goal of achieving a more technologically integrated classroom. I’m not there yet, but I’ll get there one day.

Paperless Research Papers

It’s March… which means we have entered the “Heartbreak Hill” section of the teaching marathon. Not only this month mark the longest stretch of uninterrupted teaching all year, it also marks the point where I embark on the yearly task of teaching research papers.

The month of March consists of me teaching students: why we cite sources, how to research with scholarly sources from peer reviewed databases, how to write introductions, why Wikipedia is not an approved source. And of course, how to capitalize letters… Just kidding on the last one.

In all seriousness, writing research papers with high school students can be frustrating because so much of what humanities teachers do during the writing process is antiquated. Students simply don’t understand the purpose of writing research papers. I think most students believe we are simply trying to make them jump through hoops. “Cite that source!” “Double space that paper!” “Size 12 Times New Roman Font!” These are actual quotes from a nightmare I had a few nights ago!

This is a copy of an assignment I provide to my U.S. History II Honors students. It describes details of the assignment and the requirements of the paper.

As a history teacher at Waltham High, teaching research papers has always been the Wild West. The only requirement placed on teachers is that we have students write a research paper at some point during the year. The assignment itself depends on the teacher. I usually write a traditional research paper with my students.

This month’s blog post illustrates my attempts to utilize Google Classroom and Google Docs in an effort for students to complete research papers without actual paper. I attempted to rely solely on these online platforms for the writing, submission, and grading of papers. Not a radical idea by any means, but also one I had not yet tried.

A screenshot of the first page you see when you enter a Google Classroom. It displays the active classes you have. A screenshot of a few assignments I posted on Google Classroom.

Google Classroom is an application featured through the Google Suite and it is offered strictly to teachers. There is no surprise in the name, it offers an online classroom similar to online platforms like Edmodo. Since Waltham High School (WHS) provides all students with a google account students simply have to log in to their Google Account to access the Classroom application. Students must use their WHS account to access Google Classroom, they would be denied access if they attempted to log in with a home account.

Once students log in, they can join a teacher’s classroom by entering a password that is provided by the teacher. Once inside the

More Google Classroom assignments. classroom, an email is sent to students whenever a new assignment is created by their teacher or when their teacher has returned or graded one of their assignments.

For the teacher, Google Classroom serves as a place to post assignments. Assignments can be anything from a discussion question that asks students to post a response, to an essay that needs to have a document attached.

Over the course of this year, I have used Google Classroom for small formative assessments. This allowed me to familiarize my students with the application, so that we wouldn’t have logistical problems when we depended on it later in the year.  The early use of Google Classroom was building towards my larger goal for the month of March: to use Google Classroom as the sole platform for interacting with students’ work while they wrote traditional research projects.

A PDF attachment of a reading and questions posted on my Google Classroom.

Throughout the year, I have created many different types of assignments for my students to complete in our Google Classroom. The first week of school my students posted answers to discussion questions, and followed links to surveys about themselves. Later in the year, students completed extra credit readings and attached answers to questions. Students also were able to access links to Google Form quizzes (mentioned in an earlier post).

This year I told students that I was not accepting hard copies of their research paper. I know this may seem like a radical move, but I think going paperless makes complete sense. It cuts out excuses about printers and allows students to turn in assignments from any device. Therefore, students were to type their research papers in Google Docs and submit them through Google Classroom. Throughout the month of March, I posted assignments that asked students to attach segments of their research project as we progressed to the final copy. In the end, each student attached a draft of their paper as well as a final, edited copy.

Unsurprisingly, I have really enjoyed using Google Classroom. For one, it has allowed me to go almost completely paperless. Instead of having students flood me with paper, I have electronic copies that I can edit and grade online through Google Docs. Students can see the changes or suggestions I have made and decide whether to reject or accept them.

A paper I edited and made comments on in Google Docs.Another paper I edited and made comments on in Google Docs.

More importantly, I find myself grading electronic rough drafts and final copies much faster than paper copies. Therefore, I am saving precious time. Furthermore, I can post students grades as soon as I am done grading and send them an email notification letting them know that I have finished reviewing their paper.

Overall, I think using Google Classroom for project submission andA screenshot of the screen a teacher sees while grading on Google Classroom. Google Docs for essay writing is a no brainer. I think the only drawback to Google Classroom is that sometimes students are stumped by its interface. I have had a few students unsure of where to post on the Google Classroom, so they simply email me the paper. It is a small frustration, but one I can handle.

In sum, I recommend going paperless and using Google Classroom and Google Docs to write traditional research papers. I think it saves time, cuts out excuses about printer and computer problems, and prevents students from losing papers or forgetting to save their papers. And of course, the trees will thank you!


Classroom Questions

February really seemed to fly by. Preparing for tests and in-class essays coupled with February break didn’t really leave much time to try out a new approach to research in the classroom. So what I decided to shift gears to was focusing on how students’ questioning has developed. The purpose of my research is twofold: to have students be researching more in class in new ways, but also to see if that research enhances inquiry in all areas of learning. So I decided to have a questions-heavy plan for this month.

There were a few things that I was particularly excited about while I reflected on the types of questions my students were asking. First, I found that my students were asking more questions about topics than they seemed to be asking at the beginning of the year. When I began my Russian Revolution unit, my classes worked to create a KWL chart. They brainstormed anything they knew about Russia and/or the Russian Revolution, and asked wonderful questions centered around how to better understand the revolution. Then I had students read a very short “Big Picture” reading about the Russian Revolution, and they went back to the KWL chart to determine what they’d learned and ask even more questions. Below I included an example of a C1 class’s pre-reading and post-reading chart. I was excited to find that their second set of questions transitioned to open-ended “how” and “why” questions from the more fact-based questions of the first round.

WIN feb-1   WIN feb-2

I also noticed a greater independence in many of my students to ask questions and think critically about the material. After analyzing a political cartoon that criticized the social structure of pre-revolution Russia, one student who consistently struggles with this class asked me, “Do you think that if the artist was trying to show society in a positive light he would have shown everyone as equals?” I was thrilled to hear this student thinking beyond the information presented to her and asking questions to understand the topic better. Furthermore, she didn’t ask “How would an artist show society positively?” but she was able to infuse her hypothesis into the question.

Something I was most excited about with my students’ questioning dealt with their reflective questioning while independently learning about a topic. After studying the Armenian Genocide, I gave one of my classes and assignment to write about the role of traditional and social media regarding bringing awareness and action against genocide. These students also independently researched a current example of genocide (or potential genocide) to include in their writing. One student began her essay with the question “How can it be that I have access to so much information through the internet yet I have never heard of the awful events happening in the Central African Republic?” This question thrilled me because this is why people need to ask questions. It’s not just to understand information better, but to reflect on why things are the way they are, and taking that a step further questioning if and how that can change.

Overall, my students are definitely demonstrating progress in their willingness and ability to question information and also question their own role in the world.

Researching Battles

One part of history that I always struggled to get into was war battles, and so that followed me into my teaching. Any unit that is war-themed, which let’s be honest, there are quite a few, always make me a little anxious for how I’m going to try to make a creative and engaging lesson on the actual fighting-the-war part. I think I’ve tried a different approach each time I’ve reached that point in a unit, so again I faced this dilemma with World War I in my freshman class. I decided this would be a good opportunity to try working with a structured research assignment using the iPads in class.

I had small groups assigned to one of four significant battles in the war, and they had to do some research to determine why this battle mattered. I introduced these as some of the bloodiest battles in the war, which definitely hooked some students. And really just sent them off to find out why.  Each group had a “starter set” of information to read through to help focus their research. Something I’ve noticed from previous research assignments is that students often get intimidated by the amount of information out there. I figured that by finding sources to frame the basis of their knowledge of their battle, I could avoid some of that initial intimidation that can keep students from really knowing anything about their topic.

One other strategy I decided to implement in this project was for students to write out more detailed research questions as they read through each new source. After talking with our school librarian a few months ago, she highlighted how often our freshmen struggle crafting research questions in the first place. That is why I gave my students the overarching research question, but had them create their own sub-questions as they continued with the research process. Groups came up with some great ideas like:

  • How did they rebuild their city after the war?
  • How did reinforcements know to come help the French?
  • What is the benefit of the Turks being pushed out of the war?
  • Did the allies go back to fight in the Ottoman Empire ever again?
  • How did this battle affect or change the war overall?
  • How did the weather impact the battle?
  • Why are New Zealand and Australia in this battle?

Overall, there were still many clarification type questions listed, but I was still very excited to see these types of connections questions that groups were asking to inform their research.

Being able to use the iPads as a tool for this assignments was very powerful. Because there are always issues with the iPads ranging from it’s not working, it’s been left at home, or some students just don’t have one, I made sure that this wasn’t an iPad dependent assignment for all students. I made sure each group had at least one, and printed off paper copies of the articles in that “starter set” of information. Beyond that, groups had to use the library databases to find at least one more article on their iPad to answer those sub-questions that still lingered in their minds.

By the end of the assignment, I would say that most students had a pretty solid understanding of the basic idea of their battle and why it mattered in the war. I was pretty happy with this assignment in the end with how it was a good balance of scaffolded research skills and integrating the iPads in the class. I’m sure the assignment could be spiced up a bit in the future, but the basic outline of the assignment is one that I’ll continue working with.

I added a few images below of students working on the project and a newspaper article that one student wrote as part of his final product.


WIN image 02 WIN image 03 WIN image 01