I The other day during a car ride with my daughter we embarked on an amazing learning journey. She was watching a video on Slavery from BrainPop. The video did a good job of providing an overview of the issues of Slavery and the causes of the Civil War as related to slavery. It detailed the beginnings of slavery in America and including the Triangular Trade Route, treatment of slaves, and the Emancipation Proclamation. There were some really good details in the video, but as I listened, I was compelled to ask my daughter some questions to delve into deeper levels of understanding.
I asked her if she thought all the people in the North wanted to end slavery, that they all disliked it? After she responded, I added details about my educational journey. That it wasn't until my junior year of college in a African American literature class that I truly began to see history as a complex web of personal stories all told from various points of view. I began to see the events that shaped this country were not exactly what I was led to believe in history text books, or the multitude of classes I had attended.
I didn't explain this to her, instead I told her that when I was her age I thought everyone in the North disliked Slavery and everyone in the South wanted desperately to hold onto the practice. I truly saw the North as the benevolent Abolitionists and the South as morally corrupt and despised them. I continued the conversation adding an overview of the economic differences as they impacted the need for the different labor practices. And as I am reading this I realize it sounds like the conversation would go way over her head. I realize I am not doing a good job with the dialogue we had. What I am really trying to portray the learning that I experienced during this conversation.
While I was trying to explain to her the causes of the Civil War especially looking at the idea of how one side was trying to tell the other side what to do I saw the connection between so many other events in history. The revelation is simple. We too often overlook the point of view of certain parties/groups/people involved in history by telling the story from the victors point of view. Now this might not be ground breaking for many, but in this instance it led to a flurry of potential examples. I began to see a multitude of historical events in a new light. We have learned about history from a particular lens that often doesn't include the multitude of perspectives or their complexities.
From this I had the honest question- how do southern states teach about the Civil War? In the North we focused on slavery. Yes as I got older there was more talk of other causes, but honestly slavery was still front and center.
As I began to ponder the question about how the south would teach this, I took a step back and thought about how the south viewed the causes of the Civil War. I wonder if their version would have focused more on the tyranny of a distant government trying to impose its will upon them. The actions of this government in the North trying to take away their livelihood.
The lessons for History!
This perspective lead me to a whole list of similar events in history that made me take pause and consider from a different point of view.
America celebrates Independence Day, how does Great Britain view this day and more importantly the Revolutionary War?
America fought to make the world safe for Democracy, how do the countries where we engaged in war view our presence and our actions?
America worked to create peace in the Middle East. In doing so it funded Iran with the Iran-Contra Affair as well as Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Both countries were waging war agains the other going into battle with American made weapons. How do these people view American involvement and how has that impacted modern events?
America considers the colonists who fought against the tyranny of Great Britain's rule as heroes, yet the southern secessionists could be considered traitors. Or another example the colonists were freedom fighters from America's point of view for standing up to a government trying to impose its will and its way of life on others. Would groups like Al-Queda and ISIS see themselves as terrorists or freedom fighters? Why is it important to consider their point of view?
Japan bombed Pearl Harbor to bring the US into WWII, and America dropped the only Atomic bombs in history on Japan to end the war. How would Japanese teach these events in their history classes? How does the world look at America for being the only country to use these weapons on other human beings and yet today strictly controls who is able to have access to this technology.
How do we tell the story of inequality throughout the world?
How do other nations view America's excess, disposable technologies, and affluent lifestyle, when they are unable to obtain adequate food, water and healthcare?
How do the 42 million Americans living in poverty view politicians, superpacs, the rich debating what is best for America- talking about jobs, entitlements when they struggle daily?
How would the industrial workers in America tell the story of the Industrial Revolution?
How would Native Americans retell the events of Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion?
How would our textbooks and historical perspective be different if we recorded the Immigrant POV and not just an overview?
How would we view war if we told it from the Soldier's POV like Stephen Ambrose attempted to do in Citizen Soldier?
I am someone who loves hearing ideas about connecting the contemporary world with my classroom. I used to love playing Jeopardy in high school as a review game. I now love seeing, hearing and using modern concepts of game shows, or reality TV in my classroom or helping others to create these for their students. A colleague Josh Gauthier @mrgfactoftheday did a presentation using the Amazing Race and Google Maps that was really cool. It like many of the concepts I want to discuss here, added the element of competition. It was amazing sitting in a room of educators and seeing how much the atmosphere of the room changed once the idea of a prize or winner was introduced.
I want to share some ideas, some that I have heard from other people and may had added some of my own twists to. I hope if you find something interesting here and use it that you would share with me the way you used it and how it went. I love hearing how things are used so I can learn and grow. I don't ask so I can take credit. I shared a concept about using Speed Dating about a year ago and had lots of responses about how people were incorporating it into their classroom content as well as PD sessions and lesson planning. I was amazed at the creativity and imagination applied to these applications. I was so appreciative that people shared their incarnations and results with me because I shared those ideas with other teachers who then used or tweaked the new methodologies in their learning environment and more and more people benefited from the sharing and conversations around a simple concept. With that in mind, I want to share some of the ideas about using Reality TV in the classroom.
EDIT to post- I put this post down for a couple hours today to grade some papers from my grad class and hang out with my kids while they were in the pool when I saw #edumatch chat starting up. As part of this it was mentioned the idea of Shark Tank and I commented I had a post in the works about this. Then I saw a link to a post about someone else's take on it. What I found as I began reading it is that unlike my post that is based on the concept, and discusses the potential, this post discusses what was actually done with teachers and students participating.
Here is the link to Shark Tank goes to school by Natalie Orenstein outlines Mari Moss's 8th grade class as one example.
What follows is my post with the concepts of both Lesson Plan Shark Tank and Students being put into the Shark Tank as presenters themselves. I wanted to give credit to those who initiated this idea and acknowledge their efforts. I appreciate the ingenuity and contributions to furthering education.
Shark Tank Reality Check
Shark Tank- the high pressure environment of selling yourself, your idea, and your hard work. In the end you are evaluated, judged to be worthy or unworthy of someone else's money. So how can we use this premise in Education?
I read a tweet or heard someone share the idea at a conference of having teachers engage in a Shark Tank Environment. I brought this up to teachers in my grad class recently and saw the look of terror come over some of the teachers in the room. So what kind of environment could we create that would make teachers visibly uncomfortable? Ask them to enter the Shark Tank accompanied by their lesson plans. When the doors swing open they see the three to five chairs elevated slightly and sitting in these chairs are their students. Stop, pause, reread the scenario if necessary. You walk in and students are sitting in the judges' chairs. Your task, like those on the show, is to sell your ideas to the panel of investors, this case your own students. What are your ideas in this case, are your lesson plans. Now to actually make this work, you would bring in one lesson plan and sell sell sell your vision. Another concept might be to present your vision for the course, present an overview of your vision for the term.
Students would listen to your proposal, ask questions, probe you for information, and give you feedback. This feedback could be constructive, or brutally honest and devastating depending on the student just like the judges on Shark Tank, their personalities and interests vary.
Realistically it would be a challenge to do this with all of our lessons, BUT if we don't consider our students reactions to our lessons, we are less likely to succeed. If when considering this scenario we are truly scared of student's responses, or if we know their responses wouldn't be good, we need to scrap those lessons and rethink what we are doing. We should be student centered and always consider how this will be perceived by our students. Telling students I know this is boring, or really tough stuff and then lecturing at them doesn't cut it. We can do better!
Now that I have thrown out the challenge- I must admit much like when Dave Burgess proposed the question would students come to your class if they didn't have to, or could you sell tickets to your lessons would not have resulted in favorable responses. It was like a kick in the stomach. I thought good things were happening, but Dave set a pretty high bar. Very similarly, the idea of having students evaluate our lessons is scary and I don't know that many of mine would have had unanimous support. I share my shortcomings because admitting that you have growth potential allows you the freedom to achieve those higher standards. I worked hard in the past few years to increase the number of ticket lessons and creating an environment students wanted to be a part of. Each year I set a goal to improve, to have more ticket lessons and to continue to build relationships with students so they knew I cared. I am still a work in progress, and the idea of presenting our lessons in the Shark Tank is to get us to do a self evaluation and make a plan for our personal growth.
If the idea of entering the Shark Tank is too intimidating, but you still feel that student feedback is important, then enlist students to be your sounding board. In the past few years when we tried new lessons I spent some time debriefing with students about what they liked. What went well and where I could improve the lesson. I set up expectations for the conversation to be constructive but honest. I told them that I was always trying to get better and needed their help. There were sometimes that things were said that I didn't like, but overall students had insights that I wouldn't have come up with on my own. They had experienced both the in class work and the outside of class interaction with both the content and peers that helped shape their experience that I wasn't privy to. All of this helped me reconcile my perception with reality and make change. I would encourage you to debrief with students, not only about the content, but more importantly the learning experience.
Shark Tank 2.o
Using Shark Tank with students in the classroom where their work is evaluated by a panel of experts. My first idea is not very divergent from the show. When I taught Economics as a student teacher, we had a class that was called Economics and Entrepreneurship where each student had to propose a product and their classmates voted on which to build. The class was set up to create a business with manufacturing and marketing groups.
Economics - What if instead of building the product and business, students present a business plan. They come up with an idea for a new product, service, etc. and after doing research, they present before a panel of business people from your community. Something to benefit the students in this process would be to bring in business mentors who could assist students with their research and development. This economics lesson could be very elaborate involving a multitude of people and actual products, or more in the realm of visionary. Who would make up the judges would depend on who you have access to in your local community.
Social Problems - I worked with a colleague this year on a service project where we used the KIVA micro-loan project. I wrote a post about it earlier (May). Students researched one of the potential campaigns and then had to present before their class to decide which would be funded. The cool thing is that there was real money available for the winning cause. The class had three students who were the judges and make the final decision. I wasn't able to see the days of voting, but I would definitely push for these to be set up more like the Shark Tank model where the judges are tough but fair. They were in charge of real money and making investments that would make a difference in real people's lives. From what I saw the days I was in the class, students were taking if very serious and working towards making their presentation the best it could be. An extension could be to partner with local businesses who would be willing to pledge their own funds to the project and hear what questions and ideas these individuals might have.
History - There are many opportunities for students in history to use use the concept of Shark Tank to create real world presentations. I did one that could easily be turned into the shark tank if I had given my intended audience a little push to be more skeptical of the presenters. Two years ago I had students present before the head of the school board, the superintendent and my building administrators as to what they thought should be taught in schools about how the world came to be. This could be Scientific explanation, the Big Bang Theory, or Intelligent Design, a higher being creating our universe, or a combination of ideas. If I had changed the scenario slightly I could have created a much more intense venue for the presenters to not only share their ideas, but be in competition somehow for the votes of the audience. The votes should not be based on what idea was presented because it is too controversial, but rather how well the ideas were presented and how well they were able to defend their position. This would have been an assessment of their content knowledge and their ability to persuade. I think this could have been very good for some students and very difficult and challenging for others. As it stood, I found myself more of a cheerleader for my students than worried about which stance they took. I wanted them to succeed and knew some students hadn't had a lot of academic success prior. Turning this into the Shark Tank for some would have been an exciting experience and for others a traumatic event.
Math- I am not a Math teacher nor do I pretend to understand the complexities of math. But after watching shows like Numbers and Big Bang, I was thinking about the way they discussed math. Math was a way to solve problems and there were a multitude of methods at their disposal. My thought here was if teachers created a problem based activity for students to delve into there could be opportunities for divergent thought. Some students or groups might attack the problem one way while others look at it another. Some might use one formula or others apply it differently. My vision was for students to present their plan of attack to the sharks in the tank. This could be a panel of experts from a local business, engineering firm, etc. who recently had to solve a similar problem. The students could present their plan of attack to the sharks, get some feedback, but not necessarily be steered away from their thinking. At the end they present their final solution and here would be where the sharks vote on which solution they think would have completed the task most satisfactorily. I apologize to the Math teachers out there who might be thinking that is a poorly constructed lesson plan. I am not a math teacher, but putting my thoughts out there, I hope you say- I can do better and do it! Make it happen for your students.
Science- Maybe this is because I liked the show House, but this idea came to mind. Students would be presented with an illness, a case with symptoms that the patient is exhibiting. Their task would be like in the show House, to present their idea for the best method of treatment. In the show House, the main doctor used to have brain storming sessions where his team would discuss the symptoms and make a case for their best course of action for the patient. In this case the sharks would take the place of Dr. House. This is probably pretty advanced thinking for high school students, at least it would have been for me while in high school biology. But think about experiences where students could apply their knowledge of science and have to defend their thinking.
The Wrap Up!
If you read this post to the end, you might be thinking that the lesson ideas that I tossed out there would not fair well in a Shark Tank Lesson Plan show down. I don't disagree. I didn't spend a lot of time building up the plot lines or adding hooks to grab student's attention. I didn't provide much in the way of detail or learning targets. The lessons were simply my brainstorm session trying to comprehend how Shark Tank could be used with students as the entrepreneurs in the scenario.
What resonates with me about the Shark Tank idea is that there is Real, Meaningful, Honest feedback by people invested in the outcome. With lesson plan sessions, we get that by brining in the students in our class. They are definitely invested in what we do because it directly impacts their experiences in school and life. What about providing students opportunities to do things where their audience is directly invested in the outcome of their learning journey? How can we create activities where students are doing things that matter to people beyond the school building? How can we flip the experience to be one that creates community involvement in a multitude of subject areas? How can we tap into student passions and desire to learn, create, and develop a sense of investment in what they are learning and doing?
These are all big questions that I don't have quick quotable answers to. I struggle with this but want to help make this a reality for students whether it be in the buildings I serve, or students across the country or world. I want to see students engaged in learning that matters.