History 420 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
Creating a Collaborative Learning Community and Teaching History in a "Divided America"

Political cartoon showing historical controversy

Welcome to History 420!! For the next 15 weeks, we will be discussing history as a discipline, why we want to teach history, and how and what we should teach. As such, this course is designed primarily to help you decide whether or not you really want to become a history teacher and, in so doing, embark upon a journey of lifelong learning. This is a challenge. You will have to dig deep inside of yourself to think about your vision of teaching. Whatever your visions, whatever your reasons, we will work together this semester to create a collegial community of pre-teachers who will explore specific historical topics, examine and learn good teaching practices, and to enter into a dialog and engage in debate about how to teach historical content.

As we begin today, please note that we have four themes that will be highlighted throughout the course:

While we think about each of the discussion goals below, keep in mind how these four themes highlight our understanding of how the teaching of history has been, and continues to be, surrounded by controversy, conflict, and compromise.

Discussion Goals:

  1. To begin creating a collaborative learning community.
  2. To understand the trajectory of this course.
  3. To discuss how we might best teach history in "divided America."

Goal #1: To begin creating a collaborative learning community

As we begin this semester, it is important to understand that we are embarking upon a journey - a journey that will help you decide whether you want to become history teachers, and if so, what kind of history teacher each of you will be. This is both an individual journey and a collaborative journey. Today, we begin the first step in our journey - both as individuals answering some questions about ourselves and as members of a collaborative communitty - by thinking a bit about ourselves and then sharing our observations with each other.

Today, then, is designed specifically as a community building activity. This is what you will want to do during the first week in your own classrooms. The bottom line is this - you want to make your first week as welcoming as possible - and to do that, your students need to learn a bit about each other and you. Every teacher has a different way to "break the ice" - and today we are going to explore two possible Icebreaker activities. In so doing, we will be engaging in our first methods discussion.

Methods Discussions - Icebreaker Activities

First Icebreaker Activity Directions

  1. Write your name on a piece of paper and write "Icebreaker Activity" under your name.Venn diagram
  2. Take no more than 5 minutes to write down your answers to the following questions.
    • If you could travel anywhere, where would it be?
    • What do you think is the most important thing going on right now in the world?
    • What is your all-time favorite book and why?
    • If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
    • What do you like most about past history classes? Least?
  3. Find a partner with whom you can share your answers. Introduce yourselves to each other. Each of you should take no more than 5 minutes to explain your answers to your partner.
  4. Using the Venn Diagram - Write your name at the top and then add each of your names to the large circles. Fill in your individual answers in each circle, and then, in the middle, fill in where you are similar.
  5. Each of you will introduce your partner. Be sure to tell the class what you learned from your discussion and what you found to be most interesting about your partner, and if you share anything in common.
  6. Be sure to keep both your "Icebreaker Activity" and your Venn Diagram. These will go into your Portfolio.

    Discussion: Please listen carefully as each of your classmates introduces their partner. Learn as much as you can about the colleagues with whom you will be working this semester. Then, be prepared to discuss the following:

    • What did we learn about ourselves as a group of academic learners?
    • What are our collective beliefs about good history classes that we have had in the past? About bad history classes?
    • How might we change this Icebreaker Activity by asking different questions of junior high school students? High school students?

Second Icebreaker Activity - What do we Value? :

Icebreaker Activity – Values Cards

  1. Take out a piece of paper and write your name, the date, and "Values Card Activity" on the top.
  2. You each have an envelope in which you will find 10 Values Cards and two blank cards. Take your cards out of the envelop and take no more than 5 minutes to do the following:
    • Working on your own, place the 10 Values Cards in front of you on your desk. If there is something you value more or as much as the ones in your envelop, write it down on the blank card
    • Pick what you believe to be the three most important values TO YOU. Then rank them from 1-3 according to your own beliefs and values and write this ranking down on your paper under the heading "my ranking."
  3. Get into a four groups of 4-5 students. Take no more than 10 minutes to share your rankings and come up with a consensual list of three values upon which you can all agree. Have one member of the group be prepared to share your 1-3 ranking with the entire class.
  4. Now, go back to working on your own with the Values Cards and take no more than 5 minutes to do the following:
    • Think about an older adult you know – someone over the age of 50 who is a parent or grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a friend - and then pick the top three values that you believe THEY MIGHT choose. Then rank them from 1-3 according to what you believe they might value and write this ranking down on your paper under the heading "older adult ranking."
    • Be prepared to share your 1-3 ranking with the entire class.
  5. Finally, working on your own with 10 Values Cards, take no more than 5 minutes to do the following:
    • Think about what 3 values an adult in 1860 might select. Then rank them from 1-3 according to what you believe they might value and write this ranking down on your paper under the heading "1860 ranking."
    • Be prepared to share your 1-3 ranking with the entire class.

Discussion:

Keep the paper with your responses on it and add it – along with your Value Cards - to your portfolio.


Goal #2: To understand the trajectory of this course

You were all asked to carefully read through the course syllabus - available at http://gorhistory.com/hist420/420Syllabus2017.html - prior to coming to class today. The syllabus explains the trajectory of this course and gives you a good idea about the beginning of your 15-week journey as an educator.

Before we proceed, I want to be certain you understand the following:


Goal #3: To discuss how we might best teach history in "divided America."

You were assigned two videos to watch prior to coming to class today - a two-part series on "divided America." Now it is time for you to get involved in a collegial discussion about what you learned and how you can apply it to your craft - teaching history in the secondary classroom. But before we get into our discussion, let's take a look at another aspect of "divided America" - http://www.cc.com/video-clips/63ite2/the-colbert-report-the-word---truthiness. So, let's remember as we begin our discussion, to keep this idea of "the truth" and how it is interpreted in our divided nation.

To this end, please do the following:

  1. Get into three groups.
  2. Using the chronology you prepared for today's class, spend 10 minutes discussing which events you feel were most important to the evolution of the politically divided nation in which we currently live.
  3. After your discussion, spend 10 minutes creating a new, composite chronology of no more than five events that you collectively feel are most important to such political division.

We will then come back together as a class to brainstorm about what we have learned can help us teach history in such a divided nation.

Discussion:

  1. How did the documentary and your chronologies help you understand how and why teaching history in 2017 is so controversial?
  2. Is Trump the real problem in divided America, or is he merely a symbol of a larger division?
  3. "Hope" and "change" have been used with some regularity during the last several presidential campaigns. What do they mean to both sides of our divided nation?
  4. What was the most important thing you learned from watching this documentary?
  5. What critiques do you have of the documentary?