teaching

Final Exam Haikus – Fall 2016 Installment

 

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For my final exams in Western Civilization class, I like to include a bit of ostensibly “fun” extra credit for the students to allow them to show their understanding of the material in creative ways. My go-to for this type of extra credit opportunity is a haiku writing.

I was particularly proud of myself on this year’s final exam because I managed to make the instructions for the extra credit meta:

Please write a haiku (5 syllables)

About something we studied (7 syllables)

And makes me laugh, too (5 syllables)

Here’s a sampling of the most amusing (and in some cases, timely) responses I got this year:

Alcibiades, a

demagogue who is dumb and

stupid but sexy

//

Columbus sailed far

he called them Indian friends

his naming was wrong

//

95 Theses

Martain Luther posted these

Does Jesus agree?

//

Columbus, my man

Discovered America?

Natives disagree

//

Pericles was smart

We are gonna “build a wall”.

That will never work

//

The Habsburg Jawline,

after years of inbreeding

hurt Chuck V badly.

//

This final one, while not content-related, does reveal that this student well understands my biggest pet-peeves of historical “analysis” and how to hopefully avoid them:

//

Dr. Kogan’s class

is fun, but not when we say

the word bias, yeah.

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Academic Skills, Grading, Rubrics, teaching

“Gettin’ ‘Bric-y Wit It”

If this post’s title made you think of the canonical Will Smith song, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” then congratulations, you got my terrible allusion! You now likely have that song stuck in your head. As recompense for suffering that indignity, you might just find an exciting surprise if you read through this post to the end.

But Will Smith isn’t really the point of this post. Rubrics are! (That’s the cruelest bait-and-switch of all time; I’m sorry).

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“Rubrics, you say? Now I feel like this!” – via GIPHY

In my last post, I wrote about using a learning goal-based rubric as a formative assessment technique. In that case, I used a rubric focused on five writing skills to first evaluate sample essays with my students; then I used it evaluate my students’ own writing on a similar prompt.

That process worked pretty successfully, I think. Although I’ve not had a ton of follow-up conversations with students about that first assignment, those few chats that I have had focused on how the student did in terms of those specific learning goals. Furthermore, we ended those conversations with the student have clear and specific ideas about how to improve on those skills moving forward. In other words, they weren’t just “bottom line” conversations about the grade on the assignment, which is what I’d hope to achieve.

As a way to carry this momentum forward, I wanted to make a rubric for one of the types of assessments I use most frequently in my history classes: ID Terms.

 

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“…and I’m historically significant because:”

 

I remember ID terms as a central feature of my own history classes in high school and college. The guidance I received about how best to approach these terms remained pretty consistent both in my own education and I’ve carried those guidelines into my own teaching. For over a decade now, I’ve explained that good ID term responses should do two things:

  1. Explain WHAT the term is.
  2. Explain WHY that term is significant.

However, I’ve always verbally articulated those expectations to my students. After that discussion, I’ve then given students practice in writing IDs, using their sample IDs as fodder for feedback about the ways in which their responses are strong and how they could improve.

However, in the hopes of providing students with something more codified to use in the process of studying and writing ID terms, I thought I should put those general expectations into a rubric framed around what I perceive to be the main learning goals of historical ID terms.

So, below is my first draft at a rubric that captures the two key elements of ID terms, puts my expectations into (hopefully) clear language, and gives students clear guidance on what they’re striving for when writing ID terms and conducting historical analysis in general.

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As you can perhaps tell from the screenshot, I’ve built this rubric in Canvas with the hopes of using it frequently to give students feedback on practice ID terms they write and submit digitally. As of yet, I’ve not figured out how to use multiple versions of this rubric on a single assessment, which would be helpful, for instance, if an online quiz or test included multiple ID terms.

That issue, however, is a problem for another day, so in the meantime, I’ll leave with a request for feedback and suggestions:

  • What language am I missing in this rubric?
  • How could I reframe these criteria differently or more effectively for students?
  • Are the distinctions between the various levels of mastery clear enough in the language?
  • Any other thoughts?

And now, I’ll really leave you with what you’ve been hoping to get to this whole post!

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Grading, Rubrics, teaching, Writing

Formative Assessment, Rubrics, and (that pesky ol’ issue of) Grades

In the week before our school year started, our in-service professional development days focused on the topic of formative assessment and what techniques and strategies make for the most effective types of formative assessment. (If you’d like a more thorough recap of those sessions, check out the write up in Fine Print, one of my school’s online publications).

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Leading us through these sessions was Jan Chappuis, who has written a number of books on formative assessment. Her presentation focused on her Seven Strategies book and the ways we could both implement these techniques and use them to help improve student learning and foster a “learning orientation” within students.

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Jan’s day-and-a-half presentation was really dense and filled with more specific suggestions and ideas about restructuring classroom activities than one could possibly hope to implement in a single year (let alone in the last few days before a new school year). She did, however, note at the end of her presentation that the best approach for integrating formative assessment into one’s classroom is to “start small and keep going.”

With that admonition to adopt and work to implement something from her presentation, I gravitated toward her suggestions to use rubrics (framed around specific learning goals rather than check-list, task-completion goals) and sample student work (of both excellent and not so excellent quality) as a way to help students understand both what they’re supposed to be learning and how they can become more adept at self-assessment.

Rubrics of Yesteryear

My interest in using more effective rubrics, however, was spurred entirely by this presentation. Last year my colleague Kate and I experimented with using the “single-point rubric” as a way to get away from the overwhelming check-box features of traditional rubrics. This change had the benefit of pushing me to explicitly articulate (and visually center) the major learning goals for a particular assignment.

 

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Sample “Single-Point” Rubric via the Cult of Pedagogy. The “Breakfast in Bed” assignment is obviously one of the most important encapsulations of learning in any history course.

I used the “single-point” rubric for a seminar on disability history that I taught last fall and found it a useful framework for explaining to students how they were doing on the various learning goals of the assignment. I even wrote a whole post for my students about my rationale for using this rubric and what I hoped they’d gain from it. The labor involved in articulating the positive and not so positive aspects of each piece of student work, however, ended up being pretty overwhelming by the end of the semester.

I ended the term feeling unsure about the net benefit of this framework. Yes, it gave a lot of feedback, but how effective was it when I shared both positive and negative aspects for a single learning goal? Did it always give students a clear sense of what to work on to improve? Unfortunately, I didn’t survey my students about their reactions to this rubric format, so I don’t have a clear idea about how well it worked. Missed opportunity [sigh].

Everything Old (or at least rubrics) Is New Again

So, when Jan Chappuis made learning goal-centered rubrics a centerpiece of her presentation as a way to do less grading and commenting while also providing more effective and punctual feedback, I was intrigued.

Jan recommended that rubrics should be written in student-friendly language (often using the first person—a stylistic choice that makes the learning goals more accessible and thereby helps students self-assess more readily) and only include as many different tiers/levels as there are gradations of mastery. In other words, if you only see four different levels of student skill for a learning goal, there should only be four potential outcomes on that rubric.

These guidelines ultimately recommended (and many of Jan’s models confirmed) using a more traditional-looking rubric with lots of boxes and descriptions of performance at various levels.

With our shift to Canvas this year, those recommendations ended up being good news because (at present) Canvas’ rubric creation tool doesn’t allow one to create a single-point rubric. Instead, the tool creates the fairly traditional rubrics with lots of boxes and descriptors—essentially the kind Jan recommended using with students.

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“I call this one, ‘Rubrique Vintage‘”

I used this style of rubric for the first time this year for a comparative writing assignment about our summer reading books for AP European History: Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve and Joyce Appleby’s Shores of Knowledge. Because I use this introductory writing assignment to get a sense of students’ ability to structure an argument, use evidence, and offer analytical commentary, I only have them write a two paragraph response—an introduction with a thesis and one body paragraph. Given this narrow focus, I similarly made my rubric focus only on the learning/writing goals that apply to those part of an essay. Here’s what I’ve developed/adapted from an excellent writing rubric created by my colleague Kate:

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I spent a day walking students through the rubric and reading two sample essays, which gave them the opportunity to put the rubric into action. By working with the students through one strong and one weak example, I hoped to both give them a sense of what I’m looking for in this assignment and give them some practice at identifying those characteristics in anonymous student work. By the end of that day, students had become pretty adept at evaluating these elements in sample work and grounding their assessments in the particular language of the rubric.

Although this marks a good start for me in terms of using rubrics and sample student work more extensively this year, it nevertheless leaves me with the remaining challenge of figuring out how to translate those “learning goal”-based rubrics into grades that are recognizable on the traditional grading scale. In experimenting with this task, I was heartened by a comment Jan made during her visit: (I’m paraphrasing, but it was something to the effect of) “it doesn’t matter what type of grading system you have so long as those grades are based on the learning goals of the course.”

But how do you grade it?

Good question, Italicized Header 3! Before creating this rubric, I did some research into how others have gone about translating learning goal or standards-based grades into a more traditional format. Here are a few links that I found useful in explaining potential solutions for that process:

Of all the systems explained in those posts (and others I haven’t linked to), I found the “Logic” or “Piecewise Function” for converting learning goal-based grades into traditional grades (explained in the Always Formative post above) the most compelling and adaptable. With that inspiration, I went about drafting, getting feedback on, and revising my own “Piecewise Function” for this particular assignment. Here’s what I settled on:

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At present, I’ve only used this translation table for 11 essays, but I think it’s leaving me with predictable (and similar) results to what I’ve gotten in previous years when using a more holistic approach to evaluating assignments like this one. My hope, however, is that this rubric provides students with clear feedback that will help them see where they should focus their attention on upcoming writing assignments. I’ll certainly have more to say on all those topics once I’ve finished grading all the essays and get some feedback from the students.

I’d love to hear how others have used systems like this one and what advice they have. Given that math and science teachers wrote those blog posts from which I drew my inspiration and models, I’d love to hear insights from humanities (and especially history) teachers who have used a similar model. What types of scales have others used? How have students reacted to the feedback from the rubrics versus the translated grade? How has this system worked when the learning goals aren’t as explicitly skill-based but are more focused on content?

Nota Bene

There’s a whole boatload of material online about what formative assessment is and how best to implement it in the classroom, but I’ll leave that to your Google or YouTube searching. Here’s just one example of the sort of tutorial/instructional materials that you can find (thanks to my colleague, Wendell, for passing along the following video) that addresses the benefits and best methods for implementing formative assessment:

 

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Pedagogy, teaching, Technology

Reconceptualizing Course Planning with Canvas, Part II: “The New Single-Site Paradigm”

In my last post, I outlined some of the major challenges of and problems created by the LMS that I’ve used for the past four years. However, as a means to work around some of these problems, I had created a series of “Cycle Schedules” in Google Docs that I could embed into the LMS. These documents essentially served as my lesson plans and were much more detailed and robust than anything I’d created in my first eight years of teaching.

In the course of piloting Canvas in some limited ways last school year, one feature that quickly became apparent to me as a major improvement over the status quo was the way that it integrated assignments into an actual calendar.

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Rather than having two separate places to post and track assignments—1) in my Cycle Schedules and 2) in the grade book (only for those assignments that got graded)—Canvas instead attaches each assignment to a specific date on the calendar. From my experience thus far, it’s clear that the calendar occupies a central place within Canvas.

As a result, when assignments are clearly anchored to the calendar, it clearly communicates what will happen when and saves students the work of transferring assignments and homework from the Cycle Schedule onto an actual calendar. In fact, Canvas will automatically push upcoming assignments with a due date onto students’ (and faculty’s) “To Do” lists on the Dashboard.

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Moreover, the interface for scheduling these assignments makes it very easy to create different due dates for the same assignment to different sections of the same class. And even better still, I can easily select to have these assignments not count toward the final grade, which would keep my grade book free of “actively read pp. xx-yy” detritus.

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So, having explored these features last spring, it quickly became clear that my old system of embedding Google Docs into the LMS wouldn’t take advantage of Canvas’s powers to communicate assignments and their due dates clearly to students in one centralized location. Yet, I had made all these really detailed (and useful for me) Cycle Schedules that included embedded links to readings, video clips, study guides, and other resources that I hope are helpful for my students.

All of these facts meant that as I sat down this summer to rethink how I wanted to structure my courses on Canvas, I realized that the time-unit of the “Cycle” would no longer be helpful. I had adopted that system as a way to deal with my school’s rotating schedule and the fact that I didn’t see every class on every day and it was easier to communicate what would happen for all students within that seven-day rotation. But with Canvas’s more powerful and convenient calendaring features, it now seemed a hassle to preserve that system that I’d used over the past few years. You know, one of these deals:

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Instead, I began exploring Canvas’s “Modules” section and thinking about how to divide my class into Units based not on the time-unit of the Cycle but around the content that I’d cover. I had, in fact, always had some of my materials organized into these pretty traditional content-focused “Units”; that remains how I organize all my files on Google Drive, for example:

 

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Over the past few years, I’ve taken to printing off my Cycle Schedules so that I could make notes on them about adjustments, how lessons went, things to change, etc. This resource proved immensely helpful this summer as I worked through last year’s classes and re-divided them according to “Unit,” deciding what days that used to fit into the different “Cycles” should now be grouped according to “Module.”

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With these notes in hand, I was able to sketch out the trajectory of the year, figuring out how many days I spent on each unit and what content that I’d previously put into all of my Cycle Schedules could now fit into individual assignments. I always find that this type of large-scale rethinking happens best when done by hand, so I went full-Moleskine-hipster and did it!

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Then, once I’d sketched out the year, named all of the different class days, and determined the dividing points between different Units/Modules, I built out that same framework within Canvas.

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As I did this, I also figured out when I wanted to have various formative and graded assignments and used the “indent” feature within the Modules to visually indicate when a particular day also included a separate quiz, discussion, or practice AP activity. Building out these “Units” in the Modules page was especially convenient because I could include assignments, quizzes, discussions, external URLs, etc. within the Module and have them conveniently grouped in one place.

So, once I’d built out the framework of for each of the days in the year, I began going into these individual assignments and copying-and-pasting material I’d previously had in a Cycle Schedule day into a new Canvas assignment.

For example, here’s my day on the “Varieties of Protestantism” that previously looked like this within my Cycle Schedule:

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Now it looked like this within Canvas:

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With the exception of re-embedding the video using Canvas’s YouTube integration tool, I more or less copy-and-pasted the material that I previously had included in the old Google Doc. The links—and most of the formatting—transferred pretty cleanly. (Though, as my friend and colleague (hereafter “friendleague”), Kate, and I were discussing, we wished that Canvas would use proper Harvard outline format to vary the symbols at the different levels of indentation. Sigh.)

After I’d created the assignment and included all the details, I then figured out where that day fit on the actual calendar by manually scheduling it in the Cycle Calendar Book that the school provides to faculty (and freshmen…for what that’s worth).

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I then included the appropriate dates for each class section on each assignment and voila! I’ve now got my schedule, homework, and grade book filled (with only the material that needs grading) in one fell swoop. (I’ll concede that it’s a pretty involved swoop, but at least Canvas won’t delete all this work at the end of the school year!)

You may perhaps have noticed that I added one new section to the top of each day’s assignment: the “Due Today” section. For that section, I’ve simply copied and pasted the prior day’s homework (in this case, 2.1 – “Foundations of the Protestant Reformation”).

This solution, devised by my friendleague (ugh…that neologism is awful. Sorry about that), Kody, helps address the one major shortcoming of having each day be a separate assignment: it’s no longer possible to scroll up and down the Google Doc and easily see what the prior day’s homework assignment was.

So, while including this info does require some extra copying-and-pasting, and requires changing two different assignments if you decide to change the homework for a particular day, I nevertheless think that it removes potential confusion for students about when something is due.

Finally, I’m hopeful that this new structure for communicating assignments will also prove superior because it makes the same content accessible in some many different places. If need be, students can find the information about “Day 2.2 – Varieties of Protestantism” in the Module [see above], on the calendar, in the Assignments section, on Canvas’s auto-generated Syllabus [see below], or on the “Upcoming” section of the Dashboard [see above].

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In contrast to the isolated location of assignments under the old LMS’s paradigm, I’m hopeful that students will find the multiple means of accessing assignments within Canvas and seeing them all at a glance through the calendar to be much simpler and ultimately a time-saver.

My school year starts this Wednesday, so we’ll find out how good a soothsayer I am soon enough!

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teaching, Technology

Reconceptualizing Course Planning with Canvas, Part I: “The Old Paradigm”

Late last school year (and after a series of meetings and trial investigations of different Learning Management Systems), my school decided to shift from our previous LMS (which, in classic Voldemortian fashion, I shall not name) to Canvas.

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In my experience of using the previous LMS, there were two major problems:

  1. At the end of a school year, all the work you’d put into the LMS (uploaded assignments, files, pages, resources, etc.) were all purged and deleted. This functionally (or lack thereof) meant that you had to recreate work you’d already done every single year.I learned about this “feature” from a former colleague, who had spent countless hours building out her class only to discover in July that all that work had gone down a series of tubes (or was it a dump truck?), thereby spurring very understandable and appropriate Sturm und Drang.
  2. To get something to appear on the calendar for students to see, you had to create that item as an assignment, which would then appear in the grade book. In practice, this might not sound like such a big deal, but as a history teacher who assigns mostly reading, having a bunch of “Actively read pages 332-339 in McKay and annotate for …” assignments appear in the grade book (and which didn’t need grading) was a big pain in le derrière.

On the positive side, however, this LMS had the ability to easily create Pages where one could embed HTML code.

So, as a workaround for the first problem, I decided to create all of my lesson plans/student schedules in Google Docs, where I (or, more accurately, our benevolent overlords in Mountain View, CA) maintained control of the material from year to year. So instead of recreating all this material anew on Voldemort LMS each year, I could instead just re-create Pages and then embed my lightly updated schedule of class assignments, homework, and useful resources.

Essentially, students logged in, navigated to my class page, then navigated to a page (which I organized by Cycle [see more on that below] and titled after whatever material we were working on and where that fell in the schedule) that had the in-class schedule, homework, etc. Here’s what those pages looked like:

While this method worked well in terms of allowing me to preserve my work from year-to-year, update it in one place and have those changes pushed to the students, and easily embed that material on the LMS, it created some new problems:

  1. None of the material that I included on that Google Docs was pushed to the calendar on the LMS itself. If I wanted something (usually something that was graded) on the LMS, then I had to go back and create that as a specific assignment in the LMS’s grade book.
  2. Students had to figure out when a particular day would take place. Because we have a rotating schedule (see snapshot below and try to keep the gray matter in your head within the confines of your ears), not all classes have the same in-class assignment or homework due on the same calendar day.
    Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 4.17.08 PM
    My Cycle Schedules gave them all the details for my class (and on what day of a Cycle it would take place), but students then had to map that information into their own schedules/planners to determine when it would actually occur and where it would fit with their other work. While I’m not opposed to having students do this organizational work, it was unfortunate that my solution to solve one problem created superfluous additional work for them.
  3. My colleagues and I often devised separate solutions for how we communicated work within the LMS. Some folks adopted the system that I was using by embedding Google Docs into the LMS. Others included links to their class pages on Google Classroom. Others used the calendaring features within the LMS.In practice, this meant that students couldn’t gain access to all their work in a single place and had to navigate to each individual teacher’s class page to get resources, information about their assignments, etc. and then transfer this information to a calendar where all the information would show them exactly when in the real world all this work would be due.
    lms_disconnects (2)
    Again: redundant (and superfluous) work for students.

Now that I’ve outlined the array of problems and challenges posed by the old system, in my next post I’ll talk about how Canvas addresses those with its more robust calendaring feature and how I’ve gone about transferring my old Cycle Schedule into the Canvas’s “Modules” feature.

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Pedagogy, teaching

The Pedagogical Brilliance of John Hodgman

I enjoy a number of the podcasts on the MaximumFun.org podcasting network a great deal. One of those that I listen to on a weekly basis is Judge John Hodgman, which is characteristically dry, funny, and thought-provoking. If you don’t recognize this fake Internet judge’s name, you’ll likely recognize him from his most famous role in a bunch of old Apple ads:

On his most recent episode, “Strictly Courtroom,” Judge Hodgman had a brilliant nugget of wisdom about the process of learning that I felt compelled to transcribe and share with you here:

Your argument that why not have fun while learning is undermined by the fact that you know learning is not fun. Learning is painful. Learning is awkward. Learning is essentially admitting that you don’t know something that you’re embarrassed not to know. That is the hard part of learning. And sometimes learning means chanting various body parts over and over and over again until the embarrassment of not knowing, or the embarrassment of not being good at something, or the embarrassment of not being sophisticated, or the embarrassment of not being a grown person, or whatever the embarrassment of not knowing is, gets beaten out of you until you can finally learn.

I realize that out of context that point about “body parts” must seem very strange, but give the whole episode a listen and you’ll have a sense of why that apparently bizarre comment shows up in this pithy observation about learning.

I particularly love the fact that Judge Hodgman is willing to directly challenge what seems to be the ever-growing chorus of “let’s make learning fun” with the hard truth that learning isn’t “fun,” per se, but can certainly be rewarding and fulfilling, which happens precisely because learning is challenging.

And now that I’ve got that great quote typed up, I can include it on all my future syllabi

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Academic Skills, Historical Thinking, teaching

Teaching Mind Mapping

As I’ve written about before, (many-a-time, in fact. See: this, this, and this), I believe that really gaining a clear understanding of historical concepts, events, sequence, themes, etc. comes from actively reshaping the information in some manner. History lends itself well to this because it forces one to think chronologically (timelines), comparatively (comparison charts or Venn diagrams, for those who like to write in tiny oblong spaces), or thematically (color coding major categories).

Personally, I’m a big fan of mind mapping, as the process of putting down terms, events, places, etc. and then linking them up and figuring out why they’re important can be a really effective way to understand the material in terms that resonate personally. Moreover, this approach doesn’t require a set formula, end result, or appearance; instead, it can go wherever a student wants to take it. And perhaps most importantly, it helps students understand that history isn’t a memorization challenge – one simply cannot do the analytical work necessary of a historian (or anything that requires critical thinking, for that matter) if rote memory is the lone approach to understanding the material.

In fact, I used this technique a fair amount early in my teaching career to help me figure out how to sequence material within a unit, what major themes I wanted to emphasize, and how I could make effective transitions between the content. But I had first learned about mind mapping during my own sophomore year of high school and found it to be a really valuable way of making sense of the material we were studying. When I was early in my teaching career I scoured through my old high school papers (what I aspirationally like to call the “Presidential Archives”), and discovered this mind mapping artifact from my past:

Mind Map – 19th c. Ideas

 

I’ve redacted both my name and the grade, but I’ll let you all know that it was quite well received.

This past week I introduced the concept and approach of mind mapping to some of my classes and thought I’d pass along my general guidelines here:

Mind Mapping Guidelines

Purpose/Goals:

  • Reorganize information → breaking from pure memorization.

  • Articulate and understand connections between key terms in your own words.

  • Identify the dominant themes and patterns in the material we’re studying.

Rules:

  1. Start with a list of ID terms and pick any one of them to begin and put it on your sheet of notebook paper.

  2. Add other terms (one at a time) that connect to that initial term and link them with arrows.

  3. **On the lines of the arrow EXPLAIN the connection between these terms by writing a description of that link ON THE LINE.** ← This is the most important part of mind mapping and is vital in terms of accomplishing the above goals.

  4. OPTIONAL – you can add colors/highlighting to indicate major categories of information (e.g. Social, Political, Religious, Intellectual, Technological, Economic).

These are (as with all things posted here) a continual work in progress, so if anyone has suggestions about how they introduce this concept or present other ways of getting students to meaningfully reorganize information, I’d be thrilled to hear about those in the comments.

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