Advice from US History/Government Teachers?

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by jcalum, Jul 21, 2011.

  1. jcalum

    jcalum New Member

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    Jul 21, 2011

    I work in a private school and have recently been promoted from a Teacher Assistant to a Full-time teaching position. I'm very excited about it, but the only problem is that I'm certified in HS English, but will be teaching HS US History, US Government, and Economics. I've placed an order for textbooks (because our school needed new ones) but am generally a bit apprehensive about how to go about beginning the year and how to proceed with the material. Because my school is private, there are no standards to adhere to.

    I'd LOVE some advice/suggestions about what kinds of things I should focus on and what kinds of activites would be fun to include in the curriculum. Thanks!
     
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  3. Ron6103

    Ron6103 Habitué

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    Jul 21, 2011

    I assume you must meet the state standards for each topic though, correct? There are state standards for all three of those subjects on the ISBE (I see you're also in IL) website. The best bet is to then outline the topics you want to cover, how long you want to spend on each topic, etc.

    If you want samples and ideas, I can send you a complete course curriculum for Government and US History (no Econ though). I have unit plans, schedules, etc. PM me if you'd like those.
     
  4. KatherineParr

    KatherineParr Comrade

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    Jul 21, 2011

    What textbook did you choose? And how old are your US history students? Mine are juniors.

    If you do not have to align with IL state standards, I would advise you that you need not worry about it. My colleague who is trained in English but teaching history uses document analysis in her classes so that she's working in areas where she feels strong. She also builds the course around conceptual themes (order, citizenship, rights, culture...) and then fills in films, essays, discussions, etc.
     
  5. jcalum

    jcalum New Member

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    Jul 21, 2011

    I chose The American Vision for History and Democracy in Action for Government, which are both McGraw-Hill publications. I based my ordering on some recommendations from family friends who have been teaching History for several years.

    The school is private and is based on British Curriculum, so I don't have any standards to align with. In some regards that makes things easier, but I really wouldn't mind having some basic guidelines to follow. Thanks for the ideas... they will be helpful as I'm planning activities and such!
     
  6. KatherineParr

    KatherineParr Comrade

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    Jul 21, 2011

    OK, I teach US history in a similar environment.

    My advice to you is to outline the basic narrative as the book presents it (in units or just chronologically) and then ask yourself what skills you want to develop. Then plug in activities that build skills and use materials that convey the content.

    For instance, when I teach Puritanism I lecture about the founding of Massachusetts and about witchcraft. We discuss a Cotton Mather document related to the captivity of Hannah Duston so they can see how brutal the mid-17th century could be. We also read a chapter from Ulrich's Good Wives and they talk about the Puritan approach to gender and marriage. So there are 2 lectures, 1 discussion, and a group activity related to close reading of a short document. Before we do MA we've done a similar set of activities related to VA, so then we can compare the two colonies with regard to labor, climate, religion, society, etc.

    BUT.

    You can also just pick 10 topics and build three weeks around each one, moving through time without trying to be strictly point-to-point. That is, you could do a bit on liberty and ask them to read Paine, Jefferson, Douglass, Lincoln, Anthony, DuBois, Goldman, Wilson, Roosevelt, and McCarthy and then see what happens. This approach shows them the threads that unify all of American history - think of it as teaching plot except in history.
     
  7. Soccer Dad

    Soccer Dad Cohort

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    Jul 23, 2011

    Don't rely on the textbook for either class. For U.S. History, incorporate reading packets (primary/secondary sources, readings of your own creation, etc.) to help facilitate a greater understanding of the actual time period. Also, do activities often (debates, Socratic Seminars, class projects, RESEARCH assignments). Notes are a necessary "evil" of education and must be done often; however, never should a week go by without an activity completed.

    For Gov, the same goes. Here are some ideas I've used in the past: a) influences of the media (examine the bias in media, compare/contrast our media with European media, follow a newspaper columnist for a month, etc.); b) balance the Federal budget (with explanations); c) research lobbyists and PACs; d) Constitutional issues (paper); e) review documentaries (Sicko, Gashole, The End of Suburbia, etc.); f) volunteer on a local campaign (if possible); g) run your own campaign in class; h) hold a fake session of Congress...

    There's so much to do to make history fun, but it can take some time to figure out what works. (ie: not every class can do Socratic Seminars diligently so move on to something else).
     
  8. KatherineParr

    KatherineParr Comrade

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    Jul 23, 2011

    Actually, SoccerDad, it might be a good idea to work with the textbook for a while, since the OP has not taught history before. When you work with documents, it can be a challenge to answer student questions.

    This year we had a teacher who is primarily in English but taught a single section of history. She had a very, very tough time with providing context because the basic narrative was new for her.

    So I agree that in the longer term you want to work with documents and that textbooks are flawed (at best). But in the short term the text may be more useful than it would otherwise be.
     
  9. smtownEngteach

    smtownEngteach Rookie

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    Jul 23, 2011

    I would try to use the textbook as an outline, but would try to pull in outside sources when relevant and available. Have you ever read the book "Lies My Teacher Told Me"? History textbooks are often flawed and selective on the material they include.
     
  10. Hitchcock fan

    Hitchcock fan Companion

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    Jul 23, 2011

    Good point, smtownEngteach. I read "Don't Know Much About History" to refresh myself before taking the PRAXIS years ago. The author devoted 10 pages to Iran-Contra and 1 paragraph to Clinton's impeachment. Regardless of your personal politics, that doesn't make sense.
     
  11. KatherineParr

    KatherineParr Comrade

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    Jul 23, 2011

    Well, Hitchcock fan, if you didn't like the perspective in Don't Know Much, you would have the same problem with Lies My Teacher Told Me.

    I agree about outside sources, always. The trick will be to choose sources the OP feels pretty comfortable about. There are document readers for US history that provide interesting commentary - that might be a good place to start.
     
  12. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Jul 24, 2011

    If you're not given a syllabus, why not borrow someone else's???

    Google "Illinois US History syllabus" and find out what other people in your state are teaching. Likewise with your other preps.

    At least you'll have a direction.
     
  13. Ron6103

    Ron6103 Habitué

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    Jul 24, 2011

    If you want some sample US History syllabi, (from Illinois) feel free to look through ours. One of the teachers in my department has his posted: www.mckav.com
     
  14. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

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    Jul 24, 2011

    Keep in mind that "Lies My Teacher Told Me" was written by a sociologist...

    I agree though, I honestly only use the textbook for my AP courses. My Freshman West. Civ. textbooks make great door stoppers!
     
  15. Mrs.SLF

    Mrs.SLF Comrade

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    Jul 24, 2011

    :toofunny:
     
  16. KatherineParr

    KatherineParr Comrade

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    Jul 24, 2011

    Mrs. SLF, I use a bunch of texts I found in my room to elevate my plants. They're heavy, large, thick, and apparently indestructible. They help my plants reach the sunlight.

    Ever since I discovered the "seagull" editions of my US textbook I no longer have to deal with huge blocks of paper. The seagulls are 8" trade paperbacks, in two volumes. They're much, much easier on the students' backs.
     
  17. Soccer Dad

    Soccer Dad Cohort

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    Jul 24, 2011

    While I understand it's necessary to have knowledge of the material you're teaching, gaining it from a high school level text is not a good method. If you need to freshen up on your history, consult a college level text instead (they can be purchased on amazon for almost nothing).

    You need to use sources other than the text, otherwise your students are at a disservice. If something proves difficult for you, that's normal. History isn't something that pops right off the paper; it requires analysis. Analysis is a skill gained through practice.

    The textbook can provide you with organization (although I commonly go against the organization--especially Manifest Destiny, the Transformed West and Imperialism). Use it to keep track of your lessons. Use it to keep on pace. Just make sure you run your class and not the textbook.

    I definitely advise you to read a narrative book written at the collegiate level and paperbacks written by current historians (Barnes and Noble's History Section is amazing; check it out).

    Google will be your best friend. Read articles on history--they will spark your own interest and act as a spring board to get more into it. The more interested you are in your own course, the more your students benefit.

    Put simply: read read read, research research research.
     
  18. Ron6103

    Ron6103 Habitué

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    Jul 24, 2011

    Well, on the topic of reading... I hadn't taught US History for awhile (I'm usually the World History guy), but had to teach it for 2 summer sessions in a row now. I read the following to brush up, and they really helped:

    1. A Short History of the United States - Robert Remini
    2. A Patriot's History of the United States - Larry Schweikart
    3. A People's History of the United States - Howard Zinn

    Those three together provided a good content summary, as well as a variety of perspectives to chew on. The 2nd and 3rd options I listed are polar opposites from each other perspective-wise, and provide a very interesting contrast.
     
  19. KatherineParr

    KatherineParr Comrade

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    Jul 24, 2011

    Yes, a lot of AP teachers assign the second and third in contrast to one another.

    SoccerDad, I use Foner as my textbook for exactly the reasons you identify. I actually think the worst thing about texts pitched to high school students is the junky look of the pages. A "chapter" may only have 8 half-pages when you cut out the questions, pictures, "study aids" and other stuff. It's all bullet points with no content. If the OP takes your advice to read such a text, I think Brinkley is the most sophisticated, and as you say it's available for nothing online.

    I agree that this year is likely to be all about research and I agree that the more you throw yourself into the subject the better everyone will enjoy themselves.

    But having observed a teacher last year find herself in the firing line for students, parents and administrators - and she was in the same position as the OP at a similar type of school - I really encourage the OP to borrow a framework (from another syllabus or from a text) and then see how it works for her. It's not about relying on the text for knowledge so much as getting a feel for the pacing.

    When you're browsing syllabi online consider looking at college courses, too. A lot of syllabi appear online, and you can get good ideas for reading. IMO, the books available at bookstores tend to be a pretty poor reflection of the current scholarship. They heavily trend toward biography (the best-selling form of history) and toward political and military history. That's interesting stuff, but you're going to need to know that plus a lot of other things. One place to find quality books and articles is on college syllabi. They'll be reasonably accessible, too, because professors are choosing them for undergraduates.

    Sometimes, college course websites will also have things like discussion questions and projects that you can adapt for your needs.

    And (last, I swear), keep in mind that some colleges have put lectures online. So you can watch history courses from places like MIT and if you find something that interests you the process of increasing your knowledge base could be incorporated into things like working out or relaxing in the evening. MIT used to have a great course on film as propaganda, for instance, and that's a great topic for students - they love to watch WWII movies and think about how governments use images to convince people of certain things.
     
  20. jcalum

    jcalum New Member

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    Jul 25, 2011

    Thanks to everyone for your suggestions and guidance thus far. I'm definitely taking it all to heart (and copying down book titles, tidbits, and ANYTHING else that might be useful). The biggest challenge I'm not facing (other than teaching in a content area that I'm not totally familiar with) is that my text books have yet to arrive. While I wasn't planning to base the ENTIRE course around the text, I was hoping for some organizational guidance. I've got my fingers crossed that they are delivered in the next week or so. Otherwise I'll be in a bigger state of panic than I am now.

    I've got the table of contents for one of the books (from the online catalog of the publisher), so at least that's a start. It's WAY more challenging to start from nothing than I would have thought, so I'm thinking that for the first few months or so, I may have to rely pretty heavily on the text and work toward moving away from it as I get more comfortable. Thankfully our students don't return for another month, so at least I've got a little time to try to get things together. Some days I'm up for the challenge, and some days I kick myself for agreeing to take on such a daunting task!
     
  21. Soccer Dad

    Soccer Dad Cohort

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    Jul 25, 2011

    jcalum, I don't want to just preach to you. I've been teaching U.S. History for more than 20 years so if you need anything from my NY syllabus to an old exam, let me know and I'll be happy to send it your way.

    I believe you mentioned you're using a glencoe text for U.S.--I've used the Visions text in the past and can offer homework assignments as well as projects for it. (Believe it or not, as much as I advocate against the text, I have seen the need for it.)
     
  22. BellaEstrella

    BellaEstrella Rookie

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    Aug 4, 2011

    My best advice is to use the textbook as a pacing guide/curriculum map. Since you are at a private school it is likely you aren't provided with either. Personally I find my district's American Government book so insufficient that I usually only use it for basic vocabulary material, as well as a resource to pull test questions.

    There are so many great resources on the internet nowadays that it is a much better resource as a whole.

    The Teachable Moments website is good for current events. The Choices Program has some good simulations. But even then I think that using website materials is best when used as a framework.

    Personally I feel that it is most important to remember that you know your students better than any textbook writer, or lesson plan writer on the internet. Take other people's ideas and make them your own. Use that creativity that made you so well suited to become a teacher in the first place :)
     

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