Sunday, August 2, 2015

Go Set A Watchman

Because this blog follows my teaching and learning of history, I find it appropriate to share my reaction to Harper Lee's newest release, Go Set a Watchman. When I initially heard that this book would finally be published, I was ecstatic. To Kill a Mockingbird is, without a doubt, my favorite book. I could literally reread it hundreds of times and not get tired of it.

However, when early reviews and teasers for the book came out, my high expectations for Watchman were quickly squandered. I read review after review hoping to find that it wouldn't actually illustrate one of my favorite characters ever, Atticus Finch, as a man fallen from grace and morality. I dreaded the book's arrival in the mail because I knew I'd have to read a book that would surely be a harrowing disappointment. The book arrived, and I deliberately took my time reading it. I didn't rush through a single page because I knew that at any moment I would be saddened to actually read that the beloved Atticus Finch was a racist.

It was difficult to read the book, its tone is so different from Mockingbird. Though both books follow Scout (Jean Louise) Finch as she learns about life, Go Set a Watchman is decidedly a more realistic portrayal of southern society in the 1950s, in my opinion. Racism runs rampant, as a way to protect society from the degradation that is allowing blacks to have rights and acceptance.

Characters have changed, and many have gone away, but Scout is still the same. She stands firm in her beliefs, and still acts far too boyish for her aunt's liking. But now she's an adult. She has experienced life outside of Maycomb and has refined her character and convictions, as any young adult who moves away from her hometown would.

Harper Lee's syntax is brilliant. Her gift to writing is truly special and the world is lucky that she's released even two books.

In closing, yes, I am disappointed with Go Set a Watchman, but only because we saw Atticus' fall from grace. The book still teaches lessons about life and human nature, and would make for an excellent unit taught with To Kill a Mockingbird in a blended English/History class.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dust Bowl Infographic

I selected an infographic for my visualization blog for several reasons. First, I felt that the infographic would be most appropriate, because inofgraphics allow for a lot of information to be synthesized in one place. Because there are so many powerful photos of the Dust Bowl, I also felt that it would be the best way to showcase the images. Finally, I really enjoy infographics, and I really wanted to learn how to make one of my own. I used, and I’m pretty impressed with my first attempt. I definitely plan on making more, and using them as tools in the classroom. I think students might also enjoy using Piktochart to make their own infographics for future master projects.

I began by selecting images that I felt best represented the Dust Bowl; the selections varied from photos of landscapes, to people, to charts and maps. I think the best way to help a student “visualize” a topic is to give him as many mediums of information as possible. Then I selected some short quotations and sections from websites that could give some additional information to complement the photos. I originally wanted to cram as much information on the infographic as possible, but as I worked I decided that quality was probably better than quantity and worked to create a visually interesting and not-cluttered infographic. Because the main goal of this infographic isn’t to teach enough information to cover an entire unit, it doesn’t need to be completely full of all of the facts, figures and sources for the unit.

Creating the visualization did help me understand the content of the Dust Bowl unit on a deeper level. It forced me to choose photos and facts that I found most interesting and necessary. I want this infographic to provide an overview on the Dust Bowl, as well as some facts and figures to help put it more in perspective for the students viewing it, because I expect them to have little to no knowledge on the Great Depression, let alone the Dust Bowl. Looking more critically at the photos forced me to consider their sources and the implications of who took the photo or created the document. As a History major, we’re taught to be critical of every source we read, but sometimes we take photos and maps/graphs at their face values because it’s difficult to imagine that they wouldn’t tell the “truth.” In my search, I found some photos in my collection that were from the wrong period, or a different location, which helped me select better photos for the infographic.

Using a lot of photos and short quotations from primary sources was also pretty beneficial to my understanding of the Dust Bowl era. A few of my sources are very text heavy, without any pictures. The infographic is a good companion to them. It helped me, “put a face to the Dust Bowl.” Seeing photos that align with a text almost always make the text more engaging. Seeing the photos really personifies this devastating period in United States history.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Curating Disciplinary Texts - The Dust Bowl

I settled on the family experience during the Dust Bowl in the United States. Rather than going broad and discussing how the U.S. government dealt with the Dust Bowl, or the science of it, I felt that it would be most interesting to students to learn about how individuals and families were affected. This unit would be on the Dust Bowl, and I may actually have the opportunity (fingers crossed) to teach this unit later this semester! The 9th grade social studies class I teach focuses heavily on reading historical texts “like a historian,” so I would definitely look at different texts this way. To best educate an historical phenomenon, as well as the historical thinking skills needed to be a successful student “historian,” I would use varying texts, ranging from content-driven, to primary sources, to multimedia, etc. This would help students have the best understanding of the subject as possible, as well as keep them engaged in the topic throughout the unit.

1. “Interactive Dust Bowl” – multimedia/visualization source

PBS, “Interactive Dust Bowl,”

This “text” was created as an accompaniment to the Ken Burns documentary, The Dust Bowl. It allows you to click through scenarios that Dust Bowl families faced, looking at haunting photos of the Dust Bowl. The text is very accessible to students, as all of mine have their own school-issued iPads. I also selected this text specifically because the language is easy to understand. It doesn’t use many difficult words, or long and complex sentences, thus it would be a good place to start for students learning about the Dust Bowl. StoryToolz gives this text a grad 7 readability score, which makes sense to me. More than half of my students read above 7th grade levels, thus overall this wouldn’t be a text that is too complex for students. For students that aren’t quite at grade level, there are a few terms that may need instructional support: embark, profit, expand, descend, and geographic.

This text would be used as an introduction to the Dust Bowl. Though students wouldn’t have a lot of background knowledge, this would help build it, as well as engage students by using technology.

Thinking Question: What would you do if your family farm failed for several years? Stay put and keep working, or move somewhere else?

2. Film The Dust Bowl, by Ken Burns

The Dust Bowl, Ken Burns, 2012.

Admittedly, part of the reason I selected this film was because I just really love it. Ken Burns films are just amazing. This film chronicles the family experience during the Dust Bowl era. The documentary was released in 2012, making it very modern, though the content is obviously 80 years old. It features interviews with Dust Bowl surivors (primary sources), which is an important element of historical reading. The documentary would be viewed during class, and some students would be able to view some segments at home on their iPads. To determine text complexity, I input the transcript from part of the film into StoryToolz. It scored a 9th grade level, which is in line with the majority of the students in the class. Giving students text at the appropriate grade level would ensure that students won’t get too frustrated watching a film that they don’t understand. I agree with the score, I think the vocabulary and sentence structure is pretty appropriate for 9th graders. Some important vocabulary words for this film are: reap, combine, expanse, rape (as in “they raped the land”), resemble, mustard gas, topsoil.

This text would be used to help introduce the Dust Bowl, as a follow up to the interactive Dust Bowl site. Using film, showing photos, interviews and clips, will help engage students in the subject, as well as get the important background information that they’ll need. Part of being an effective teacher is using differentiation when teaching, and students who are more visual would get more out of watching a film than reading a textbook or a website.

When watching the film, I’d ask students to compare the experiences of the people interviewed in the film with their answers from the previous text, “What would you do if your family farm failed for several years? Stay put and keep working, or move somewhere else?”

3. Book (Print), Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse

I’m so excited at the possibility I might teach this book in a class! It was my favorite book in like 3rd grade, and I’ve read it at least ten times. I think the reason why this book is so interesting is because, though it’s historical fiction, it’s so readable. It follows Billie Jo, a girl living in the heart of the Dustbowl, the panhandle of Oklahoma. It shows Billie Jo’s struggles, along with those of other families trying to survive the Dust Bowl. The structure of the book is free verse poetry, which provides students with a different means of getting information about the Dust Bowl. It will engage students by containing the narrative of one girl’s story, as well as a unique type of text that may engage students that don’t normally enjoy reading. StoryToolz rated this book around a 4th grade reading level, and because it’s free verse, it would be a breeze for most students to read most, or all, of it. Important words to go over would include: what free verse poetry is, Panhandle, and FDR.

Thought Question: How does Billie Jo’s story compare to other peoples’ stories that you’ve seen or read? How does the use of free verse affect your opinion of the book?

4. Book (Print), The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time is a National Book Award Winner following the experiences of those living during the Great Depression’s Dust Bowl. Egan interviewed survivors who were as interesting as any nonfiction book. These firsthand accounts of life in the Dust Bowl are informative, but the language is also very creative and engaging. I would use this text in scaffolding, because the language is more difficult than Out of the Dust. I’d probably use it after the other three texts because it’s the most difficult to read in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure. The aim, though, is to engage students in reading at higher levels to encourage growth and literacy. Story Toolz rated the book at varying levels, some portions were lower level, while other sections of text I input for quantitative analysis were rated at a college level. Because the book balances several reading levels, it would be good for scaffolding to help students get better at reading.

Thought Question: How reliable are the stories that you’re reading? Are they corroborated by any other sources you’ve read?

5. (Print) I’d Rather Not Be On Relief, Lester Hunter

These lyrics are from a song written by Lester Hunter in 1938. The song was written about the Dust Bowl experience, and is somewhat similar to Woody Guthrie music. It’s written from someone experiencing the Dust Bowl’s hardships point of view. This text is great because students may be able to better relate to music and lyrics. I’m still looking for a youtube clip of the song, but if I found it, I would accompany the lyrics by playing the song. It’s a different way of giving information about the Dust Bowl. The average grade level for this text is about 8th grade, which seems accurate. Some of the vocabulary would be difficult for the students so it would need to be accompanied by a section of going over vocabulary. I would probably use this to engage students who might be slipping after doing a lot of more intense reading with the other print texts. Some vocabulary: lean-to, WPA, gypsy, dickens.

Thought Question: Does this song accurately represent the experience of the Dust Bowl family? Why? How do you know?

6. Photos (Print), Migrant Farm Families, Dorothea Lange Collection of Dust Bowl Photos

I really enjoy analyzing photos as part of a text analysis. Though there isn’t any reading necessarily associated with them, they can really help engage students and teach them a lot. In some cases photos can teach us what written texts can’t. Analyzing photos is an important aspect of reading like a historian as well. These photos were taken by Dorthea Lange as she followed families in the central United States, and as they headed west in search of more opportunities for success. The photos don’t have a quantitative text complexity, but I do think that looking at photos is more difficult than reading some texts. I’d use this “text” last because then students could use all of the knowledge they’ve built up reading the other texts to interpret and analyze these photos. It’s also a good way to summarize the unit in general. I would have to go over how to analyze photos again, though I have spent a lot of time looking at photos with my students.

Thought Question: what can you conclude from looking at this/these photos? How do you know?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Where I am, and Where I Want to Go

I think I've settled on a topic for the inquiry blogs. As a History major, and student teacher in history classes, I'd like to spend some time on the Great Depression, or possibly the Dust Bowl. This would give me the opportunity to study a subject that I love, as well as expose students to a super important time period in U.S. History.

I know a lot about this time period. I've taken a few that have covered the Great Depression in depth. I'm not an expert on 1930s U.S. History, though, so I'd have some research to do on this era. Additionally, I would like to limit the scope of this unit idea to maybe just the family experience of the Great Depression or dust bowl. It would allow me to cover economics and geography within a greater historical context that isn't too overwhelming for students.

I'm conflicted about whether I want to focus on the general family experience in the Great Depression, or the experience of Dust Bowl Families.

I'd spend a lot of time on primary source analysis, getting students to think like a historian. The Great Depression is full of all types of primary sources, from songs, print documents, to letters, etc. I'll need to do a lot of research in order to pick out the best and most appropriate sources to be analyzed during class.

One of my favorite Ken Burns documentaries chronicles the Dust Bowl. The preview can be viewed here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

About This Blog

A quick introduction: I'm Angela Gerloski, a student at the University of Wisconsin, at Milwaukee. I'm a social studies education major emphasizing in history, economics, and political science. This school year I'm student teaching at Nathan Hale High School in West Allis, Wisconsin. Here I'm teaching 9th grade social studies, as well as world history. In less than one year, I hope to secure my teaching license.

I've chosen to be a social studies teacher for several reasons. I really enjoy learning about the social studies, especially history, and I hope to share my love of history with the students I will teach in the future. History is such an important because it shows us where we've been as a window into the future of where we are going. I also have a passion for talking, so teaching--talking all day-- is a great opportunity to take advantage of that talent.

Education is an important aspect that shaped my life. I have a passion for helping people, and being a teacher is on of the most rewarding and important ways to do that. Educations is absolutely necessary to success in career and in life. It empowers us to be active and informed members of our society, and hopefully make a positive impact on the world.

Fun Facts About Me:
- Abraham Lincoln is my favorite U.S. president
- I graduated from UW- Madison with a BA in History-- in three years.
- Shopping is my hobby outside of teaching and learning.