Today was the first day of summer school --nothing new there. I am teaching US History--I've been teaching it off and on for 16 years! Nothing new there. The experiment is all in the delivery. We are engaged in a blended online class. We have two days of face to face class time in a Westtown School classroom. After this we will meet for five additional weeks without ever being in the same room. One student will be traveling to China, another to Canada, a third to central PA, a fourth will be hiking in New England and the others will be scattered through out the mid-Atlantic--ten students and me. We will meet asynchronously and synchronously using a variety of online tools. Every Thursday we will meet using a program called Adobe Connect. Between Thursdays discussions will happen in our forums, wiki's will be constructed, assignments uploaded and quizzes taken all within Moodle.
When I thought about the organization of this class I was stymied by the challenge of covering the full sweep US History from pre-conquest Native Americans through to the election of Barack Obama in just six weeks. Every online US History course I examined seemed to take this approach and rely heavily on weekly assignments and pacing that resembled the nine month school year course. Fortunately, a wise and forward thinking colleague reminded me to start with the outcomes I wanted and that with a new medium I needed a very different course structure. In his opinion, the problem with online high school classes is they try to replicate a face to face curriculum in a virtual space.
My outcomes for my students include garnering a sense of the sweep and power of US History, to write well and to be able to think creatively about US History and make connections between the past and the present (I suspect we will skip over President Garfield yet again). I want them to know US geography and the inter-relationship between history and environment. Finely, I want them to see themselves as the next generation in a long line of people actively engaged in making history, involved in the civic life of their country and responsible for their future. We will do a lot of writing--two 5-7 page essays with proper bibliographic citation-- as well as significant and regular writing in our discussion forum and their own current event blogs. The forum will be centered around questions of analysis, synthesis and creative thinking. Our wiki's will be more fact based; geared toward building a foundation in the scaffold of events, issues, and people. There will be a collaborative project of their choosing. The final project will ask them to track a current event issue over the five weeks and write about it in a weekly blog. As they learn more about their topic, they are to engage with others beyond the confines of our class.
The first day went as I expected. It took us a significant amount of time to down load the exact media driver for our school's video streaming program, Safari Montage. Each different student computer has its own particular hurdles and driver needs. Once we had everyone's computer ready to stream videos, we showed them how to search the movie database and then I explained that while we would have a text book as a reference, they were free to read or watch videos to learn about any topic we were covering. One or two history channel buffs were thrilled! We then reviewed a number of online subscription services available to them as another alternative to the textbook. Tomorrow I will review with them how to select the best sites for learning and show them how to use the textbook most effectively.
We spent the last hour drawing free hand maps of North America. Students were to locate major rivers, oceans, lakes, mountain ranges and other geographical features. They also had to locate some major cities and correctly draw in the boundaries for all of Canada's provinces. We will add the US states over the next few weeks. I was interested to watch strategies for locating things to be placed on the map. Some turned quickly to the textbook, others found maps on line and still others googled terms like Hudson River.
Tomorrow, we tackle the US Constitution and how to use Adobe Connect.