Sunday, September 28, 2014

Primary Documents and the Civil War

Sullivan Ballou wrote a last letter to his wife a few days before the first Battle of Bull Run.  Primary documents are a great way to present any part of US history.  Above is the clip from Ken Burn's Civil War documentary and here is a written copy.  Here is much more on Ballou and his death.

So in the sprit of the post below, a flipped class might have a screencast on the  major battles if the Civil War (Fort Sumter, Bull Run, Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg) and then have the students perform an exercise where they look at Ballou's letter and select a battle and write from different perspectives such as the military leaders of the Union or Confederacy, Lincoln's perspective, etc.  In such a letter, the students would have to show comprehension of the battles and yet be creative enough to an understanding of what might be coming up or have just passed, if done afterwards.

For such an assignment, you could go to Rubistar and make your own rubric.

All of this was generated from a book I am reading called Dataclysm  I guess I am never too far away from my teaching!

Flipping, flipping, flipping!

All three of my preps this year are being flipped so I am really getting into it which is good after four years of practicing the "craft."  Today we are having a tech in-service at Hayfield Secondary where I teach and I am teaching two sections of how to flip one's classroom.  If you aren't a teacher at Hayfield and want to watch how to do flip, above is an eight minute video detailing all of the steps and what to do in the classroom after you have done your flipped lecture.

Here is an example of a flipped video, the actual Google form we used and the interactive assignment that followed in class

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Hanoi Hilton

I have a friend who is traveling in Vietnam who posted about the video above.  It shows Jeremiah Denton who an American imprisoned during the Vietnam War.  He was filmed by the North Vietnamese saying how he was being treated so nicely, but in fact, he was using his eyes to say repeatedly in Morse Code "T-O-R-T-U-R-E."  You can read about the story here.  Considering the recent ISIS beheadings and the forced statements those people have made, above is a different twist on another tough situation that your students will be studying this year.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

ContextU Looking for Some Paid Content Writers

Recently I have posted about a start-up that I have been working with called ContextU.  We have our beta site up and now have sub domains up for the American Revolution and the Civil War.  We have a team of fifteen engineers, marketing, etc, but we need people to help write the content. Basically we are trying to contextualize learning as we believe that we learn best when connecting items to other, what we call, "nodes."  So we need people to write 1) 150 word descriptions 2) find cause/effect (and it is mostly from a list we already have 3) relations to other groups.  Right now we are looking for people to write on the Washington-Jackson era.  We are offering either "micro-shares" or pay which is better than anything my county pays!  If you are interested, please email me at 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The American Revolution in Context

As we all know putting whatever we are studying into context is the best way for our students to learn.  That is why I jumped at the chance to work with a CA based group called ContextU, a while ago to digitize (we are also working on Android and iTunes) for all of US history.  Right now we have up our second grouping on the American Revolution in addition to our first on the Civil War.

Each group has 30-40 "nodes" or people/place/events that have 150 word descriptions, the item on a timeline, located on a map as well as cause/effect and its relation to other like entities or groups.  It would be a great way for your students to see connections when you are studying the American Revolution or if you have already started then the perfect way to review for a test.  

Next up we will have early US.  

How to Use and Make Shortcuts in Google Docs

This comes from Caitlin Tucker who has made the short video above to show you pre-set preferences in Google Docs and how to additional ones of your own.  This comes in handy when you are grading papers and don't want to write the same comment over and over. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book Recommendation: How We Learn by Benedict Carey

There aren't many books about teaching that truly excite me, but I just finished reading a book that every educator should read. How We Lean: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey details several techniques that teachers and students can employ to increase student learning. Teachers may have heard of or even used a couple of the techniques, but Carey provides the background and details that will allow teachers to say "here's what I'm doing, and here's why it works" to themselves, their students, colleagues, and administrators.

Why will I give chapter pre-tests from now on? To see how much students know? No. To have students see what they know before beginning a new unit? No. I'm going to give chapter pre-tests because studies have shown that even when students fail to answer the pre-test questions correctly, a seed is planted that changes the way a student interacts with the content of the upcoming chapter, with students who took pre-tests performing better on assessments than those students who did not take the pre-tests.
One other technique described in How We Learn relates to those of us who have year-end exams, such as state assessments, Advanced Placement Exams, and course final exams. Carey describes the "spacing effect," which calls for students to space out their studying in a unique way. He's not recommending that students study several days in a row leading up to their test, which many teachers have probably recommended to their students. Carey suggests that non-study days be inserted between study days leading up to a test. Research has shown that retention of information for the long term increases using this method, thus student performance on cumulative tests, such as year-end tests, increases.

Read How We Learn so you can apply the rest of what Carey presents in order for your students to learn more effectively.

Frank Franz
Madison High School
Vienna, Virginia

Saturday, September 20, 2014

You Can Now Pre-Order My Book!

We now have a definitive early January release date for my book, whose name has changed to "Deeper Learning Through Technology: Using the Cloud to Individualize Instruction."  The name pretty much says it all as I relate research, examples and explanatory tutorials to show you how to effectively use technology for both primary (technology being used in ways similar to paper and secondary (more of the book and ways to allow you to do things you cannot do without technology).   There are also five "teacher challenges" per chapter so that you and your PLCs could set goals for your teams to integrate the techniques into your classrooms and school.    

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ken Burns' The Roosevelts Airs

PBS will begin airing The Roosevelts: an Intimate History tonight on most PBS stations and continue throughout the week, at least at WETA in Washington, DC.
Here are the first eight minutes of the 14 hour documentary.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Resources for Helping Students Understand ISIS

I've been surprised (shocked even) with how much my 9th graders know/want to know about ISIS. It's a difficult task because not only does includes history that is often overlooked but geography of a region that many adults are unfamiliar with as well.

In searching for resources to use in my classroom, I found this site from the NYT.  I also found and used this video with my students which talks about many of the basics and highlights areas of control. It also talks about Al-Qaeda, too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Flipping Back to School Night

I started this last year and had a great deal of success with my AP courses.  I create a tinyurl ( ask my students to text their parents in class the video.  Most of my parents watched it beforehand and then came to class with their questions.  If you look at my World History Teachers Blog, I have suggestions for those of you who have non AP classes.

If you want to create your own flipped back to school night presentation, here is how to do it. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Remind Now Allows You To Record Assignments

This is a pretty cool addition for those of you who have Remind on your smartphone (iTunes, Android).  You can, as the video shows, record your student assignments for your kids to hear rather than read.  You can also attach assignments if you like.  If you look at this video you can set up and use Remind with your students.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Free Online US History Textbook

We are in our fifth year of using an online textbook with our students and so it never ceases to amaze me that Pearson still isn't ready for prime time.  Every year at this point, when everyone is logging in their books, they can't handle the traffic.  Or the one that was really amused with was McGraw-Hill servicing their online books from Thursday - this morning after having had the entire summer to work on their shells.

Having said all that, I still believe that online books are the way to go, but not just because they are online.  Really I hope we are moving towards the days when books will be used as a resource and not the main source.  There are so many videos, links, images, documents online that a book should fill in the gaps or be the starting point.

But if you do want a book, here is one I worked on years ago called and it is not going to go down on your students and it is complete through about 2000.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Remind for Texts to Your Students

I have been using Remind (used to be called Remind101) for the past three years (in fact their CEO even wrote a nice blurb for my book which is coming out in a few months).  Students today do not use email very often, but cannot text enough to save their lives!  So when I started using Remind I found that the amount of homework among my standard (non AP/IB) students improved dramatically.  If you have students who do not have smartphones, the service also allows emails.  Additionally you can send a message to as few as three students.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Jamestown Lesson Plan

Living only a few hours from Jamestown I am more versed in the lore of Jamestown (for example, the actual site is now under water).   So naturally I really like this lesson on the Jamestown settlement as it looks at a number of primary documents and then requires the student to write why the "starving time" occurred.   I found the lesson on

Monday, September 1, 2014

Colonial Video and Lesson Plan

My son just showed this video to me.  It is a nice overview of colonial American history.  There is also a link at the beginning of the video for a lesson plan to go with the video.   

Twitter Warm-up

So I always have a meet and greet on our first day of school, but tomorrow, thanks to @dougzywiol I am going more high tech (imagine that!) and having the kids Tweet their answers.  To do that yourself you can either create your own hashtag by putting a number a hashtag symbol besides a name (make sure others are using it first) and then have your kids add it in of their Tweets which is what I am going to do.  Alternatively you could just have the students write your Twitter handle in their Tweets.  I will then have the kids go to our hashtag and we will go through them.  For the kids who don't have Twitter, we'll just do it orally.   

Why Study History?

More often than not, the students who will walk in my classroom for the first time this coming Tuesday (yes I am getting excited for year #24) do not appreciate the reasons for studying history.  So the very first exercise we will carry out will be to consider why we should study it.  If you have a similar plan you might like the these two short clips.  The one above, your students will like best and the one above (only the first minute), you will appreciate more.