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Field Notes 2/19/13

Laura H's picture

February 19th, 2013

Location: Public magnet high-school in Center City

Classes: 11th grade American History (Ms. R), 10th grade English (Mr. T)

*Again, sorry these are a little late! I go to my placements on Tuesdays so I tried to upload them as soon as possible. 

After a three-day weekend, Ms. R starts class by asking students about their weekends. A few students raise their hands to tell the class what they did over the weekend, such as going to church, going out to breakfast with their families, having relatives over, etc.


We’ve talked a lot about getting to know your students and where they come from, and simply starting the class by asking about weekend activities seems like a great way to do this. It gives students a chance to share information about their lives and even says something about the different cultures we come from. The only concern Ms. R seemed to have was that so many students want to talk and the classes are only an hour.


The general environment at this school is very relaxed. Students usually stroll in 5-10 minutes after class officially begins, there are no bells and no attendance is ever taken.


Generally this “laid-back” system seems to work, but I do wonder about students that show up very late or do not have as much self-motivation to complete their work without someone reminding them to. At the same, it is very good preparation for college and the workplace.


This week, the project has two parts: first to investigate the causes of the Great Depression. Ms. R provides a guided activity on Moodle, where she gives 3 sources for the students to read or watch and then write the main points and assess how legitimate each source is. For example, one source is from the “For Dummies” website, and one is from an established historical institute. The second part of the project is to compare the responses to the Great Depression to those of the recent recession. For this second part, the students must submit an annotated bibliography.


One thing I love about this project is that it encourages students to think critically and question information they are given. This is particularly important with history classes because history can be so subjective. Additionally, the second part of the project makes history relevant for the students because they are all familiar with Obama and the recent recession.


As they are working on their projects, I am talking to Ms. R about her background. She mentioned she went to Smith High School in Philadelphia, and suddenly a few students get very excited to hear that she is from Philly. They make jokes about the reputation of the school she went to and begin to talk about how their school has a very good reputation.


A few things struck me about this. I found it interesting how it affected the students to hear that their teacher was from the same place as them. I wonder what that means for students and how that might facilitate a trusting relationship to see some similarities in your teacher. At the same time, what effects can it have when a teacher is from a very different place than his/her students? Additionally, the “reputation” or even the name of a school can be a key aspect of how the students think of themselves.


Mr. T begins his class by asking about how the students’ interviews went for their podcast projects. In general, the students share that they learned a lot they hadn’t known before about the people they interviewed. For example, Tiffany learned that her grandmother was friends with MLK and various anti-apartheid activists. Jamal mentions that his father talked about what is was like to be a teen parent.


This is a very interesting project for an English class. It allows students to look deeper into their own family histories or simply get to know someone outside of school. Additionally, it teaches them a variety of skills such as interviewing, editing, and crafting a story. While reading and writing is a part of this class, it clear that they focus on a variety of skills and activities. In fact, this makes me think about higher education, and how reading and writing are so emphasized in the social sciences and humanities. However, in many jobs, skills beyond reading and writing are valuable. Particularly, technological literacy is becoming increasingly important and this school is clearly addressing that.


Throughout class, the students continue to work on their podcast projects. All students are at different places in their work, so he provides multiple options depending on where they are. For example, students who have their interviews completed begin to work on “logging” the interview, or writing notes about the different sections so that it is easier to edit. He also has the groups sit together to discuss what their deadlines and roles will be. He has everyone upload anything they discuss to Moodle so that he can keep track.


A benefit of “project-based learning” is that it allows each student to do work at his or her own pace. At the same time, the teachers facilitate the projects by providing specific instructions as to how the students should go about their work. The platform of Moodle also allows the teacher to keep track of each students progress.