What is the Summer to a Teacher

Apologies to those who have noted that entries were non-existent over the last year. With Common Core adaptations and the myriad of issues dealing with technology there was little time to post. My hopes are to begin again.

Most teachers in the nation are on some type of vacation during the summer months. The common misconception is the word vacation. Although I have found adequate time to downshift and relax, a good portion of my summer this year has been dedicated to the use of technology in the history classroom. As those with a tech background know, keeping up with the trends in educational technology is mind boggling. It is more a challenge to those of us who grew up with the basics, a typewriter – a manual one at that. However, in order to maintain an engaged student audience the use of technology has become vital in the 21st century classroom.

This past two weeks I have attended two tech camps, the CUE Rockstar Camp in Manhattan Beach, California, and the Google Edtech Summit in Orange County, California. Both of these camps were filled with participants of all levels and educational experiences who desired to improve their respective implementation of technology in the classroom. In the attempt to digitize paper curriculum many sessions were devoted to demonstrating how the use of technology can create a more efficient classroom. The use of the Google platform of educational tools such as Drive, Google Moderator, and the myriad of plug-ins and extensions that accompany Google Chrome were prime examples of a 21st century classroom at work. Although Google’s roll-out of the Google Classroom left many of the participants frustrated with the lack of key components and tools to effective manage the classroom environment. My recommendation is to wait for 6 months until the glitches are fixed. Meanwhile I will continue with Google Drive.

Needless to say my time this summer has been spent trying to filter out what I can use and what ideas should be shelved for later. The common mistake some make is to try everything only to be overwhelmed because the lack of focus. Take little steps. For myself I will try the Canvas learning management system this year. In order to keep my students engaged with daily assignments I will continue using Instagram to take snapshots of the in class work as well as homework. In order to better manage the paper giant that comes with teaching 230 students, I will continue to use Google Forms for primary source document study and other assignments. The use of the Google Add-On Doctopus will be vital in disseminating assignments. The work still continues as the rapidly approaching school year descends upon teachers in the vacation mode. Preparation time is vital in order to be fresh when those new faces walk into the classroom for the first time.

Catching Up and Using Tech

I have been off the blog radar for quite a while due to some tech issues and the extreme business of teaching. What has happened since the last post? The iPads have landed! My classroom now has 8 iPads which we will be using quite frequently. Of course this all comes with challenges as many students for whatever reason think that once a device is in their hands they can change backgrounds, try to download all of their own apps and on and on. Laptops are so much easier to manage, even a classroom set of 40 did not come with the challenges of managing iPads.

So what are we doing? In the next couple of days students will be using the iPads to create a two minute documentary/advertisement on modern day slavery. This will be uploaded to my Google account. I know that in this area we have only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using these medium. I am constantly looking to see how other history teachers are using tablets in their instruction. Besides the basics such as using the devices for Edmodo, Google Drive there are so many other uses. It is just a matter of having the time to review and test everything out. If you happen to come across some ideas on using tablets in a history classroom please leave a comment or contact me.

An Academic Conversation About Food

Today my 6th grade elective class will have a conversation about their favorite type of taco.  Although basic in nature we are trying to promote the use of academic language in a conversation.  We prefaced this activity by reading an article by a food critic.



A Step in the Right Direction

For many teachers in the profession, the one of most inconsequential actions that is part of our assessment as a teacher is the evaluation. Most teachers are subject to routine observation in which an administrator comes into the classroom once or twice a year with a checklist and checks off the agreed upon part of the evaluation. For many there is little follow up in regards to our teaching or even a discussion on how we can improve. Of course this would require administrators who are true instructional leaders as well as teachers who are willing to address their respective areas of need.  As a disclaimer I have had both administrators who can recognize good teaching and maintain a professional conversation about teaching and those who have simply checked off the list in a couple of minutes and put the evaluation form in my box to sign. As a educator I would be thrilled to have a discussion about my teaching that would allow me to set goals to improve.  For one I may not be aware of these weaknesses unless pointed out by a keen eye.

Thursday night the San Jose Unified School District along with the San Jose Teachers Association signed an historic document which will push the typical teacher evaluation to a new level. EdSource featured this agreement in the article by John Festerwald that outlined the basic tenets of document.  Here are some highlights. It is important to note that no part of the evaluation will include student test scores as teacher evaluation piece.

Peer Review

New positions will be created in which teachers will be trained as evaluators who will work in concert with principals in evaluating new teachers and if requested veteran teachers.  Teachers selected for these positions will undergo a rigorous training and will be rewarded with additional pay for their work. The key component of this is that administrators and teachers will working in concert to improve the quality of instruction.


Due to the complexity of the contract there will be no changes to teacher pay as it will continue on current step and column process,  However, if a teacher is deemed as unsatisfactory and does not make a marked improvement there is possibility of a salary decrease.

Career Ladder

There are many teachers who aspire to take on leadership positions but do not endeavor to be administrators.  The San Jose agreement provides an opportunity for these teachers to advance as instructional leaders with salary incentives of $15,000  for model teachers to 25,000 for master teachers.

Many teachers including myself have longed for this type of change.  My hope is that teacher unions and districts will put aside the animosity that has poisoned many of the conversations about teacher evaluations and look outside of the box to innovative agreements such as that of San Jose, San Juan Unified School District and other districts who are true in their attempt to improve the profession.  Forcing teacher evaluations tied to student test scores is not an answer.

For those truly interested in a groundbreaking policy report on teacher evaluations and how to improve the profession I would refer you to the Accomplished California Teachers site.  Their report has detailed information about teacher evaluations, career ladders, and an innovative approach to salary advancement.







Almost There: Wrapping Up the Year

Students in my class are quite used to using studying primary source documents in both written and pictorial form. So as I struggled to come up with ideas for a year-end project a decided to look on Edmodo for some ideas as the projects from previous years were too time consuming at this juncture of the school year. I am also restricted by the fact that I have to implement a Common Core lesson as mandated by district within the next week.

Upon my search on Edmodo, I came across an idea from an AP World History teacher who had his students utilize their historical interpretation skills by creating a set of primary source documents that answer the question,What was it like to be in Mr. _________ classroom. The lesson combines the skills of creating a text-based document, a graphic, and a chart or graph in the hope that student next year could interpret the documents in order to build a sense of what the class is like.

My students embarked on the task by creating a picture using PhotoBooth on the classroom MacBooks. The photo was then imported to a Google document in which the students had to write a heading along with a description of the photo. Because the students posed for the pictures, they had the liberty to create innovative headings that reflected some of the activities that were completed during the year.

The next part of the task was to create a chart or graph that would be a snapshot of the class such as how much homework did students complete, how many times did each student take the district mandated Constitution test before passing and a variety of others. I provided brief instruction on how to use Google forms and the students quickly were able to send forms out the their classmates and obtain responses which were put into a chart.

The third part of the task was to create a tex-based document that described what the class was like keeping in mind the question, what was it like to be a student in Mr. Miraglia’s class? The students did quite a job of describing the various aspects of the class in regards to homework, the type of work required, the technology that was utilized and a host of other descriptions that summarized the class.

The final task was for each students to create an autobiography that summarized who they were as a student. This could include what was their favorite class, their work effort, etc.

For a year ending project I am satisfied that students were able to apply the skills that they have built along with the fact that they were truly create a historical document that could transcend future years of students.


Engaging Students with the Civil War

With the cut in funds and living on the West Coast making the Civil War come alive for students is challenging. As many teachers around the nation and worldwide, I decided to bring the history of the war to the students. Yesterday’s virtual field trip via Skype brought the National Civil War Museum to one of my US History classes. Bryan Guerrisi from the museum provided a overview of what it was like to be soldier.

From the weaponry to the food students were able to see an actual uniform of both a Union and Confederate soldier along with the accessories such as the haversack, the mess kit, the sewing kit and of course the weapon of choice, the Enfield rifle. Bryan also talked about the loading process for the rifle and the types bullets that were utilized which piqued the interest of students who had a fascination with military weapons.

The discussion of poor sanitation and medical conditions also brought student reactions as most students had no inkling that medical instruments were used and reused with out any type of sterilization taking place. Although the presentation was only twenty-eight minutes in duration, students benefitted from another perspective other than a history text or video. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the presentation was Bryan’s explanation on the causes of the war. Most of my students know of the issue of states rights and slavery, but Bryan introduced them to the economic and culture clash arguments.

I feel this is the way of future when it comes to field trips, especially in the area of history. This being said I am in constant search of other learning and connection opportunities. If you have participated in anything history related whether a Skype session or a web conference with a historian feel free to forward me the information.

Check out a segment from yesterday’s session below.

National Civil War Museum Skype Session

Talking About Andrew

Last week my students were able to link to Andrew Jackson’s home at the Hermitage through their educational outreach program. This opportunity which took place via video conferencing facilitated by their outreach director, James Yasko gave my students a glance into the life a controversial president. I prefaced this lesson by having my student examine a variety of primary and secondary source documents that presented Jackson in a both positive and negative light. The web conference allowed for students to ask questions about Jackson’s that were not answered through their research of Jackson.

One of the avenues of engagement we used was the use of Twitter. Through my teacher Twitter account students sent their questions to James as he also presented. The students had the option of either asking questions via the webcam or using Twitter. As each session progressed many students gravitated to the use of Twitter, maybe due to the fact that it was relatively anonymous in the way that they were not being seen, but only were using their name. It was an interesting experiment in the use of Twitter as I definitely see further explorations with this type of interaction. The only deterent to the whole process is that Twitter is blocked through our district and I had to receive special permission to access the site.

Jackson Web Conference

Using the iPad

I have always wanted to use an iPad in my class as we study history through the lense of primary source documents. This past week two opportunities presented themselves. We used the American Progress picture created by John Gast in 1872 to dissect the various messaages revealed in the picture. As I traveled around the classroom untethered with a borrowed iPad (thanks to my science colleagues) students jumped at the opportunity to show what they found in the picture by circling the object and then having it projected via my computer to the screen in front of the class. The class was alive with students of all learning levels willing to show their individual interpretations of the picture.

Now as I contemplate purchasing an iPad I am aware of how powerful such a device might be. I am currently finishing a proposal to bring iPad minis into the classroom. Obviously there are many more uses than what I noted above. I have read about teachers who use it to have students make their own observations about a historical document, then record it as a movie and finally upload to either DropBox or e-mail it to the teachers account. A great way to get a true authentic assessment. So check out the short clip below in our brief but rewarding use of the iPad.

Using the iPad in a history class.

Using CoveritLive and Student Engagement

If you have followed us this week you will see that my classes were involved in a series of discussions involving political parties impact and government suppression of public opinion. The opportunities to use the live blogging platform allowed my students to voice their opinions on topics which probably would not have surfaced during the course of a regular class session. Moreover, I was able to see that all students were participating as they posted comments relative to the discussion.

Perhaps one of most rewarding parts of these sessions came when one of my honors classes took my original question that I input as a discussion starter and continued with the forum without me adding but one question, a time of 25 minutes. Clear evidence that when provided with the opportunity students can generate academic discussions. Although other classes needed some prompting with questions, all in all it was a very successful experience. You can check the conversations by clicking on replay button on the CoverlitLive icon.