The last light of summer fades into fall. The air has become crisp and stern, as if it’s giving you a final warning lecture before it really takes you to task in December. The leaves will soon burst into yellows and oranges, and plaid-trousered alumni wander the campus and point out where things aren’t.
(At least on campuses with proper climates. Mutatis mutandis for pleasant weather.)
But it’s also the time of year where the first assignments of the semester come due, and the students, busy with papers and tests, come dead-eyed into class. If your class is the one giving the exam or requiring the paper, all their attention is focused on that, not on lecture or discussion. If your class isn’t the one currently assessing them, your class just dropped off the priority list.
What tricks do you have to keep the classroom engaging?
Sybil tells of the development of a troubling classroom dynamic: some of the male students in her survey course seem to have a hard time taking a pretty, young female instructor seriously, and as a result, in class they either doze, disrupt, or sulk. Unfortunately, dealing with them has been hard on the other students, leading to a classroom atmosphere which is tense and generally unpleasant for everyone.
Sybil’s an experienced instructor and I suspect she doesn’t need advice and her post didn’t solicit any, but her difficulty struck me as an instance of a problem that easily generalizes away from the specifics of her situation. Whatever the ultimate source of the toxin, it’s likely those of us who have taught have all had classroom environments become unpleasant and unproductive places. (Not you. You’re an excellent instructor. Your friend.)
The State of Texas is in the process of defining new social studies standards for its public schools. And if the above video is any indication, we can look forward to a much more appealing version of American history going forward. I say that because Texas is a huge market for textbooks. So if Texans want happy history, the rest of the nation will just have to go along for the ride.
Which news, I have to say, comes as a bit of a relief. I mean, history can be such a downer. Things will be much better when we focus, relentlessly, on how exceptional our country is. Also: if we delete all mention of isolationism. Because that topic is pernicious and depressing. And U.S. history should be a celebration of us. Heck, us is right there in the title of the course.
CAVEAT EMPTOR: THE CLIP IS GRUESOME AND NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. THINK TWICE BEFORE CLICKING.
When I teach my seminar on monuments, museums, and memorials, I typically cover the Enola Gay controversy. But one of the challenges I face is getting my students to look “beneath the mushroom cloud” (borrowing a phrase from John Dower). So, given that it’s the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima (see here for contemporary coverage), I thought I’d mention that I once juxtaposed Barefoot Gen with the bombing scene from Above and Beyond as a way of accomplishing this goal. This approach has its share of problems, unfortunately, and since I’ll be teaching the course again in the fall, I’d be eager to hear other ideas.
By the way, Barefoot Gen is fascinating for a variety of …
A great illustration of an urban legend I’ve heard in various forms since, oh, sometime in high school. This is one of those things meant to show the power of the noble Christian David over the godless academy Goliath. I’ve heard it set in a philosophy classroom, in an evolutionist’s class room, in a chemistry classroom, at Harvard, Yale, Berkeley. I had it told to me in church youth group. I had it told to me by friends, and by professors who had heard the story set at their PhD granting institution.
(Sobering thought: perhaps this Wandering Atheist Professor is an adjunct…)
(So, originally, this post was supposed to follow the other post by one week. Life got in the way. Spring turned into summer, gave autumn a miss, &c. This post contains no camera angles or rightwing lunacy. Part 2 of 2.)
Following up to yesterday’s rather idle post, I want systematically to take up questions raised in comments as to whether computer presentation software1 is evil and whether there are distinctive features of computer presentation software that make it useful in the classroom. As the title indicates, I will try to make a case that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the software and indeed it can do quite good things for a classroom instructor, particularly in this case a history instructor. (more…)
A study published in the April issue of British Educational Research Journal found that 59 percent of students in a new survey reported that at least half of their lectures were boring, and that PowerPoint was one of the dullest methods they saw. The survey consisted of 211 students at a university in England and was conducted by researchers at the University of Central Lancashire.
Students in the survey gave low marks not just to PowerPoint, but also to all kinds of computer-assisted classroom activities, even interactive exercises in computer labs. “The least boring teaching methods were found to be seminars, practical sessions, and group discussions,” said the report. In other words, tech-free classrooms were the most engaging.
There’s such an enormous disparity between different groups’ experience of American history that what is sneeringly called “multiculturalism” deserves consideration. To pick an example, a good history about the New Deal would (a) show it generally working and (b) show it coming up short for blacks. Which isn’t a way of slighting white Christians. If you pick up a multiculturally influenced high-school history textbook you’ll find no shortage of presidents, captains of industry, explorers, soldiers, and judges—occupations that overwhelmingly tend to white Christians. You’ll find revivalists and abolitionists and social gospelers and Bryanites. But evidently that’s not enough.
The Texas Board of Education, which recently approved new science standards that made room for creationist critiques of evolution, is revising the state’s social studies curriculum…
Spell checkers have eliminated the vast majority of spelling errors in student papers. What has replaced the standard misspelling is the “correctly spelled but not the right word” error. Or, if you want to be all Latinate and pedantic, you could call them “Homophone Errors.” The word is spelled as it should be, so the spellchecker doesn’t pick it up, but the usage is wrong. The classic one, for me, is the frequent confusion between “their,” “there,” and “they’re.”
What’s a comma worth? Apparently, in extreme cases, $2.13 million:
A grammatical blunder may force Rogers Communications Inc. to pay an extra $2.13-million to use utility poles in the Maritimes after the placement of a comma in a contract permitted the deal’s cancellation.
The controversial comma sent lawyers and telecommunications regulators scrambling for their English textbooks in a bitter 18-month dispute that serves as an expensive reminder of the importance of punctuation.
(After the Sullivanche of the past two days, I now do my best to drive away the traffic armed only with the PSR. Part 1 of 2.)
The American Association of Philosophy Teachers recently sent around an e-mail inviting papers on how to teach early modern philosophy and suggested the following question:
Can one include Spinoza’s “Ethics” without creating the impression that his “Ethics” is mere metaphysics?
The AAPT wants experienced professors of many years to present so that younger professors may learn. That rules me out from presenting, but I still have an answer to that question, and, hmm, is this a blog I see before me?
The short answer: Yes, but it takes a little bit of work. Today I’ll describe the problem; later (probably next Monday) I’ll give my steps towards a solution.
Teaching composition exclusively leads to (1) a greater appreciation for the pedestrian complexity of correctly subordinated clauses and (2) a bone-tiredness for the unmerited praise of student peer reviews. As someone with a penchant for paragraph-length sentences, I find (1) wholly salutary; but (2) irks me endlessly. Why? In one of my undergraduate History of the English Language course, the professor handed out slips of paper on which he had written a single sentence and told everyone to decipher what it meant, because he wanted us to present the sentence and the paraphrase to the class in ten minutes. My sentence read:
Another thing there is that fixeth a grievous scandal upon that nation in matter of philargyrie, or love of money, and it is this: There hath been in London, and repairing to it, for these many years together, a knot of Scotish bankers, collybists, or…
Several people ask of the WPA graphing question, why not use a log scale? Commenter Stinky (no, I don’t know who s/he really is) kindly supplies a graph showing just this. For my money, it speaks for itself—which is to say, it screams, “don’t use me!”
We want to accomplish two things: (1) show how very outsized a chunk of money went to highways and (2) show also meaningful distinctions among lesser expenditures.
The log scale permits (2) while pretty much wiping out (1), unless you know how log scales work. I don’t think the likely consumers of such a graph do really know. But I’m wrong, Stinky says.
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This blog is a blog about history, Yiddishkeit, and the Muppets, neither exclusively nor necessarily in that order. And as William Gibson said about this very blog (no, really), “History can save your ass.” Yiddishkeit and the Muppets are just extras.
is the associate director of the Cornell in Washington program and a senior lecturer at Cornell University. He teaches courses on European history, modern military history, guerrilla war, and the role of popular will in waging war.
is an associate professor of history at UC Davis. He is the author of A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans, which won the Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize in 2004, and his new book, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek, will be published by Harvard University Press in fall 2012.
is a professor of history at UC Davis. She is the author of Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11 (Oxford, 2009); Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley (North Carolina, 2002); and Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI (North Carolina, 1996).