Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Few Ideas on Teaching Mount Vernon Material Culture

The date for the beginning of my Mount Vernon Lifeguard Fellowship is approaching quickly.  As it does, I'm reading and writing more about Washington's world, especially the material culture of Mount Vernon.  Over at my fellowship blog, "Clothing as Culture at Mount Vernon," I posted a couple of new entries.  One covers the delineation of space at Mount Vernon (mentioned on this blog) while the other introduces some resources for teaching about George Washington through objects.

Reproduction of Martha Custis (Washington's) Wedding Shoes (photo by author)

I would love to have you along for the ride this summer as I share resources, lesson plans, and reflections on working at Mount Vernon and the Fred W. Smith library.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

STEM is NOT a Dirty Word!

STEM has been an educational buzzword over the last few years and, unlike many similar acronyms, I think this one has not only value, but staying power as well.  The problem many humanities teachers raise seems to result from fear or frustration.  Is STEM out to conquer the humanities and subjugate the disciplines that lend education soul? How do you teach STEM and still keep your soul?

I led a workshop a couple of days ago on integrating STEM into the humanities curriculum (while keeping your soul).  Most of the attendees were upper elementary and middle school Social Studies and ELA teachers, with an administrator thrown in.  We discussed what STEM is, how a colleague and I blended it with American History to create our own hybrid, and a basic model for designing lessons with STEM in mind.

One takeaway from my conversations with teachers is that there is a great deal of confusion about the purpose of STEM-education and how it can cooperate with courses like English and History.  As a diehard believer in liberal-arts education and a proponent of STEM-integration, this is an issue I want to prioritize throughout the next year.

Below are the slides from the workshop, but to provide a brief summary:

  • STEM is not the accumulation of a "toy box" of technology. It is a mindset shift.
  • STEM is not the enemy of the humanities. 
  • Chances are, you are already teaching elements of STEM in your course.
  • STEM can hook students without sacrificing educational rigor.
  • Students at every grade level and ability can benefit from STEM-integration.
  • The "tool" (technology) should be the last piece in planning STEM-integration.
  • A simple model for adding STEM: start with your standard, learning target, etc., create an essential question, and then bring in resources to support that question through the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

RCET Workshop 2017: STEM in the Humanities from mshomakerteach

I'm sharing a sample unit our 7th grade Social Studies, ELA, STEM, and Science departments collaborated on this year: Yellow Fever 1793. 

Hopefully, this will give you an idea of the possibilities and the freedom that comes from opening your humanities course up to new directions and influences.  Follow the blog as I provide more experiments in STEM-integration throughout the year.


Do you incorporate the STEM fields into your humanities discipline?  If so, how?  If not, what has kept you from trying?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Material Culture Minute No. 4 (#TMCM): News from Jefferson's "Little Mountain"

Last week, I had the pleasure of revisiting Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia.  I spent a week at the home of Thomas Jefferson in the summer of 2016 as a Barringer Fellow, during which time I was immersed in Jefferson's life and ideas in his favorite spot on earth.  On this most recent trip I played the part of tourist with my family and took in the many changes the staff at Monticello has made to the house and grounds in such a short amount of time.

I started thinking about those changes and how they could instruct students on the power of historical investigation.  This "TMCM" is about one of the most exciting transformations to Monticello, the excavation and reconstruction of Sally Hemings' living space in the South Dependency.

There, in the corner of this picture, is where Monticello's archaeology department is working to restore the living space of Sally Hemings, slave and mother to possibly six of Thomas Jefferson's children.  When I visited in 2016, this was a popular spot among tourists-it served as the men's bathroom-which was installed in 1941.  

Current discoveries include the original brick floor, a hearth, and traces of shelves.  Once this excavation is complete, it will introduce a completely original connection to the most well-known person owned by Jefferson, as well as a major contribution to the story of enslaved lives at Monticello.  

Below is a news story from CBS Evening News on the Hemings' project at Monticello.  Make sure to visit "TMCM #4" Resources page for ideas on how to use the ongoing work in your classroom.