Posts filed under ‘Teaching’

Learning Activity: Underrepresented Peoples in U.S. History

The following is a learning activity I crafted for a class I was teaching on U.S. History. It was designed for teenagers, but I think it could be easily adapted for slightly-younger folks and adults.

Download it in PDF form here.

Activity: Underrepresented Peoples in U.S. History

• Goal of this activity: For the students to engage United States history by discovering what peoples go underrepresented in traditional tales of U.S. history. They will do this by interviewing community members, their peers, and themselves. This is both an individual and (can be a) group effort.
• Materials Needed: Community members to investigate, pens/pencil, paper. Optional: Note cards.
• Participants: 1-20 (or more, depending on your needs/ability).
• Time Needed: 45 – 90 minutes.

1. First, designate a community of people to interview: i.e. a school, a downtown, a class, a library, or etc. Give the following questions/guidelines to the participants (recommended on a piece of paper):

Who were important [your group] in American history? How did they impact the world that we know today? What lessons can we learn from them? (REMEMBER: important people don’t have to mean good people)

Go ask people in the area if they can identify any of the following groups of people in American history and ask them the questions specified above (and any other questions you think are important). Record their answers and think about why they gave the answers they did.

The students will fill in the [your group] bracket with one of the following possibilities:

• People of color
• Women
• Women of color
• Gender queer folks
• Lower-class folks
• Differently-Abled folks
• People of non-Christian faiths
• Immigrants
• Political dissenters
• [Add more that you see fit]

(You might want to lay these different options out on a table on note-cards for the students to choose from.)


September 20, 2008 at 2:48 pm Leave a comment

North Star Is A Place For Liberated Learners

I teach (and by default learn) at North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens, and it is one of my favorite places to be. The excitement and enthusiasm for learning and do-ing there is infectious and inspiring. Based in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, it is a community learning center for teens who have left school for one reason or another. Recently an article about it was published online, so I thought I’d share it with you here. Here’s an excerpt:

Elizabeth arrives at 9:00 and together we go upstairs to the tiny room with comfortable chairs, a bookcase, art postcards on the walls. We walk past a few other teenagers who are curled up reading, or sprawled out on the couches getting the morning sleep that they missed at home because they wanted to grab the ride that would get them here early. We smile good morning at the small group about to begin its arcane discussion of Logic principles. It’s still quiet here at this hour, but there’s a nice feeling of easing into the day.

Elizabeth and I talk for a few minutes about where she is in the story she’s writing and what might happen next. She spends some time writing a new scene, offers to show me what she’s written, and we talk some more.

The day continues like this, with me welcoming one teenager after the other into this small, comfortable room. There’s Christopher, who has hated school since kindergarten and whose writing and reading aren’t at grade level; here he dictates his writing, and listens as I read aloud, finally getting a chance to absorb a book that challenges and moves him. There’s Josephine, who doesn’t just talk about writing a novel but actually works on it several hours a day; there’s Jackie, who declares that she isn’t good at anything academic but will offer astute observations and analyses if you toss the right questions her way. And once a week, in a larger room across the hall, there’s the workshop of young writers, ranging in age from 14 to 17, who come together to write.

This is my particular corner of North Star, a resource center that offers an alternative to middle and high school for teenagers in Western Massachusetts. As its literature says, North Star makes homeschooling a viable option for any interested teenager in the geographic area…

Read the full article here.

September 9, 2008 at 2:00 pm 1 comment

Teaching Imperialism, Colonialism, and Racism in United States History: A Board Game About Columbus

Edit: Oops, apparently there was a broken link on this post. It has been fixed now.

The history of Columbus is a turbulent one – and the way we are traditionally taught (and teach) about him is a way built into imperialism, racism, and is European-centric. Our nationally-supported tale of Columbus ignores his impact on the Native Americans he encountered and builds up a false mythology around him that we still worship today. Below is a board-game I crafted in order to help combat this. It is important to note that this game still has some problems and that it should not be regarded as an attempt to be the only way to teach about the history of Columbus. This game is still from the perspective of Columbus and Europeans, as most history of Columbus are, but that is because this game/learning tool is based off of the question: “We have a national holiday named after Christopher Columbus, which means we are supposed to view Columbus as a hero and that we should emulate his actions. So, what were his actions and would we want to live up to them? Would he be a hero to us? To all people?” This does not mean that this learning tool is an endorsement of Columbus – far from it. It just asks learners to take on the role of Columbus and see if his actions and impacts would be what they would view as heroic and good. However, I’m currently attempting to develop a teaching/learning tool that tells the same tale of Columbus’s arrival while the learners take on the role of the American Indians.

I should note a couple more things. First, this game was designed to be counter the traditional tales of pro-imperialism, pro-colonialism, pro-racism, and so on that compile the regular histories told of Columbus. It was also designed to show the impact of Columbus’s arrivals and actions on the rest of the world (including the Americas) and not just Europe – again, a habit of traditional history-telling. However, there was a couple of pit-falls that I fell into when I crafted this activity that I realized too late. The game does not provide a space to show learners how they can go on and continue their learning on the subject elsewhere. This makes the game semi-dogmatic. I have constructed a follow up activity to this game that can be used for that purpose, and that helps teach learners how to challenge and think critically about dogmatic histories – I will post this shortly.

On to the game – (OR You can download the maps, instructions, and game pieces HERE and the cards for the game HERE).

Activity: The Arrival of Columbus and The Importance of it Today

• Goal of this activity: To understand what the arrival of Columbus to the Americas meant to the entire world and the lasting impact it has had on us today, through an experiential process.

• Materials Needed: A board, paper, scissors, glue, writing utensil, change

• Participants: 1-4 per game board (or can make several boards and do it with more participants).

• Time Needed: 70-90 minutes (more…)

September 6, 2008 at 11:30 pm 5 comments

The Passive Teacher vs. The Undogmatic Teacher

As summer winds down and I’m gearing up to start teaching again, I’ve begun to think more about what it means to be an undogmatic teacher. In the past we’ve brought it up on this blog, but while re-reading portions of John Holt’s Instead of Education and listening to “I Want To Do This All Day” (in this case specifically track 14) – I feel I have in the past partially fallen into the trap of being passive in an attempt to not force my views on those I’m teaching.

Now, what I mean here by a passive teacher (specifically in the radical learning movement) is a teacher who is just there for the pickings: who simply answers the questions/demands of the learners, who doesn’t think up ideas and try to work on projects/goals alongside students, who simply shares information and hides their views on such matters, who doesn’t ask anything of their students, and who doesn’t establish personal guidelines on how they work alongside individuals and groups. This can often be misinterpreted for being undogmatic. Yet, in reality, it is a passive approach to teaching and does not impart motivation onto the learners for taking their learning into their own hands – nor does it respect them as free, naturally learning people who can make their own rational decisions. (And it probably subconsciously teaches them that.) This is the same trap that the federal school system falls into, but instead of forcing students to follow unexplained and arbitrary rules, this approach implies that nothing is expected of the learners and that they have full control over the teachers (and thus by default, other people in their lives). This also ultimately leads to boredom and a lack of cooperation in learning. (more…)

August 20, 2008 at 2:37 pm 3 comments

The Modern Learning Exchange

Ever since I read about the Learning Exchange in John Holt‘s Instead of Education, I have been fascinated with the idea. The Learning Exchange was started during the 1970’s by two folks in Evanston, Illinois (close to my home town) who had been greatly influenced by Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society.

The premise of the Learning Exchange was simple, but very promising. It was based off of the idea that information generally controlled by “higher institutions” is also held amongst ordinary everyday people, but just that there is no structured way for people to share this information – and thus the monopoly of knowledge remains within the institutions. The folks who started the Learning Exchange thought that if such a structure were put into place, where ordinary people could share knowledge and teach one another, the people would take advantage of such a possibility. And they were right.

The Learning Exchange began with the notion that everyone has something to teach and something they want to learn. They worked by asking people to offer something they could teach and something they wanted to learn (a pair). For the sake of this, let’s say an individual wanted to learn biology and knew/could teach Spanish. This individual would call the Learning Exchange’s toll free number and see if there was a match (someone who knew Biology and wanted to learn Spanish). These two individuals would be put in contact with one another and then would teach/learn their knowledge. Extremely simple, but it exploded all across Chicago.


August 12, 2008 at 5:16 pm Leave a comment

“Open Source Learning” (and The Anti-Textbook)

From The Radio Free School:

We have heard of the concept ‘open source’ in internet circles; anything can be learned over the internet. There is a new openness to educational resources; for example MIT (Open CourseWare) is now offering up to 1800 on line course materials for free – their motto being “unlocking knowledge, empowering minds.”

Open source learning as coined by Taylor Gatto is based on extending this idea to all learning, to everyone. The underlying premises of open source learning is that learning is available everywhere in life and not restricted to ‘places of learning’-namely schools.

Resources are every where to be found in the day to day world; people, art galleries and science centres, businesses, professional schools, museums, community centres,libraries, the internet, and so on. Much learning happens incidentally and by doing; through games, work, and living. You learn fractions by cooking, history by watching movies, writing by reading books.

This article is worth a read and brings some great ideas forth. I completely agree with this notion of “open source learning” – but I want to expand upon it somewhat. When I think of open source, I think of something that can be manipulated, added onto, changed, used, and recreated at another person’s (or group’s) will. So, open source learning would also extend to teaching and to sharing how things are taught.


August 4, 2008 at 1:52 am 1 comment

Your Handbook for Building and Running a Young Writers Program

This is an awesome tool and handbook for developing and running a young writers program. While it is specifically designed for a free after school program (basically-free to run and free for the participants), it also has some very good lessons and advice for free schools and free school-related programs. I could sum it up, but instead I’m going to quote the document itself:

This handbook is written to help you to get involved. It is a tool that you can use to build your own writing program for under-served youth in your area.

You’ll start small, but have a meaningful impact. With time and experience, the program will have the potential to grow. In the beginning, you don’t need many resources. It takes a small amount of free time, which is a privilege that many people take for granted. My program runs two days a week for three hours, with an hour of travel time for me—the students come straight from school. Planning encompasses another two to three hours, if I’m on top of things. If you work part time, if your employer is supportive, or you can set your own hours, you can do this. My total investment has been between $100 and $200 over five months, but I haven’t been very active in finding donations. You can do this at no personal cost in anything but time.

In these pages, I offer tools I’ve used and others I’ve discovered. In this guidebook I share my philosophies, processes, failures and and successes. I will guide you in developing an educational philosophy and framework for the program or workshops you develop. I also offer you the advantage of my hindsight to help alleviate the challenges you will undoubtedly encounter and provide assurance that you are not, in fact, alone in facing these challenges.


July 30, 2008 at 6:02 pm Leave a comment

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