Global Competency for AP World History

I am currently planning for my one section (yay!) of AP World History, which I haven’t taught since 2013-2014, and running through the various materials to make sense of everything. As I noted on my AP World blog over on Ricard Academy, this course is a bit of a monster and requires some wrangling to make sense of it.

After you get past the scope of the course (a history of the entire world!) you then have to sort through the stereo instructions that is the Course and Exam Description (CED) which is supposed to help you figure out how best to teach the course. Yeesh.

Yet, having gone through the Project Zero Classroom institute this summer, I can take a deep breath and apply some tools to simplify things. Reading the aforementioned blog post, you can see that I created my throughlines or overarching understanding goals from the CED’s disciplinary practices and reasoning skills (p. 9 of 2017 CED). That alone is going to save my life and help me transition from “busy” to “productive”.

At PZ, I was struck by the notion about “global competency” that Veronica Boix Mansilla was presenting on and attended her session. I wanted to get a handle on what it was so that I can look into applying it into my courses, namely AP Art History and AP World. I took her working definition and turned it into my first overarching goal, hoping to make it a primal focal point for both myself and my students in our study of the history of the world.

Boix Mansilla’s definition, once again was:

  • Global competence is the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance.

What I really enjoyed about this definition is the focus on a disposition or development of a mind set. In today’s world, we need more awareness but we also need to temper our actions – or inaction. Most of today’s tension portrayed through the media lens is due to a lack of acknowledgement and a need for quick judgements formulated around labels. If we can not only be aware of what others are thinking and concerned about in other parts of the world, and acknowledge what they are thinking and feeling, we can take a step closer to diffusing any potential conflict. At least, its a working theory of mine.

To take it one step further, acknowledgement does not mean agreement. We should be able to make up our own minds despite the input of information. In other words, we need more listening and less talking at or about each other.

So, in order to help bring this awareness about, and develop this disposition towards global competency, I rephrased the definition into the following overarching understanding statement and question:

  • Am I globally competent?┬áStudents will develop the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance.

By offering this constant opportunity for reflection, students can self-evaluate their growing state of global competency. When an important issue arises in today’s context, hopefully they will be able to apply it to their study of the past to help flesh out what is going on and then consider what the proper course of action will be.

Looking to Learn: The Panes and Perspective of Mark Rothko – Teachers Teaching Teachers 2017

Once again, I will be presenting at Pine Crest’s Teachers Teaching Teachers but this time, I will be modeling what it feels like to be in an AP Art History class of mine. The subject? None other than Mark Rothko and his work.

Abstract art is not a whole lot of fun for most audiences, and abstract expressionism seems to be a challenge for those choosing to take on the course of study, let alone to audiences that may pass through that part of the gallery or museum. Considering Mark Rothko’s color-field style, most will turn heel muttering words of frustration or even the infamous “I could do that” mantra.

It will be no small task to introduce an audience to, and hopefully walk away with, a deeper appreciation for Rothko and his work as well as the field of art history. I would be delusional to think that everyone will emerge experts of Rothko after a 45 minute introduction as well because, honestly, is anyone really an expert on Rothko anyway?

If you are around and interested, stop on by room 205 at 1:00pm this Tuesday to see what I am up to. I will be trying out some of the latest approaches I picked up at Project Zero this summer and hopefully gaining converts to both PZ as well as art history!

Tips For Creating a Culture of Thinking to Start the Year

School will be starting soon and we will all be hit with the latest pedagogical trends in an effort to update our practices. There are, however, some things that are universal and transcend trends. Ron Ritchhart raised this question in his plenary talk and, as you can see, it is a fundamental question that gets asked anytime we reflect on our practice: What is the role of teachers?

How you answer this question is highly illustrative of the approach you take in your classroom.

Continue reading “Tips For Creating a Culture of Thinking to Start the Year”

Thinking Globally With Art at Project Zero

As an AP Art History teacher, and now an AP World History teacher (jumping back into that again!), I find it very important that our students become literate to the world of ideas around them. This takes several forms these days; some will push for a more globally oriented course whereby students become aware of the rest of the world at large in order to increase their perspectives. I appreciate this attempt but I also find that our students, today, are especially illiterate of the ideas that form the foundation of our society – notably those that are at the bedrock of Western civilization.

Continue reading “Thinking Globally With Art at Project Zero”

Project Zero Throughlines and Goal Setting Reflection

Officially, today was my first day at Project Zero here at Harvard. Over the next few days, I will be attending plenary sessions and mini-courses to help wrap my mind around the Project Zero Classroom and what it looks like.

To start, terminology. There are what are called “throughlines” which are a part of the teaching for understanding framework and these are long-term central questions meant to guide us here at the conference. They are supposed to help us shape our concepts about our the learning experiences we create for our students and how they fit into our practice. There are five:

  1. What does it mean to understand? How does it develop?
  2. What are the roles of reflection and assessment?
  3. How can we nurture critical thinking and creativity?
  4. How can we design for a variety of learners and contexts?
  5. How can we continue our learning with others after the PZC?

We will constantly be returning to these foundational questions throughout the week and our relative positions to them will most likely adapt as we venture through our discussions and activities.

To help orient ourselves, we were asked to state some personal goals for our attendance this week. The concept of “being present” is applicable as it seems one cannot be actively involved if one doesn’t try to create a sense of purpose. What do I hope to gain from participating?

  • Find sustainable ways to more deeply engage students towards becoming more critical thinkers
  • Help cultivate an environment where students feel emboldened towards healthy and appropriate risk-taking
  • Promote student growth and learning through collaborative experiences

Let’s take the first goal. We teachers are very passionate about what we do and we do so without thought of reward. We do, however, hope that our students appreciate our hard work and become influenced by our efforts. We hope that we can kick off a love of learning per se, without requiring extrinsic affirmations. I have found that this requires giving students an opportunity to not only become more critical of the information they are sourcing, but also by allowing them the chance to enter into the conversation and become producers, and not just consumers, of knowledge. It is also important that we instill in our students that nothing is ever static; that our understanding of something is always adapting to new perspectives and ideas. Things are in flux and changing. Therefore, they have to be malleable to new ideas but also have to figure out where they stand on issues. They have to be critical of what they think and how they have come to formulate their opinions. I am hoping to find more ways in which to get this opportunity in front of my students so that they are not overwhelmed by the conversations of ideas.

As for goal number two, I think it is critical that students learn to be empathic towards each other. Empathy can be a healthy way to acknowledge differences within each other. Instead of competing for dominance, empathy can allow for mutual coexistence of ideas. This is something we need more of in today’s discourses. Also, creativity, as a muscle (if you will) is predicated on the recognition of differences while also finding ways to repurpose situations towards solutions. I have a sign in my room that says, “Fail Harder”. I got the idea from the documentary Art and Copy, which looks at the world of advertisement and how they convey messages for their clients. The idea is simple; to keep working at something – like an engineer – until it fails. Then you have a notion of how something doesn’t work or to what extent it won’t be successful. Solutions emerge. Perspectives change. It starts with an inverse way of thinking, too – being open towards what may not work to help construct a solution. Maybe I am unpacking too much here…but noticing differences and being open to them helps us find more perspectives about and around a situation. It gives us depth.

Which brings me to my final goal – collaboration. If students are comfortable adapting knowledge, and not claiming it like a stake in the ground, then their position is flexible. It is also moved only by evidence and information that works; they get feedback that informs the decision making and not dogma or ideology. People tend to get target-locked and stuck in their own echo chambers. This stagnates collaboration. What also suffers is great ideas – sometimes, the problems are bigger than any one person. In fact, often times that is the case. So how can we expect only one person to come up with the best solution? It is a daunting task and frankly, puts us all on a cul de sac. Collaboration is better but it challenges us to extend ourselves beyond our comfort zone. It also challenges us to talk less and listen more – and these are skills that need to be cultivated.

With these three goals in mind, I am hoping to find ways to break my classes up and more deeply engage my students. I also want to not be the one who is working the hardest in my classes – I hope to be a facilitator and inspire students to find their own voices. I am greatly looking forward to what surprises remain here at Project Zero.