I didn’t think that I would find a classroom to teach in within Seminole County, Florida. After many visits to the Seminole County Board of Education and emails sent to charter and private schools, I ended up at a charter middle school, Galileo School for Gifted Learning, Sanford, Florida.
I planned and taught a 8th grade US History class while the US History teacher remained the host. The unit focus was on ‘American Wars and the Just War Theory’ after the Independence War 1775-1783.
Unit Plan – Just War Theory and American Wars – Design Theory Unit
I designed and taught a Design Theory unit for US History for 8th grade that I built from bottom up. I haven’t taught a design unit and I wanted a challenge.
Previously, I had taught a unit on the Just War Theory with a focus on any war (as chosen by students) but this time the focus was on conflicts chosen by students that involved the US.
LAUNCH Design Cycle and UBD
I followed the above model of the LAUNCH Design Cycle by John Spencer and AJ Juliani.
Look, Listen and Learn – Stage 1
As mentioned in the UBD plan I have documented the steps that I took for Look, Listen and Learn. For awakening empathy and giving initial information I relied heavily on Wakelet – War in Pictures. One of the most powerful images of conflict on the Wakelet page were:
During teaching I have seen students are most responsive to social injustice images or stories of children because they can empathize with them. They recognize that they do not have a voice in a conflict probably just like the boy in this picture.
After the first Wakelet – War in Pictures students used an Answer Garden to share what they had seen so far.
Similarly, in the second Wakelet- War in Video page I shared videos, sample Mindmeister and Popplet mindmaps and an audio poem by the witness poet, Carolyn Forche. The most powerful video, again based on children is shown below:
As part of the Look, Listen and Learn step students also watched the movie:
This movie is about acceptance, tolerance, and love to conquer our fears and differences. It transcends the color of our skin, our abilities, religion, culture and beliefs. It resonated very strongly with the 8th graders.
Preemptive Love was started by an American family living in Iraq during the Gulf War. As they helped their Iraqi neighbors they grew into a NGO/Donor group that works in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other war fronts. They raise money, promote small businesses on a self help basis.
Asking Tons of Questions – Stage 2
After seeing, watching and hearing (audio poem) the students were ready for Stage 2 of the LAUNCH Design cycle. For Asking tons of questions, students used Popplet and Mindmeister mind maps (samples shown later) for brainstorming their own questions about conflicts in general or specifically.
Understanding the Problem – Stage 3
I collected all student questions, brainstormed in Popplet and Mindmeister mindmaps to the Padlet Class Questions about War below.
I divided their questions into 4 categories: Facts, Causes of War/Conflict, Effects of War/Conflict and Perspective (Different Point of View). In their extended research project student would pick at least 3 questions from each column.
We also covered the ‘Just War Theory’ to give students a lens to look at their research conflicts. They would use the three parts of the Just War Theory; Jus Ad Bellum (Before War), Jus in Bello (During War), and Jus post Bellum (After War) for focusing their research for the conflict. Within each part of Just War Theory they would support whether the conflict was ‘just’ or not according to the theory and provide evidence to back up their position. This is an important part of critical thinking, analyzing and transferring previous learning (Just War Theory) to a new situation (conflict they are researching).
Navigating Ideas – Stage 4
For Navigating Ideas students conducted independent extended research. They first did a mini-research by answering the 5 W’s (What, When, Where, Why and Who) for 5 conflicts of their interest from the table Choice of War to research. This helped narrow down the conflict they were most interested in as they could only choose ONE conflict out of the list of 5 to do their extended research project in.
After choosing their Extended Research Project they used the Extended Project Assignment sheet for looking at the conflict from the Just War Theory lens and their own questions (Padlet on Class Questions about War). They had an Extended Project Rubric Link, a Rubric for Extended Research (War/Conflict) Slideshow, and a Rubric for Oral Presentation.
The Slideshow rubric incorporated concepts of CARP (Contrast, Alignment, Repetition and Proximity) by Keri Lee Beasley that was taught to students. They got to practice it in their slideshows to make more effective presentations. I made a sample slideshow to incorporate CARP principles.
During virtual school from March 30 students looked at different perspectives of the Vietnam War and rationalized whether the Vietnam war was a ‘Just War’ or not a ‘Just War’. Their virtual lessons for a whole week (last week of unit) were curated daily on Wakelet with Loom audio instructions. They are included as Resources in the UBD.
Creating a Prototype – Stage 5
Then they Created a Prototype of the kind of world they want where a ‘Just War’ is possible or only peace is the only solution. In this case this is the Padlet that students put down their 5 rules for a ‘Just War’ or 5 rules for peace if they believe that there is no such thing as a ‘Just War’.
This is the Padlet ‘Just War or No War’ i.e. the end product that shows the visual collaboration of students to come up with their 5 rules for a ‘Just War Theory’ and 5 rules for Peacemaking:
Highlight and Solve – Stage 6
The students did not get to Highlight and Solve (last stage of LAUNCH Design Cycle) as it was already Spring Break and then it was virtual school.
My previous 8th grade Humanities classes at the Dhahran Elementary Middle School in Saudi Arabia had successfully created end products to reflect and link to their learning. Most importantly, students are able to relate to their work and remember their work for a very long time.
Transformation and Education Model
We got to the Modification stage within the SAMR Model as students used technology to redesign their tasks while they posted their own 5 rules for a ‘Just War’ or ‘Peace’ collaboratively in Padlet ‘Just War or No War’. but we did not get to discuss them or polish them.
I wanted to take the activity outside the classroom by having students make something that reflected their views and link it to their rules. We would have invited other Middle Class students and an outside audience (another 1.5 weeks). This would have taken the unit into the Redefinition stage where students would have designed a product (digital or physical) to showcase their learning and support their point of view on the Padlet ‘Just War or No War’.
Challenge of Reaching Redefinition Level on SAMR Model
I lost three weeks of school (1 week Spring Fling with no academic classes and 1 week extended Spring Break). When school restarted on March 30 it was distance learning (virtual school) so I had to modify the unit.
To achieve the Redefinition goal on the SAMR model during virtual school we could have ended with a digital storytelling assignment. However, most students’ lacked the digital literacy to make the digital story on their own. Also, if the students got stuck they couldn’t directly interact with me i.e. no email messages as I was a Guest Teacher.
To counter this, I could have made tutorial videos for the students for the host teacher to post on Google Classroom. However, my host teacher did not have more class time to allot to this unit as he had district deadlines to meet.
ISTE Standards For Educators:
I was able to apply pedagogical goals for the 8th graders by using technology to augment the learning, making it more engaging and meaningful. My main focus was to make the students think critically, become researchers, share and reflect on their thinking. In this regard, I introduced Wakelet, Flipgrid, Padlet, Popplet and Mindmeister.
I made an effort to keep up with the research to improve student learning outcomes by being active on twitter and learning how to use new apps.
I recognize that I will always be learning and have taken part in Webinars eg. Unique Online Assessment Opportunities hosted by Ditch that Textbook and tutorials (Hypotheses, Explain Everything, Loom etc.) to learn more about educational apps that are relevant to my subject area (Social Studies and English Language Arts).
I have shared and encouraged my host teacher at Galileo School for Gifted Learning to use all the educational tools that I have used during the unit. I also tried to model all the apps that I used with the students by modeling (Mindmeister sample) or tutorials (Popplet Tutorial). I also tried to model Popplet but abandoned it out of editing frustrations. The Popplet was my example of showing failure to the students! It also gave them a choice to either use Popplet or Mindmeister for brainstorming.
Similarly, I made a sample slide show to model CARP for the students as they started work on their slideshows.
For students in 8th grade at Galileo Gifted School it was their first experience using Padlet and Flipgrid and experiencing their classroom as a community through the posts on Padlet. They were able to comment on and discuss each others comments which was useful to start a conversation about the costs of war as shown by the Padlet: Wars. This was done after the Wakelet pages (Look, Listen, and Learn) and the documentary Love Anyway by Preemptive Love.
After reading everyone’s comments the two students comments on the Padlet Wars got a lot of heated discussion in class.
It was my first time observing them discussing each other’s views. Padlet had given the class a chance to ‘hear’ each other and a chance to agree and disagree with each other. As did Flipgrid in response to Love Anyway by Preemptive Love documentary questions on what begins war and what is peacemaking.
In addition, tools such as Mindmeister and Popplet let them collaborate in partnerships to brainstorm questions for their independent research which was powerful. They were able to visualize their questions and build on that. They also knew that their questions were valued as they were going to use them for their Extended Research Project.
As mentioned earlier Padlet allowed the students to collaborate, share views and start a discussion. In addition, the Answer Garden – What do you see and feel after the images on Wakelet? used at the beginning of the unit was an enriching activity and a window into their thoughts.
I used Keri Lee Beasly’s Design Secrets Revealed CARP (Contrast, Alignment, Repetition and Proximity) principles to model how to make more effective presentations for the students’ independent research. I modeled with a Sample slide show as Model showing what not to do and what to do using techniques shown by Kerri Lee Beasely in her Apple Book.
I was not as successful in introducing CARP as the school does not use MACs or IOS based systems. In addition, many students did not have access to either IPads or IPhones at home. Furthermore, there is too much absenteeism because on the day CARP was introduced only 9 out of 22 students were present.
Design Secrets Revealed is a book that would be excellent as a reference resource for students to be used as needed. Except that as an Apple Book it can not be used as ready reference to transform their slide shows.
I facilitated critical thinking as students wrote their questions after viewing the images on Wakelet – War in Pictures, Wakelet- War in Video, and watching the documentary ‘Love Anyway‘. By asking their own questions (Padlet on Class Questions on War) students nurtured creativity and connections.
They also used new apps such as Popplet (Student Sample) and Mindmeister (Student Sample). The students thought critically, shared their ideas and worked collaboratively. As students they took ownership of their learning by forming their own questions to pursue their learning.
I also tried to introduce them to CARP principles and using images in their slideshows. I included the use of Unsplash images, creative commons, the noun project etc. as part of their slideshow rubric. However, there are students like (Sample #1) Slideshow of the Extended Research Project who did not really incorporate elements of CARP. They also have an incomplete understanding of the ‘Just War Theory’.
On a positive note, there is Sample 2 Slideshow of the Extended Research Project which shows a more complete understanding of the Just War Theory and better research. There are more elements of CARP such as alignment (text and pictures), contrast (black and white) and proximity (pictures close to writing) but the repetition is not carried out throughout the slide show.
The lack of success of introducing CARP was probably due to student absenteeism and my late preparation of a Sample slide show as Model to display the CARP principles that they could emulate.
As a guest teacher I only got an idea of the competencies of the students after all the assignments were completed. I have shared my feedback with the teacher who is teaching them for the rest of the year.
I did collect data on the apps that were used during the unit to determine which ones the students liked the most and would be likely to use again. As can be seen from the End of Unit Reflection Data the majority of students liked using Flipgrid and Padlet about 30% each. This was followed by Wakelet at 25% and then Popplet at 15%.
Most students stated that they would use Flipgrid (35%) again the most followed by Padlet (30%), and Popplet at 20% with Wakelet at 15% in the future.
ISTE Standards for Students
Learners were empowered as the Galileo Gifted Middle School 8th Grade students were able to choose (between Popplet and Mindmeister) and explore technologies for brainstorming purposes. This was their first time using these apps. But there was less willingness and initiative to try new technology than expected maybe due to lack of digital exposure.
They also had the freedom to choose a conflict of their interest from a long list of conflicts (Choice of War to research) starting from the American War of Independence to present day.
I introduced them to Wakelet (part of Extended Project Assignment sheet), Flipgrid (Reactions to film ‘Love Anyways’ as part of empathy building, to discuss costs of war and peace building as well as, discussion of Vietnam War being a ‘just’ or ‘unjust’ conflict), Padlet (for Visible Thinking Routine of I See, Think and Wonder.
As Digital Citizens we discussed how all text, images etc. need to be cited. If students are taking direct phrases from the text then it needs to be footnoted with a citation. We also discussed where to find common shared images (Creative Commons, Noun Project and Unsplash) and how they still need to be credited under Copyright and Fair Use laws. This was part of their Extended Project Rubric Link on their chosen conflict.
As Knowledge Constructors the Extended Project Rubric Link evaluated the credibility of sources used. I encouraged students to not just google information from Wikipedia, Ask Jeeves, etc. The above rubric also included using a curating app such as Wakelet for organizing research and making the MLA citations easier. I also encouraged students to use multi media sources for their research as they didn’t have to read everything.
As I look back at the unit I don’t think the students got a chance to work as Innovative Designers. If we had another 2 weeks in a virtual or physical classroom, the students would have been able to create digital objects or physical products that showed their interests and aptitudes while discussing the ‘costs’ of war and if a war can be ‘just’. They would have defended their products by matching them with the rules for a ‘Just War’ or ‘Peacemaking’. In addition, introducing CARP was not very successful as few students used the CARP principles in their slideshows.
As Creative Communicators students were able to express themselves with their original 5 rules for what makes a ‘Just War’ or 5 rules for maintaining peace if they believe that no war can be ‘just’. They had the option of choosing a ‘just war’ or no war based on what they learnt in the unit and personal beliefs. They also worked on their slide presentations using the concepts of CARP though not as successfully as I wished (for reasons mentioned under the heading ‘ISTE Standards for Educators’ , ‘Designers’.
The students got a limited opportunity to work as Global Collaborator as they collaborated in class in brainstorming questions about war only after the initial empathy building and introduction to war in the Design Launch phase Ask a Ton of Questions. However, if we had been able to extend the project and the schools had not closed down then the 8th grade students would have invited other 8th graders and middle schoolers to their classroom to exhibit their final products. There would also have been an exhibition open to parents and others. The final products could be digital or physical and would reflect student opinion of a ‘Just War’ or No War which they would have to explain. This would have fitted further into the role of a Global Collaborator.
Student Learning Goals for this Unit
- What are credible sources? How to use credible sources to find evidence to back up their claims.
- The different stages of ‘Just War Theory’ (Jus Ad Bellum, Jus in Bello, and Jus Post Bellum)
- How to find images through Unsplash, Creative Commons and the Noun Project
- There are always different perspectives to any conflict depending on who is telling the story
- There are ‘costs’ of any conflict usually borne by civilians.
- Becoming skilled at using Flipgrid to post and record responses and listen to other responses.
- Learning how to use Padlet to post while reading others’ posts as well.
- Experiencing and mastering mind mapping tools like Popplet and Mindmeister.
- Learning the value of a curation tool like Wakelet and how to use it.
- Making more effective slideshows/presentations by using CARP concepts (Contrast, Alignment, Repetition and Proximity)
- Learning how to generate MLA citations and use them
- Becoming critical thinkers
Reflection on Goals and Challenges Faced
First, I did not reach the goal of making the students understand all the aspects of the Just War Theory. I think they would have better understood it if we held a Scored Discussion or Socratic Discussion based off the Just War Theory reading. This would have strengthened the Just War Theory lens students used during their independent Extended Research Project.
Second, all students were not able to use CARP (Contrast, Alignment, Repetition and Proximity) principles well due to not enough time to practice it.
Third, I was not able to reach the ‘Redefinition’ step of the SAMR model. A lot of the thinking activities eg. making their own product and defending it in view of their 5 rules for a ‘Just War’ or no war didn’t happen due to Covid-19 virtual school. And students were not able to take their projects outside the classroom and school.
I think the greatest obstacle was not knowing the students, their academic skill levels and learning styles. I had about 3 observation classes before planning and starting the unit.
The second challenge was my assessment expectations as they seemed too strict and I had to change them for the students according to my host teacher. For example, the independent extended research project that was supposed to take 3-4 class periods of research ended up taking 5-6 class periods. It was the same case for the question brainstorming activity with Popplet and Mindmeister.
Third, there was a lot of student absenteeism and class time wastage which did not promote efficient working. I did my best by circulating among the class continuously to offer help but I was not totally successful.
My fourth challenge was the lack of student digital literacy as most students did not have a computer, IPad, Iphone or smartphone they could access at home. This is one of the reasons teaching Kerri Lee Beasly’s book ‘Design Secrets Revealed’ was not successful as it was an Apple Book.
Fifth, as a Guest teacher I did not have direct access to students through Google Classroom, Gmail etc. This made it impossible to answer all students questions and I had to rely on my host teacher to answer all queries and give guidelines which didn’t always align with my expectations.
Last, I was also not allowed to videotape or interview individual students any students as a Guest teacher for the Project video that I will make.
Most significantly, COETAIL has propelled me to take more risks in trying out new technology, to take risks when planning my lessons and change course as needed. Technology becomes an indispensable accessory that now goes hand in hand with pedagogy. I find myself deliberating the use of different technological tools to achieve the learning goals of my lessons. Technology is a resource for all the goals that I want my students to achieve.