I ran into a guy named Michael last week following a session at the MACE conference. Michael teaches history in a large, urban high school with a ton of low SES and ELL kids. His situation seemed so desperate to me that I had to ask him what strategies he used to convey content and meaning, how he got kids to learn.

He began sharing some of ideas and I realized that his situation wasn’t desperate. The kids in his classes – the low SES kids, the ELL kids – are learning and they’re learning at high levels. And it’s because of Michael.

I’ve read the ton of research out there documenting the importance of quality teachers. But it’s fun to actually sit down and talk with someone who knows the content, who understands what works and spends time honing his craft. To talk with someone whose actions suggest that the research is right.

A few of his ideas?

  • During the the Constitutional period, Michael shows pieces of the movie Miracle, especially the scenes earlier on when the coach Herb Brooks asks each of the players their names and who they play for. They all say their college names, Boston College or University of Minnesota. In fact, several fights break out earlier in the movie between rival college players. During a later scene in which Brooks is pushing the team during an extra practice, one of the players finally breaks down and shouts, “I play for the United States of America!”
    A great way to illustrate the differences between large/small, north/south states and how they finally came together to create the Constitution.
  • He has his kids play the game Mousetrap to learn the causes of World War One. The trigger event was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. That led to other events. He has his kids label the different events on the game board.
  • Students have to write a training manual with video clips as if they are officers preparing newly enlisted soldiers. The manual outlines how to survive the trench warfare of World War One.
  • Michael shows pieces of the movie A Christmas Story, you know . . . the one where the kid wants a BB gun and ends up shooting his eye out? He uses the bully in the story to demonstrate imperialism and colonialism.
  • He forces kids to demonstrate through the use of oral presentation and protest signs why the folks from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka should legally be allowed to stage protests. He then forces them to find ways to legally stop their protests at funerals.

All of these things allow kids to move minds and bodies. To do hands-on things, to do brains-on things. Visuals. Involve emotion. Play games. Gain perspective. Argue.

Simple things, really, when you think about it.

And I know lots of teachers do these sorts of things. But it’s nice to be reminded of how the simple things can make a big difference.

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