The Preamble, Explained

Folks my age and older can remember the Schoolhouse Rocks “Preamble” song. When I taught in Virginia, I had students listen to the song and unscramble the Preamble, with a goal of cutting and pasting the purposes in order. By purposes, I mean the goals of the U.S. Constitution. Since the song lyrics are repeated 3-4 times, I typically suggested to the kids to mark the purposes by number, one after another (1 “…form a more perfect union”, 2 “establish justice”). I teach the same lesson online, with one modification: students unscramble the purposes in a Word document. In-class or online, it’s a fun activity that introduces an important lesson in U.S. history, and addresses the following question: why was the Articles of Confederation replaced? My video lecture below discusses the weaknesses of the Articles, and the purposes of the U.S. Constitution.

Happy New Year, 2017

If there is one quote that could sum up 2016, it would come from the one and only, Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Despite a lot of pessimism about the future, I also remain very positive and hopeful. I know that education is still the only path forward for everyone. I know that reading daily is a habit with numerous benefits, and I know something important about myself that I didn’t last January. If I’m not blessed, I’m extremely fortunate. I could have been born in a country with less than half of the liberties, securities and wealth than my own, and to a family that didn’t value its benefits. We’re not a perfect country, and 2016 was a less than perfect year, but I’m still looking forward to 2017. Happy New Year!

Excellent Online Teaching

I’ve been teaching online now for over 4 years, and one of the first downsides to the profession that I noticed was the student dropout rate. In the first year or two, once or twice a month I would receive and email with a subject line like “Jane Doe Has Dropped US History I,” and I worried that it was my fault, only to discover that Jane had dropped every class in which she was enrolled. Worry aside, that’s not to say there wasn’t something I could do better.

Searching online I came across the book Excellent Online Teaching: Effective Strategies For a Successful Semester Online, and I was struck by how simple some of the fixes were to improve engagement. After reading the book and implementing some of the author’s suggestions, I became less of a grading mule, and more of a teacher who interacted with students online, and responsive to the needs of students who, in many cases, are without the induced discipline, restraints and expectations of a brick-and-mortar classroom (one of the largest obstacles in the online education environment).

Four years in and I hear from students frequently, respond promptly, and the amount of students who stick with and pass my classes has increased substantially. I owe much of the success in my online classes to the author and the tips & strategies he shared. Teachers and parents alike would benefit from reading Aaron Johnson’s book Excellent Online Teaching.