Tuesday, February 25, 2014


So this post got under my skin in the way that only "a right topic, you couldn't be more wrong" post does.  It's a link to encourage students to change the way they do citation.  Yay!  I'm all for getting students to do better citation practices in the digital age.  And it points out that modern technologies, like prezis, might require us to change the way we do citation.  Well, of course they do.  Duh.  But the solution proposed is very least common denominator.  Clickable links?  Really?  That's the very bottom baseline of what would be acceptable.  A clickable link doesn't tell me a whole lot just looking at it, and I don't even know if I want to click on it.  I can't assess reliability by looking at a bunch of tinyurls.  Did you find that Jefferson quote in a secondary article?  Reading the Notes on the State of Virginia, or from a "Jefferson Quotes" website? So when I assign a project where students might be doing something with unguided internet research or images that they find on the internet I now require three levels of citation:

  1.  what the heck is it originally:  here I want to see the author's name, date, original place of publication etc. if it's a document.  For an image, I want artist, date, venue it first appeared in if commercial art etc.    Anything that helps me understand the context of the original piece needs to be represented.  
  2. where did you find it:  here you can give me a website if you have a clickable link.  But remember not every URL is clickable. Make sure you are using a stable URL. 
  3. if it also exists as a print source in a collection or database, I need that knowledge too.  If you found it in ABC-CLIO, or JSTOR, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I might want to search it myself.  Because the first rule of finding stuff in research is that where you found one thing, you will probably find more.  Using other people's footnotes and bibliographies is pretty much a junior-senior year of college thing.  But it doesn't hurt my students to make them aware of this practice for later.  Sometimes, they even get to use it now. 
So make sure you've got all three levels of citation going on with your online projects, people!

PS.  Don't even get me started on e-texts that don't have clickable footnotes/endnotes that pop up next to the notation when you click on it.  What's the point of having a digital text if not to make things easier for readers?  Yet does anybody do this?  Anyone?  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Students do Stuff

I've gotten a little tired of reading posts by people telling me what I should be doing in my classroom who have absolutely no idea what goes on there.  Often anti-intellectual in tone, tied to attacking stereotypes of teaching that haven't been true in 25 years or longer ,written by people who have never heard of Dewey or Maria Montessori and yet claim they are going to reinvent schooling.  People who don't know the difference between "track" and "tract."   

But enough about my pet peeves.  The best cure for offensive speech (and it is offensive speech) is more and better speech so the solution is to write about what I actually do and why it's good teaching.  
So, the challenge today is to explain a history assignment that I gave, why it's a good assignment, and what exactly it teaches and what students did with that assignment.

The class: World History since 1300
The topic: The Industrial Revolution
The Assignment: 
Objective:  To create something (a poster, movie, newspaper editorial, cartoon, etc.) that persuades the reader to agree with you.
The Issue:  The Use of Child Labor in Factories
  • Has a thesis and is effective in it's overall objective.  10 points
  • Shows awareness of historical context, arguments fit with the time period.  10 points
  • Polish and production (if it's written, is it proofread?, if a video is the sound/visual quality good? etc.)  10 points

This assignment is about three things.  First, it's about creating an argument and having evidence.  In that sense, it's not all that different from a math proof or a science lab.   Second, it's about understanding the context of the time.  There was a time when it wasn't obvious that child labor was a bad thing - and if you know about current conditions of how the clothes you are wearing were probably made - it's still not obvious in some places.  The arguments I'm looking for here aren't ones that we might use today.  19th century Brits worried an awful lot about children who worked in factories growing up to be sinners.  They worried about young girls working with grown men in mines and what could happen to them underground.  They did not worry about these children growing up and getting better jobs.  They wanted them to have the same jobs, but have a rudimentary moral educations that would keep them from being drunks and whores in adulthood.  Third, I'm kind of hoping that once students understand that bans against child labor are not a given, they can look around at the world they live in and ask what other things appear to be givens are not and what might need changing.

Another important aspect of this assignment is that students chose the final outcomes, which led to some really interesting results.


This image is great for a lot of reasons.  It uses an early 19th century visual style with lots of complexity and text.  Although it seems weird to us, early to mid-19th century audiences expected dense images with lots of words and this drawing does this very well.  The vocabulary used her is pretty striking.  The mine cart is entering the mouth of hell.  The children are learning morality in school via instruction in the bible.  The family is held up as the basis of society and so on.

But, that's not the only way to skin a cat.  Another student did a great job arguing for child labor in historically appropriate ways, but used a modern technology to get the point across: 

And that's why it's not about the technology.  It's about what a kid does with it.

UPDATE:  Image credit: Creative Commons License
Industrial Revolution Project by Henney Hambrose is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mission Accomplished. (Which was not the original mission but that's okay.)

The funny thing about academia is you never know how your work is going to be used.  You write stuff, you hope other people read it, and it takes on a life of it's own.  I didn't sit down one day and say "Hey, I know, I'll write a dissertation that will one day be used to save a sacred mountain!"  What actually happened was I heard a job talk on the California Gold Rush, and a couple of nights later, I woke up in the middle of the night and said to myself:  "I wonder if anybody has written on uranium mining in New Mexico?  Because I could that."  And they hadn't.  So I started working on it.  And eventually I limped to the finish line with a dissertation that was only sorta kinda about uranium mining, but had a lot of other stuff in it in a bunch of chapters that were only kinda sorta loosely connected.  (True story:  I once had lunch with another grad student who was working on oil development on the Navajo rez.  I was outlining the chapters for her, one on stories of uranium discovery, one on the cross-racial miner community, one on landscape, and one on the kidnapping of the mayor of Gallup and she asked:  "when do you talk about the actual mining?"  Er.  Not so much). 

Anyway, I had washed out of academia and been teaching high school for a couple of years, when Estevan Rael y Galvez, State Historian of New Mexico (and former grad school colleague) e-mails me out of the blue.  "Didn't you write a dissertation on Mt. Taylor?" he asked.  Well, sorta kinda, there's one chapter that's about how Mt. Taylor is perceived differently by different people (aka:  "Making and Re-Making Place in the Grants-Gallup Area") and how perception of the mountain is tied to ethnic identity and vice-versa.  "Great," said Estevan.  "I'm putting together a friend of the court brief and we could really use your work."  So I sent it along.  And they filed the brief.  And six years later, it looks like we won.  See here

So we won.  And I helped.  And I didn't even know I was going to.  Which is kinda cool.  But you know what's cooler?  All academic work is like this.  You don't learn stuff thinking:  "I know when I'm going to use this later!"  You learn stuff because:  "I don't know when I'm going to use it later, but you never know, I might."  And eventually you do.  Maybe not directly.  Maybe not all the time.  But eventually.  Trust me.

Plus, if anybody knows how to diacritical marks in blogger.  I'd love to know.  Because I'm butchering Estevan's name without them.

Update:  Wow, twitter traffic drove this to be my most trafficked day in history.  Thanks to all the tweeps.  Also, I want to be clear that I had very little to do with winning the court case.  Estevan and a virtual army of tribal lawyers, elders, advocates, paralegals, and activists are the real heroes here.