Learning Activity Packets

A quick post this Thursday. It's been a busy couple of snow days at the Chambers house. Teachers don't have a lot of time during business hours to do those random little chores that exist for adults, so days off provide precious time to take care of a lot of small things. On Wednesday night, as Angela and I were wrapping up our day of little chores, I started to fold the laundry. I got sick of jamming t-shirts into a drawer of shirts that I never wear, so I got the whole drawer out to decide what would stay and what would be sent off to Goodwill. Three hours later, we were done going through all of the clothing in our house. Goodwill, gird yourself for the drop off that is coming from the Chambers later today.

Part of my day yesterday was spent preparing the next LAP for my Modern World History class. Right now we are ending the French Revolution unit* by finishing a project where the students have to create a timeline and write a short-ish narrative essay. Next up is the Industrial Revolution and the growth of nationalism. During the Olympics. With field trip to the WWI Museum planned. This is going to be good.

*If the KC Snowpocalypse 2014 will ever end! However, I must point out that a friend of mine on Facebook pointed out that "Snowpocalypse" really isn't fair since we had a really similar storm last year. And the year before. And a worse storm a few years ago. And that awful ice storm back in '01 or '02. Fair enough.

This being my first year teaching social studies*, I was a little apprehensive about building my units before I started teaching the subject. It was difficult to know exactly how I wanted to teach history until I got into teaching history.

*My first three years of teaching were in a science class. This is year four total, but year one in social studies.

I have said to many of my friends and family that, at its essence, teaching is teaching. I do not have much content expertise when it comes to Physical Science, but I do have skills that lend themselves to teaching and learning. Because of those skills, I was able to be a proficient science teacher even though that is outside of my content expertise. So now I teach history and government. This is what I'm really knowledgeable in content-wise. However I still didn't know what strategies would translate from science to history and government. Science is very much a concrete, process-based area of study. History and government are ideas-based areas of study. Is there a process to the study of history? Sure. Are ideas important to science? Of course. But I think that at their core, these two subjects represent different ways of thinking.

One strategy that was suggested by Angela from her high school days was a Learning Activity Packet, called a LAP for short. The idea of the LAP is that you give the student everything at the start of the unit - assignments, unit outlines, study guides, projects, enrichment activities...all of it. The LAPs that I developed in science class last year were based on vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension. By the time Angela had convinced me to listen to her wisdom* the year was almost done and I only had time to develop one LAP. My professional goal for this year was to be disciplined enough to develop a LAP for each unit of the year for both Modern World History and US Government. So far, I've done that for both of my classes.

*Something I should do much more often.

Here's a dirty little secret about us teachers - we usually do not have every moment of a unit planned out before the unit begins. Many of us have a general outline, but the specific day-to-day activities and lessons may not be ready to go on day one. I don't speak for all teachers here and certainly know a few master teachers at my school and in my PLN for whom this statement does not apply. The first three years of my career, I would often begin a unit unsure of what we would do throughout the unit. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it crashed and burned. I am attracted by the idea of the LAP because it forces me to think through the entirety of the unit before it starts. It's kind of like the unit outline you learned about in your education classes but much more polished.

I build my units around vocabulary acquisition, chapter outline strategies (focused on reading and summarizing...yay common core!) and I've added on a project to each of the units. You can view a .pdf of one of the units we did in Modern World History this year on Muslim Empires here. Going forward, the LAPs are going to be a central strategy in how I teach. I have had several students who have finished a LAP quickly and then asked for some kind of enrichment. That is where class can get really fun. I have one student researching TED talks in and potentially making a TED-ED talk himself sometime this semester. I have several other students who I am trying to get to start a blog because they love to write. Unfortunately, blogs aren't unlocked on our district network yet, but that's hopefully coming soon!


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