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February 8

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February is Black History Month, providing a month of teachable moments for the study of African-American Heritage at all grade levels and across all curricula.
World History, U.S. History, All Curricular Areas and All Grade Levels
Sources: The K-12 TLC Black History Calendar
The K-12 TLC Guide to African-American Studies
The K-12 TLC Guide to African-American History
The K-12 TLC Guide to Famous/Notable African Americans
ArtistsAuthors, Writers, Poets & JournalistsPioneers, Explorers and Astronauts
Business LeadersComposersScientists, Mathematicians & Inventors
Military LeadersNotoriousPerforming Artists
Political and Social LeadersSports Figures

Strategies: 1. Focus on the general study of African American history.

2. Focus on the chronology of African-American history as it has progressed from slavery through U.S. and world leadership.

3. Focus on African Americans and their history within a specific state.

4. Focus on a specific group of African Americans (e.g. scientists, musicians, artists, authors, etc.).

5. Focus on a group of African Americans contemporaries common to the same historical period (e.g. World War II, 1960's, the American Revolution, etc.)

Activities: 1. Use the K-12 TLC Black History Calendar for a general study of notable African Americans in five different areas (authors, scientists/mathematicians/inventors, musicians, social/political leaders, sports/entertainment) each day of the month.
    a. Divide students into five groups, and assign a different African American to each group each day, rotating the assignments so that each group is given a person in each of the five areas over the course of a week.

    b. Have each group report each day on its assigned person, providing basic background information (place of birth, date of birth, etc.) plus the one quality that the group thinks makes this individual particularly unique.

    c. Have students build a database of the basic background information provided on the five individuals studied each day. At the end of the month, give the students a graded exercise that requires them to locate specific information (e.g. find an astronaut born in Alabama, or list the names of the poets discussed this month) using only the databases they have created.

    d. At the end of the month consider all of the individuals studied in each of the five areas, have each student select the one individual they consider to be the most outstanding within each area, and then hold a class discussion with each student making their case for their choices. At the end of the discussion, hold a class vote to determine the class's five most noteworthy individuals within each of the five areas.

2. Use the K-12 TLC Black History Calendar for a general study of notable African Americans in one of the five different areas (authors, scientists/mathematicians/inventors, musicians, social/political leaders, sports/entertainment) presented each day of the month.

    a. Assign a different African American to each student, and have each student report to the class on the date their assigned person appears on the Black History Calendar. Have each student, provide basic background information (place of birth, date of birth, etc.) plus have each student discuss:

      i. the obstacles this person had to overcome to achieve greatness.

      ii. the qualities this individual possessed to enable them to be great.

      iii. the contributions this individual made to their area of expertise and achievement.

    b. Have students build a database of the basic background information provided on the individuals studied each day. At the end of the month, give the students a graded exercise that requires them to locate specific information (find an astronaut born in Alabama, or list the names of the poets discussed this month) using only the databases they have created.

    c. At the end of the month, have each student select from those discussed the five individuals they consider to be the most outstanding, and then hold a class discussion with each student making their case for their choices. At the end of the discussion, hold a class vote to determine the class's five most noteworthy individuals.

3. Use the K-12 TLC Guide to Your State or any state, to research the famous and notable African Americans from the state and determine for each:

    a. Where were they born and educated?

    b. Was their development in any way benefited or hindered by conditions in their home state?

    c. Did they stay within their home state to achieve greatness, or did they go elsewhere?

    d. What obstacles did this person have to overcome to achieve greatness?

    e. What qualities did this individual possess to enable them to be great?

    f. What contributions did this individual make to their area of expertise and achievement?

4. Use the K-12 TLC Guide to Famous/Notable African Americans to select one or more African Americans who want your students to study in depth. Instead of having each student conduct their own in-depth research, only allow each student to use one reference resource assigned to them by you or chosen by them.

By limiting each student to a single resource, you will be limiting their perspective of the person they are researching to only that which is provided by the resource. However, by giving each student a different resource, you provide an opportunity for each student to bring back to the class a different and unique perspective of the person being researched. By holding a class discussion about the person, with each student contributing their own unique but limited perspective, you create an opportunity for the students to learn from each other as they each offer their own unique insights on the person. This approach makes for a lively student-centered discussion with the teacher serving more as a facilitator rather than the center of knowledge.

5. Use the K-12 TLC Guide to African-American History to select a specific event or time in history for study during Black History Month. Among the available topics are:

6. Many more Black History teachable moments for specific individuals and periods of history are available at the following K-12 TLC Guides:

    PHILOSOPHY: The focus of each Teachable Moment is on the student as learner/researcher and the teacher as mentor/guide. The Internet-driven K-12 Teaching & Learning Center is the ultimate student research tool, and, given 24-48 hours, every student can gain access to the Internet (from school, home, public library) and use the K-12 TLC to conduct basic directed research. This is the premise upon which each Teachable Moment is constructed.

      a. Teachable Moments usually assume student research will be conducted as an assignment outside of the classroom, thus Teachable Moments do not require classroom access to the Internet.

      b. When possible, Teachable Moments break the information to be learned into small manageable chunks, so that each student or student/group can research a single chunk of knowledge with the responsibility of bringing that knowledge back to the class and sharing it with their classmates.

      c. Rather than focusing on the teacher as an information provider, Teachable Moments provide opportunities for teachers to assist their students in the acquisition of information and the sharing, assessing and assembling of information into a coherent body of knowledge that is orderly and understandable.

      d. Remember, your goal is to help your students be successful. You want to constantly challenge them, but you want them to rise to each challenge and be successful. Work with the students, not against them. Before starting each Teachable Moment, tell students exactly what they need to know and exactly what you expect of them. The objective is to make the students look good by showing them the way to success, and helping them achieve success.

    INTRODUCTION: As the guide, it is the role of the teacher to introduce the students to the basics of their new topic of discussion: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How; setting the stage so that the students have a general understanding of the topic, its relevance, and its importance to them. The teacher's role at this point is not to teach facts in the traditional sense, but rather to provide a pre-mission briefing that will generate an interest and enthusiasm among the students that will compel them to conduct their research thoroughly and with a sense of purpose.

    The introduction is also a good time to allow students to select their topics for research. Research topics can be assigned, but students will take greater ownership in their topics if allowed to select. A number of different methods can be used, but, for each, the teacher will need to have prepared ahead of time a list of available topics. For example, students can:

      1. Select topics from a blind draw by pulling a topic from a hat.

      2. Select topics from the list in an order determined by a blind lottery of the students.

      3. Select topics from the list in a rotating order week by week (by seating assignment, alphabetical, an initial lottery).

    RESEARCH: Research is the students' responsibility, but it is the responsibility of the teacher to provide their students the tools and the skills required to conduct productive research. The K-12 Teaching & Learning Center is built to provide students and teachers the most effective and efficient research tools available, and each Teachable Moment includes a list of those K-12 TLC guides that are relevant to the task. These guides need to be shared with the students as their tools for the research at hand.

    Development of the proper skills required to effectively use their research tools is critical to student success. Obviously, students who do not possess the skills to conduct the research for which they are being held responsible are doomed to failure. It is the teacher's responsibility to make sure that the students acquire the research skills they need, and to assist the students in maintaining and refining these skills.

    The best exercises available for research skill development are the 5-Minute Quests provided with each entry to the K-12 TLC Daily Almanac. As an example, Click Here to see the 5-minute Quest for today's Daily Almanac. The Quests are provided at three different levels to accommodate varying student abilities, and the use of these quests each school day will go a long way toward building critical student research skills.

    It is suggested that use of the 5-minute Quests begin as a teacher-led class exercise for the first few days to familiarize the students with the process and skills, and then make the 5-minute Quests a routine out-of-class exercise for which students are to accept responsibility. For example, the 5-minute Quests are short fun exercises that students and parents can enjoy doing together from home. It is also ideal to have a computer in the school library dedicated to the just the Daily Almanac and the 5-minute Quests, so that students can use the Quests before and after school, during lunch and/or during their scheduled library periods.

    SOCRATIC SYMPOSIUM: Students learn best by doing, and teachers best facilitate the learning process when they bridge the gap between the students and knowledge rather than positioning themselves as a gatekeeper between the student and knowledge. After students have been given adequate time to complete their research, the Socratic Symposium is an excellent tool for teachers to use to guide students through the process of aggregating and organizing the information they have acquired through their research.

    The Socratic Symposium often can be most effective when every student/student group comes to the symposium with unique information to contribute. If each student/student group has been given the task of only researching a single "chunk" of the total information to be covered by the symposium, then each student/group will come to the symposium with a narrow perspective that is uniquely their own. This creates a learning environment in which each student becomes dependent upon their classmates for the rest of the information, and establishes among the students a collegial sense with each of the students contributing information that is essential to the group. This gives each student a position of importance within the class, and provides an excellent basis for lively discussions and interactions, as students learn from students with the teacher guiding the process from the side.

    The role of the teacher is that of Socrates, asking probing and leading questions, maintaining an orderly exchange of information, and making sure that students allocate their time wisely so that the entire base of knowledge is covered. The teacher needs to maintain control, but should do so by saying as little as possible. Students need to talk in order for the exchange of knowledge to take place, and it is the teacher's responsibility to make sure every student is engaged as an active contributor in the exchange.

    Using this approach, students will occasionally come up with information that is news to you as well. These are moments to savor. Don't be threatened by them or shy away from them. Challenge the students to extend your knowledge as well as theirs. Don't hesitate to admit that their information is new to you, but, as any good learner should, question their information to make sure they understand it, that it is factual and that it comes from a reliable source. Is the information factual and supported by reliable resources, or is it conjecture (perhaps an urban legend) that is just being propagated by the source and now the student? You don't want to embarrass or deter students who bring "new" facts to class, but you do want them to know that their knowledge will be challenged and that they need to have their facts straight when they arrive. If everything checks out, compliment the student(s) responsible, and encourage them and their classmates to "stump the teacher" whenever they can. You will be amazed how much smarter you will become using this approach over the years!

    CRITICAL ASSESSMENT: Once the exchange and discussion of information has been taken place, it is imperative that the students make a critical assessment of that information so that it makes sense to them and will become a part of their long-term knowledge. When the information discussed lends itself to comparisons, a good technique for ending a symposium is to select a list of items for the students to rank order, as the process of rank ordering requires the students to assess each item on the list and to critically contrast the value of each item versus the rest.

    Suggested Concluding Steps:

      1. The Five Best List:

        a. When appropriate, have each student make their own list of the "5 best" from the list of items. Students should do this without discussion with other students. Students are not held responsible for their selections, so it is a non-threatening exercise, yet it forces them to think critically on their own and gives them a voice in the final selection.

        b. Collect the student lists and use them as ballots to create a class list for the rank order. Count the ballots as a class without identifying which ballots belong to which students. This exercise will allow each student to see how their choices compare to those of their classmates.

        c. List in rank-order the five items which received the most votes, and ask for comments from the students. Do they agree with the final order of the top five? Do they agree these are indeed the top five? Are there other items they feel should have been included on the top five? Why do they think these were left off?

        d. For better or worse, the top five now comprise your class Hall of Fame for this topic. It is suggested that you use a piece of poster board and a marking pen to create a Hall of Fame list that can be displayed in the classroom. Not only does this display create a sense of permanence, validity and importance about the exercise you have just completed, but it also provides a ready resource to which you and the students can quickly refer whenever you return to this topic. By adding to the display each Hall of Fame as you complete each Teachable Moment, you are creating a public record that will become ingrained in your students' minds as a daily reminder of the essential knowledge that has been chosen by your class to be of the highest value and importance.

      2. Word Association Chart:

        a. When you are concluding your discussion of an important concept that you want to especially impress upon your class, ask each student to list five adjectives that come to mind when they think of the concept. Collect the lists, and combine them to make a master list, rank-ordering the words depending upon the number of lists that include each word.

        b. Create a Class Word Association Chart, and add to the chart the name of the concept followed by the five words at the top of your rank-ordered list. Display the chart permanently in the classroom where everyone can see it, and add to the chart whenever you have an important concept that you want to impress upon your students.

        c. Addition to the word association chart will: 1. Impress upon the students this is important, 2. Serve as a permanent reminder of important concepts through the year, and 3. Cause students to reflect back on the symposium when this concept was discussed.

      3. Assessment Distribution Charts:

        a. For activities such as a symposium on the life and times of an American President, it can be helpful to conclude by allowing students to grade the president (A-F), and submit their grades to the teacher on a secret ballot.

        b. From the secret ballots, a class assessment can be determined and recorded on a poster board to be displayed in the classroom. On the poster board, clearly indicate what has been assessed, the raw totals for each grade received from the student ballots, the percentage of the total for each grade, and, if possible, a bar graph illustrating the totals for each grade received.

        c. Posting these assessments will help students to recall the class discussion of the issue or person, and it will help them to relate mathematical distributions to an activity to which they have contributed.

    IMPLEMENTATION: It is suggested that you select one Teachable Moment for each week, and that a four-day period be used for each Teachable Moment. For example, a few minutes could be used on Monday to introduce the Teachable Moment for that week, and for students to select research topics. Tuesday and Wednesday can be used for the students to conduct research on their own, and Thursday can be class symposium day to complete the exercise.

    SUMMARY: A key to the effective use of the K-12 Teaching & Learning Center is an understanding that Teachable Moments offer a fundamental shift in the student-teacher partnership, by returning to the student a greater responsibility for learning and by enhancing the opportunity for teachers to promote active student learning. The K-12 TLC helps to support the old axiom of replacing the teacher as the Sage on the Stage with the teacher who serves as the Guide on the Side.

    Whatever the approach, a creative, imaginative, energetic, caring teacher is still the key component in quality education, and it is the mission of the Teachable Moments to create an environment that allows quality teaching to promote the best possible learning opportunities for all students to reach their potential each and every day.

    The Teachable Moments and the K-12 Teaching and Learning Center are resources created by teachers for teachers, and you are encouraged to submit your comments and suggestions at any time. E-mail

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