Standard S: Subject Matter and Curriculum Goals – Meta Reflection I
Per Washington State educational parameters, teachers are required to successfully demonstrate four major attributes within their pedagogy. Here, I will discuss the first of them with examples of how it is used in my classroom as a student teacher.
S: Subject Matter and Curriculum Goals
Washington State curriculum approval standards indicate that teachers need “to prepare eduactors who demonstrate a positive impact on student learning.” Educators need to be able to master, to demonstrate this positive impact in several ways, the first of which is mastering and creating a positive learning environment in regards to subject matter and curriculum goals (S). This is measurable by observing that the content is:
“Content driven (use of reading, written and oral communication, and technology) – S1″
” Aligned with curriculum standards and outcomes (student learning targets and progress to meet them) – S2″
“Integrated across content areas (subject matter integrating mathematical, scientific, and aesthetic reasoning) – S3″
Personally, all of these areas are extremely important in ensuring the balance and well-roundedness of a student’s academic achievement. The knowledge and ability of students to put topical pieces together and to see the bigger picture comes from the curriculum that I create. Therefore, my lesson plans need to be thoroughly researched, critically reviewed and prepared in enough advance for me to revise and test the waters to make sure that the learning experience I provide will be intentional. Fortunately, communicating with fellow educators in the environment I am in is not difficult, making it convenient and reasonable to teach across the curricula and to allow students to fulfill the need to be well-rounded learners.
I created and taught a lesson plan recently discussing the final days and events of World War II – including the Yalta and Potsdam conferences of 1945, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent surrender of Japan to the United States three days later. This one week lesson fulfilled and fully demonstrates a proficiency in understanding and implementation of subject matter and curriculum goals.
S1 – Content Driven (Use of Reading, Written and Oral Communication, and Technology)
“The End of World War II” unit created demonstrates the use of all forms of communication and the use of technology very well. It intentionally applies all four components at appropriate times during the lesson.
Reading: The lesson begins with students reading and reviewing the Potsdam and Yalta Conferences of 1945. “The Teaching American History” website provides teachers with a plethora of resources. I happened to find a wonderful version of both conferences that highlights the important factors of both conferences for the students to compare and contrast. You can visit the “Sources of Discord” resource here. For the purpose of time and relevance, my class only did lessons one and two – namely the Yalta Conference and Potsdam Conference. We read the primary source documents both as a class and individually, and the students wrote their findings in the boxes provided at the end of each conference excerpt as a class after we completed reading each document. Then, we discussed the differences (there weren’t many). The importance of reading primary source documents is very straightforward in a history course. By reading out loud and to themselves, the students were able to practice both forms of reading and strengthening their reading skill and comprehension.
Additionally, several weeks prior, the Seattle Urban Academy faculty decided it would be good and well to implement a school wide vocabulary mission. We decided on having each teacher create a list of two to four vocabulary words pertaining to their class to build up vocabulary knowledge. At the beginning of each week, we list the words on the board and the students are responsible for writing them down and remembering however works best for them. For the week of this lesson, I read the lessons I would have the students read and selected four words for the students to study. They were satellite state, vestige, colossal, and interim. These words were reviewed as a class the first day they were placed on the board, and the words stayed written on the whiteboard all week long. The goal is to have a long vocabulary list at the end for students to remember and relate to words for each class.
When discussing the dropping and effects of the atomic bomb, the students read a selection of a pamphlet on nuclear radiation. The brochure discusses several aspects regarding radiation – the science behind it, usage, and effects of radiation from the atomic bomb (both short term and long term). We read three pages of the thirteen page pamphlet to gain a better understanding of the concept of radiation.
Lastly, students read a map of Seattle with a one mile key to do an activity involving the dropping of the atomic bomb. I will address this activity further when I discuss S3. Below are two students’ work of our map.
Written Communication: In general, for both classes I am teaching, I have required the students to hold on to a composition notebook in which they can keep any information they would typically need lined paper for. Primarily, it is a place for journal reflections and to keep their vocabulary words. For the purpose of this lesson, students first documented their vocabulary words into their journals. Then, for the readings, they implemented and executed successful written communication by allowing them to read, discuss and then write their conclusions on an advanced organizer (a chart).
To visualize the magnitude and distance of the atomic bomb, the students received a map of Seattle, Washington with a one mile key at the bottom. After reading the document on radiation as a class, students used mathematical compasses to draw a one, two and three mile diameter circles, representing the blast, heat and radiation zones caused by the atomic explosion. I used a map of Seattle so that the students would find familiarity with the surroundings and see what would have affected them had an atomic bomb hit their hometown.
Oral Communication: Students participated in oral communication throughout the four days of lesson by reading aloud the primary source documents, by asking questions and responding to my questions, and by debating and expressing their thoughts and understanding at the end of the lesson regarding radiation and atomic bombs. Due to the nature of the school I teach, student participation is somewhat sporadic, and achieving an environment where each student contributes to the discussion is quite difficult. Regardless, several students were quite engaged in discussing the conferences, and students were fairly passionate about the pros and cons of dropping the bombs on Japan.
Technology: The students used mathematical compasses and watched a brief video clip from “The Atomic Cafe” to understand the implications of the atomic bomb. “The Atomic Cafe” is a captivating compilation of video clips from Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the nuclear scares of the Cold War. We viewed the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and he documentation of the aftermath, followed by a clip that demonstrates the mentality of Americans during the Cold War after the knowledge of the results of the bombing of Japan was apparent.
S2- Aligned with curriculum standards and outcomes (student learning targets and progress to meet them).
The student learning targets for my United States History class meet the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction Essential Academic Learning Requirements 3, 4 and 5.
OSPI EALR 3, Geography: “The student uses a spatial perspective to make reasoned decisions by applying the concepts of location, region, and movement and demonstrating knowledge of how geographic features and human cultures impact environments.”
3.1: “Understands the physical characteristics, cultural characteristics, and location of places, regions, and spatial patterns on the Earth’s surface.” – The students applied this knowledge by creating their maps to understand the relative distance of an atomic bomb, and understood its impact on Japan in relativity to their own geographical location; the magnitude of its impact, had it struck their community.
OSPI EALR 4, History: “The student understands and applies knowledge of historical thinking, chronology, eras, turning points, major ideas, individuals, and themes in local, Washington State, tribal, United States, and world history in order to evaluate how history shapes the present and future.”
4.1: “Understands historical chronology.” – The students understood the dates and chronological events of the conferences precluding the end of the war, which followed that summer. (World War II ended just under one month after Potsdam). They also understood the order and dates of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a brief overview of the radiation that affected the Japanese people.
4.3: “Understands that there are multiple perspectives and interpretations of historical events.”- The students learned and debated the arguments for and against dropping the bombs on Japan, and were able to take a position based on the information provided them. The pro argument justified dropping the bombs for three reasons: Bushido code in Japan meant surrender was not an option, and the fighting became more brutal as U.S. soldiers got closer to Tokyo; that Japan instigated the fighting in bombing Pearl Harbor; and that the United States needed to demonstrate their power to destroy any notion that the war would be lost by Allied powers. The arguments against dropping the bomb were: that there should have been other alternatives implemented prior to dropping the bomb, such as warning civilians, and that the research was not long-term enough to understand the long lasting implications or consequences of using such a bomb. Students discussed both of these perspectives and added their own observations to this list.
OSPI EALR 5: ” SOCIAL STUDIES SKILLS The student understands and applies reasoning skills to conduct research, deliberate, form, and evaluate positions through the processes of reading, writing, and communicating.”
5.1: “Uses critical reasoning skills to analyze and evaluate positions.” – As stated above, students observed both perspectives on the nuclear attack on Japan and discussed and evaluated both sides. They also took a stance and provided their own observations regarding the topic based on the information that we had read and discussed in class.
S3- Integrated across content areas (subject matter integrating mathematical, scientific, and aesthetic reasoning).
Incorporating diverse subject matter can be either simple or daunting. In some ways it is simple, or fluid, to include math or science into a history course. The difficulty lies in ensuring that the curriculum isn’t rabbit trailing or feeling unnatural when it comes to adding the extracurricular content in. Fortunately some topics can fall into place naturally within extra curricula. When it comes to history, every subject is fair game. I can teach any subject within the realms of historical narrative. Math was integrated into the atomic bomb lesson plan by using compasses and measuring the diameter of three circles onto the map. Also beneficial for the students was that they were learning the same content in their math at the same time. Science was integrated by discussing and reading about the basics of radioactive material, nuclear energy and radiation on human life. I would like to further this lesson in the future by discussing the half life in radioactive particles. Aesthetic reasoning was implemented by the discussion and (somewhat) formal debate regarding the morality and appropriateness of using the atom bomb. Students had to use constructive reasoning, create an argument using facts and reflect on what they had learned throughout the week in order to participate in the discussion at the end of the unit. The reading and responses they were required to do also required deductive reasoning skills.
Ensuring that the subject matter follows a process of organization and falls within the general curriculum goals that teachers set within the boundaries of state, district, and schoolwide standards is no easy feat, but it can be done with intentionality and organization. I have realized that planning ahead and spending just a little bit of extra time researching the topics I will be teaching help me be able to integrate curriculum and to teach content that matters in more ways than one. While each lesson I plan will always be revised, the general concept was always made with knowledge, care, and with purpose.