Blog Post

"Hello World" (or at least HASTAC)

I've been on the periphery of HASTAC for a few years, but am now happy to jump in.  I have been a high school history teacher for the past 18 years.  Being a teacher, I’m able to maintain my interests in multiple fields; I’m a strong believer in interdisciplinary education.  Prior to my career in teaching, I worked as an economic analyst for Wells Fargo Bank, an architect and planner for a department store chain in NY, and as a residential and commercial architect in San Francisco (including a second stint at Wells Fargo).  

Along the way, I received a bachelor’s in international relations from Berkeley, an M.Arch. from Wisconsin, and graduate history degrees from the Hagley Program--in the history of industry and technology--at U Delaware and a doctoral program--in American cultural history--at U. Chicago.  I am currently completing my coursework for a PhD in curriculum and instruction--with focuses on secondary school history, technology, and student motivation--at North Carolina State University.

There are three main projects I am currently working on.  I will address them in increasing scale of involvement by students. The first is the humanities version of a theoretical modeling pedagogy I developed with some colleagues.  I teach all my classes using this method.  Modeling combines humanities, arts, and science.  The pedagogy was developed for physics education, but we have adapted it to use in literature and history.  

Modeling is a student-centered, constructivist pedagogy that relies on students to develop their own theories through inductive reasoning.  In searching for the patterns revealed in historical data, students are engaged in authentic disciplinary work.   I will be exploring the ways this pedagogy can be enhanced through technology.  This pedagogy has strong links to data visualization and I've had my students working in that area, as well.

My second focus comes from another collaborative project in which I am engaged.  A literature teacher and I, with considerable assistance from a dedicated group of students, are in the process of developing a new curriculum based in/on a virtual world; a class we have dubbed, “Brave New Meta-World.”  Our intention is to create a safe, alternate universe--a perfect place for fledglings to try out concepts and skills.  We would be creating a realistic simulation that goes beyond that found in even the best games.  In the "Brave New Meta-World," students would be able to become novelists, scientists, historians, architects, economists, etc.  They would be producing and interpreting their own world.  And they would be passing this on to a next generation, giving later students the opportunity to build on (or tear down and build anew) the world they inherit.  How often do kids get the opportunity to make that much change and have so significant an impact?

For my own part, I'm fascinated by the prospect of seeing their world.  I want to see what kinds of civilizations they create--their social/economic/political system, art and architecture, music, literature, creation stories and myths, ideologies, philosophy and religion, laws, relationships (familial, communal, international), and history ("objective" analyses and interpretations of their own work, what better way to help them develop their reflective capacity and a self-critical eye?).

This kind of authentic engagement is crucial to motivating students to take their work seriously, and to help them see that the process of creation is more important than consumption. Ultimately, with a focus on process, rather than product, and with cheers for our (bound to be) frequent failures, the students will set aside grade anxiety and work out of passion--or at least so promises all the research on student motivation and engagement.

Students are the center of my third project, as well.  Two years ago a couple of former students began meeting with me to discuss education.  That group quickly grew to a half-dozen.  A year later the group became an official school club: Shifting the Educational Paradigm (STEP).  Now the group has over 30 members interested in looking at a wide range of topics, e.g. whether there is a connection between learning styles and personality types, the effectiveness of the modeling pedagogy, and issues surrounding educational equity.  The group is engaged in active, action research, some of which they have already presented at conferences.  STEP also seeks to bring scholars to the school and to spread the idea of a student-led, educational-policy centered student group to other high schools.

These projects emphasize the importance of multi-and inter-disciplinary approaches to education.  Such a focus is more important than ever, in a time when the liberal arts are being pushed aside as obsolete, effete, and without material value.


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