Among the courses that Will Colglazier teaches at Aragon High School in San Mateo Union High School District is Advanced Placement U.S. history. He also teaches a social studies methods course at Stanford University every Tuesday–“That is a long,long day,” he says. Colglazier has been profiled in various publications (see here, here, and here) and I have done a post about a class I observed last year. So why do even another post on Colglazier?
For my project on looking at best cases of technology integration at the classroom, school, and district levels I went to Dominic Bigue, coordinator of technology for SMUHSD. He identified teachers, including Colglazier, who were making technology integral to their lessons and were willing to have me visit their classrooms. Of those he identified, I have already described lessons of English teacher Sarah Press (Hillsdale High School) and Spanish teacher Nicole Elenz-Martin (also at Aragon). Today, I focus on Colglazier’s Advanced Placement U.S. history class that I observed February 19, 2016.
Aragon’s hillside campus has just over 1400 students of whom 70 percent are minority. Twenty-four percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches (common measure of poverty). Nearly 98 percent graduate. Of those graduating, 44 percent attend community college and 54 percent enter four-year colleges and universities.
The lesson I observed was about Pearl Harbor (1941), particularly historical documents that argued for and against the conspiracy theory surrounding President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Some historians have argued that FDR had prior knowledge of the Japanese surprise attack on December 7th and kept it a secret in order for the U.S. to have popular support for entering the war against Hitler (Japan, Germany, and Italy had formed the Axis Alliance). Before, the class got to these documents and their analysis, Colglazier went through a number of tasks as he usually does for each lesson.
A cart of Chromebooks stood near the door and students pick up the devices as the tardy buzzer sounded. The 26 students sit in their work groups at clustered desks.
“Happy, Happy Friday,” says Colglazier to open the lesson. He is a tall, lean teacher wearing a button-down, long sleeve grey shirt and jeans. On the screen is a list of announcements and the agenda for the 50-minute class. He goes over each one and asks if there are any questions about what students are to do on each item; he spends time on the Socratic Seminar scheduled for the following week. A few students raise their hands and Colglazier answers questions. He explains to class about the importance of collaboration within their groups for upcoming tasks but not to the extent of copying notes from one another.
Colglazier then moves to agenda item called “Research Assessment.” He spends a large chunk of time during every lesson on students determining reliability of sources (e.g., bias, inconsistencies) in answering historical questions. The exercise focuses on an Internet article about smoking (see here). Students go to article in their Chromebook and fill out a work-sheet. He gives the class seven minutes to complete the questions and click SUBMIT to send him their answers. Group members, the teacher says, can share sources they find to check on reliability of article on smoking. Flashed on the screen in big numerals is a stop clock counting down the time. He ambles around the room checking with students if they have any questions and seeing if they are running into any difficulties. After submitting their work, Colglazier asks for what sources students used to determine reliability of article. Students say they used Wikipedia, Center for Disease Control, and other sites to corroborate whether article was biased or not. Students knew differences between URLs that had .com and .gov .*
After this Research Assessment and feedback from students, Colglazier moves to documents on Pearl Harbor including a diary entry of the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, a Japanese telegram decoded prior to the attack on December 7th, and film clips from the History Channel on both sides of the controversy over whether FDR hid knowledge of an attack on Pearl Harbor (see here). For each document and source, the teacher questions students on the reliability of the source and whether there was evidence to support the theory that FDR knew of the attack beforehand. As Colglazier asked questions and students answered about each of the documents and film clips, at least half of the students were also taking notes with pen on paper.
In scanning the room every five minutes to see whether students were engaged, I noted no student was off-task.
“Which is the most powerful evidence,” he asks “on the side of FDR hiding knowledge?” Which evidence, he asks, contradicts that FDR conspired to keep it a secret? Students look at each of the sources and give different answers, depending on how much weight they gave to the source’s reliability. No consensus emerged from students. He asks students to write a paragraph for homework, using evidence from documents, and take a stand on the question.
“Ten minutes left in class,” Colglazier says. “I need to have you finish these documents and you need to find corroborating sources that support what you say in your paragraph.” Colglazier wanted students to replicate the assessment of these documents as they had in assessing the smoking article they did earlier in the lesson.*** Each group member has to locate a different website for corroboration. He urges students to talk to one another and but still must find separate websites.
Stop-clock clicks away. Teacher walks around and answers questions from individual students. I scan class again and students clicking away and discussing sources with other group members. With two minutes left, Colglazier tells class to save their work on Google docs and then submit it later so that he can look at what they have written and their websites by the end of the school day.
Buzzer sounds. Students leave. As they are leaving, teacher lays out graded quizzes from last week on desks, students pick them up while Colglazier takes questions from other students.
*Colglazier also has a Current Events blog for which students have to write original posts during the semester.
**For those viewers who wish to see student responses, Colglazier sent them to me, stripped of names.
***The teacher emailed me on February 24, 2016 to make this point. He also supplied student responses to the questions on corroboration.