Choices Teaching Fellows
"It was an amazingly high level
review of complex information in a way that had every student completely hooked. Adapting Choices, she created a learning experience that these students will never forget."
Excel Academy Charter School
East Boston, MA
Excel Academy is a high performing urban charter school in East Boston, Massachusetts. It serves 210 middle school students from primarily East Boston and Chelsea. Approximately 72% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch and are Latino. Approximately 55% speak a language other than English at home including Spanish, Vietnamese, French, Haitian Creole, and Arabic.
What course do you currently teach with Choices material?
This fall I will use the Choices curriculum in my 8th grade government class. Because students at Excel attend a variety of high schools – parochial, independent day, charter, district, pilot, and boarding – they enter into a wide selection of 9th grade social studies classes. The major purpose of my 8th grade government class is to set students up for success in their high school social studies class no matter if they are taking a non-fiction course on genocide, an elective on the History of Latin America, or World History II. All of these courses require students to have a strong foundation in analyzing information from multiple points of view and presenting an interpretation. At the end of my course, I want students to leave with a strong foundation of the basic vocabulary of history, government, and economics as well as a deep curiosity about the world around them and how it came to be.
How do you use the Choices in the course?
In the past, I have used the diagrams, political cartoons and quotations from primary sources in A More Perfect Union: American Independence and the Constitution as supplemental activities in my Government class. Perhaps even more importantly, I use it as background reading for myself to make sure that I am shaping my lectures about this time period around major themes and ideas. Without this overarching sense of the time period, it can be easy for me (and students!) to get lost in all the facts that exist about this topic. In addition, our school's 5th and 6th grade social studies teacher, Kate Lints, reworked and expanded the debates in this program for a Constitution Day Simulation for her 5th grade students. It was an amazingly high level review of complex information in a way that had every student completely hooked. Adapting Choices, she created a learning experience that these students will never forget.
What do your students say about Choices units?
Role play, debate, multiday projects are always favorites. Also, students know when the topic they are learning is important. All the Choices materials cover topics that students 'feel smart' when discussing.
Teachers are always pressed for time. How do you fit Choices into the course?
Choices works as a way for me to think about the big issues in a unit and a 'hook' on which to attach the many places, facts, date and names.
What other units are you considering trying in the future?
For Fall 2011, I want to use the US in a Changing World to shape my Foreign Policy Unit. Given that 2012 is the centennial of the War of 1812, I also hope to focus on that unit as well.
What advice would you give to a teacher who has never used Choices before?
Look at which Choices materials could fit with what you already teach. Then read the teacher and student workbooks to understand key ideas about a topic. See if you can highlight these ideas in what you already teach. Then start weaving in more and more of the resources and activities. The exciting thing about Choices curriculum units is that I can always be working towards including it in a more sophisticated way. I definitely see incorporating Choices materials as a process in which I am a beginner, rather than an 'all at once change.' It's exciting to know that the goal of the Choices program and my own hopes for my students are closely aligned.