Building Social Solidarity Across National Boundaries

Building Social Solidarity Across National Boundaries

by Lawrence S. Wittner

Reprinted by permission from the History News Network.

Is it possible to build social solidarity beyond the state? It’s easy to conclude that it’s not. In 1915, as national governments produced the shocking carnage of World War I, Ralph Chaplin, an activist in the Industrial Workers of the World, wrote his stirring song, “Solidarity Forever. Taken up by unions around the globe, it proclaimed that there was “no power greater anywhere beneath the sun” than international working class solidarity. But, today, despite Chaplin’s dream of bringing to birth “a new world from the ashes of the old,” the world remains sharply divided by national boundaries—boundaries that are usually quite rigid, policed by armed guards, and ultimately enforced through that traditional national standby, war.

Even so, over the course of modern history, social movements have managed, to a remarkable degree, to form global networks of activists who have transcended nationalism in their ideas and actions. Starting in the late nineteenth century, there was a remarkable efflorescence of these movements: the international aid movement; the labor movement; the socialist movement; the peace movement; and the women’s rights movement, among others. In recent decades, other global movements have emerged, preaching and embodying the same kind of human solidarity—from the environmental movement, to the nuclear disarmament movement, to the campaign against corporate globalization, and to the racial justice movement.

Although divided from one another, at times, by their disparate concerns, these transnational humanitarian movements have nevertheless been profoundly subversive of many established ideas and of the established order—an order that has often been devoted to maintenance of special privilege and preservation of the nation state system. Consequently, these movements have usually found a home on the political Left and have usually triggered a furious backlash on the political Right.

The rise of globally based social movements appears to have developed out of the growing interconnection of nations, economies, and peoples, spawned by increasing world economic, scientific, and technological development, trade, travel, and communications. This interconnection has meant that war, economic collapse, climate disasters, diseases, corporate exploitation, and other problems are no longer local, but global. And the solutions, of course, are also global in nature. Meanwhile, the possibilities for alliances of like-minded people across national boundaries have also grown.

The rise of the worldwide campaign for nuclear disarmament exemplifies these trends. Beginning in 1945, in the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima, its sense of urgency was driven by breakthroughs in science and technology that revolutionized war and, thereby, threatened the world with unprecedented disaster. Furthermore, the movement had little choice but to develop across the confines of national boundaries. After all, nuclear testing, the nuclear arms race, and the prospect of nuclear annihilation represented global problems that could not be tackled on a national basis. Eventually, a true peoples’ alliance emerged, uniting activists in East and West against the catastrophic nuclear war plans of their governments.

Much the same approach is true of other global social movements. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, for example, play no favorites among nations when they report on human rights abuses around the world. Individual nations, of course, selectively pick through the findings of these organizations to label their political adversaries (though not their allies) ruthless human rights abusers. But the underlying reality is that participants in these movements have broken free of allegiances to national governments to uphold a single standard and, thereby, act as genuine world citizens. The same can be said of activists in climate organizations like Greenpeace and 350.org, anticorporate campaigns, the women’s rights movement, and most other transnational social movements.

Institutions of global governance also foster human solidarity across national borders. The very existence of such institutions normalizes the idea that people in diverse countries are all part of the human community and, therefore, have a responsibility to one another. Furthermore, UN Secretaries-General have often served as voices of conscience to the world, deploring warfare, economic inequality, runaway climate disaster, and a host of other global ills. Conversely, the ability of global institutions to focus public attention upon such matters has deeply disturbed the political Right, which acts whenever it can to undermine the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the World Health Organization, and other global institutions.

Social movements and institutions of global governance often have a symbiotic relationship. The United Nations has provided a very useful locus for discussion and action on issues of concern to organizations dealing with women’s rights, environmental protection, human rights, poverty, and other issues, with frequent conferences devoted to these concerns. Frustrated with the failure of the nuclear powers to divest themselves of nuclear weapons, nuclear disarmament organizations deftly used a series of UN conferences to push through the adoption of the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, much to the horror of nuclear-armed states.

Admittedly, the United Nations is a confederation of nations, where the “great powers” often use their disproportionate influence—for example, in the Security Council—to block the adoption of popular global measures that they consider against their “interests.” But it remains possible to change the rules of the world body, diminishing great power influence and creating a more democratic, effective world federation of nations. Not surprisingly, there are social movements, such as the World Federalist Movement/Institute for Global Policy and Citizens for Global Solutions, working for these reforms.

Although there are no guarantees that social movements and enhanced global governance will transform our divided, problem-ridden world, we shouldn’t ignore these movements and institutions, either. Indeed, they should provide us with at least a measure of hope that, someday, human solidarity will prevail, thereby bringing to birth “a new world from the ashes of the old.”

The Ordinary People Living in New Jersey During the American Revolution

Elizabeth Beatty Fithian, Cumberland County

Documentary Video

Resources

Joel Fithian, Cumberland County

Documentary Video

Resources

Charles Beatty, Somerset County

Decision Activity

Documentary Video

Resources

Annis Boudinot Stockton, Mercer County

Decision Activity

Documentary Video

Resources

John Hunt, Burlington County

Decision Activity

Documentary Video

Resources

Samuel Sutphin, Somerset County

Decision Activity

Documentary Video

Resources

What a Difference Six Hours Made in My Life as a History Teacher!

What a difference Six Hours Made in My Life as a History Teacher!
Reflecting on more than five decades of teaching


During my first twelve years as a teacher in Queens, New York, I remember taking the subway to find information in the New York Public Library, museums, the Bobst Library at NYU, the Butler Library at Columbia, Queens Public Library, United Nations, and discussions with scholarly professors. My toolbox included filmstrips, textbooks, college notes, newspapers, and periodicals. During my next ten years as
a teacher at Ridgewood High School, I would drive to the Newark Law Library, Paterson Public Library, Firestone Library at Princeton, Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and walking to the Ridgewood Public Library to photocopy documents relating to the courses I was teaching.

Since 1995, I became more dependent on digital research and helped with digitizing manuscripts, identify maps and print resources, and introducing teachers and students to digital search tools. With the speed of the internet, research became efficient, accurate and productive. When my son and daughter worked on their college thesis papers, I would tell them of my experience with the hunt and
peck method of a typewriter, correcting tape, and that when I found a mistake or made a change, my entire paper had to be retyped from the beginning. In many ways, the digital revolution changed the
way we do research.

Six Hours on November 5 Changed the Way I Think about History

On Friday, November 5, 2021 I visited the Dey Mansion in Wayne with Jessica Bush and six educators from Passaic, Vineland, Parsippany-Troy Hills, Hillsborough, Immaculate Conception R.C. MS, Southern Regional, and Dr. Lucia McMahon from William Paterson University. This was the first time in a long time that I experienced going back in time to the 18th century. The experience was transformative as my
eyes visualized what my brain knew from reading very descriptive accounts by distinguished historians.

Dey Mansion is located on the Passaic County Golf Course making it easy to visualize 300 year old trees, winding roads, water from a stream, farm animals, crops, a visit from George Washington, the living quarters for enslaved persons, pillaging of farms by Hessian mercenaries, and people fearing for their lives. The transformational effect for me as an educator came with ducking my head under the beams, walking on the wide floor planks where George Washington and his advisors walked, thinking about 30 or more people staying at the Dey home in the presence of several young and active children, and what it was like to use the ‘outhouse’ in the middle of the night in January!
I started thinking about the different styles of candle holders, how long it took for a candle to burn out, the number of candles that had to be made or purchased, the darkness that appears by 5:00 p.m. in December, the smoke from the many fireplaces, washing laundry, getting dressed and undressed, visits with neighbors, the spread of disease in a home, having enough food supplies, worshiping in a church, several miles away.


It was difficult for me to remove the 21st century images of the Willowbrook Mall, warehouses, corporations, traffic lights, etc. from my brain. However, the detail of old maps, understanding that Passaic County was part of Bergen County at this time, visualizing that the Passaic River and its ‘little falls’ (Little Falls, NJ) was about one-half mile down the road, that from Route 3 and Route 46 I could see Hackensack and Manhattan, were all reminders to me about living in 1770.

360 Minutes on November 6 Changed the Way I Think about Teaching History

On Saturday, November 6, 2021, I met with my team of educators in Freehold researching the lives of ordinary people living in New Jersey during the time of the American Revolution. Their stories were waiting to be discovered and in some cases our eyes may have been the first to read some of the letters in the collections at the Monmouth County Historical Association.

With a warm welcome and friendly greeting by Dana Howell, we went back in time as the Monmouth County Historical Association home is across the street from one of the bloodiest and fiercest battles in the American Revolution. It is the stories of enslaved persons running away to freedom if they could escape to a British ship in the Atlantic at night, the emptiness that comes from a home pillaged or burned by Hessians, and the ever-present fear of skirmishes, the knock on the door by soldiers, and the imprisonment of a husband or son.

James and Steve on December 4 Changed What I Thought my Students Needed to Know

On Saturday, December 4, 2021, our team spent time with James Amenasor and Steve Tettamanti at the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark. The collections of records, manuscripts, letters, diaries, and published books includes information in every county (and perhaps every community) in New Jersey. My observation of our team was how engaged they were in reading about the local experience of ordinary people. I was reminded that learning involves personal connections to experiences and that the experiences of people in the 1770s might be different from mine but also quite similar!

In my own research experience about the county jail in Hackensack, I was surprised to learn that the Puritan values were more extensive than Sunday blue laws and involved time in jail for playing games of chance and horse racing. The experience in areas near the Delaware River influenced by Quaker beliefs used fines to deter many crimes.

Although my students are engaged with determining the causes of the American Revolution, the turning points in the conflict, the heroic efforts of generals, the mistakes of others, the human cost of the conflict, they are missing the experience of ordinary local people who lived day-by-day in a state that was devastated by fighting, victimized by raids from the British base in New York, shot and killed in their homes, and making amazing sacrifices that contributed to our independence and personal liberty.

This is what I want my students to know in addition to the content of learning standards and textbooks. I am looking forward to sharing the amazing research for our team in March. Email me at hb288@sasmail.rutgers.edu for additional information.

Unlearning the Ropes by Dr. Denise M. Bressler

Unlearning the Ropes

Dr. Denise M. Bressler

Reviewed by Hank Bitten, NJCSS Executive Director

“I now understand that schools are designed for someone like me, but schools are not designed well for the majority of the population.  This is deeply concerning…and it impacts every facet of our society.

School should work well for everyone, but it doesn’t. Our country’s acute focus on grades pushes students to lose their motivation, enthusiasm, and confidence.” (Preface)

I became a teacher a half century ago to make a difference in the lives of my students by using simulation games to engage students in problem solving and decision making as part of their education in world and United States history.  In my tenure as a teacher and administrator, I taught numerous classes on learning styles, differentiated learning, and assessments.

Unlearning the Ropes provides substantial evidence and a new perspective for bringing about change in the culture of the local school district. There are 1.28 million students in public schools in New Jersey and 57,486 in charter schools.  Source  With a dropout rate of 1%, there are approximately 13,000 students who drop out of school each year. There is an annual income gap of $10,000 between a student with a high school diploma and one without one. With two million high school dropouts in the United States in 2019, the amount of lost revenue is $20 billion and $400 million in lost taxes at 20%. Source   Our goal is to educate productive citizens.

Dr. Bressler provides a fresh perspective on the chronic problems of the rigid culture in most schools and local districts, the decision-making process for determining what to teach and how to teach it, and the blind acceptance of the cookie-cutter model of grade-based education. The debates over cognitive and affective learning, cultural literacy and discipline-based literacy, and the authority of the teacher’s grade book over differentiated instruction continue to be the victim of educational gridlock even though the educational research definitively supports choice and activity-based instruction.

The call to action is in Chapter 2: “Instead of focusing on performance, we can help them concentrate on mastery and developing a more positive reaction to failure”. To place this in the context of a meeting of the faculty, department, or Principal’s Cabinet, I will focus my application to the teaching of social studies. The impact of Covid-19 and virtual learning environments is exponentially decreasing student motivation, cognitive abilities, and test scores. While this is an immediate cause the long-range causes of this trajectory are in the rapid cultural and technological developments of the 20th century, which are currently at a heightened level of visibility.

As teachers deemphasized papyrus in favor of video, digital, and oral platforms over the past two decades, the process of transforming information into deep memory was diminished. The steps to thinking involve gathering and organizing information, making notes, and converting text to visual memory to stimulate thinking and deeper memory.  Education is not a strategy for memorizing information and performance is not an assessment with letter or number grades. It is about thinking, experiencing, and solving.  Educators teach students how to learn and the historical content in the learning standards becomes the catalyst for learning.

Dr. Bressler in Unlearning the Ropes directly addresses the benefits of ‘games’ as part of the learning process. The benefits of collaboration, decision-making, problem solving, engagement, and scaffolding learning at higher levels of cognition are clearly explained. My thesis was in simulation games in 1969 and I have observed the benefits of them with my students, children, and grandchildren over five decades. My grandchildren look forward to Fridays when their teacher engages them in Kahoot!  Although I believe their teachers use this as a diversion from the structured curriculum activities, my grandchildren are engaged because the activity is competitive, collaborative, and challenging.

Although games work, students cannot play games in school every day and in the six or seven classes they are taking. If they did, games would have diminishing returns.  However, teachers should be mindful of the benefits of physical education, art, music, and electives where they are standing, participating in movement, and processing information.  For social studies teachers, it is essential to plan a variety of differentiated instructional activities.  Activity-designed instruction includes the familiar strategies of cooperative learning, student presentations, structured debates, independent research, cross-disciplinary activities, partnerships with discipline-based resources (colleges, local museums, virtual field trips, experts, civic leaders, senior citizens, etc.) and simulations, educational games, and virtual reality experiences.

Unlearning the Ropes helped me to realize that teachers know what works effectively and they have access to excellent resources.  The missing links are the current limitations of how we assess what students are learning, parental or community understanding and support for active and engaged learning, and leadership from school administrators. Our current culture in most schools prevents teachers and departments from implementing differentiated instruction, academic literacy, and what I am suggesting is activity-designed learning. 

How to Begin?

For educators who are serious about implementing the evidence-based changes proposed by Dr. Bressler, let me suggest the following:

  1. An audit of student grades on report cards, state assessments, and national tests. This needs to be done K-12 with an independent analysis of skills, performance-based assessments such as essays, research papers, and presentations. If this cannot be conducted as a school or district, begin the audit in the social studies department.
  • Gather and organize data on what students are doing with problem solving, decision-making, and thinking.  Collect anecdotal evidence from teachers and students, in addition to the evidence of rubrics.
  • Conduct professional development with experts in the field through professional learning communities, staff development, or a consortium of social studies departments in schools in your area.
  • Identify schools which have previously implemented (or are in the process of considering) differentiated and active learning lessons and performance-based assessments.
  • Develop a model curriculum in core courses (K-12 if possible) that includes engaging activities, observations by other teachers or independent consultants (retired teachers and supervisors, instructional coaches, etc.), and alternative and performance-based assessments.
  • Educate parents and stakeholders in the community on what is being considered, provide support from local college professors and admission counselors from local, state, regional, and ivy league colleges and universities, reveal your plan for quality control and continuing evaluation, and examples of performance-based assessments. If possible, include the voices of your students and teachers.

It is best to move in this direction incrementally. Unlearning the Ropes presents examples of what meaningful learning is and how and why it is effective. In some ways this is ‘old school’ and yet educators, who are convinced that learning needs to be enjoyable and collaborative, need revolutionary steps to overcome the inherent barriers in their school district.  The lesson learned in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point is that the first 20% of schools embracing the new direction will be the most difficult. 

“As a graduate student and an educational researcher, I have seen the standard lecture format prevail in teacher education. If preservice teachers are trained in settings that don’t promote agency, how are they supposed to know how to support agency in their classrooms? In-service teachers realize they lack these skills citing professional development as essential to learning to promote agency.” (page 98)

Pre-service teachers should also read this book and become familiar with strategies that effectively measure learning rather than teaching. Consider the example below asking students to analyze the Battle of Long Island from the perspective of different choices. This was the first and largest battle in the Revolutionary War involving more than 40,000 soldiers. The date is August 27, 1776.

Could General Washington and the Continental Army have won the Battle of Long Island?

How would each of these strategies change history?

Washington should have attacked General Howe immediately after the signing of the Declaration of Independence on Staten Island. Washington had an army equal to or perhaps greater than that of the British in July. (Offense was the preferred option.)Washington should have negotiated an agreement with General Howe realizing that the 20,000 British and Hessian forces were stronger and better equipped than the Continental Army. (Fighting was not an option.)
Washington’s decision to position some troops on Long Island (Brooklyn Heights), maintain a reserve force along the East River in Manhattan, and station backup forces in New Jersey along the Hudson. (Defense was the preferred option.)Let the British take New York and control the New England colonies while regrouping and defending Philadelphia and the Middle and Southern colonies. Use the area of New Jersey to gather intelligence and monitor the British forces. Blockade New York Harbor and cut off supplies to the British army. (Creating a new scenario.)

“When students are given control over their learning, the outcomes range from improved achievement to enhanced motivation, enthusiasm, and confidence.” (page 95)

Research the experts!  Which interpretation do you think caused the American Revolution?

What caused the American Revolution?Supporting a Claim with Evidence
Democratic Movement (Robert Brown, Michigan State Univ.)Ideological Influences (Bernard Bailyn, Harvard)
Economic Causes (Andrew Hacker, Queens College)Class Struggles (Merrill Jensen, Univ. of Wisconsin)

The models above allow students to ask questions, investigate the geography, engage with research, learn from each other, make a claim, and understand the historical account of what actually happened and why it happened. Similar options for learning other issues and events can follow this general model. For example, in Civics, engage students with Project Citizen, in U.S. History, use a Model Congress or press conference, in World History, consider the Model UN or creating a tapestry of social and cultural history.

The advice of Albert Einstein supports problem solving and decision-making lessons, “I never teach my pupils.  I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.” (page 85) The conditions for student engagement and thinking include taking risks and learning from mistakes, the independence to be creative, collaboration with peers and adults, and learning by enjoying.  Schools and classrooms do not need to provide the magical kingdom of a Disney World but they should provide the differentiated experiences of animal kingdom, Epcot, the wild west, and the Hall of Presidents! The ‘Disney experience’ provides differentiated activities with lots of fun.

In addition to providing explicit insights into differentiated learning experiences, Unlearning the Ropes provides personal reflections about parenting, school culture, and adolescent psychology. The book is easy to read and prompts serious discussion about student productivity, the efficient distribution of academic content, and redesigning the traditional model of cultural literacy into academic literacy.

For commercial products on simulations and engaging activities for students in K-12, visit these resources:

University of Maryland ICONS online Simulations 

Brown University Choices Program

Academic Literacy by Dr. Harry Stein

You Are Where You Go by Caitlyn Lubas

You Are Where You Go

By Caitlyn Lubas

Reviewed by Hank Bitten

A Traveler’s Coming of Age Journey through 70 Countries and 7 Continents During College

My first visit, at age ten, to the Rivoli Theatre on Main Street in Paterson was to see the Jules Vernes movie Around the World in 80 Days.  My knowledge of the world at age ten was limited to a globe, map of the world, and pictures in Life magazine. In 1957, travel was still mostly by propeller powered airplanes.  The turbulence made travel by air bumpy, there were frequent fueling stops, and pressurized cabins were just being installed.

The movie opened my eyes to places in Africa, Asia, and South America that were new to me.  The scenes of the physical geography of place were amazing and my exposure to culture motivated me to study anthropology years later at N.Y.U.  The book, All I Really Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum is another reminder of the influence of teachers and their lessons.  When we engage students in thinking, we are nurturing more than historical content, disciplinary concepts, or skill sets. When students think about what they are learning, the brain redirects knowledge from their eyes to their hearts.  This is how visual memory deepens and changes lives.

Caitlyn Lubas was my student and took my class on the Global Economy at Indian Hills High School. The wisdom and insights in her book, is a reminder of the influence that teachers have in the lessons they teach – especially in social studies.

“Before travel, my worldview was like an old radio tuned into a channel that was only producing static-uninformed and lacking any key message.  Each unique experience abroad allowed me to tune into a clearer signal of what the world is really like-dynamic, vibrant, and enlightening.” (page 5)

Caitlyn’s experience at New York University was transformative. As a high school student Caitlyn communicated with other teenagers from a variety of countries developing an international network of social capital. Through social media, video channels, and books, she was able to talk with different people about culture, issues, family, and school. In high school, we traveled to Europe and provided opportunities for meeting students from Japan, Germany, and Denmark in our study of global business, the environment, and human rights. In the first chapter of her book, she provides tips on how to make a decision that prioritizes travel as a tutorial for the academic literacy needed for every 21st century student. The globalization of education has become an essential component of academic literacy in understanding the common values and experiences we share, the relationship between the individual and the state, and our responsibility to protect our planet. As I was reading Caitlyn’s book, I was reminded that I have students working on six continents (Denmark, Uganda, Ukraine, Switzerland, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Israel, etc.) and others who talk with people in other countries every day. Caitlyn’s book has relevance because it provides a cultural and visible connection to places and people.

I was able to identify with her personal stories about her visits to many places in Europe, although I found some of her insights and information to be new and interesting.  Her chapter on Vietnam, Laos, Japan, and Singapore offered unique perspectives to me regarding her leg injury in Vietnam, cubicle hostel with pod beds in Japan, self-discovery of people and scenery in Laos, and uncomfortable encounters of a young Asian girl having dinner with an older man in Singapore, even though the man was her father.  I learned about new perspectives of culture, traveling in inclement weather, coping with Google translator, and navigating the Mekong River. Teachers should be reminded that their teaching of geography involves more than place or name recognition as holidays, street culture, food, beliefs, and gender roles are equally important. When traveling inside another culture, our behaviors and attitudes are observable.Caitlyn discovered that she was the outsider.

This was very evident in the chapter on the Middle East and her experiences in Jordan, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi.  I remember when New York University developed this global education program and what I learned from Professor of History David L. Lewis as the program was evolving and taking shape in 2008-10. The unique experience of NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Singapore is how students experienced the diversity of a global community. I had two students graduate from this academic opportunity.  When Caitlyn stepped off the plane and entered one of the most luxurious and spacious airport terminals on the planet, she sat alone in a taxi in shorts and quickly stood out in an environment of long garments and face coverings.

Abu Dhabi

In my high school Global Issues class, we partnered with Keio Academy in Purchase, NY for an overnight stay in a dormitory based Japanese high school.  We attended classes in Japanese, played Japanese style dodge ball, and discussed international issues. For my Bergen County students, this was their first experience immersed in a new culture and paired with a student they had only been introduced to through emails and letters. Caitlyn was my student and experienced this as a freshman.  Now, at NYU, her roommates were from three different countries and cultures. However, they shared a common interest in travel and adventure.

I learned more in this chapter on the Middle East about how our eyes communicate messages to our brains than in the other chapters. Reading about Caitlyn’s observations of her independence in New York City with her new understanding of how young girls in Abu Dhabi and the Middle East feel liberated as their long garments conceal their sexuality and feminism from public observation and comment.

I also learned that the familiar TV monitor on the back of the seat on the airplane includes an arrow pointing to the east for Islamic prayers during the day.  Her experiences with food, visiting a Bedouin community, the demographic diversity of Dubai and other cities, and the inaccuracy of the stereotypes portrayed in the American media and classrooms are valuable lessons for everyone who reads her book.  The familiar phrase of the book, All I Really Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten, might be rephrased by “All I Really Need to Know about People, I Learned in My Global Classroom in College.”

The chapter on Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi) gives the reader a perspective of time and place by returning to the Bronze Age or perhaps the last century of the Neolithic Age. This is the birth of civilization and we are taken back in time to life on the safari before asphalt roads and power lines. This is the world of the Maasai, the open sky of the Serengeti plains, and swarms of insects.  It is a place without Wi-Fi connectivity, stocked shelves of supermarkets, and the traffic on urban highways and city streets. In our teaching of geography we neglect, or intentionally avoid, the experiences of millions of people who have no experience with flush toilets, access to hot water for washing hands or drinking from a faucet.  It is worth the read because it is from the perspective of a youthful college student!

If your time is limited to reading only one chapter, it would have to be Caitlyn’s experience of traveling across the Drake Passage to Antarctica for a camping trip, without the campfires. The journey begins shortly after the December solstice when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. Her experience of being immersed in total sunshine with brilliant images on the white snow and icebergs. However, it is the challenges of protecting the environment without leaving any human or carbon footprints, digging ditches to make a bed for protection against the fiercest winds and coldest temperatures on the planet, and learning how to excrete bodily fluids and solids during a blizzard.  Antarctica is a beautiful landscape of white and perhaps the only place on the planet where the sounds of silence are heard…or not heard.

The book is readable for middle and high school students and adults. It is her personal reflection about life, traveling alone, and experiencing culture and the harshness of geography. Teachers who value perspectives will want to include Caitlyn’s!

NJCSS Commences Grant on Living in New Jersey Before & During the American Revolution

NJCSS Commences Grant on Living in New Jersey Before and During the American Revolution

by David DiCostanzo, Vineland High School (NJ)

Several Social Studies teachers from around the state began a research grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission to examine the histories of ordinary people in New Jersey and how the events leading up to and during the Revolutionary War impacted their lives. The grant, “Telling Our Story: Living in New Jersey Before and During the American Revolution”, is an effort by the NJCSS to prepare educators in New Jersey for the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution during the 2025-26 school year. The 250th anniversary celebrations will continue through 2031 and are part of the overall mission of the NJCSS to provide and make available meaningful lessons and activities to students, teachers, and the public. This is important work because it engages students and residents in various counties throughout New Jersey about the birth of representative government in America.

Research Scholars Working at the MCHA Museum on 11/6/2021

The purpose of this grant is for each research scholar to explore primary sources, such as pamphlets and letters, related to events that affected the lives and livelihoods of people during the American Revolution. The results of this research will be communicated to students in Grades 4-12 (and college) through activity-based lessons requiring role playing, simulation and/or debating decisions relating to the personal experiences of people living in New Jersey in the 1770s. Each research scholar is also responsible for submitting an article on their topic for publication, producing a 3-5-minute documentary, and including an annotated bibliography.  The articles will be published on the NJCSS website and the documentaries will be made available via our Vimeo channel. Our team of research scholars include:

Bobby Ciarletta           Ramapo College of New Jersey

Kevin Daly                  Parsippany Troy Hills High School

David DiCostanzo      Vineland High School

Bob Fenster                 Hillsborough High School

Bill Smith                    Shore Regional High School

Karen Smith                Immaculate Conception MS

Susan Soprano            Passaic Middle School

The Dey Mansion in Wayne, New Jersey

Recently, these research scholars in coordination with Dr. Lucia McMahon, Professor and Chair of History at William Paterson University, Dr. Mark Percy, Professor of Social Studies Education at Rider University, and Mr. Hank Bitten, Executive Director of the NJCSS visited two historical sites as a way of beginning their research. On Friday, November 5, 2021, the group worked from the Dey Mansion in Wayne, New Jersey. Dey Mansion was the headquarters of General George Washington and the Continental Army during the fall and summer of 1780. The Dey Mansion promotes the examination of life during the colonial era and the events and people of the American Revolution.  This historical site also offers a wide range of inquiry based educational programs for students in all grade levels.  Under the direction of Dey Mansion Curator and Research Librarian Jessica Bush, the group spent a productive day touring the grounds, learning about the importance or material culture, and conducting independent and group research. Marc Lorenc from the New Jersey Historical Commission welcomed us.

The Monmouth County Historical Association Museum in Freehold, New Jersey

On Saturday November 6, 2021, the grant participants headed south and spent the day at the Monmouth Historical Society Museum in Freehold, New Jersey.  Founded in 1898, the Monmouth County Historical Association manages the museum.  Their mission of the association is to collect, preserve, and interpret its extensive museum, research library, and archival collections that relate to Monmouth County’s history and culture and makes these resources available to the widest possible audience. Under the direction of Research Librarian and Archivist Dana Howell, the group read through and scanned over 200 primary source documents related to dozens of individuals that lived in Monmouth County during the American Revolution. Several of the educators were extremely impressed with the museum which included a recent exhibition honoring hometown musician Bruce Springsteen. The NJCSS would like to thank Jessica Bush and Dana Howell for a wonderful two days!

Going forward, the research scholars will be meeting at the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark, New Jersey on December 4, 2021.  In Newark, they will carry on their research which will continue to be guided by Dr. McMahon, Dr. Pearcy, and Mr. Bitten. The research scholars will have two additional opportunities to meet in January to work on their projects.  All of the grant participants will also conduct independent research by visiting 18th century historical sites in their own respective counties and by sharing their findings and presentations with other Social Studies teachers and people in their individual school districts. The finished products are scheduled to be completed in February and March of 2022.

A Self-Guided Walking Tour of the Battle of Brooklyn Sites

A Self-Guided Walking Tour of the Battle of Brooklyn Sites

Marion Palm

Used by permission from the Brooklyn Eagle (Source: http://www.brooklyneagle.com/categories/category.php?category_id=27&id=35883)

Two scouts from the leading column of the Royal Marines and Tories and two companies of Long Island Tories were attracted to watermelons growing near the southwest corner of Green-Wood Cemetery. Riflemen fired on the would-be melon poachers.

The Old Stone House now at Fifth Avenue and Third Street in Park Slope, which has an interpretive center, was then named the Vechte Farmhouse, located south of Gowanus Creek. The event involving the retreat of the Americans says that Lord Stirling (he was on our side) gathered 2,000 men. These included troops from Delaware and Pennsylvania, along with an elite regiment from the First Maryland Regiment.

The Old Lyon Inn is now an American Legion Post near the IKEA on the point of Red Hook. The chance meeting at the watermelon patch became a major confrontation that stretched for a quarter of a mile and was responsible for convincing the Americans that the major attack would be on the Gowanus Road. With two sides confronting each other in regular battle formation, this was the first time the Americans, as an independent nation, faced the British in an open field. With no fortifications or stones to hide behind, only hedges and trees to face Grant, the commander of the British (not related to our former president General Grant) took on the fight.

The Brits, however, went east and linked up with the Hessians (paid German mercenaries) to seize high ground in what we now know as Battle-Hill in Green-Wood Cemetery.

The main body of the enemy came down through Flatbush to the intersection of Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy. (5). The British were very sneaky in this maneuver, as they swung around in a loop behind the Americans and attempted to capture them all. Howe, the British general ordered his men to cut off the American retreat to the Brooklyn forts on Brooklyn Heights. Most of the Americans survived, some were captured by the British, and others were bayoneted as they tried to surrender to the Hessians.

There is a monument to those who died in terrible conditions as prisoners of the British on ships in our harbor. An obelisk stands in Fort Greene Park that is a 150-foot tall Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument and crypt, which honors some 11,500 patriots who died aboard British prison ships during the American Revolution.

Washington’s headquarters, and he had many of them during the war, was at The Four Chimneys in a mansion overlooking the harbor from Brooklyn Heights. A small garden with a flagpole now marks this spot on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. There is also a small plaque with information about the house embedded into the stand that supports the flag. Washington held his war council there on August 29, 1776. The British, despite their clever advances, made a tactical error. They wasted time digging trenches. This decision took away the Brits’ opportunity to win the war in one stroke.

Lord Stirling managed to disengage from Grant and get around Cornwallis’s forces stationed around the Vechte farmhouse, blocking the Post Road, now First Street in Park Slope. Stirling ordered his troops to plunge into the marsh and go across Gowanus Creek on August 27, 1776.

On what can be seen now as a suicide mission, he staged a preemptive strike against Cornwallis in and around the Vechte farmhouse and its orchard. This sacrificial rearguard gave the bulk of the American wing a chance to escape across the marshes along Gowanus Creek.

A very dense fog drifted in and Washington and his men escaped from the Ferry Landing next to what is now the elegant River Cafe. Washington took the whole regiment by ferry to New York. The last man over received permission to go back for his horse and he and the volunteers were fired upon in what he said was a salute from the enemy with musketry that couldn’t reach them as they returned to safety.

General Howe was in Red Hook and his men were spread all the way to Hells Gate to keep the Americans guessing where he would attack, but he never crossed the East River to pursue them. Howe did succeed to take Brooklyn Heights and Governor’s Island, concealing his invasion flotilla in Newton’s Creek, the border between the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens at approximately 32nd Street.

General Howe is said to have dallied too long at the home of Robert Murray on a hot evening of September 15th when Mrs. Murray and her two daughters opened the wine cellar at the mansion and served cakes and Madeira to the British generals and Governor Tyron. Howe’s delay allowed the Americans to slip away again. There is a plaque to mark the mansion on Park Avenue and 37th Street in Manhattan.

Through a Critical Race Theory Lens: “How Enlightened was the Enlightenment in Europe?”

Through a Critical Race Theory Lens:

“How Enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

by Alan Singer

            School districts across the United States are racing to report that they teach critical thinking, not Critical Race Theory. The Florida State Board of Education banned the teaching of Critical Race Theory because all topics taught in Florida schools must be “factual and objective” and Critical Race Theory argues “racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, an early contender for the 2024 Republican Party Presidential nomination denounced CRT for teaching children “the country is rotten and that our institutions are illegitimate.” Teaching CRT is also banned in Tennessee and Idaho.

The controversy erupted in Commack, New York when members of a group called the Loud Majority disrupted two public meetings, interrupting school board members and speakers from the audience, including students who were trying to explain how they felt slighted in a curriculum that ignored who they were. Instead of silencing the disrupters or requiring them to leave, board members and district officials kept trying to explain the curriculum to people who were not interested in listening.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, who teaches law at UCLA and Columbia University and was an early proponent of Critical Race Theory, describes it as “an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it.” It has roots in legal efforts during the 1970s to challenge segregation deeply entrenched in American law. In the 1990s, social scientists and educational researchers began to employ CRT as a lens to understand the persistence of race and racism. It became controversial when former President Trump denounced CRT as part of his response to the New York Times 1619 Project. In an effort to rally his supporters during his campaign for reelection, Trump declared, “Critical race theory is being forced into our children’s schools, it’s being imposed into workplace trainings, and it’s being deployed to rip apart friends, neighbors and families.”

As a teacher educator and former high school social studies teacher, I embrace the National Council for the Social Studies’ promotion of critical thinking based on an evaluation of evidence as a core component of social studies curriculum. I found Critical Race Theory is an important lens for engaging students as critical thinkers and helps teachers involve students in broader discussion.

For example, the European Enlightenment is often known as the Age of Reason because Enlightenment thinkers tried to apply scientific principles to understand human behavior and how societies work. Many of the earliest Enlightenment thinkers were from England, Scotland, and France but the idea of using reason and a scientific approach spread to other European countries and their colonies. In the United States, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are considered Enlightenment thinkers. While there are no firm dates, most historians argue that the European Enlightenment started in the mid-17th century building on the Scientific Revolution and continued until the mid-19th century. However, some historians, including me, point out that the Age of Reason in Europe was also the peak years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade when millions of Africans were transporting to the Americans as unfree labor on plantations. In the British North America colonies that became the United States, leading founders of the new nation that declared the “self-evident truth” and human equality, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry, were plantation owners and slaveholders.

When teachers introduce the European Enlightenment they have to decide which thinkers and documents to include. John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are pretty standard, but if we want students to understand and critically examine the limitations of Enlightenment thought we also should include Mary Wollstonecraft, who demanded human rights for women, and Immanuel Kant, who promoted a scientific basis for racism. Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was part of the European Enlightenment, but so were Jefferson’s racist comments in his Notes on the State of Virginia.

This lesson builds on earlier lessons on the Scientific Revolution and the trans-Atlantic slave trade establishes themes that reemerge in units on European Imperialism in Africa and Asia and lessons on Social Darwinism.

AIM: How enlightened was the European Enlightenment?

John Locke (1632-1704)

Do Now: The European Enlightenment is often known as the Age of Reason because Enlightenment thinkers tried to apply scientific principles to understand human behavior and how societies work. Many of the earliest Enlightenment thinkers were from England, Scotland, and France but the idea of using reason and a scientific approach spread to other European countries and their colonies. In the United States, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are considered Enlightenment thinkers. While there are no firm dates, most historians argue that the European Enlightenment started in the mid-17th century building on the Scientific Revolution and continued until the mid-19th century. Some historians have pointed out that the Age of Reason in Europe was also the peak years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade when millions of Africans were transporting to the Americans as unfree labor on plantations.

One of the first major European Enlightenment thinkers was John Locke of England. Read the excerpt from Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government, written in 1690, and answer questions 1-4.

John Locke: “Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others . . . Good and evil, reward and punishment, are the only motives to a rational creature: these are the spur and reins whereby all mankind are set on work, and guided . . . Man . . . hath by nature a power . . . to preserve his property – that is, his life, liberty, and estate – against the injuries and attempts of other men . . . The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom . . . All mankind . . . being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.

Questions

  1. According to Locke, what is the most important human value?
  2. How does Locke believe this value is preserved?
  3. What document in United States history draws from Locke? Why do you select that document?
  4. In your opinion, why is John Locke considered a European Enlightenment thinker?

Activity: You will work with a team analyzing a quote from one of these European Enlightenment thinkers and answer the following questions. Select a representative to present your views to class. After presentations and discussion, you will complete an exit ticket answering the question, “How enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

Questions

  1. Where is the author from? What year did they write this piece?
  2. What is the main topic of the excerpt?
  3. What does the author argue about the topic?
  4. Why is this author considered a European Enlightenment thinker?
  5. In your opinion, what do we learn about the European Enlightenment from this except?
  1. David Hume (Scotland, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1779): “What truth so obvious, so certain, as the being of a God, which the most ignorant ages have acknowledged, for which the most refined geniuses have ambitiously striven to produce new proofs and arguments? What truth so important as this, which is the ground of all our hopes, the surest foundation of morality, the firmest support of society, and the only principle which ought never to be a moment absent from our thoughts and meditations? . . . Throw several pieces of steel together, without shape or form; they will never arrange themselves so as to compose a watch. Stone, and mortar, and wood, without an architect, never erect a house.
  2. Baron de Montesquieu (France, The Spirit of the Laws, 1748): “Political liberty in a citizen is that tranquility of spirit which comes from the opinion each one has of his security, and in order for him to have this liberty the government must be such that one citizen cannot fear another citizen. When the legislative power is united with the executive power in a single person or in a single body of the magistracy, there is no liberty, because one can fear that the same monarch or senate that makes tyrannical laws will execute them tyrannically. Nor is there liberty if the power of judging is not separate from legislative power and from executive power. If it were joined to legislative power, the power over life and liberty of the citizens would be arbitrary, for the judge would be the legislator. If it were joined to executive power, the judge could have the force of an oppressor. All would be lost if the same man or the same body of principal men, either of nobles or of the people exercised these three powers: that of making the laws, that of executing public resolutions, and that of judging the crimes or disputes of individuals.”
  3. Marquis de Lafayette (France, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789): “Therefore the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and of the citizen:
  4. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.
  5. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
  6. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.”
  1. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (France, Emile, or Education, 1762): “Women have ready tongues; they talk earlier, more easily, and more pleasantly than men. They are also said to talk more; this may be true, but I am prepared to reckon it to their credit; eyes and mouth are equally busy and for the same cause. A man says what he knows, a woman says what will please; the one needs knowledge, the other taste; utility should be the man’s object; the woman speaks to give pleasure. There should be nothing in common but truth . . . The earliest education is most important and it undoubtedly is woman’s work. If the author of nature had meant to assign it to men he would have given them milk to feed the child. Address your treatises on education to the women, for not only are they able to watch over it more closely than men, not only is their influence always predominant in education, its success concerns them more nearly, for most widows are at the mercy of their children, who show them very plainly whether their education was good or bad.
  2. Mary Wollstonecraft (England, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792): “Till women are more rationally educated, the progress in human virtue and improvement in knowledge must receive continual checks . . . The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is to be hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without danger . . . It would be an endless task to trace the variety of meannesses, cares, and sorrows, into which women are plunged by the prevailing opinion that they were created rather to feel than reason, and that all the power they obtain, must be obtained by their charms and weakness . . . It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world. . . . How many women thus waste life away the prey of discontent, who might have practiced as physicians, regulated a farm, managed a shop, and stood erect, supported by their own industry, instead of hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility, that consumes the beauty to which it at first gave lustre.
  3. Immanuel Kant (Germany, 1761, quoted in Achieving Our Humanity): “All inhabitants of the hottest zones are, without exceptions, idle . . . In the hot countries the human being matures earlier in all ways but does not reach the perfection of the temperate zones. Humanity exists in its greatest perfection in the white race. The yellow Indians have a smaller amount of Talent. The Negroes are lower and the lowest are a part of the American peoples . . . The race of the Negroes, one could say, is completely the opposite of the Americans; they are full of affect and passion, very lively, talkative and vain. They can be educated but only as servants (slaves), that is they allow themselves to be trained. They have many motivating forces, are also sensitive, are afraid of blows and do much out of a sense of honor.”
  4. Thomas Jefferson (British North America, Preamble, Declaration of Independence, 1776): “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
  5. Thomas Jefferson (Virginia, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785): “The first difference which strikes us is that of colour. Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf-skin, or in the scarf-skin itself; whether it proceeds from the colour of the blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race? . . . Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection . . . Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.”

Exit ticket: “How enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

Teaching with New Technology in a “New” Era

Teaching with New Technology in a “New” Era

Dean Bacigalupo, Dennis, Belen-Morales, Tara Burk, Alexa Corben,  Alexis Farina, David Morris, Madison Hamada, and Elizabeth Tyree

All school districts in New York State were required to develop a “Continuity of Learning” plan that could be used beyond the COVID-19 pandemic if a district is not able to have full “in person” instruction.

Dean Bacigalupo: Teaching 7th graders in this new Blended/Hybrid model, I fully understand the many difficulties student teachers are experiencing. I believe there are 3 immediate challenges that both they and their cooperating teachers have.

The first is becoming fluent in technology. Districts first had to adapt a learning management system. For my district and many throughout Nassau/Suffolk the LMS is Google Classroom. Most teachers and student teachers are not proficient in using this LMS. Within Google Classroom there is a “Suite” of applications/extensions that are helpful for online learning. Some, like Docs, Slides, and Sheets, most student teachers are proficient in. Others, like Forms, Meets, Polling, Jamboard they are not. I set up my class with student teachers through Google Classroom so they could experience a “student view” and become more fluent with this LMS. These are free to create, but there are additional extensions that can be purchased. There are a number of extensions that are also free that are linked to Google Classroom, and because of this have become popular among schools. These include Edpuzzle, Screencastify, Flipgrid, Jamboard, and Nearpod. Teachers are also creating a Bitmoji and Bitmoji Classroom. Like any technology today, they are relatively easy to learn/navigate, but users need time to become proficient.

At this point, I am learning student engagement increases when:

The second is understanding how to move from a “technology rich classroom” to building a blended/hybrid learning classroom community. Because of the “virtual” shift in the flow of information, students need to take a more active role in their education, and therefore as a teacher, I am learning that I must foster a classroom that is characterized by increased online engagement, student responsibility, respectful communication, and effective online collaboration as discussion becomes even more important when students are working remotely as students who complete work at home via computer can become isolated

  • Lessons are designed for students to play a more active role in their learning. If not, students at home begin to view their computer screen like a television, and become very passive throughout a lesson/unit.
  • Students need to be proficient in any program used. I assumed they knew more than me, but in reality there is much that students needed to learn, and teachers need to be prepared to teach the technology as well as the content of their lesson.
  • Classroom rules/procedures must have increased accountability/responsibility for students in the learning process. To help students with this transition, I include celebrations at the end of each unit of study and regular (at least once in every 2 week cycle) conversations with parent/guardian to recognize the efforts of the student, or provide guidance if a student is falling behind.
  • Teachers need to foster and develop an increased sense of autonomy and independence among their students. I have found giving students a choice in project based assessment helps to build this.
  • Teachers and students are a team and must rely on each other, and their classroom built on mutual respect. They develop a learning community that works together to discover and build upon knowledge.
  • Students need to know a teacher cares when they are not there. If a student is not in class, I will have a classmate text them that I know are friends or I will call them at the beginning of class. I also include a weekly message in our Classroom Stream to the entire class to remind them of the great things we are accomplishing as a group. 
  • The “in person” and “virtual” classes need to become one classroom. This is helped when student teams are designed to connect “virtual” and “in person” students. This also allows the teacher to connect with “virtual” students through the “in person” students in the classroom as opposed to joining a virtual breakout group. 

The third challenge is really more administrative. Schools and school policies were not designed for this type of teaching, and not all students are prepared for this type of learning. Initially, there needs to be ongoing staff training on rules/routines for students to help them to succeed in a virtual setting. Additionally, there needs to be support classes for students that are having difficulty with this shift in learning. For example, if a student is not proficient in Math, they are assigned an additional A.I.S. class to help. In many cases, I am finding students that are proficient in learning “in person” are failing in a virtual setting, but there are no supports available like A.I.S. to help them to develop the skills needed. Lastly, teachers need time. Districts scheduled classes as they always had, and did not recognize that this new Blended/hybrid model required increased parent/student contact, lesson planning, grading, learning the technologies, and increased collaboration among teachers. Administrators believe they are helping by emailing links and materials to support teachers, but many are not viewing these because they are struggling to keep up with their daily lessons and grading. 

David Morris: No matter how well they use tech tools, many student teachers and teachers are frequently not quite there when it comes to classroom technology. I have students in an introductory teacher education methods class do research and present about online tools. For every session students have to think of how they would teach the lesson using an LMS. Unfortunately, it is not as effective as it needs to be unless students are working at a school and have access to school accounts. I don’t focus on Zoom because I find that students already know how to use that tool. Almost every student in my class this semester in student teaching is using Google Classroom or Schoology. Some schools only have breakout rooms with this tool because it costs the district extra money to add other applications. All the Schoology programs are quite user friendly, but you can’t use them without an account.

The problem that many student teachers (and teachers all over the country) are having is that their students are not doing the work. Even in the most middle-class school districts, many students are just not signing on or if they do, they won’t turn on their video because districts do not require it. Several of my student teachers teach to black screens everyday and have never seen the students. One reported when she dismissed the class no one was there so no one left the Zoom room. She had been talking to herself for several minutes. Schools should require videos on if a student wants to be marked as present.

Madison Hamada: When people heard I was student teaching in a hybrid setting that has become the norm due to COVID-19, the look on their faces said they were happy not to be in my shoes. However, at least from a technological perspective, I learned a lot. I lost track of how many times I was told “new young teachers” would find the new technologies easy to use. While we may be more fluent in technology than older teachers, there is a major difference between technology and educational technology; “new young teachers” are right there with the veteran teachers in learning how to use it. I may be a pro on Instagram, but I had no idea what Edpuzzle and Kami were or how to use Google Meets Breakout Rooms until I started student teaching.

Though difficult and time-consuming to learn these technologies, teachers have a powerful tool at our fingertips and should utilize it. This unique school year provided that opportunity, particularly when interacting with remote students – not knowing if they were even ‘there’ since their cameras were off. I found that the more I infused my lessons with technology, the better my chances were that my students were ‘glued to their screens’ for reasons other than Tiktok and Netflix.

I modified activities that I would typically prepare for in-person learning and was able to engage students in this setting, but not without trial and error. I created virtual gallery walks, virtual museum tours, and utilized virtual reality and breakout rooms at every opportunity. I relied on platforms such as Nearpod, TedED, and Kahoot and created review games like Jeopardy to involve my students in the lesson daily.

My goal for student teaching was to foster a classroom atmosphere that was both intellectually stimulating and enjoyable. At the end of my placement, I asked my students to fill out a teacher review as a means of self-evaluation, to help me become a better educator. One of the most frequent comments was the gratitude for lessons that enabled them to actively participate in their education and to simultaneously communicate with their friends, which made learning more fun. The students appreciated my effort to create normalcy in a year where little exists. Although it took significantly more time to plan and create lessons, it was worth it to hear my students – whether in-person or remote – partake in lively discussion about class material “together.”

Elizabeth Tyree: I’m no longer just an educator, I am now an IT personnel as well. During the pandemic, I worked at a summer camp that was converted into an educational pod where students could come and participate in online learning while parents received childcare so they can continue to work. We had about 50 students throughout the week in grades K-8 from 4 or 5 different school districts. Each district had a unique schedule and different methods of educating during the pandemic. Some adopted a hybrid schedule, some remain fully online, some were stuck somewhere in between or switched between the two. Some schools even offered a fully asynchronous option before the school year began for parents who did not want to deal with the revolving door of school changes.

Most if not all schools use Google Classroom as their online home base. However, some teachers use Google Meet while others use Zoom for video calls. Regardless of the learning platform that the teachers use, the students are still struggling with the technology. With programs like Kami that can edit PDFs the students have generally learned how to use it, however, they constantly find issues with the program and often turn in work that is too sloppy to read. Many teachers, after months, were still learning how to use these online platforms, especially those who rely heavily on Google Classroom, which has more limitations than programs like Zoom. When simply looking at the technology there are many troubles that can arise. With every student online at some point during the week it can lead to system crashes, hackers, WIFI related issues, camera and microphone problems, and other unexpected issues. Most students do not have the developed typing skills to effectively communicate through chats when microphones are malfunctioning, and they cannot easily reach out to teachers so instead they sit back unsure what to do. Even as an adult, I cannot always figure out what the issue is and students miss out on valuable instruction. Students who are using Chromebooks, which are relatively inexpensive computers, find they have many limitations and/or technical failings. Something that I have noticed from the students’ side of the screens is that very few teachers branch out in class to differentiate instruction. When on a video call, teachers may pull up a worksheet or PowerPoint, but generally stay in a lecture-based lesson style. Students sitting behind a screen for an hour or more are zoning out as there is nothing attention grabbing in their lessons. The online learning is leading to simplified instruction that is not even using the technology to its full potential.

Technology can be very useful, but not when students spend their whole day in front of a screen. They are becoming more and more passive in their learning and missing critical learning skills. Many students struggle to read for long periods of time when the reading is on a screen, and annotating that reading is even more difficult. Teachers who rely heavily on reading during the pandemic have many students who underperform on assessments. It is not that the students are incapable of understanding the concepts, but rather that they struggle with synthesizing responses when their only sources of information are online readings. Teachers are making a strong effort in such a trying time. It is not easy to teach while relying on so much technology, so teachers should be commended for any and all good they are able to do.

Alexa Corben: Student teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic was certainly challenging, however, I had the opportunity to experience many different technological platforms to use in the classroom, especially in a hybrid setting. Along with learning about new technology, the pandemic also challenged me to design creative lessons. One thing that all the teachers kept telling me was, “we are all practically first year teachers.” By this they meant they were also learning about new technology and they had to change or redo lessons they had previously taught in order to be able to teach in a hybrid setting. The school where I student-taught used Google Classroom. I am familiar with some of Google’s “Suite” programs, such as Google Docs and Google Slides, however there are other programs, like Google Forms, Jamboard, Nearpod, and Google breakout rooms that I have never used before. Although I was not familiar with certain applications, I was fortunate that my cooperating teachers informed me on how to use them. Since the school was hybrid, I had to teach students that were in my classroom and students who were learning remotely at the same time. I felt that teaching the students who were remote was the hardest part because there were many distractions around them, and they were not required to have their cameras on. This meant my lessons had to be engaging in order to keep students focused and attentive. One program that I felt was extremely useful was Nearpod. One of the benefits of Nearpod was that I was able to play videos and insert questions while we watched the video as a class. In addition to this, I was able to see which students were answering the questions and which students were not. Students were also able to take notes while I was presenting the material which was saved to their Google Drive, so they could then go back to review their notes. Another program that was extremely beneficial was Google breakout rooms. It was important that students worked together, but because of COVID[HB1] , students were not able to work together in person. The breakout rooms not only allowed students to work together, but it also allowed students to work with others who may not be in the classroom that same day.

Dennis Belen-Morales: Teaching in this new era has been quite challenging. My students in the South Bronx and I have faced many barriers including access, transitioning, and administrative adjustments. As a first-year teacher who became a student teacher at the beginning of the pandemic I understand the struggle that students have trying to adapt to online instruction. COVID-19 turned our world upside down with many professionals working longer and more exhausting hours, including myself. As a first-year teacher my main priority has been to provide my students with conditions in which they can learn.

I teach in the poorest congressional district in the country and the financial situation of many of my students meant they lacked access to technology and the Internet. Even when they had computers, they were often outdated. To bridge the digital divide, I worked with a colleague, Pablo Muriel, to develop a website that allows students to do homework using a mobile device.

A big problem in New York City has been constantly shifting modes of instruction during the pandemic. At the start of the school year we used a hybrid model with some students online and others in the classroom. Then we shifted to all remote and by April 2021 the city planned to shift back to hybrid. This inconsistency has been tough on many of my students because as teenagers in working-class families they are often older siblings charged with making sure their younger siblings attend class either in-person or online while their parents are not home.

COVID-19 also complicated administrative planning. School coordinators and counselors struggle to design schedules that balance the needs of students with class-size restrictions and teacher schedules. Repeated changes undermine student-teacher relationships vital for educational success. The pandemic drastically changed the lives of millions around the world, including our students. The post-pandemic society and classroom will have to address the problems of interrupted, social inequities, and the availability of educational resources.

Tara Burk: I student taught at a specialized public high school in Brooklyn. In the 9th and 12th grade classes there was nearly full attendance each day, however 99% of students keep their cameras off for the entire class period. Based on my experience, in addition to making sure any technology utilized in the online classroom is accessible to all students, teachers should be flexible and adapt to the particular ways in which students are engaging with technology. Just because we cannot “see” students on camera does not mean students are not showing up to class, participating, and learning. For some students, they do not have the Internet bandwidth to turn on their camera or they are unable to because they are working or looking after siblings or have no privacy. For others, refusing to turn on their cameras may be one of the only things they can control and especially if most of their peers have cameras off it makes sense they would, too. We had students engage with the class by communicating in the chat, working on Google docs together during group work, and sharing responses in full class discussions when they can be on microphone. No matter what kind of technology a teacher uses, from Zoom to Padlet to Google Classroom, I think it is important to “humanize” the tech element by taking advantage of opportunities to connect with each student individually. If a student asks a question in the chat or on Padlet a teacher can be sure to answer it, either in the chat or during the lesson. If a student completes a homework assignment on Google Classroom, getting feedback from their teacher matters because it shows their teacher is engaged with their work and invested in their success. Since there are less moments for informal feedback, such as nonverbal communication, than there might be in a traditional classroom these kinds of connections matter more during online instruction. Finally, a teacher can use technology to check in with students at the beginning of the class and assess how students are feeling (asking students to use the “thumbs up,” “thumbs down” options on Zoom) or they can use this option for formative assessment during the lesson. Based on my experiences and observations, these suggestions are effective in building classroom community. 

Alexis Farina: Who would have thought that a child’s education would be dependent on a stable WiFi connection? The Covid-19 pandemic has completely transformed teaching and learning as we know it, especially during the peak of the virus when it forced many schools to offer instruction either hybrid or remote. As a teacher in early elementary education, I wonder how much the new technology will continue to shape education? Video conferences have replaced the traditional classroom setting, online assignments have taken away from paper and pencil, teachers are teaching children they have never even met in person, students are listening to stories being told on YouTube instead of gathering on a rug. A good portion of the school day was already dedicated to using iPads or laptops. I fear technology has started to take away the authenticity of school as education has become heavily reliant on it. One of the most difficult technological situations I face is teaching a class in person while solving tech issues for students that stream in for remote learning. It requires you to split yourself in half. Tending to the students in person and online simultaneously is almost impossible, especially in the lower elementary grades. These children are not yet completely independent, and most are still learning how to read so they need an adult to guide them.  When technology works, it’s great, and when it doesn’t, it’s detrimental.