US History 1, M1 Reflection: Colonization

Posted in MOOC, US History 1 tagged at 4:50 pm by

These slave-grown products stimulated a consumer revolution, enticing the masses of Britain and then Western Europe to work harder and more continuously in order to enjoy the pleasures of sugar, tobacco, rum, coffee, and eventually, cotton clothing. It was New World slave labor that ushered in the consumer culture we know today. In addition, the slave trade provided stimulus to shipbuilding, banking, and insurance; and Africa became a major market for iron, textiles, firearms, and rum. – Digital History

This is a particularly interesting quote to me. The idea that one of the most popular pillars of Western society was driven by slave labor is antithetical to me. I am a consumer and consumption of goods is one of the major ideas that the American economy is built on, but yet the inception of this phenomenon was and has always been a divider of people. Consumer societies almost always drive the creation of higher and lower classes of people. Maybe if there was more of a return to creating or building the important things in our lives, then we might be able to level the economic playing field a bit more between groups of people…or potentially even more importantly today, between the human race and all the other races of plants, animals, bacteria…etc that are so out of balance today.

Sustaining Life and US History

Posted in Biodiversity, MOOC, Native American, Sustaining Life, US History 1 tagged , at 10:52 am by

I am currently studying a variety of different ideas (as is usual to my scatterbrained approach to my own academic development). These include the book Sustaining Life in preparation for my upcoming Edx class, Colonization and Development of the New World (the topic for this week in my US History 1 class from canvas), and the various podcasts I listen to.

It is fascinating to me how we have been setting up our current crisis in Biodiversity really from before we colonized this country but certainly in an accelerated fashion from that point. It seems that the oppression in Europe in the time before colonization that set up the diaspora of European concerns propelled by people seeking something different was a direct result of oppressive religious groups. Can we really trace the ideas that led to our current dire crisis directly to the monotheistic ideas that resulted from domination of people by theocrats? I don’t know. I’m not the person to make that direct argument but they certainly seem linked to me.

Christopher Columbus: Hero or Zero?

Posted in MOOC, US History 1 tagged , , at 7:52 am by

What is Columbus’s legacy–discovery and progress or slavery, disease, and racial antagonism?

This is the question posed in the reading early on in my US History 1 class readings from the Digital History Website. I think this is an interesting question. Working as I do at a boarding school for Native American students I see and hear daily examples of anger and resentment of the steps my family would commonly consider as progress in our Westernization of the Americas.

The Digital History website traces the movements of tribal peoples in the Americas, including development of their cultural, agricultural, religious and social structures up to the invasion of their space by Europeans and then poses the above question. The text makes it clear that the divided nature of the tribal systems that people lived in made them vulnerable to the disease and division that occurred within the time of colonization, but does not tell how that same society welcomed many early settlers, helping them to adapt to the ecosystems here in the Americas. It is interesting to me that Christopher Columbus that is villianized when, to me, much worse offenses were committed by those who actually did the “settling” and “governing” of the land. The human drive to discover new places will always be there and would have happened with out the intrepid Mr Columbus, but the monarchs who thought that they could take and own a thing already owned I think are much worse as are those who came after and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the land they took already had owners but demonstrated no human decency toward those they stole the land from.


Public School Relevance in an Era of Educational Choice

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:36 pm by

As a public school teacher I believe in the public school system. I believe it is important for every person to be educated, both for the success of our society and for the success of our country. Over and over again though I see more and more educational choice open to our students. They don’t have to go to a public school to receive their obligatory education. There are charter schools and online schools they don’t even have to pay for. If families still want more choice there are always private schools where all of the resources parents pay for actually go to their own child’s education. This is different from the public school system where between 30 and 40 percent of the district’s resources go to 5% of the school’s population and that 5 % is not the most intelligent portion of the school population.

Students are highly intelligent. They are consumate consumers of education. They can identify immediately if a class is helpful to them or if it isn’t. What they sometimes lack is a vision for their own futures, but then who are we to say that we really and truly know what they actually need. Our world is changing so fast and their world will change even faster. How can a system still largely based in the industrial revolution era really be relevant to our children today? Is the way we teach truly beneficial to our children? These are the things I wonder when I stop to take a breath between lesson planning, mountains of grading, and the latest edicts from overstressed and overtired administrators.

What do you think?

Summer 2013 – The Summer of the MOOC

Posted in Effective Teaching, internet access, Success, Technology Literacy, Web 2.0 tagged , , at 2:28 pm by

This summer I am conducting my own online professional development. I have subscribed to (probably too many) MOOCs – Massive Online Open Courses. I’ve signed up with the following services:

My Goal:

I want to learn how digital instruction can best be delivered and how students can best collaborate online. I also want to think about how I can apply these techniques to my version of a flipped class with a classroom set of iPads at school this year. Wish me luck! We’ll see how it goes!


The Courage To Teach 1

Posted in Effective Teaching, Ontology at 3:31 pm by

When I was going to school to become a teacher and writing my thesis paper on teaching I read a book called, The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer.  This book transformed my thinking about teaching.  Then I graduated and it sat on my shelf for about 10 years.  I recently picked it up again and was inspired for the second time.  This summer I plan to read and reflect before I begin again with teaching next year.

“This book is for teachers who have good days and bad, and whose bad days bring the suffering that comes only from something one loves.  It is for teachers who refuse to harden their hearts, because they love learners, learning, and the teaching life.”

Palmer speaks about the fact that we focus on the what and why of teaching, but many times we fail to consider the “who” of teaching.  The person who creates the learning space is very important to the process.  Knowing ourselves as people is important to the teaching process.  As much as we prepare and care for our students, our subjects and our classrooms we must also prepare ourselves.  This is essential to good teaching.

My Own Preparation

This summer I plan to think about myself in the classroom.  When am I an effective teacher?  How do I prepare my heart, and myself for the classroom?  I believe that becoming effective in the classroom requires that we consider the following:

  • Honesty
  • Empathy
  • True listening.

What do you think?  Does a teacher’s mental state of mind affect his or her performance in the classroom?  How do we teach from our hearts in the classroom?


Philosophy of Education

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:28 pm by

Recently my new school supervisor asked for my philosophy of education.  After giving it a lot of thought here is my response:

A Successful Classroom

I believe that students learn best when they are able to interact with concepts and then make their own meanings from them.  They need to “try it out” and then read, see, hear about or discuss the concept or skill.  Students also need to think about or discuss how they completed a skill.  This helps them repeat successful patterns and revise ideas that don’t work.  The role of the teacher in a truly successful classroom is that of a coach or master learner who helps apprentice learners (students) achieve mastery of the skills and concepts taught.  The teacher continually assesses students and reteaches or varies instruction based on that assessment as well as the input of her team of teaching peers.

Goals For Students

When my students enter my class I have two goals that guide my teaching practice.  First, I want them to become accomplished scientists with a clear understanding of background concepts and the ability to investigate new ideas using a variety of science skills.  Secondly, I want them to become 21st century learners and thinkers, able to use technology effectively, work in collaborative teams, and communicate ideas and results.


These ideals translate into action in my classroom.  I use a variety of instructional techniques including lecture, cooperative learning activities, socratic questioning, projects graded by rubric, as well as worksheets.  Each is a tool with an appropriate place and time.  As a learning coach I try to make myself and my class materials available at all times through my class website (mssigman.weebly.com).

I also feel that it is incredibly important to assess student progress often, using a variety of formal and informal techniques.  These include tests, quizzes, tickets out the door, and cooperative learning (Kagaan) techniques.  Because it is essential for students to understand their progress, I try to grade assignments and hand them back quickly.  Students can then use that information to improve.

Personal Growth

Over my eight years of teaching I have become more and more interested in helping my students too construct their own ideas and less and less interested in telling them what to think.  As this shift has happened in my thinking I have changed my classroom practice.  Currently I am more and more interested in shifting my classroom activities so that information gathering (what used to be lecture) happens outside of class and we spend class time practicing skills and interacting with the subject together.  My current syllabus reflects this.  My future goals include guiding students to prove competency using products that reflect grasp on the content and demonstrate skills that will make them successful in today’s workplace.  I would also like to extend learning outside of the classroom, both in a physical sense (developing the school’s swamp into functioning wetlands), and in a “cyber-sense” (collaborating with scientists and other classes over the web).


Student Learning Survey

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:47 am by

Please click on this link and fill out the survey to help you think about the connection between how your grew up and your learning skills and style :)



Valuing the Native Tradition in a Pan-Tribal Setting

Posted in AVID, Boarding School, Native American, Success at 11:46 pm by

I teach at one of the boarding schools for Native American students.  At my school we have students from 17 different states and 72 different tribes.  I teach one of the AVID elective classes at our school.  If you have never heard of it AVID is a school change program that promotes college readiness for all students at a school and not just the “smart” or well-trained students.

I am not Native.  This is important only in that it means that I do not automatically understand what my students are thinking all of the time.  I have to work at it.  Sometimes I feel like the blond girl in a blond joke.  Everybody in the room “gets it” except for me.  I have come a long way towards understanding but sometimes I still get things wrong.

As a result of my AVID class last year I am attempting to make my class more accessible to my students.  I want to value the way they learn and to present content in a way that is accessible to them.  Because AVID deals so much with the skills that are required to be successful in college and life after college in our dominant culture, we consistently try to teach students those success skills.  Success, however, is a culturally defined concept.  You might think someone is very successful and I might see them as only moderately successful or even unsuccessful depending on our differing frames of reference.  Because my class contains students from so many different traditions and backgrounds that definition is different for every student.

You might think that the students’ home culture defines their ideas of success.  I know I certainly did when we started but I am learning that their ideas of success change with every person we invite into our class to speak as well as their feelings or goals that day.  Ideas of success that resonate with a vast majority of my students are successful people who give back to their community.  These people use their own traditions and beliefs as the setting for their success.  They use the tools of the dominant society but never forget their home.  They use their own understanding and ways of learning and they integrate skills from the dominant society to achieve goals that usually involve contributing to their own communities.

My challenge is to help my students base their success in their own tradition (keep in mind this is different for each child) while they are at the same time isolated from that tradition.  I also need to teach them the skills and tools that define or lead to success in our dominant society.  Then they need to learn how to adapt those tools to their own definition of success and their own goals.

So far I try to listen a lot.  I try to bring in speakers who are Native and have become successful.  We as a community do not let others come into the class and tell them what their definition of success should be.  I teach the skills that are sometimes so foreign to them.  I try to teach using many different tools because they all came from different traditions that learn in different ways…but most of these ways have nothing to do with the Socratic methods of direct instruction and the assembly line model of education today.   I feel like these things are not enough.  There has to be something more I can do to help them….

Ideas always help :)


People who resist change

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 8:34 pm by

I returned to my current school after a hiatus of three years to teach middle school in Phoenix AZ.  As I came back I noticed some really disgruntled teachers.  There was much more complaining in the staff room.  It was common to hear, “Well we never used to do that,” or, “I don’t see why she (the principal) has to change things!”  Teachers previously entrenched in their own classrooms had united behind a common cause.  They want the principal out.  They’ve gone so far as intentional sabotage, intentionally misinterpreting the facts and slandering her to her superiors.  They even have a name and secret meetings for their little group.

What has the principal done that was so heinous as to incite a rebellion?  Let’s see, she has forged a partnership with local police to get drug dogs on campus, dramatically reducing the amount of drugs.  She has asked teachers what they needed to teach well and gotten it for them.  She has sent teachers to numerous trainings to help them to teach better in their classrooms.  She has brought in team building groups to help the teachers forge professional relationships.  She has asked teachers over and over to improve their teaching and brought in coaches to help them but not punish them.

This all at a school where up to 4 or 5 years ago teachers could show a movie pretty much every day of the week with no repercussions.  Some teachers actually did.  Students were outright sleeping on the floors in class without being awakened by staff.  Teachers would teach an 80 minute class period by handing the students a text book and a worksheet and sitting down to play solitaire.

I find that I have absolutely no patience for people who resist change like this.  Teachers were always the people who I believed had the best interests of the students at heart.  I want to make smart alec remarks and tell them that they are idiots.  This is not what I do.  As a teacher myself I try to be excellent at what I do.  I listen and talk to anyone on staff at the school.  This is my attempt at team-building.  I will help any other staff member no matter how much I dislike them.  This is my commitment to myself and my students.  I wish though that we could cut through all of the B. S.  I wish professional teachers actually said what they mean.  I wish people did not have to be so adamant about resisting change.  I wish professional people cared more about students than they do about their own comfort.

If you read this please feel free to send suggestions.  I’m out of ideas.

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