Designing Women (Part 1)

Readers, it’s summer. It’s that glorious time when teachers (like me) can kick back, relax, and just be in the peaceful bliss. (At least in theory. You probably already read a bit of my end-of-school angst and excitement here.)

I wound up spending most of my June in reading mode. It became a really good decision for me, because I had piles of pedagogy books I wanted to read and had no idea where to begin with the course planning that I so desperately want to tackle this season (also, when your kid is at a 3-hour-a-day summer camp for a week, books seem more digestible in those short spurts of time).

In the final full week of June, I began to switch gears, and readers, that’s what I wanted to talk about today: designing an intro to women’s history course for high school students.

On my first day of planning, I decided I’d document my efforts on Twitter, mostly in the hopes of keeping myself on track:

Read through to see the thread of what I worked on that day…

All in all, I felt the day was pretty successful. I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted, but I made a good start. Below, I’ll expand on that process, talk about what changed later in the week, and explain where I am now. Hint: if you have ideas/experiences, please @ me!

Part 1: Logistics

I teach at an independent JK-12 school. This fall, I’ll teach our department’s first-ever-or-at-least-in-more-than-a-decade Intro to American Women’s History.

Students: Currently 9 of them, mostly seniors. This could change slightly, but I’m not likely to have more than 10-12 students tops.

Timeframe: We work on trimesters, which means I’ll see them from mid-August to early November. (August 20-November 7).

We also have a modified block schedule on a six-day cycle, which means that over the course of six school days, I will see them four times: 1 45-minute class, a 90-minute class, a 45-minute class, a 90-minute class. (Wednesdays reduce everything by 5 or 10 minutes). We take off for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hoshanah, plus conferences in early October.

In all, I expect to have 35 class meetings with them.

Considerations: I teach in a 1:1 laptop environment, have a fairly strong background in GIS, really dig research, and have access to a great maker space.

Course Readings: Estelle Freedman’s No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women and The Essential Feminist Reader. I selected the former to accompany class content and serve as homework; the latter is for us to use the primary sources in class.

Part 2: What have I gotten done?

Well, I thought I had a lot done. As you can see in my twitter thread, I brainstormed key concepts/questions, I broke up the Freedman course reading, and I began thinking about big moments in history.

I also started with the idea that our final project might involve creating our own Women’s History Museum. I was inspired when I heard Allison Lange tweeting about her participation in the National Women’s History Museum visioning sessions last month:

By the time I ended my first day of planning, I felt I had a pretty good grasp on these things:

  • Big assessments: finish with designing a Women’s History Museum, plus have them research an individual and do a smaller project on that person, focusing on writing and presentation skills (and giving students choice on when they could complete that assessment, within a framework)
  • Standards: While not as fully articulated as they need to be, I’ve got a preliminary list to work from so I can finalize and also create my essential questions.
  • Reading: I figured out how to break down Freedman’s work into manageable chunks, with time built in to class for Spider Web Discussions

While there was clearly more work to do – a lot of nitty-gritty, day-to-day, and things like that – I felt pretty good about things.

And then I talked to another colleague and things started to really change…

Part 3: I’m not lost, I promise

A couple of years ago, we opened a maker space on campus, and the history department trotted over to see what it was all about. In the final week of June, I went over for the second time in my life to chat with the director about ideas for incorporating maker space into the course.

When another colleague (higher up the food chain) suggested incorporating maker space, I kind of freaked out. I had no idea what that might look like. I was thinking digitally, not physically. So I came up with an idea: the students could design and fabricate a souvenir for the museum exhibit they would create.

Um. Well, that’s a bit lame, I see now. It’s not horrible, but after talking with the maker space director and thinking a bit more collaboratively, I realized that it’s the sort of project that makes maker space more of an after thought, rather than an intentional, meaningful component of a project.

Here’s what happened, though: in the half-hour I spent chatting with our maker space director, I began to see things in a totally new way. As I began to think about the possibilities of integrating a maker space mentality into my women’s history classroom, I began to see curricular connections that weren’t readily available to anyone else.

If you’re not familiar with maker spaces outside of STEM, here’s a sample story: a school in California has students research a famous woman, then use that knowledge to design and fabricate a monument for her. I knew about that example, but had completely forgotten of it in the context of this new course.

Okay, what happened next, Tanya?
In the midst of this conversation with our maker space director, I began to see for the first time why and how Maker Space could be relevant to teaching women’s history. I started thinking about women’s history and material culture, everything from Martha Ballard’s diary to women’s quilts.

Material culture/object history isn’t something I’ve ever done a lot of, but as someone who’s studied women’s history, it’s certainly something I’m aware of and can bring into the classroom, and this feels like the perfect space to do it. Women’s history is a course that is inherently wound up in object history and material culture, in finding history in those places where we don’t always have the written word (or oral histories).

With that in mind, integrating maker space makes good sense.

And it’s raised a whole new set of questions for me. I’ve spent the last week and a half thinking – just thinking – about this course and how to reimagine it from what our usual history classes look like.

In some ways, I feel stuck. I feel like I have an opportunity to design a course with a small group of students on a topic that they all chose to study – and that as a result, this could be a very collaborative educational experience for all of us. I’m thinking of something that isn’t your traditional history course – the assessments might look really different, and the framework as well.

Maybe this becomes a course that starts with questions and clear articulation of what I hope we’ll accomplish, but then blends in what they want to accomplish and learn, so that we learn the history, but also take this course in whatever direction most makes sense to them.

I’m not lost. I’m just trying to think through how this course could be something very different than what we typically imagine a high school elective to be.

Do you have examples? Ideas? Want to know more? I’ll keep bringing you into this journey in the coming months, but please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have thoughts to share.

2 thoughts on “Designing Women (Part 1)

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