Designing Women, Part II

My main image for organizing the course, with image from Library of Congress

Last month, I wrote about my initial work designing my Intro to History of American Women’s Rights this fall. As I think I hinted at, I want to keep checking in on this course to let you know how it’s going, hold myself accountable through this blogging process, and to document my first opportunity to teach women’s history in a high school setting.

After writing last month, I stepped away from most of my teaching work for the month of July. July became, instead, a month of reading (mostly for school), momming, and just trying to be. (Oh, there was also the several intense weeks when I wrote a book chapter related to my academic research, but that’s another story.)

Last week, I got back into the teacher prep groove a little bit. My son had his final summer camp from 9-3 each day, which gave me a break from #momming (as I’ve taken to calling it) and a few precious hours between drop-off and pick-up to pull together whatever I could. I didn’t start with Women’s History, but it’s where I ended up, and I’m feeling excited about where things landed.

On Friday, I tweeted this thread:

Thanks to that thread, I got connected to someone with Makerspace experience in social studies, and got some great ideas over the weekend when @womnknowhistory tweeted it out again to their followers.

In this post, I want to give a bit more update and what’s up next. If you have ideas or want to know more please feel free to @ me – I’m happy to talk more and open to new ideas.

Theming the Course (Design Update)

I’ve spent the past year following John Meehan’s work on twitter, and read his new book, Edrenaline Rush back in June. I’ve played with his approach a bit this past year, and my goal this year is to do more of it. I don’t quite call my plans “gamified,” but the idea of creating a cohesive theme and look/feel to my course resonates, as does – in particular – John’s Break-In ideas and the way he adapts Literacy Centers to create a game-like environment in the classroom. A lot of my individual lesson-planning this year will take inspiration from John’s approach.

All this to tell you: one of the things I’ve settled on is the look and feel of the course, at least from the perspective of visuals in the classroom. This is small beans, in one respect, but it does give me a way to visualize things and it just…I don’t know. I find it comforting. So last week, in addition to the content- and skill-focused work I did to prepare the course, I spent a bit of time thinking about the course visual design.

I created this Google Slide presentation to serve as a guide. Here you’ll see the main title (Beyond Suffrage – sort of my unofficial course name) and the title of each “unit,” which I’ll refer to as “parts” instead.

Again, this is simply a visual guide. It gives me a way to visually frame each of the four course parts (aka units), and it’s something I find helpful at this stage.

Course Content

I’ve never taught a senior elective, although I’ve taught a few one-trimester courses. I’ll have 34 classes to meet with students, and when you boil it down to that amount of time (even if some of those are 90-minute classes), it doesn’t feel like much. November will be here before we know it, and that already makes me sad.

In other words, there’s no way I can teach everything I want to teach, so in true survey style, we’ll try to touch the highlights. We’re reading most of Estelle Freedman’s No Turning Back, which I’ve got timed to take us through mid-October, with a chapter due roughly every other class period so we can discuss the writing in more depth. We’ll use Alexis Wiggins’ Spider Web Discussions, although I will likely modify and inject myself a bit more since I have only about 10 students in the class right now.

We’ll move a bit quickly chronologically through American history, starting with the colonial era and ending in the present. We’ll finish content by the second week of October. In addition to No Turning Back, every class or two will feature primary sources from Freedman’s edited volume The Essential Feminist Reader.

Activities and Assessments

We’re wrapping content in mid-October for a good reason: I want to give a good amount of time to our final project.

The only thing is, I have no idea right now what that project will look like. I’m still working to formulate a driving question, but I know I want to focus it in our Makerspace and give students voice and choice in using Makerspace tools to tell American women’s history in a way that they can really embrace. There are many ideas for this, such as having them design a monument or a museum, or other options. I’ll come back to this in future posts as it gets clarified.

In line with that, I want to focus much of the course on how we use objects and material culture to study history. It’s something that often goes hand in hand with women’s history, and it’s not something we do much of at my school. With this in mind, we’ll consider physical items like Martha Ballard’s diary, teapots and the Revolution-era boycott, quilt-making, 1950s home ec books, etc. Each content class will have an object or set of objects associated with it.

I want this to be a class where we do history, and to that end, other activities in the works include:

  1. Diving into yearbooks from the women’s school our institution developed from.
  2. Transcribing suffrage documents from the Library of Congress
  3. A field trip to a local historic cemetery to learn about the local suffrage movement (crossing fingers – still working on this)
  4. Connecting students with people to do oral histories with (mostly about the women’s school – and again, still in the theoretical stage but hoping this works out)

It’s not often that I get such a focused topic and such a small class. My hope is that this class will be unique in many ways, an opportunity for me to allow students a chance to shape their learning experiences and for all of us to really expand our understanding of American women’s history.

Clearly, I have a lot of work ahead. I look forward to sharing where things are next month, and in the meantime – don’t be a stranger! Would love to talk more about this.

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