snyder-125By guest blogger Lori Snyder, Choices Teaching Fellow and high school teacher from Longmeadow, MA.

I teach Asian Studies and Honors World History at Longmeadow High School in Longmeadow, MA, and I attended the Choices Program’s 2014 summer leadership institute, China on the World Stage: Weighing the U.S Response. As a follow up to the institute, this winter I developed and led a 15-hour course for teachers in my district. In this blog I’m sharing the course outline I developed. I cannot say enough about the positive experience I had both as an institute participant and leading the course when I returned. To anyone who is thinking about applying to this year’s 2015 leadership institute on the Middle East I say “Go for it!”

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The scholarship at the institute was top-notch and very relevant to what I teach. In addition, Choices curriculum, and especially the options role play, offered a fresh approach to the topic in my classroom. The opportunity to methodically go through a specific unit, prepare and perform the option role play, and collaborate with fellow teachers from across the country had a significant impact on my understanding of the benefits that the Choices curriculum has to offer, and its value to me as a classroom teacher. Finally, I found the session “Behind the Scenes at Choices” absolutely fascinating. We had a chance to have a panel discussion with the Choices writers and videographer who develop the curriculum. They are truly a bridge between the scholars and the classroom.

The course I developed for my Longmeadow colleagues was called Critical Thinking in the Social Studies: The Choices Program.

The class met for 6 sessions, for 2.5 hours each. The entire history department and several other teachers signed up for a total of 11 teachers. For completing the course, teachers received 15 hours of Professional Development Points and one in-district salary advancement credit (SAC). As the instructor, I had the option of doubling the PDPs and SACs or being paid a stipend of $750.

Session 1

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I introduced the Choices Program and approach to my colleagues. They participated in a values lesson, which introduces them to the concept of values and the role they play in formulating public policy. I also introduced them to the free Teaching With the News lessons and Scholars Online videos, both of which are free on the Choices website. I ended the session with a quick overview of how a Choices unit is organized. Teachers were given the opportunity to download the free Human Rights unit that is available as an iBook through iTunes. Finally, I assigned each teacher one of four specific Choices units including the French Revolution, Middle East, Afghanistan and Immigration, based on courses they teach, in order to do a close case study. All teachers agreed to do the background readings and study guides as preparation for session 3.

Session 2

This was primarily a working session in preparation for session 3. Each group gave a 30-minute overview and critique of their assigned unit, conducted part of a lesson from the unit, explained the unit’s options role play, and discussed how they envisioned using it in their classroom with their own students.

Session 3

Small groups of teachers presented their assigned units. Teachers enjoyed taking on identities and being interviewed for the French Revolution Newscast, analyzing the different causes for the Iranian Revolution, and reading different first hand accounts of various recent immigrants in America. During this session, we discussed at length how we would use the curriculum and how we might make changes based on the ability of our students. This session gave the teachers a good taste of the variety that Choices has to offer. Finally, the teachers voted and decided to do the Options Role Plays from The French Revolution and U.S. Immigration Policy in an Unsettled World.

Session 4

Participants prepped for the Immigration Options Role Play and the French Revolution Options Role Play. Teachers were expected to make Google presentations and to include relevant historical images and direct quotes from the provided materials.

Session 5

This session was dedicated to running the French Revolution role play and debriefing it. To start, I showed them the brief video on the role play that can be found in the Teachers Tools page on the Choices The teachers had a lot of fun being creative and critically selecting from the materials provided in their options briefings. We had presentations, props, music, drama and much enthusiasm. As a result, all of the ninth grade world history teachers have committed to using the French Revolution unit in June.

Session 6

In this final class we conducted the Immigration Options Role Play and we discussed the importance of an “Option 5” or a personal option.  This being our second role-play, we were all more comfortable with the process and felt that we did a better job allowing for cross-examination and impromptu questioning by the Senate Committee. We ended by discussing how we would evaluate our students and how we would deal with larger class sizes. Teachers then filled out an evaluation form for the class as required.

In addition to teaching this course, I also submitted a local grant proposal to see if we can secure additional funding to purchase more Choices units. I invited our new principal to observe the French Revolution role play session so he could see first hand the quality of the Choices Program and the professional, collaborative and collegial learning that was going on as an entire department. We will know by June if we received the grant.

I am so thrilled that I was able to participate in the 2014 Choices leadership institute and conduct this course for my colleagues. Everyone in my department is enthusiastic about this new source of outstanding quality curricula. Having the entire history department go through the process of learning the Choices approach together was a unique and professionally satisfying experience. Teacher feedback regarding the course was overwhelmingly positive. I anticipate that the department will be consistently using Choices curriculum for years to come.

Editor’s note: Applications for the 2015 summer leadership institute, which will focus on the Middle East, are due by Monday, March 16.