Roughton Recommends

Sometimes I find something useful that doesn't quite fit into the unit structures above. Other times I'll have a lesson that just ends up working better than planned. I'll recommend those things here. I hope to update it regularly!

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I came across this book twice in the same day after having never heard of it before. That was a clear sign for me to buy it. It covers the topic of engagement which my readers should know is incredibly important to all teachers in my opinion.  The book shares that view. It is an easy read (easily finished in a few days) but provides great depth of information. It is largely about the philosophy behind teaching like a PIRATE but also includes some concrete examples. 

For the most part the author wants you to do the work of being creative. There are numerous brainstorming activities to get you to find what will work best for your students and your curriculum. While I like this idea quite a bit I would have still loved to have more explanation of his lessons specifically. The author is very responsive via e-mail so that option is there but I do like to take away something concrete.

That small criticism aside the book is a must-read in my view. It will join my "essentials" list along with Everything Bad is Good for You, The Essential 55 and The Global Achievement Gap. Don't miss it!
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Everything Bad is Good for You (Book)

I don't read a ton of books. I keep very busy with constantly creating. For me to really get into a book it has to offer unique ideas that I haven't seen elsewhere. This one, perhaps more than any other, does just that. While not specifically a book for teachers it has a ton to say about education in the modern world.

The premise of the book is that all those things that we are told are make us all stupider as a culture (particularly movies, television and video games) are, in fact, incredibly complex media that are making us all much, much smarter.

My favorite idea in the book comes very early on. The author asks the reader to imagine a hobby where the participant entered a fantasy world completely devoid of any social interaction. This hobby takes hours and allows for no creativity or direct interaction with the medium. 

What are you imagining? A book, right? 

Of course nobody describes books in such a way so why do we do so with other media? This book shows that any medium isn't automatically bad but can be used to increase our intelligence. It's easy to read and quite entertaining (especially if you are a pop culture nut like me) and gets my highest recommendation.

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I've read some interesting critiques of this new History Channel series. Some have said that is is far too focused on Western civilizations (true, and fair considering it is after all from a western source).  Others have said that it really doesn't provide much in terms of actual information (largely true as it seeks to cover all of human history in 9 hours  so depth is not a priority). Almost everyone has said that it is more flash than substance (very true, this is actually entertaining.) I agree with nearly every critique I've read and yet I love this series.

This series, like America: The Story of Us before it explore broad historical situations through very focused stories. It, for example, tells the story of Roman persecution of Christians through the lens of a 3rd century Christian woman who was begged by her own family to renounce her faith. Think of it like the voice-over letter reads from Ken Burns' The Civil War only dramatized instead of over-emotionalized. Of note, this 10 minute segment on Christian persecution in Rome is probably the best I've seen in any documentary because of how personal it is. As one who is very leery of any modern interpretation of historical Christianity it was a refreshing change. Unfortunately, as noted in the critiques, this segment only offers passing mention of other key figures like Diocletian and even Constantine. Unlike in modern textbooks which seek to diminish these people for political reasons Mankind does so out of necessity. In telling the common, human story it leaves little room for trivia or easily-tested facts. Again, I see the critique I just don't care. I'd much rather tell the story than a list of facts.

The personal stories they've selected are interesting on their own but the presentation of them takes it to another level. This is, in every way, a modern production. The reenactments are dramatic, well-shot, beautifully costumed and frequently intense. The use of modern action-movie techniques like speed-ramp and thumping music are prevalent. Is it Michael-Bay-Does-History? Maybe, to a degree. Who cares? When the best history books are described as "a great ride" why should history documentaries be any different? You can have flash and still have substance.

Mankind covers a huge breadth of topics from pre-history all the way to today. If you are a world history teacher of any time period it is well worth picking up if for no other reason to see it yourself (though pulling clips for classroom use is highly recommended as well - I've pulled a bunch already.) The focus on story is truly how history ought to be taught. Use it as proof-of-concept if nothing else!

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Flocabulary

I'm often annoyed at people who say we have to make history relevant for kids to want to learn it. I find that silly. History is always relevant to kids because kids love stories. So, it was with great hesitation that I finally checked out Flocabulary last week. It is a series of rap/hip-hop songs about a variety of topics. I picked up the Hip Hop History of the World disc and spun it.

I'm really impressed. First of all, the music is good. It doesn't come across as cheesy (ok, some of it is like the Renaissance song) as so many albums like this do. My students really liked it as music and I didn't hear one single snicker. Secondly, the history content is equally good. Some songs (like the Middle Ages Europe one) don't have a ton of relevant info but others seem to cover the entire unit of instruction in the single 3 minute song.

The only negative is the clearly political stance taken in a handful of songs. There are some that are clearly anti-Western in some of their lines. This has been well-documented and discussed with the Flocabularly people arguing they were just hoping to include other views in their songs. I don't buy that argument - they clearly are serving their own agenda - but I also don't particularly have a problem with it. It might keep me from using a couple songs in particular but there are plenty of good, unbiased ones too.

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Betterlesson.org

A simple website that should be used by every teacher everywhere. It is little more than a depository for worksheets, activities and lecture notes but it is very easy to use and is fully searchable. There are no limits on file sizes which is great for a media-hog like me. The site is free to use and everything shared is free too.  This isn't a marketplace for cash (like some other teachers paying teachers sites) but instead a marketplace of ideas for teachers. Make our profession better and post your curriculum!
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