Middle School Social Studies Instructor
School Without Walls at Francis Stevens
Courses Currently Teaching- 6th through 8th grade Early American History
Courses Currently Teaching- 6th through 8th grade Early American History
Foothill Technology High School: Founded in 2000 as a technology and communications magnet school. Student population is 950. Ranked in the top 20 high schools in California, based on the 2009 Academic Performance Index (API), Ranked in the top 1% of schools in the nation, according to Newsweek. Named an AVID National Demonstration School in 2009. Instruction is set in a 90-minute block schedule and is heavily project and technology based.
Courses Currently Teaching: 10th grade College Preparatory World History and 10th Grade College Preparatory Literature. This is an integrated, project-based course where students read literature that corresponds to each historical period. Click here for the syllabus.
Courses Taught: 10th grade Honors World History, 10th grade Honors English, 11th grade College Preparatory U.S. History
Mentor- Grizzly Youth Academy (2012): Serving as a mentor for a former student who was at-risk and underperforming in the classroom.
Cooperating Teacher (Fall 2011): Worked with a student teacher from the Girvertz Graduate School of Education at the University of California Santa Barbara. Helped the student teacher create lesson plans and reflect on teaching.
Benchmark Exam Committee (2011): Worked in collaboration with teachers from the other major high schools in the district to develop a benchmark exam for all 11th grade U.S. History students.
Bo Teacher Workshop (2011): Travelled to the city of Bo, Sierra Leone. Worked in conjunction with "Friends of Sierra Leone" and "Schools for Salone" to share teaching methods with secondary teachers of all subject areas.
South Coast Writing Project (ScWriP) (2010): Attended a month long training session with 30 elementary and secondary teachers and graduate students at the Gervirtz School of Education.Presented on the use of Socratic Seminar in the classroom.
In Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, he describes a futuristic world where the people live in calculated harmony. The government controls information. Books are burned. Television dominates their entertainment and social interactions. People choose to live in an anesthetized state rather than confront their emotions. Marriages are in name only. Parenthood is a hobby done during the commercial breaks. Their world is sadly vacant and the human desire for connection to each other, the past and the earth has been dissolved.
Education, the system that perpetuates this society, consists of lengthy school days where the students sit in classes listening to transcribed history.Teachers rattle off fact after fact…answer after answer… without any questions or discussion. Clarisse, one of the most enlightened characters in the novel says, “It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not”(Bradbury 33). In other words, the philosophy of education in this novel is to provide facts without meaning. This is a death sentence for creative and critical thinking.
As a public school teacher today, there is pressure to teach a lot of information in a limited period of time.Students are exposed to up to seven different subjects in one year. In addition, students have the Internet at their fingertips.Whenever a fact-based question comes up in class, any student could pull out their phone and “Google” it.While it is a gift that we have a wealth of information available to us instantaneously, it can be overwhelming and the information can lose it’s significance—water poured down the spout and out the bottom.As teachers, we need to provide context for all of this information and teach them how to construct meaning so that they can think critically and understand how it contributes to the world
When students leave school, I want critical thinking to become as natural as breathing.I want them to remain curious and covet knowledge.Whenever they read a book, pick up a newspaper, hear a story on the news, or find a website on the Internet, I want them to rattle through a series of questions in their head: “Is this true?”“Is this viewpoint biased?”“Why is this important?”How does this affect society and the planet?”“What is my opinion?”“Is this just or unjust?”
In order to teach students how to think critically, there needs to be a lot of work and commitment on both ends. I believe that the best teaching happens when creative and passionate teachers work together on a regular basis to craft meaningful curriculum, and the best learning happens when students are actively engaged in the material.Over the past seven years, I have been fortunate enough to work at Foothill Technology High School.At this school, collaboration between like subjects and integration between subject areas is encouraged and supported.I have worked with a team of five other teachers to create an integrated 10th grade World History and World Literature course that we have called “World Humanities.”Over the past two years, I have worked with another teacher to collaborate on the U.S. History curriculum.
Working closely with the other teachers at my school has been an invaluable experience, and the best curriculum has come from a collaborative effort.It has been the culture among the team of teachers that I have worked with to constantly reflect and refine the curriculum that we have created.We act as sounding boards for each other on all topics in education including grading, concept attainment, vocabulary, writing, and behavior.We often ask each other: “Are they making connections?”“How can we improve their essays?”“How can we get them to analyze more?”“How does this concept connect to their lives?”“Should we give constructive feedback on all of their writing?”“How can we get them to listen to each other more during discussion?” There have been so many times when I have walked into another teacher’s room to borrow a video or a book.By the time the bell is about to ring, we have created an entirely new lesson plan.The process of reflection, questioning, and revision has been essential to crafting an interesting, meaningful curriculum.
At the end of the day, my hope is that when students are in my class that the information they read, hear, and experience is more than just “pouring water down the spout and out the bottom.” I want them to take ownership over their knowledge and apply the same learning process to the rest of the information they take in during their lives. When I think about the world that Bradbury describes in Fahrenheit 451, I think of a world of people who are terribly unhappy and disconnected. Helping students build their thinking skills teaches them how to interpret the world around them. My hope is that this gives them more fulfilling and connected lives.
Melissa Wantz is the English Department Head the journalism advisor and teaches 10th grade College Prep and Honors English and 9th grade Honors English at Foothill Technology High School. We have collaborated on curriculum for an integrated 10th Grade World History and English course. Click here to read a letter of recommendation written by Melissa Wantz
Cherie Eulau has been a mentor, colleague and friend at Foothill Technology High School. She is head of the Social Science Department and teaches Honors World History and AP Government and Economics. Click here to read a letter of recommendation written by Cherie Eulau.
Joe Bova is the principal of Foothill Technology High School. Click here to read a letter of recommendation written by Joe Bova.