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New assessments challenge American Studies students

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Posted: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 10:16 am | Updated: 10:20 am, Wed Nov 27, 2013.

FREEPORT – A social studies teacher and two of his students provided insights into a high school interdisciplinary course called American Studies, which covers U.S. history and 11th-grade English, during a Nov. 20 meeting of the Regional School Unit 5 board of directors.

Teacher Charlie Mellon said that, unlike other courses at Freeport High, American Studies meets every day. It is a requirement for juniors.

Following Mellon’s introduction, students Abby Gray and Margo Ruby made poised presentations to the board.

“There are five teachers on the American Studies team. They include myself, Geoff Dyhrberg, Kathleen Jones, Rich Robinson, and John Stivers,” Mellon said. “Over the past couple of years we have spent a lot of time trying to identify and implement standards into the American Studies curriculum. This year we started implementing our first standards-based assessment.”

Mellon went on to explain that the team first identified four standards from the Maine Learning Results, the Common Core literacy standards for social studies and the projected Common Core 11th-grade English standards.

“In addition to implementing standards, we wanted to make this assessment interesting for students so we decided to give students as much choice as possible,” he said. “We decided that we would have summative assessments at the end of each of our four units of study. These four units of study are framed around four essential questions: What shapes identity? Who wields power? What is progress? And what is the responsibility of an American?”

At the end of each of the units, Mellon said, teachers wanted to design a prompt that the students would have to answer. In their answers, they would have to demonstrate understanding of one of the four standards and, by the end of the year, they’d have to demonstrate understanding of all four. In addition, they would get to choose how they demonstrate their understanding. They chose between a speech, a research paper or a visual.

“Like the standards, however, at some point throughout the year they would have to complete all three,” Mellon said. “Teachers broke students into groups and had them design posters that present the standards in their own words.”

Gray and then Ruby, aided by a computerized projection, presented the board with their perspectives, which, they said, were quite different.

Ruby described a book she produced about a Revolutionary-era doctor, which she entitled, “A Day in the Life of Benjamin Rush.” Rush, she told the board, was born in 1745. The projector displayed the doctor’s life and the treatments he used.

Ruby said the project enabled her to bring science, a discipline she enjoys, into social studies, which is not her favorite.

Gray wrote a speech about a young woman and her family who were captured by a Seneca Indian tribe. The family was forced into the Indian culture, she said, and was moved into an area that is now Ohio.

“They trembled in fear,” Gray said.

That fear was short-lived, she said. The Indians welcomed the woman and her family and offered to let them leave, but the family opted to stay.

In an email he sent to Tri-Town Weekly Nov. 21, Mellon described Gray and Ruby as “independent learners, who are inherently motivated, and curious.”

“Abby is a vocal leader and Margo is more of a quiet leader that lets her work do the talking,” he said.

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