Saturday, December 27, 2014


This message is from a highly capable high school senior,
Class of 2015 (name withheld)

Digital Side Effects:

In my opinion, technology’s place is not in the classroom, at least not for the most part. Sometimes it is necessary, but most of the time, it only serves as a distraction and offers activities that inhibit productive, successful learning.

At my school, students are allowed and actually supposed to use laptops to take notes during each class, unless the teacher specifically instructs otherwise, which they rarely do. Sitting in class, I often see other students’ laptops open to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, celebrity gossip websites, even Hulu, a website for watching TV shows. Then, a few days later when we have an assessment, students will anxiously ask a number of questions on the material taught in class while they were surfing the web. The entire class is slowed down, everyone’s time is wasted, teachers are disrespected, students come to value web surfing over learning, students retain less information which then makes for a shakier foundation for learning more in the future, and students learn to prefer cramming, or come to see cramming as the only way to prepare for assessments.

Additionally, technology can help students get out of doing assignments in the way that will most benefit them. For example, students will look up how to solve a chemistry or a math problem, rather than completing it themselves independently. Students will look up summaries of English texts to avoid having to actually read the full work. Students will look up translations of Spanish assignments to avoid having actually to read the full text in Spanish. Perhaps, using technology, students can still temporarily do well on in-school assessments, but in the long term, which truly matters, students will not be prepared for the challenges in their future and their career.

Many middle-school-aged boys, such as those at my younger brother’s school, are addicted to video games. After being introduced to video games, often through their classmates at school, these students cannot stop thinking about the games. Perhaps their parents and teachers will impose restrictions on when and how long they can play the games, but the entire time they are not playing games, they are probably thinking about, and looking forward to playing, the games. In that sense, the video games distract them almost all the time and have a large negative impact on their lives, especially their academic lives.

In the summer of 2013, I attended a math research summer program where instructors created made-up names for math theorems, concepts, and conjectures they were explaining, so that students would not be able to search for them using technology and thereby escape the crucial learning process. Overall, the program was a success largely, or at least partly, because of that practice, and students were able to learn much more, develop their math skills more, and discuss much more as a result.

Monday, December 1, 2014


The Concord Review—Varsity Academics®

        I am happy to send along this letter describing both “logistical” and pedagogical dimensions of how I have used The Concord Review in class since employing the first class sets in the 1988-89 academic year. You know from the fact that we have expanded our class subscription “coverage” from all U.S. History classes to all U.S. History and World History since 1500 classes that we have been very satisfied with the Review. In fact, I am glad to say that, due to an expanding school enrollment, our class set for this year will number about 80 subscriptions. 

        In terms of “logistics,” the system we have employed here has been simple and consistent with the way we deal with texts in all disciplines. Our students purchase their texts, so as students move through our bookstore before school opens, they mark the texts they need on a list, and the above-noted classes simply have The Concord Review listed as a text.

       Pedagogically, I (or other appropriate instructor) view each issue with an eye toward an article or articles which are appropriate for any part of the material under current or imminent study. Because of the wide range of subjects and chronological eras covered in each issue, it is pretty easy to discern immediately one or more articles which will be applicable and useful. I do not feel compelled to put the Review in student hands the day the issues arrive, but rather plan ahead. For example, I might be covering mid-19th century reform in U.S. History when new issues arrive, but will hold off until we are doing the Civil War to distribute the Reviews and assign an article on some phase of the Civil War. The girls are told to treat each issue of the Review as an extension of their texts, meaning that they must hold on to each issue, for additional articles may be assigned from a given issue later in the year. Again, given the wide range of topics and eras covered in the typical issue, it is not unusual for me to be able (again, as an example) to assign an article from one issue on the Civil War in December, then go back to the same issue in April for an article on some portion of mid-20th century History. Students have been great about this, and are thus prepared throughout the year.

        As to the articles themselves, I have found several uses for them. An obvious advantage of the articles in the Review is that they are scholarly and informative, and, as my students have noted, a refreshing break from the text (this is a comment I frequently hear). Secondly, the articles, in addition to being scholarly, are readable, and the “right size,” and thus readily accessible to high school students. Even “popular” history, such as found in American Heritage [now gone] and the like, can be “too much” for high schoolers, as the articles can be too long or presume too much a priori knowledge. The articles in The Concord Review are substantial and appropriately challenging, yet “intellectually digestible” for all students, not just the gifted few in an AP section, for example.
        In addition to providing excellent reading, allowing for deeper exploration and discussion of some aspect of history, the Review provides an excellent methodological model. All students in History at Santa Catalina must write research papers based on both primary and secondary sources, with the length and quality expectations of the papers escalating appropriately from freshman to senior year. Sometimes, as you well know from your own teaching experience, explaining “arcane” items like where to put footnotes, etc. to students can be like trying to explain what “pink” looks like to a person who has never been able to see. The Review puts in students’ hands excellent History, not only in terms of content, but in terms of methodology as well: footnotes, bibliography, placement, and all the other details. I have found it helpful not only to have students read an article for its content, but then to dissect it methodologically, asking my students (as appropriate to their level) to identify primary as opposed to secondary sources, to suggest what other sources might have been helpful, which sources might have the most credibility, and so on. We can thus effectively and efficiently combine quality reading with critical thinking/analysis and a methodology “practicum.” 

        The fact that teenagers are always highly interested in what other teenagers are doing is helpful, for the articles hold something of a natural attraction to the students. In addition, they are always impressed that students like themselves can produce such high-quality work. Many teens are used to hearing how poorly their age group is doing academically, but The Concord Review is refreshing proof that such is not universally the case!

        I could go on anecdotally for quite a while, but I think that would result in an excessively long epistle! Suffice it to say that my students (yes, even those who don’t “like History”) find the Review informative, accessible, and instructive, not only in terms of material they are learning, but also in terms of critical thinking and mastery of historical methodology. In a time when those of us who teach History frequently find ourselves hard-pressed for classroom time in meeting our goals, the Review is truly “triply rewarding” for students and instructors. I cannot imagine a junior high or high school History course which could not benefit immediately and tangibly from having its students use The Concord Review.
December 2002, Broeck N. Oder
Chair, Department of History, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, California 93940

The Concord Review 730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury, MA 01776;