Government – Local and State

This is inspired by a former education professor of mine who is big on teaching government beyond the federal level, since the local and state levels are where we have most of our personal encounters with government.

A good starting point is Lessons On Local Government. (With thanks to the instructor mentioned above for the link.) Note the sponsors of the site, and consider the role that Special Districts play in our day-to-day lives.

Two sites that will help you keep current on the relevant issues facing local and state governments are RouteFifty and CityLab, both parts of the The Atlantic family of publications. CityLab deals specifically with urban issues; RouteFifty has a broader focus. Both have daily newsletters that’ll give you a quick look at what they’re covering.

Check out ‘None Of These Votes Are Easy’: Learning The Ropes On City Council, which is from NPR’s Been There (“lessons from a shared experience”) series. It was one of the best government stories I’ve heard in some time. (I understand that the above story is also on the Lesson On Local Government Facebook page.)


Tech challenges – slowing down audio for ELL students

I take requests. This one is from Jason.

Situation: Middle School – Social Studies class

Lesson Plan: Utilizing YouTube’s crashcourse channel to show a video from one of the History playlists (there are several, and a bunch of other subjects as well).

Problem: The dialogue was too fast for some of the ELL students to follow. Could it be slowed down?

Solution: As a former library tech geek, I still follow relevant tech topics. I’d come across an article where the author spoke of speeding up the playback of some of the things he watched to make them take up less of his time. If that could be done, then it should be possible to slow videos down as well.

The solution is the VLC video player (software), from the folks at VideoLAN. Perhaps the most versatile video playback software around, it’s available for a number of operating systems (Windows, Mac, multiple Linux flavors, and even Android) and can play back just about anything you’ll ever encounter. (I made sure to have it on all of the library computers for which I was responsible.)

Download and install it. When you run it for the first time, be sure to go to the View option on the toolbar and check Advanced Controls. You’ll notice that this adds a second row of buttons in the lower left-hand corner of the player interface. One of these is a Record button – it’s possible, while playing something back, to hit Record and save just the section of a video that you need for class. That’s a lot quicker than using fast forward to find a particular scene.

For slowing down playback, you have two choices. If you use the [minus] key on the number pad, the playback is reduced in increments (2/3, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 of the original). If those increments are too large, go to Playback in the menu bar and select Speed. Each time you select Slower (Fine) the playback speed is reduced by 10% of the original speed (.9, .8, .7, etc.). The distortion of the voices during a reduced speed payback is minimal, so your ELL students should be able to follow it.

Playing back a YouTuble video is straightforward. Find the video you want on YouTube and copy the URL in the address bar. Open VLC, and from Media in the address bar select Open Location from clipboard (Ctrl+V is the shortcut). Paste in the URL and hit the Play button under the URL box in the popup.

(If you’re playing a video from the YouTube site directly, there is a speed control that you can get to via the Settings icon in the lower right corner. It offers fewer playback speed choices, and the sound distortion is greater than in VLC’s slowed playback. On the other hand, YouTube offers a Closed Caption option for subtitles; that isn’t an option if you play the YouTube video with VLC.)

What I haven’t tried: using the Record option while playing back a slowed YouTube video. If it worked you’d have a copy of the video at a slower speed, right there on your computer.


Immigration – Government and Sociology

Living in an area with a significant ELL population of students made the issue of immigration relevant on a personal level, even before I had a spouse with a foreign passport and green card.

With our current administration populating government with people who are not only against illegal immigration, but against immigration in general, the information at iAmerica is important and timely. Of particular interest is their Know Your Rights section, with information relevant to any government class that discusses the issue, and possibly to students in that class.

For a look at life as an immigrant refugee (Syrian), check out the New York Times series Welcome to the New World, a graphic novel telling of a true story. The series started just after the Inauguration, and is ongoing. Another view, from NPR’s Here & Now series: Afghan Refugee Family Finds New Home in Maryland.

A key part of the immigration discussion is The Wall. It takes more than politics to respond to such a proposal – see Trump Proposed a Wall – They Imagined How It Would Work. There are links in the article to most of the short films and animations mentioned in it, as well as other related material. (Be sure to watch any videos before sharing them with students – my favorite one from the article might be teacher-appropriate, but it’s definitely not classroom appropriate.)

U.S. History, World History (and a few other areas) – Re-examining the past

The past isn’t just what happened, it’s what we make of what happened later on.

The Washington Post offers Retropolis (“The past, rediscovered”). For the New York Times, it’s the Retro Report (“Essays and documentary videos that re-examine the leading stories of decades past”).

The Atlantic (formerly The Atlantic Monthly) has been around since 1857, and is the reason articles from the 1800s and early 1900s can be found in my files. A few of those links can be found here.

A podcast with a similar approach can be found at BackStory, a project of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. With archives going back to 2008, there’s a lot of topics covered. (If you go to the Show Archives, you can sort by topic instead of by year of broadcast.)

Most of the articles from the links above concern U.S. History. There are a scattering of World History and Sociology articles, and a fair number of Science articles (everything we teach has a history of its own). The Atlantic has more Language Arts articles than the other sources, a few of which show up via the link above. The New York Times series, which goes back to 2013, even has some Foods articles of possible interest.

Paywall trick for sites that limit your monthly articles (via a column in one of the above publications): Most sites use cookies to keep track of how many articles you’ve seen, so clearing all your cookies solves the problem. BUT: doing so may delete cookies you want to keep, so a preferred alternative may be to use the browser’s privacy mode (Firefox: Private Window; Chrome: Incognito Window; Edge: InPrivate Window), which doesn’t save cookies after you close it.

World History – Russian Revolution

It’s the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Check out the New York Times series Red Century (“Exploring the history and legacy of Communism, 100 years after the Russian Revolution”) for articles on the events of the time, and the implications since then.

Government – Taxes and Spending

Discussing taxes in class? Check out the TaxJazz – The Tax Literacy Project web site, the project of a law professor at Tulane.

Where do our taxes go? That answer can be found at USAFacts (“Our nation, in numbers.”) While government financial data is a major focus, it also covers demographic information (“Who are ‘the people’?”) It uses the four missions of government, as outlined in the preamble to the Constitution, as an organizing framework. Steve Ballmer (with an impressive list of partners) is behind the project.