Annie Brown

Annie Brown works as a high school humanities teacher, coach for new teachers and curriculum developer. Annie is a current member of the Los Angeles Facing History Teacher Leadership Team and writes frequently on topics in education.

Recent Posts

20% Time: Playing with Tech for Classroom Use

Posted by Annie Brown on January 15, 2016

Google's now well-known policy of allowing its engineers to spend twenty percent of their time exploring something that interests them has the goal of boosting innovation, creativity, and productivity. This idea of a "Genius Hour" has taken off in other workplaces and even some schools where kids are given more flexible time for exploration.

After attending the CUE conference about technology and powerful learning, Mary Hendra, Associate Program Director for Facing History in Los Angeles and Organizational Innovation, was inspired by this idea and her passion to incorporate technology into classrooms.

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Topics: Powering Up Facing History Lessons, Tech Innovation

A Conversation with My Father, part 2

Posted by Annie Brown on March 18, 2015

This week I continue the conversation with my father. To read the first part of this conversation, click here.

Even though the book was based on stories from my Uncle, I knew my father had done a lot of research by reading and even travelling to eastern Europe, so I asked him to talk about the role of research in writing fiction.

Research was essential and extensive. I needed to know everything I could about the places where events unfold: Prague, Terezin, Auschwitz, the forests of Poland. Likewise with the tenor of life year by year, where the story begins in innocence on through the relentlessly accelerating horrors of Hitler’s occupation, displacement, war, and mass murder. I needed to know more about the partisans, who were of so many stripes in so many places. There was one group, for instance, the Army Ludowa, who fought the Nazis for reasons of Polish nationalism while being every bit as anti-Semitic and dangerous to Jews. I had to go to all those places and contemplate what it was like to be there at that time: to be evacuated to Terezin, to live there in fear of disease, starvation, and death; to face certain death at Auschwitz-Birkenau; but then to escape and be liberated enough to fight back.

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Topics: Teaching, Identity, Holocaust, Holocaust and Human Behavior, Night, Partisans, Five Bullets

Facing History and Myself: A Conversation with My Father

Posted by Annie Brown on March 11, 2015

By all accounts, my father is a brilliant writer with nine books under his belt. Despite this, I’ve somewhat avoided reading his books–finding it a little strange to discover our family revealed in print, even wrapped in the protective cloak of fiction. Despite his work’s critical acclaim, I have only read a handful of his books. When his most recent book, Five Bullets, was released, he mailed me a copy with the inscription: "Time to face a bit of history, world and family all at once." This book was not exactly fiction; it was based on my dad’s uncle's experience during the Holocaust.

From my childhood, I have vivid memories of my Great Uncle Martin and, his wife, my Aunt Flora. He was a wizened and stoic man who generously put us up in his Lincoln Center brownstone apartment when we visited New York. My strongest memory is of him getting in his oversized American car, a Cadillac or an Oldsmobile, and seeing the whole steering column come booming down to his level, enabling him to peer over the dashboard as he drove us into Manhattan from Long Island. When I was young, I had no idea that his wife and children had been murdered in Auschwitz. I had no idea that he had escaped the concentration camp and fought with partisans in the woods of Poland. It can be mind-blowing when we realize how much we don’t know.

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Topics: Teaching, Identity, Holocaust and Human Behavior, Five Bullets

The Final Word on Class Discussion

Posted by Annie Brown on November 13, 2013

I might be pulling a “Christopher Columbus” and discovering something that has been there all along. But, my lesson last week felt like a breakthrough. I modified the “Save the Last Word” protocol and applied it to my whole class instead of a using it with small groups. The technique generated an amazing discussion and was so simple to use.

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Topics: Teaching Strategy, A View from the Classroom

Save the Darfur Puppy

Posted by Annie Brown on September 4, 2013

I informed my class: “Tomorrow, we are going to read an article called ‘Save the Darfur Puppy’” and my girls responded with a collective squeal of concern about the potentially small, cuddly, imperiled doggy they expected to discover. (I teach at an all-girl school.) I had not anticipated that the title alone would prove Nicolas Kristof’s point. In this 2007 New York Times article, he writes that people are much more likely to pay attention to the story of suffering of an abandoned dog than they are to news of millions of suffering people—human beings—displaced by war or genocide.

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Topics: Critical Thinking, Social and Emotional Learning, In the news, A View from the Classroom

Spiderman’s “Universe of Obligation”

Posted by Annie Brown on August 1, 2013

Peter Parker’s transformation into Spiderman provides my favorite example of an expanding universe of obligation. Some of my students are so young that they haven’t seen the movie. It doesn’t matter, everyone likes a good story.

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Topics: Critical Thinking, Social and Emotional Learning, Lesson Plan, A View from the Classroom

The Danger of a Single Story

Posted by Annie Brown on May 2, 2013

 

The “Danger of a Single Story”, a 2009 TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie, a young Nigerian author, provides a powerful tool for the Facing History classroom. In the twenty minute video, Adichie describes the powerful impression the multitude of British stories made on her as a young girl growing up in Nigeria. She argues that inherent in the power of stories, is a danger—the danger of only knowing one story about a group. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Adichie recounts speaking to an American student who, after reading her novel centered on an abusive male protagonist, lamented the fact that Nigerian men were abusive. Having just read American Psycho, Adichie returns his pity, and calls it a shame that “all young American men are serial killers.” The TED audience laughs at the absurdity of this generalization and her point is clear: on a micro-level, the danger of a single story is that it prevents people from authentically connecting with people as individuals. On a macro-level, the issue is really about power: almost by definition, there are many stories about the dominant culture so the single-story threatens to create stereotypes that stick to groups that are already disempowered.

After seeing this twenty minute video, I knew I wanted to share it with students. I’ve observed that Africa is often students’ default example of human tragedy—“starving children”, “war-torn societies” and other scenes of deprivation and scarcity are conflated with “Africa.” Adichie is articulate, insightful, empowered and engaging—I knew that just seeing her speak would shatter some stereotypes that students hold which oversimplify “Africa” and lump all Africans together.

[ted id=652]

Adichie’s video raises questions that fit directly with Facing History’s scope and sequence. Facing History begins with an exploration of identity with questions such as “Who am I?” “To what extent am I able to define myself?” “What labels do others place on me?” Defining oneself and the groups to which one belongs often means distinguishing “us” from “them.” As Rudyard Kipling writes “All the people like us are We and everyone else is They.” (Click here for Kipling's poem, "We and They") Adichie’s TED Talk shows how this “we/they” dichotomy is established. The We/They divide is an enduring theme which you can use in any humanities classroom.

I chose to use it in my eighth grade Global Studies course as a way to reflect after last quarter’s major assignment: a lengthy interview with a person from another country. This assignment is a part of a year-long “Country Project” where students choose one developing nation to investigate in depth. During the third quarter, students developed questions; scheduled, conducted, and recorded the personal interview. This goal of the interview was to move students beyond the statistics and facts they had researched about the country as well as to develop their interpersonal and interviewing skills.

The culminating assessment was a reflective essay about the lessons and content learned from the interviewing process. The students’ reflections revealed “aha moments.” For example, in her essay Ashley wrote of her great revelation that Chipotle was not “real” Mexican food and, to her surprise, burritos were an American concoction with roots in California. This felt like progress; but though I was encouraged at the baby-steps, I also realized that students might have trouble discerning the opinion of one Mexican person from a fuller picture of Mexico. Each student gained so much respect for the life story of the person they interviewed, that this person became the authority on anything about the country. I could see how new knowledge could be greatly over-simplified and generalized. I decided to complicate my students' thinking by introducing “The Danger of a Single Story."

The Lesson:

  1. I asked students to spend five minutes doing a free-write (journal-entry) about “The Power of a Single Story.”
  2. I just put the topic on the board and asked them to write about whatever came to mind. I stressed that this was not about correct grammar or spelling and that they should just let their thoughts flow.
  3. Students shared out that a single story can inspire, it can teach a lesson, provide a personal connection, build respect, or evoke emotions in a way that statistics and cold facts cannot.
  4. I told them that we were going to watch a video entitled “The Danger of a Single Story.” This jolted some of the students because they were confident that single stories were so valuable.
  5. As they watched, I asked them just to listen and record the main points that Adichie makes.
  6. After the video finished, I had students spend three or four minutes talking to their partner about the main points and listing three “take-away points.”
  7. Students shared these and we connected it back to our own interviews.

My students were moved by the ideas. The simple message was clear: do not stereotype. But, they picked up on the nuance of all of her points. This video clearly has many classroom applications and I would love to hear from other Facing History teachers about how they envision using this resource in the classroom.

 

Click here to see another teacher's take on short videos useful in the Facing History classroom, from our sister blog in Toronto: ONnetwork.facinghistory.org

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Topics: Critical Thinking, Social and Emotional Learning, Lesson Plan, A View from the Classroom

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