Abstract: Under the tutelage of our host teachers, Ms. Smith and Ms. Heins, and with the leadership of lead student intern Kathryn Hirsch and a core of dedicated undergraduate student volunteers, the cooperative program with the North Star Academy eighth grade global studies classes have progressed steadily. Five of our student interns shared their experiences and learning with these North Star classes, while many more provided logistical support and worked on material for the National History Day (NHD). We have navigated past unanticipated logistical problems, assessed the strengths and weaknesses of what our student interns may offer, and have a clear idea of what we are able to accomplish for the spring semester and beyond. Most of spring 2013 semester will be used to provide logistical support for the North Star students participating in the National History Day activity. Some of our student interns participating in study-abroad opportunities will begin to provide material for teachers to utilize. If the logistics can be managed, we hope to invite the North Star students and teachers to visit St. Scholastica towards the end of the semester to share their National History Day projects. Our host teachers and some of our student interns are also planning to share their experience with the World History Association conference in Minneapolis during June, 2013.
I. Summary report, Fall Semester 2012, The Middle Ground Journal undergraduate interns and North Star Academy Eighth Grade Global Studies classes taught by Ms. L. Smith and Ms. E. Heins. Some preliminary lessons and prospects for the Spring 2013 semester.
II. List of undergraduate student interns who participated.
For pictures of our student interns, please click HERE.
For information sheets drafted by undergraduate interns for North Star Academy students participating in National History Day, please click HERE
For information on the journal and the student interns, please join us at: https://www.facebook.com/middlegroundjournal
I. Summary report and prospects, 2012-2013
The Middle Ground Journal student intern program started cooperating with North Star Academy in Duluth, Minnesota through a successful pilot elective program with a group of middle school history students in the spring of 2012. Moving into the 2012-13 academic year, as North Star developed a new eighth grade global studies curriculum, our host teachers Ms. Lynette Smith and Ms. Erika Heins generously offered to involve the Journal in the process of development and in classroom instruction. This provided our interns the opportunity to work on multiple aspects of teaching a middle school course, with the hope that we would provide valuable assistance to our North Star teachers in a fruitful and mutually beneficial collaboration.
Originally we envisioned outlining the thrust of the course and units within that framework, creating teaching materials, finding and vetting other resources, attending classes frequently to observe and aid teachers and even occasionally present or instruct, all culminating in the North Star students’ National History Day projects serving as a sort of final project for the course. We began the year with a good-sized group of interns (almost twenty) who had committed to this year’s program at the end of the previous academic year and felt reasonably confident in making our plans. Dr. Liang met with North Star teachers before the year began to devise a broad overview for each month’s focus, and lead intern Kathryn Hirsch met with Ms. Smith in August to review and discuss how the program would get going in September. As other interns returned to Duluth for the start of The College of St. Scholastica’s fall semester, the group was in contact via email. Interns were given the outline for the global studies course and some volunteered to lead the work on months in which areas of special interest to them would be addressed. Ms. Smith and Ms. Heins would be handling September’s introduction to global studies without our input, allowing interns to observe classes and giving a fair amount of lead time to prepare for October’s focus on globalization and related economic themes.
Although intern Sam Hoffman (Economics major) was capably working on our contribution to October’s lessons, it was apparent early on that we had bitten off more than we could chew. Scheduling was a serious and persistent problem; it was extremely difficult to arrange intern meetings. The majority of student interns met initially on September 6 after much negotiating and arranging, and there have been periodic meetings throughout the semester, but as a group we have yet to manage a meeting with all in attendance. Getting interns into the North Star classrooms was harder than meeting. This was in part due to simple bad luck; the class times were in conflict with almost every intern’s schedule for their own classes.
It became obvious that the vision of a close and constantly-involved collaboration we had at the beginning of the school year was not going to work out. Despite the number of interns overall, those who actually could come to classes and work on teaching materials were few. On October 18, Kathryn met with the North Star teachers, and while plying them with lattes, explained that the interns’ contribution would be less than promised at the start and asked how they would like to continue, if at all. Being the wise and professional teachers that they are, Ms. Smith and Ms. Heins were not shocked in the least that the ambitious plan would need to be revised. It was decided that in the interest of only making commitments we could be sure to meet, the scope of the interns’ contributions would be narrowed to observing, one or two guest speakers per month who would present on topics with which they had personal knowledge and experience, and helping as planned with choosing topics and researching for the students’ National History Day projects.
Interns Sam, Misha (Math major), and Kathryn came to Ms. Smith’s classroom in early October to watch the documentary Always Coca-Cola_ about the company’s operations in Germany and India. [Note 1] We watched segments, pausing to discuss economics points that the students had learned about, unfamiliar terms, and the ways issues it brought up related to globalization. From there, it seemed that all roads led to Coca-Cola, and for Ms. Smith’s classes it has become a touchstone in discussions about transnational corporations and the economic, environmental, cultural, and other implications of globalization.
Intern Andy Fellows (History major) gave an Election Day presentation to three classes on government systems, specifically the many iterations of so-called democracy existent in the world. Misha came to speak with the students about imperialism, past and present, and talked about cases in Latin America but also shared his personal perspective and experience as a native of Ukraine, and James Arroyo-Roppo (GCL major) spoke with the students about Bolivia. At the end of November’s unit on Latin America, several interns as well as Professor Liang, chief editor of The Middle Ground Journal, came to assist as the eighth-graders played a role-playing simulation game with an outline devised by Ms. Smith, Sam, and Kathryn based on an RPG found online that was in turn inspired by post-earthquake Haiti. [Note 2] For our purposes we simplified the exercise and reduced it to three phases, with discussion breaks in between. It was chaotic and definitely experimental, but raised issues in a different and memorable way to be worked on further in subsequent class periods.
Choosing a topic for National History Day (NHD) projects is a perennial problem for students and the teachers who help them with the task. This year’s National History Day theme is “Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events”. With that in mind, Journal interns came up with possible project topics and wrote one-page summaries to serve as examples of what the rough structure of a project could be and how one might begin to research.
The final presentation of the semester was on December 18, in the midst of finals week. David Walsh is a psychology major/French minor at CSS, and though not an intern with the program, he kindly agreed to come share his knowledge as a native of Melbourne, Australia with the North Star students during December’s unit on Oceania and Antarctica. As all previous speakers, he made the rounds between three classes, spending a little over 30 minutes with each group of students. He was an excellent guest speaker and it made for a fine end to the semester’s activities. David’s successful presentation reinforced something that our North Star teachers pointed out but all had observed, namely that interns are not teachers (at least, not yet). Our classes have excellent teachers already; the best contribution the interns can make is to share what they know without trying to do everything that a teacher must to lead a class and in so doing, they will be teaching.
Moving into the spring semester, we have much to do and our challenges remain. Work on National History Projects will continue, and plans are underway for the students to visit St. Scholastica in the spring to share their final projects and celebrate the collaboration with a gathering of college students and faculty. This should serve chiefly as a reward for the North Star students, who are as eighth-graders somewhat reserved about it but nevertheless clearly pleased to be working with college students and professors. It will also be a good way for all involved to mark our relationship as two institutions of learning in a common city.
We have several more presenters planned as well, who will visit over the coming months during which the eighth-graders will be learning about Asia, the Middle East, Africa, North America, and Europe as they pertain to global studies. There is, of course, much ground to cover, but so far this first year of global studies is progressing well under the leadership of Ms. Smith and Ms. Heins, so there is reason to be confident it can be accomplished with a valuable level of success.
The more limited plan for our contributions is attainable but will require timely work from interns performed independently. No schedules have magically opened up so careful planning will be needed. All of the Middle Ground Journal’s student interns are full-time students with a host of other activities and commitments, and their devotion to the project is evidenced by our intern meetings held on Friday evenings and Sunday mornings. However, it must be said that differences in levels of effort and commitment contributed to the degree of seriousness of the problems that emerged as the semester unfolded. There was no correlation between how busy or overextended a given student was and the amount of their work for the Journal; those who carried their weight and then some were not any less busy than the others. One of the heavy-lifters will be spending the semester studying in Washington, D.C.; the potential impact of one intern’s absence was not anticipated at the early planning stages. Possibly the greatest schedule-related disappointment has been that one of the four eighth-grade global studies classes has been all but completely neglected. We will work to fix this situation one way or the other over the next semester.
Looking at the next semester, we remain optimistic and enthusiastic. Many factors are in our favor. It should be of great help that we are already up and running; unfortunately, it took longer than an ideal length of time to ramp up at the beginning of the school year. Our teachers are flexible and willing to experiment with confidence that they can derive some value from untested activities, and North Star has longer-than-average 80-minute class periods that ameliorate some of our scheduling incompatibility by allowing us to divide our time between groups when we are able to make it to the school. The core group of interns working on the project have worked out a way of operating that is serving us well, and we share a resolve to make the modifications needed and improve on our work from the fall. The failures we have had have taught us valuable lessons, and the success we’ve had, albeit modest so far, has been gratifying.
II. The Middle Ground Journal undergraduate interns who participated
A. Student interns who have been in class
Kathryn Hirsch (History/Russian) – Lead Intern - Observing and Teaching
James Arroyo-Roppo (GCL) - Observing and Teaching
Lee Bongey (PSEO) - Observing
Andy Fellows (History) - Observing and Teaching
Sam Hoffman (Economics) - Observing and Teaching
Misha Ignatenko (Mathematics) - Observing and Teaching
Ellie Swanson (English; Education MA Program) - Observing
David Walsh (Psychology, French) - Teaching
B. Student interns who have contributed other related work
James A.-R.- Attends meetings, answers emails, & National History Day (NHD) summaries.
Nay Ye Aung (Marketing) - attends meetings when he can, responds to email, and is an excellent sounding board for ideas.
Lee B. - meetings, NHD summaries
Marin Ekstrom (GCL) – M.V.P. of NHD summaries and came to a Friday-evening mtg.
Andy F. - NHD summaries; has attended meetings. Andy can be relied upon to have at least one brilliant idea per meeting.
Sam H. - Lots of outside work, incl. NHD summaries
Misha I. - Lots of outside work, incl. NHD summaries
Stephanie Jenson (History and Education) - NHD summaries
Ellie S. - helped practice RPG, read over some drafts Kathryn wrote for the next day, NHD summaries
[Note 1] Jeb Sprague should be credited for writing the original RPG that we practiced with and modified. It can be found at the following url:
[Note 2] http://www.journeyman.tv/56368/short-films/always-cocacola.html
Always Coca-Cola, Film, Inge Altemeier and Reinhard Horning, June 19, 2006, Surrey, UK: Journeyman Pictures, 2006.
(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 5, Fall, 2012. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal's not-for-profit educational open-access policy.