Mr. Geib’s Music Challenge

I always wish I could use more music than I do in my classes. I even have a sign in my classroom from Roseanne Ambrose-Brown that says, “We know an age more vividly through its music than through its historians.” But in Advanced Placement classes the curriculum was so full that I rarely had time …

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My Letter to Me

Your life could be this easy: you know where you come from, you know where you are, and you know where you want to go in life – and then you plot a plan to go to where you want to go, and then you go there. The problem is that so many students don’t …

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Change Versus Continuity

Historians speak fluently and often about the relationship over time between change and continuity. Some historians spend entire careers spanning decades looking at one period of time in the past and debating with other historians (past and present, and also future) about how much had really changed. As an Advanced Placement United States History instructor, I …

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The Philosophical Tradition, Updated

I was a passionate reader of Henry David Thoreau, and getting to read and discuss his book “Walden” with Advanced Placement English students was a true pleasure. But I had long noticed many of the same ideas Thoreau banters back and forth had been stated in similar manner by the stoic philosophers of antiquity centuries …

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The Declaration of Independence, Applied

A big part of the AP English Language and Composition class is rhetoric: how to use language to convince, the formal architecture of argumentation. Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence” serves as a great blueprint for introducing such foundational terms as “inductive” and “deductive” reasoning in rhetoric. And so serves this assignment. The intellectual justifications besides, …

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2003-2004 American Experience Class Video

I made a class video for the second time I taught “The American Experience for the 2003-2004 class. In retrospect, I am amazed I was able to make such a video above and beyond also building the AP curriculum, delivering the lectures, grading the essays, running the cram sessions, and writing college letters of recommendation. …

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WWII Encryption Test

At the end of my WWII unit, students had gained an appreciation for the value of breaking the enemy’s codes — the British against the Germans, and the Americans against the Japanese. In that spirit, three or four days before the breathtakingly hard assessment for the Great Depression and World War II I announce with …

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A History of Me

I used this assignment at the beginning of the year. The goal was twofold: firstly, I wanted students to look at the major events of their own young lives; and, secondly, I wanted them to connect those personal moments to other important events in the wider world. Young people often have trouble relating anything that …

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The Sad Case of Dan James

In a very “teachable moment” I read in 2008 of the assisted-suicide of Dan James who traveled to Switzerland to kill himself after he suffered a spinal-chord injury while playing rugby in the UK, and I decided to make this the topic of my final assignment for the euthanasia unit in my Bioethics class. After …

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Equality Versus Excellence in America

Another tension in the American dialectic that I wanted students to focus on and join in on was the following: excellent versus equality. Americans have always wanted individuals to have the freedom to choose their own paths without interference from others. At the same time, when individuals become too different in terms of the accretion …

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The “Melting Pot” and the “Salad Bowl”

One of the complicated concepts I wanted students to examine in my “American Experience” class was our identity as Americans. A nation of immigrants, to what extent should we Americans hold on to the heritage we bring from other countries — our immigrant heritage? And to what extent should we leave behind that heritage and …

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You, the Freelance Journalist

In this assignment students are taking on the role of a journalist in 1859 who has been contracted to write a review of upstart new poet Walt Whitman’s Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking for a fictitious newspaper called the “Long Island Daily News.” Students must make a close reading of poem, while explaining why …

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Student As Legislator

I always loved teaching this project. Or, more to the point, I loved watching students squirm and struggle to solve almost an impossible problem. Conventional thinking is not going to get it done in this project; one has to come up with something drastically different, unconventional. I would start the project by showing the famous/infamous …

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Change Versus Continuity

Historians talk often about interpreting any period of time (especially times of reform and/or change) in terms of change versus continuity. How much did the United States change from 1763 to 1790? From 1850 to 1876? From 1920 to 1933? From 1960 until 1975? In this assignment I have students make a brochure where they …

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Critical Transfer of Power

In various complicated presidential elections, I like to slow the events of that time down and inspect exactly what happened between the election and the inauguration of a new president. In the elections of 1800, 1824, 1860, and 1876 I have students complete a storyboard about what happened step-by-step as the country waited to understand …

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The Declaration of Independence, Applied

I use Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence” to instruct students on the rudimentaries of rhetoric: deductive and inductive reasoning, etc. This is in addition to teaching the history of what was a legal document creating a state, declaring war, and explaining the cause thereof. Afterwards I have students make their own declarations of independence, and …

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The New Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds

This group project takes the events of August 1945 and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and looks at them from various perspectives: Harry Truman, an American soldier, a scientist from the Manhattan Project, and a Japanese survivor. Each will present their views on the first use of nuclear weapons in combat, and then …

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Abraham Lincoln: Rhetor Extraordinaire

This project intricately inspects the idea of Abraham Lincoln as a master wordsmith and forces students to see the verse in Lincoln’s prose poems in his major Civil War speeches: students in groups of four take his paragraphs and convert them to stanzas, following the logic and flow of the clauses – the music of …

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Civil War Newspaper

This project takes both major and minor personalities from the American Civil War and forces students to research their points of view and experiences and then report them from the first person in what becomes a full length multipage newspaper designed with print journalist software. I had hoped to take these newspapers and sell them …

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Thomas Jefferson: A Re-Evaluation

Perhaps the most ambitious project I ever created, the dreaded “Jefferson Project” looks at the historiography of Thomas Jefferson from multiple different sources and challenges students to cite and explain the various opinions about Thomas Jefferson through American history, and then to add their own opinion. This research opinion starts from the polemical assertion by …

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American Experience Rap Video

Improbably, I starred in this rap video about the “American Experience” course in the spring of 2005. Making this video was a heavy learning experience in using the Apple music editing program “Garage Band,” as well as in speeding up the music by 50% while lip syncing it and then slowing down the video footage …

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The Bards Appear!

My Advanced Placement classes were very focused on certain ideas, events,  dialectics, and trends in the American historical and contemporary experience. Students had little control of the curriculum which moved quickly and deeply, although they were always encouraged to develop their own unique responses to larger historical debates. But at the end of first and …

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2002-2003 American Experience Class Video

In the full flush of my powers as a teacher, I embarked in 2002 on The American Experience class; in this unique class, I was both AP English Language and Composition and AP United States History instructor, and I saw my students for a full hour and a half every day. This interdisciplinary class for …

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“We Were There…”

This group project takes the events of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and has them acted out in an in class simulation. But there is one catch: we use the modern media and tactics of contemporary lobbyists to weigh in on one side or another. This allows students to learn the politics of that …

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Odysseus Needs a Job

A quick and easy assignment that takes the events of The Odyssey and allows students to get practice making cover letters and resumes. The California State standards say I must teach business letters and applying for a job, so I created this assignment with Homer’s story of homecoming. The assignment sounds like a lot of …

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Shakespeare in the Quad

Shakespeare, from the student perspective, only begins to make sense really after one has acted his plays out. One learns line by line, struggling with the language; then there is the intonation, the framing of the shots, and the acting… It is a enormous amount of work. This project allows students to take responsibility for …

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Dear Joey…

Back in the days when I was first beginning to catch fire with regards to project-based learning and curriculum “backwards planning,” I created this project to culminate a “media literacy” unit. I never had the time to use this lesson, nor really intend to teach it; I just made it out of the love of …

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Little Book of Life Instructions

I tweaked a unit taught by a former colleague at Milken and gave it a technology application in Life’s Little Book of Instructions project. Not terribly ambitious academically, it allowed students during the difficult months of “Farch” to have a hand’s on ability to link Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” to their own lives. …

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Mustapha Mond’s Department of Propaganda

I was given my first “Honors” class in the fall of 2001 and I had much to prove as a teacher. First, I called each and every student during the summer before school and congratulated them for getting into the advanced English class on campus, and promised them I would do everything I could to …

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FTHS Travel Agency

A group project that sets up a mock travel agency that employs students to conceive, plan, budget, and then explain and market a vacation to a certain part of the world. Students had to research on the Web what actual airlines, railroads, hotels, and restaurants cost as they made up a tour of a certain …

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Ars Poetica

I hooked into the very cool Favorite Poem Project from and out of Boston College, and after showing multiple instances from that program towards the end of my poetry unit I had students make their own presentations on their favorite poem. Between the speakers from the FPP and my own examples, a very personal unit …

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Odysseus Letter Assignment

I have actually done this assignment over many years. In groups of four students must choose a character from The Odyssey and write a letter to Odysseus during the time he was away from Ithaca. If you hover over one of the pictures on the webpage, you will see a link to student work. Students …

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My Personal Budget

I introduced this project thusly. “Don’t like living with your parent’s rule? Then quit complaining, get a job, move out, and pay for your own upkeep!” This  project directs students to gain employment, find housing, arrange for transportation, make a budget, and then examine the cost of living on various incomes. “Do you think it …

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Brave New World? Or Slouching Towards Gomorrah?

I designed this project immediately after I joined the staff to help found Foothill Technology High School in August of 2000. FTHS was created as a project-based school focusing on technology, and every single 9th grader completed this project and thereby signaled a new way of teaching in the “new school in town.” We made …

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Islam Webquest

As opposed to Berendo Middle School where I was pretty much left to “sink or swim,” Milken Community High School invested serious time, money, and attention to my professional development. In 1998 they paid a consultant to fly from New York to LA to train myself and several other Milken teachers over two full workdays …

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Arkansas to Los Angeles and Then Back Again

As a beginning teacher back at the dawn of the Internet era (circa 1996) I had my students at Berendo Middle School in Los Angeles, California email students in Mrs. Gray’s English Class at Pinkston Middle School in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Not a terribly imaginative assignment, but for the time it was very cutting edge. …

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