A New Hampshire social sciences high school teacher has been awarded a year-long sabbatical to develop a course on teaching American history through the lens of hip-hop.
Campbell High School teacher Justin Ballou was awarded the 2018 Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. According to the foundation’s website, the sabbatical was created in 1986 to honor McAuliffe, a Concord High School teacher and astronaut who was among the crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
The sabbatical gives the recipient one year off with pay and a budget to purchase materials needed to develop his ideas.
The foundation observes the concept Ballou used as a springboard for his education start-up:
Ballou’s idea is to stimulate and better evaluate learning through a concept he developed called Socrademy. The name combines Socrates, the philosopher who worked to stimulate critical thinking, and the Academy, where ancient intellectuals gathered to study. Ballou aims to validate and share his program through a course entitled: “Don’t Sweat The Technique. American History Through the Lens of Hip Hop.”
“This isn’t just retooling Physics 101 or U.S. History,” Ballou said in a statement in the foundation’s press release. “This is something no other school has done.”
“Every year, we get to hear from passionate, talented, dedicated teachers about their innovative ideas to help students succeed,” Katie Merrow, vice president for community impact at the Charitable Foundation, also said. “We’re excited to support this sabbatical and see this great idea shared with teachers and students across the state.”
Ballou’s plan is to assess the idea that students show more signs of learning if they have a teacher who is passionate about the same thing students are passionate about. Students would be evaluated on their progress at more frequent intervals in the course, rather than on a single final project.
Ballou refers to the evaluation process as “micro assessments” which uses a concept called “5C.” Students are assessed on their “conceptual understanding, critical thinking, curation, communication and creation.”
“Instead of students worrying about the fear of this major grade at the end that would drive their behavior, they were celebrating successes, making small improvements and learning all the way through the project,” he said. “I realized I was getting better-quality work and students were turning it in on time, and more complete.”
Ballou said hip-hop offers the opportunity for students to study the First Amendment, marketing skills, creative writing, budgeting skills, or social sciences in studying how a fan base develops.
“It’s not a utopian fantasy that you get to do whatever you want and we give you credit for everything,” he said. “Instead, we find the things that relate to a student’s passions and provide that value to the students.”
The Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical program is administered by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation with oversight from a steering committee that includes representatives from the governor’s office and the state Board of Education, the New Hampshire Senate president, the New Hampshire House speaker, the presidents of the two largest teachers’ unions – the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers – and a McAuliffe family member.