Kate Harris - Jordan HS, Durham, NC | Sherpa Learning

Kate Harris - Jordan HS, Durham, NC

Teddy dreaming of his namesake - the favorite historic figure for Kate Harris, APUSH teacher from Jordan High School in Durham, NC.
Above: Kate's dog Teddy ponders his namesake while unwinding after a long day.

A PUSH to Innovate Series:

Kate Harris

C.E. Jordan High School, Durham, NC

by Christine DeFranco, CCO

About this series: I will be reporting on some of the leading educator-developed AP U.S. History resources in a blog series I call, "A PUSH to Innovate" (see what I did there?). Each installment in the series will spotlight an educator who is blazing their own trail of educational resources, and succeeding.

Recommend a teacher-innovator for our spotlight.

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Kate Harris, an AP US History Teacher from Jordan High School in Durham, NC uses her blog, aptly named "apushjhs," to connect students, parents, and teacher - building knowledge, relationships, and good study habits along the way.

What stands out the most about Kate's blog, beyond the endless trail of relevant resources in every digital shape and size (check out her "resources," page—it's no joke), she has managed to create a personalized APUSH oasis for students to visit anytime.

Kate clearly understands that learning goes beyond solitary study. From her homework assignments to her snow-day reminders--she is constantly using language that encourages communication and collaboration. She has found a way to engage her students beyond the classroom by creating a welcoming APUSH safe haven through smart, thoughtful blogging.

Harris strikes a "Rosie the Riveter" pose, embodying the "We Can Do It" spirit for her APUSH students.

Kate was kind enough to share some of her thoughts on blogging, the 2015 exam, her dog Teddy, and even young Billy Joel.

SL: How many years have you been teaching AP U.S. History?

KATE: I have taught AP US for 8 years.

SL: How long have you been creating your own online resources?

KATE: I started using blogs to communicate with students in 2010, so five years now!

SL: Your APUSH blog, "apushjhs," is well organized and incredibly comprehensive. Through this blog, students can access a treasure trove of information - from homework assignments to articles to relevant links - not to mention an inspirational photo of your dog Teddy. [If AP U.S. History is getting you down, we here at Sherpa defy you to not find relief in that photo!] In your estimation, how has the accessibility you provide your students through this site impacted their APUSH experience?

KATE: Thank you! It is definitely a great way to keep classes organized and communicate schedule changes and upcoming projects (especially when we have crazy snow days like today that impact school!). It also helps parents check in on what we are doing and find ways to help their sons and daughters study. Since one of the biggest challenges of AP USH is that many students haven't really had to "study" before, I think it's important for them to have resources available to help guide them through that process. It also helps them get to know me and get to have a little fun with history when I get to post interesting links or pictures from time to time.

SL: Which portion of the exam do your students find the most challenging?

KATE: The timed writing! Developing historical arguments in essays is a new skill that my students are developing, and to have to do that within a time limit can be very difficult at first, but we aim to practice it many times each year.

SL: Share with us your fear, joy, or disinterest toward the 2015 exam redesign. Which aspect of the redesign do you consider to be the most significant change and how do you feel about it?

KATE: The largest change, for me, is in the addition of the short-answer questions, which seem to require a very different sort of writing than the DBQs and FRQs, and the different rubric requirements for the longer essays. I've always thought if you teach a good course you'll get good test results and for that reason the course redesign has not bothered me very much. I don't think my teaching of the content has changed very much as a result of the redesign, however I've had to reassess how I look at preparing the students for the writing portions. I actually feel more like I am "teaching to a test," or to a specific rubric, than I did before. Hopefully the students are still picking up some strong writing skills that they can take with them to college.

SL: Favorite historic figure? Please tell us why.

KATE: Well, my dog is named after Teddy Roosevelt, who I appreciate for his outsize attitude. While I don't agree with all of his politics, I admire that he was unafraid to push for change, loved the outdoors, and enjoyed a good adventure.

SL: Do you remember where you were when Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" first hit the airwaves?

KATE: Not really, I was only 7 years old!

SL: Billy Joel is a self-proclaimed "huge history nut" who, at one time wanted to be a history teacher. If young Billy Joel was one of your students, what words of wisdom would you share?

KATE: Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and there is always something more to read!

Stay tuned for the next installment, which will spotlight Sommer Newkirk from Granada High School in Livermore, CA.

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