The end is near! Letters to next year’s students

Can you tell it is May?  Are your students acting as crazy as mine?  Don’t worry, the end is near. We just need to get them to hang on for a couple more weeks!

Throughout the year I have students keep all of their work in binders within my classroom and at the end of each unit we empty most of the material out.  What remains in the binder for the entire school year are the maps from each unit and a vocab log that my students have kept through the year as a resource when common vocabulary words are addressed in multiple units.  As I was working to wrap-up my content and start emptying student supplies out of my classroom, I wanted to come up with a way to check  student vocab logs without having to go through and grade each individual binder (80 students x 50+ words, no thanks!).

So, I had my students write a letter to the 6th graders that I will have next year as 7th graders, using the words from their vocab log to explain what the 6th graders would be learning in my class. Continue reading The end is near! Letters to next year’s students

“Was Kansas Actually Bleeding?”

Bleeding Kansas

One thing I have learned as a teacher, kids really do say the darndest things!  Recently my Kansas History class started in on Bleeding Kansas, and I realized that very few of my students had retained any prior knowledge on the subject.  To get the students interested in the topic, and to provide them with some basic knowledge before we really got started on the topic, I planned a pre-reading strategy using key words from the Bleeding Kansas chapter in our Kansas Journey textbook.  Continue reading “Was Kansas Actually Bleeding?”

Pre-Service Teachers Contribute Curriculum

Pre-Service teachers are getting into the game and classroom teachers can benefit. The HGSS undergraduates at KU have a thriving student chapter of the National Council for the Social Studies  – the Kansas University Council for the Social Studies (KUCSS) – and they’ve been using their powers for good.

KUCSS has partnered with the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence, Kansas to create instructional materials for middle and high school social studies teachers. The Dole Institute of Politics has launched an online exhibit commemorating Dole and his service in WWII which resulted in a debilitating injury that would later largely shape his work as a Senator resulting in the Americans with Disabilities Act (1995).

If you’d like to read more about the collection and their collaboration with KUCSS you can check out the full article here.

Make sure to check out the WWII Letter Collection from the Dole Institute and follow the In the Classroom link for the lesson plan.

And if you haven’t taken the opportunity to visit the Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence it’s well worth a trip. Heck, make an I-70 road trip of it: start at the Eisenhower Presidential Center in Abilene, hit the Dole Institute, and then on to Liberty, Missouri for the Truman Presidential Library and Museum – just imagine all the government fun!

USGS historical topo maps

map explorer

Maps are so cool. Historical maps are way more cooler. And online historical maps are even way more cooler. (I like saying way more cooler cause it makes me feel like a rebel.)

A couple of months ago on the helpful GoogleMapsMania site, I ran across a way cool tool created by the United States Geological Survey. This is the group that, among other things, is responsible for creating topographic maps.

The cool tool that the USGS has created is called USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer.

Basically, you do a map search with a Google Maps-like interface, click on a specific place on the resulting map, and the Historical Topographic Map Explorer will provide a timeline with topo maps from the past.

You can then select maps from Continue reading USGS historical topo maps

It’s not about the nail: Thinking about the assessment

Many of you are anticipating or have already administered the Kansas State History, Government, Social Studies summative assessment field test.  We just want to  remind everyone that it is a field test and so is more for us at KSDE and the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation (CETE) than for teachers and districts. 

This is KSDE’s attempt, a draft if you will, before the final edit of next spring’s assessment. We are using the field test to figure out if the format, footprint, items, and scoring are appropriate, proper and valid. No reports will be created, no scores will be given.

That being said, I sense a great anxiety among teachers around the state. I have presented many times throughout Kansas informing teachers about the assessment and the expectations associated with that assessment.  Teachers are concerned and have questions.  I am reminded of that great video clip popular several years ago called It’s Not About the Nail.

I understand that KSDE sounds a bit like the woman in the video, when we say things like:

Don’t worry about the assessment.


If you are teaching your classes using high-quality strategies, the assessment will take care of itself.

The anxiety and the nervousness in the field is, in part, caused by the nail (assessment). Many teachers and perhaps administrators feel that education is about the nail (assessment) and that the summative assessment is a measure of their effectiveness as teachers.

If we could remove the nail (assessment), life would be much easier. Alas, that is not the world we live in. But the assessment is only one of many measures of teacher effectiveness.  Have fun, challenge your kids to think differently about things, and work with primary sources.

You are in the most challenging yet rewarding professions in the world. Continue doing what you do for kids.

In the meantime, avoid wearing sweaters.

Don Gifford
Social Studies Consultant