H.I.T. Notebooks: A Different take on Interactive Notebooks

jill weberJill Weber, 2016 Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year, has joined the Doing Social Studies writing team and will be posting throughout the year. The following is a cross-post from her excellent site A View of the Web.


I used Interactive Notebooks in my social studies class for eight years.  The majority of the students loved them.  But I had a serious love/hate relationship with them.  And after taking a long look at the pros and cons of the books and my current curriculum, I decided not to continue with the interactive notebooks last year.

While I found it a relief not having to keep up with the grading of 60+ notebooks, there was something missing from my class.  I had a number of kids ask me why we weren’t doing them anymore, and others who were disappointed that the “hands on” cutting, pasting, and creativity was replaced with more writing assignments.  I felt guilty that my answer was “because I just couldn’t keep up with all the grading.”

That got me thinking on ways that I could bring the interactive notebooks idea back without having all the copious grading that went with it.  I talked with our language arts teacher, who uses her interactive notebooks as a tool to help organize materials and doesn’t grade it at all.  I liked that idea.

But I wanted more.  I wanted a way to hold kids accountable.  I wanted them to take pride in the organization and appearance of the book.  And, most of all, I wanted it to be used as something more than a storage device.  I want it to be something they will reference throughout the year.

The Idea:
Then an idea started to take form.  An idea to use the notebook more like a detective’s note book when trying to solve a crime.

So this year, we have: the  Historian In Training Notebook or HIT books. (HIT is a cool name for a middle school activity, right? )

The HIT notebook will be designed as sort of a history detective notebook that we’ll use to identify historical thinking techniques, analyze primary sources, keep information over specific historical questions, and refer back to skills learned throughout the year.

A few examples of possible pages  . . .  Continue reading H.I.T. Notebooks: A Different take on Interactive Notebooks

Five great back to school ideas for social studies teachers

have a great first day

(Several years ago, I wrote a quick post on strategies that can be used during the first week of school. I updated the content and posted it below.)


We have two very simple unbendable, unbreakable rules in our house. No Christmas music allowed before Thanksgiving. No talking about school before August.

It’s August. So . . . we’re talking about school.

Spoiler alert.

If you’re not already at school, you’re heading there soon.

And you probably already have some idea of what you and your students will be doing during the first few days of school. But it’s always nice to have a few extra tips and tricks in your bookbag to start off the school year.

So today? Five great ideas that can be adapted for just about any grade level or content. Use what you can. Adapt what you can’t. Add your own ideas in the comments.

What not to do

Before we get to the good stuff, it’s probably a good idea to think about what doesn’t work. Continue reading Five great back to school ideas for social studies teachers

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The George Washington Teacher Institute- A Great Opportunity for Teachers!

The following is a guest post from Doing Social Studies contributor Joe Zlatnik, an 8th grade Social Studies teacher at Basehor-Linwood Middle School


Professional development, for most of us, occurs in our own building and districts, and, in my experience, is not usually planned with social studies teachers in mind. The professional development I have been involved with is usually very general and is rarely specific to what I teach. While this is unfortunate, the burden on school administrators planning professional development opportunities is understandable. STEM subjects and reading are the major priorities of the state of Kansas, and school districts follow suit. Considering the shrinking budgets across the state, there is less and less available for content-specific professional development, especially for Social Studies teachers.

While this is certainly a disappointing reality, there are incredible opportunities available for those who seek them out. Conferences, such as KCSS and NCSS, are great opportunities to network and learn from some of the best Social Studies teachers from around the state and country. There are also a number of opportunities available during the summer for teachers who seek to grow as a professional.

Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to take part in the George Washington Teacher Institute at the our first President’s beloved estate, Mt. Vernon. This five-day, four-night residential professional development program focused on the leadership and legacy of George Washington, and the lessons that we can derive from him and his experiences. Dr. Denver Brunsman of George Washington University led the institute. We also had opportunities to collaborate with Mt. Vernon’s historians, curators, educational experts, and the fellow teachers taking part in the institute.

Continue reading The George Washington Teacher Institute- A Great Opportunity for Teachers!

Play Like a Pirate – Fun needs to be a part of what you do

I spent part of the morning chatting with golfing buddy and educational expert Steve Wyckoff. He’s got a way of sucking people into unplanned conversations that end up making everyone smarter. It’s always a good time when it starts with Steve’s signature line:

“So what’s become clear to you?”

This morning wasn’t any different.

We spent perhaps an hour meandering around a matrix that focuses on levels of engagement matrixstudent engagement. The different quadrants of the matrix ask students to think about how challenging a class is and whether they love or hate it. We’re thinking about using this to get usable data from middle and high school students. As in, “pick a quadrant that best describes each of your classes.”

We talked about how we could use this collected data to help design high quality professional learning. We chatted about what does the word challenging mean. How grit and rigor might figure into the matrix. And how an Uber business model might impact how kids complete the matrix.

The scary thing?

I think a lot of kids sit in classes that could easily fit in the Grind quadrant.

Part of the solution? Continue reading Play Like a Pirate – Fun needs to be a part of what you do

Teaching the Pledge: A Strategy for Using the Pledge of Allegiance to Promote Civic Discussion

The Fourth of July has always been a favorite holiday of mine. The fireworks, the food, the abundance of red, white and blue, the obligatory History Channel marathon of something about the American Revolution; it all is precisely in this history teaching, America loving, BBQ enthusiast’s wheelhouse. The Fourth is the day where nearly all of our nation’s traditions and rituals are put on full display, and I hope that our students (and really all Americans) recognize the significance of this nation and the great responsibility placed in all citizens by the Founders.

During the annual fireworks display I always find myself taking a moment and reflecting with pride the origins of our nation and the principles in which we were founded. This opportunity to reflect is really the purpose of our national traditions, but too often we get so caught up in the hectic nature of 21st century life that the meaning gets lost. In terms of school, my mind immediately goes to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by students of all ages. Those schools where this is a daily or weekly requirement display an admirable dedication to honoring America, but I hope the respective social studies teachers in those buildings take the time to remind their students of the magnitude of those words. The Pledge of Allegiance is a powerful act that strikes at the heart of what it means to be a voluntary, active member of our republic. However, without reflecting upon its meaning it can become an empty gesture that is done without meaning or significance. In my class I took a portion of a 45-minute class period to discuss with my kids the significance of the Pledge and what exactly they were doing as they have been reciting it for years.

Continue reading Teaching the Pledge: A Strategy for Using the Pledge of Allegiance to Promote Civic Discussion