Some sweet sites for historical thinking

The new buzz word in social studies instruction?

Historical thinking.

Okay. Yes. It’s two words but it’s still pretty buzzy. The idea of historical thinking has been hanging around as part of social studies instruction for a long time. But it’s sort of been like that weird second cousin who shows up at family reunions that no one really talks to. We haven’t been paying much attention to it.

But with new state standards and Common Core literacy stuff, not to mention the new College,Career, and Civic Life standards, historical thinking is back where it really belongs. As the central part of everything we do. And because it’s been at the weird second cousin status for so long, many teachers don’t have a ton of historical thinking resources.

So today . . . three sweet web sites that provide primary source raw data and lesson plans / resources that support historical thinking skills.

founders onlineFounders Online is a brand new site created through a partnership of the National Archives and the University of Virgina. Basically it’s an archive of documents from six of the nation’s founding fathers.You will be able to read and search through thousands of records from George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison and see firsthand the growth of democracy and the birth of the Republic.

Founders Online includes transcriptions of thousands of documents that have not yet appeared in published volumes. You can freely access the written record of the original thoughts, ideas, debates, and principles of our democracy. You will be able to search across the records of all six Founders and read first drafts of the Declaration of Independence, the spirited debate over the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the very beginnings of American law, government, and our national story. You will be able to compare and contrast the thoughts and ideas of these six individuals and their correspondents as they discussed and debated through their letters and documents.

How sweet is that? Exactly. Very sweet.

history labsThe Center for History Education at the University of Maryland has put together a site that focuses on providing units and lessons that can help you train your kids to think historically. Called History Labs: A Guided Approach to Historical Inquiry in the K-12 Classroom, the site is perfect for teaching kids how to solve historical problems.

The labs are inquiry-based learning experiences that give you the tools to teach a range of historical topics. History Labs include:

  • the central questions;
  • source materials; and
  • step-by-step explanations of the procedures to implement the Lab and assess student learning.

Every lab has an overarching question that guides the instruction and study of the topic. Kids discuss the lead question and determine what is needed to formulate a response. Source materials are analyzed for authorship and purpose, significant information, context and subtext, and multiple or conflicting perspectives.

Students then synthesize this information to construct evidence-based responses to the overarching question. History Labs can be taught in parts or in their entirety, and can be adjusted for different knowledge and ability levels. The student work products take the form of written narratives, oral presentations and debates, or multimedia projects.

Yeah. I know. Sweet.

artifacts siteThe third site, Artifacts and Analysis: A Teacher’s Guide to Interpreting Artifacts and Writing History, has been around a while. But it still has some awesome tools that can help you train kids to ask good questions and to solve problems.

The Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies created the site so that students will see objects and art works as primary sources that are worthy of historical investigation. You can find a Teacher’s Guide, Lesson Plans, and information about a variety of different artifacts.

Say it. You know you want to. Sweet.

But don’t jump off the deep end and try to tackle all three of these at once. Nibble on them a little at a time. Incorporate one lesson as part of one of your existing units. Borrow some of the questions and insert them into a discussion. But start somewhere. Cause they’re just too tasty to ignore.

About Glenn Wiebe

I work as a social studies specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas. Before coming to ESSDACK, I taught middle school US History and higher ed social science classes.

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