All posts by glennw

About glennw

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.

Notable Books, Notable Lessons: Finding ways to put social studies back into K-8

notable-books-lesson-coverFull confession.

Elementary kids freak me out. They’re sticky. They smell funny. And they throw up. All the time. Seriously. All the time. Every day.

My wife teaches elementary kids. She. Is. A. Saint.

And she tells me that her kids don’t throw up every day. I want to believe her but I’m not convinced.

The point? I could never teach elementary kids. So I feel a little weird saying this but . . . Continue reading Notable Books, Notable Lessons: Finding ways to put social studies back into K-8

Need a super simple assessment tool? Make a pie.

Several weeks ago, I had the chance to work with a group of high school teachers as we brainstormed new Inquiry Design Models.  Any time I get the chance to spend time with a bunch of other social studies teachers, not much can ruin the day. Seriously . . . a whole day talking, sharing, playing with, and exploring the best social studies tools, resources, and strategies?

And during our time together we messed around with a tool that I had almost forgotten about.

The Pie Chart.

The Pie Chart is a powerful graphic organizer / writing scaffold / assessment tool / Swiss army knife. It does it all and is drop dead simple. I first learned about the Pie almost a decade ago from social studies super star Nathan McAlister.

Nate was part of our Teaching American History grant as the summer seminar master teacher and used the Pie Chart as a hook activity to kick start a conversation about the causes of the Civil War.

Steps he took: Continue reading Need a super simple assessment tool? Make a pie.

It’s the most troublesome time of the year . . . engaging kids at the end

Happy Monday! Anyone have a countdown to the end of school? As we near the final stretch of another crazy school year we once again face the challenge of keeping kids excited and engaged. I thought I would share something that I discussed at the end of last school year to give you a couple of ideas to keep those creative juices flowing.

So, it’s April . . . track meets, warm weather, field trips, crazy schedules, finals, and we’re supposed to keep kids engaged?  Maybe one of the greatest challenges in education is the end of the year. How do we find creative ways to keep kids interested in learning?

One popular survival mechanism is plugging in a movie that is connected to your curriculum.  Do you really think the kids will find it much fun to watch Gettysburg and complete a worksheet connected to the movie?  Sometimes we are required to give a semester final but to ask the kids to take a long drawn out test that you may not be interested in grading when the school year is done lacks a lot of appeal. Frankly, the last month of a school year can be a real struggle and make you feel like our friend pictured above, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You just need to inject a little creativity into your year-end routine.

So as we get near the end of the year, try one of these game changers: Continue reading It’s the most troublesome time of the year . . . engaging kids at the end

Using single-point rubrics & Checkmark to make your life easier & your kids smarter

We’ve all been there. You just finished putting together a great instructional lesson or unit. Kids are gonna love it. They’re working together. Doing research. Creating stuff, not just consuming it. The historical thinking will be off the charts.

Then you realize . . . you haven’t created the rubric yet.

You know that clear expectations and feedback are critically important to the learning process. You know that rubrics can help you in assessing what students know and are able to do. So you sit back down and eventually decide to use four scoring columns instead of five. Six rows of criteria instead of three. Clear descriptors. Nine point font all crammed into your matrix so that it fits on one page. Definitely tons of feedback gonna happen from this beauty.

But it’s worth it, right?

Mmm . . . using a great rubric can speed up the grading and assessment process but they can also create other issues besides the amount of time it takes to create them. A student shows creativity way beyond what the rubric asks for in a way that you hadn’t anticipated and your columns and rows aren’t able to reward that. Or a kid spells everything correctly but the grammar and punctuation is terrible. Maybe she nails the document analysis but fails to use evidence in her claims and your rubric has those two things together.

And is there any way – other than individual conferences – to really know whether students actually go deeper into your scored rubric than to look at the final grade circled in the bottom left hand corner?

Yes, analytic rubrics are useful. I’m not saying rubrics shouldn’t be part of your assessment toolkit. They can help you develop and create assignments that are aligned to your end in mind. They can provide clear expectations for students and a way to share feedback. But they can also be difficult to design correctly and may seem so overwhelming to students that the expected feedback we want never really sinks in.

And, sure, holistic versions are much quicker to create and use. So that’s nice. But they fail to provide specific and targeted feedback. You get a kid who wants to know why they got a two instead of a three or worse, he won’t ask at all. Missing the whole point of providing feedback in the first place.

So . . . why not look at a third way to the rubric game? And use some tech to make it even better? Continue reading Using single-point rubrics & Checkmark to make your life easier & your kids smarter

It’s Kansas Day! It’s Kansas Day!

Today is Kansas Day. How cool is that?

If you didn’t know already, the state of Kansas is an unbelievably interesting place. And way more than just a flyover.

She was once called the Great American Desert, a title mistakenly given her by temporary passers-through. She’s always been home to huge herds of North American bison, vast expanses of seven foot tall Big Bluestem prairie grass, forested hills, hawks, bobcats, coyotes, the Arkansas and Big Blue rivers, Cottonwood trees, a ton of deer and antelope a-playing, and not just a few amazing people.

Indians. Cowboys. Explorers and Pony Express riders. Politicians. Artists. Aviators, scientists and writers. Reformers. Populists. Pizza makers. Farmers. Lots and lots of people who grow the food we eat every day.

Kansas turns 158 today. And it’s her people that make her who she is.

There was David Buffam, Continue reading It’s Kansas Day! It’s Kansas Day!