Category Archives: Don Gifford

Kansas Social Studies Conference

Conference Logo

The 2015 Kansas Social Studies Conference began with an opening assembly hosted by Don Gifford and Suzy Myers from the Kansas Department of Education  to fit with the theme of Integrating History and ELA.  Don started his presentation by introducing us to his self proclaimed “man crush” Alexander Hamilton.

Don suggested that “Hamilton wrote himself out of poverty and into the history books.” He continued by suggesting that we need to encourage reading and writing skills in our classrooms. Suzy then asked us to consider what prevents us from making literacy, especially writing,  a central activity in our daily lessons.  Research shows that colleges and employers are able to identify reading and writing deficiencies in the classroom and the job place, so why are we not doing more to prevent this?

As educators we should redefine what we consider writing, use meaningful collaboration between social studies and English teachers, and model for our students the transfer of knowledge between content areas by applying grammar in the social studies classroom and content in the English classroom.

Continue reading Kansas Social Studies Conference

Law Related Education: Celebrating Freedom and the Constitution


For the past several years I have had the privilege of serving on the Law Related Education Committee of the Kansas Bar Association. This committee is made up of law professionals with a passion for providing resources that will improve teacher and student understanding of the law and their rights. I enjoy meeting with this group, not just because they are intelligent and influential people, but because they really do want to help.

State statute requires that schools grades kindergarten through eight use five consecutive school days “to educate students about the sacrifices made for freedom in the founding of this country and the values on which this country was founded.” (Kansas Statutes 72-1129) The federal government has designated September 17th as Constitution Day and that all schools “shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution.” (Federal Register May 2005)

The Honorable Joseph Pierron and other judges and attorneys have created classroom presentations that they deliver upon request, presentation titles include: “You be the judge” “What is the Constitution?” “What do judges do?,” “The Boston Tea Party” “King George/George Washington” and more. To inquire about the possibility of getting one of these speakers or Celebrate Freedom packets contact your local bar association office or Anne Woods ( at the Kansas Bar Association

The Kansas Bar Association through the Law Related Education Committee have created some great resources that can be used for these occasions.

  • Law Wise is a newsletter intended to be a fun and informative resource for teachers and their students in elementary school through high school. Sign up for a free Educator account and select Law Wise to receive email notifications
  • For the Record is written primarily for Middle School students and covers a wide variety of issues middle school students might be dealing with.
  • On Your Own is written for high school student and those about to go out “on their own.” This booklet/webpage is intended for general informational purposes only. It does not attempt to provide legal advice. Legal advice should come only from an attorney of your choice who can take into account all of the factors relevant to your particular situation.
  • Law Related Education Resource Center (ESU) is maintained by the Teachers College Resource Center for circulation by Kansas teachers, lawyers, and other law-related educators. DVDs and videos may be checked out for two weeks while most print matter may be used for one month. There is no charge related to the use of these materials.
  • Public Information Pamphlets on Additional Topics are provided by the Bar Association with no charge. Print copies do have associated costs.

In addition every year the Committee selects an educator to scholarship to the Supreme Court Summer Institute in Washington DC if the applicant is accepted the committee will pay expenses for the trip.

As you prepare for September 17th and Celebrate Freedom Week consider using these great resources.

Don Gifford

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