Category Archives: historical thinking

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.

Let’s talk rubrics

Jill Weber is a middle school teacher in Cheney, Kansas and former Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year.

Today? She talks rubrics.

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One thing I love about the teaching profession is that we are always constantly learning, growing, trying new things . . . all in the process of becoming better. This is true whether it’s your first year and you’re improving from the first month of school to the second. And it’s true if you’re a veteran teacher who decides to try something different to “shake things up.” There is always an opportunity to learn and improve.

One thing I am learning more and more as I keep going is how important it is to have clear expectations. Now, it’s not that I didn’t know that I needed that when I started but I keep learning that what I think is “clear” doesn’t necessarily translate that way to my 7th and 8th grade students. I find that they ALWAYS do better when I am as simply specific as possible with my expectations.

Don’t let that fool you. I didn’t say I lower my expectations.

I simplify my explanation of the expectations so that it is as clear as possible.

I am constantly getting better at this.

And one of my favorite examples is with my rubrics.

I am a FIRM believer in having rubrics to score students on. Nothing is more frustrating for a student to receive a score on a project or assignment and not have a clear picture as to why they were given that score. So when I’m making and using rubrics in my classroom, I’m always keeping in mind this #1 major rule . . .

Continue reading Let’s talk rubrics

Simple things, really. But with huge impact.

miracleI recently ran into a guy named Michael following a session at a social studies conference. Michael teaches history in a large, urban high school with a ton of low SES and ELL kids. His situation seemed so desperate to me that I had to ask him what strategies he used to convey content and meaning, how he got kids to makes sense of historical information.

He began sharing some of ideas and I realized that his situation wasn’t desperate. The kids in his classes – the low SES kids, the ELL kids – are learning and they’re learning at high levels. And it’s because of Michael.

I’ve read the ton of research out there documenting the importance of quality teachers. But it was fun to actually sit down and talk with someone who knows the content, who understands what works, and spends time honing his craft. To talk with someone whose actions suggest that the research is right.

A few of his ideas? Continue reading Simple things, really. But with huge impact.