Category Archives: literacy

Yup, I’m smarter. Thanks Smithsonian!

A couple of months ago, I felt smart. I had just finished a full day with some of the best social studies teachers around. We had talked about hyperdocs, completed a BreakoutEdu, identified photos as either real or fake, learned about a variety of graphic organizers, and participated in an awesome video conference focused on the Smithsonian Learning Lab with Darren Milligan and Kate Harris.

I felt smart. I had learned some stuff. I had taught some stuff. My brain was feeling good.

I should have stopped while I was ahead.

But after learning more about the Learning Lab, I decided to dig in a bit and see what all might be available online from the Smithsonian. And that’s where I got into trouble. About an hour later, I dug my way out of the incredible amount of goodness that Smithsonian folks have made available for educators. I felt smarter but not smarter all at the same time.

Smarter because I learned about some sites and resources that were new to me. Not smarter because . . . seriously, how I have I not known about these things before?

Just so you know, there is a ton of materials, lesson plans, and resources that the Smithsonian has put online. Seriously . . . a ton. Darren told us that the Smithsonian isn’t really sure how much stuff they have – he rounded it up to around 160 million objects. And that’s just the stuff in their collections, not the lesson plans and online exhibitions.

So just to share some of what I learned, here a few places that you need to pencil into your schedule to visit: Continue reading Yup, I’m smarter. Thanks Smithsonian!

3 reasons why your kids should be using sketchnotes

A few months ago, I spent a few minutes on a quick rant blaming laptops and mobile devices for being the reason for the terrible KC Royals pitching, destroying the rainforest, causing the downfall of the Roman Empire, and ruining your students’ educational experience.

Okay. Mostly just the student educational experience thing.

A brief recap. Research is suggesting that when college students use technology to capture lecture notes, both short and long term learning declines when compared to students who captured lecture notes using the old fashioned paper and pencil method. Tech tools seem to encourage verbatim note-taking that focuses on capturing every word rather than on capturing only information that is important – on copy and pasting rather than evaluating and summarizing. Paper and pencil force the student to make decisions about what’s important and then to transform that information into a personal version of the lecture or video.

It’s this personalizing feature of paper and pencil that improves retention and learning.

And, yes, it’s college kids not K-12. And, no, you don’t lecture all of the time. But I’m gonna suggest that the experiences of middle and high school students would not be that much different from the college kids cited in the research.

So using tech to take notes is bad. Now what? Continue reading 3 reasons why your kids should be using sketchnotes

Save the Last Word for Me discussion strategy

I was browsing through some old History Tech posts and ran across this 2016 entry. It caught my attention as several of us were chatting about ways to encourage student to student conversations. If you’ve been thinking about that issue as well, you might give the Last Word strategy a try.


I spent some some last week with a group sharing strategies around the blended learning concept. It was compelling conversation, I walked away smarter, and had the chance to meet some interesting people.

But one of my biggest walkaways was a strategy that the forum’s facilitator used to jumpstart the discussion.

He called it the Last Word. Others in the group used the term Final Word. No matter what it might be called, I thought it was a perfect fit for strengthen the speaking and listening skills of social studies students. So if you’ve used Last Word, post some comments on changes you’ve made or things you like about it.

New to Last Word? Read on, my friend. Continue reading Save the Last Word for Me discussion strategy

Winning the RACE of writing

It’s been that kind of school year for all of us, so here’s a great post on writing from last October by KCSS board member Adam Topliff. Happy parent-teacher conference season everyone!

Doing Social Studies

student-at-computerStudents + writing = frustration . . . sound like familiar?

The growing expectation of integrating writing  in our Social Studies classroom makes us as anxious about the process as our students. Why does this happen? There are a variety of factors that contribute to this fear and frustration but the most common that I hear from other teachers is

I don’t have a solid system to assist my kids with writing.

We teach a topic and then assess students by asking them to write a response or reaction. What do we get back?

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5 graphic organizers you’re probably not using but should be

Most of you are already familiar with the idea of document analysis worksheets. These sorts of tools are perfect for scaffolding historical thinking skills for your kids. Some of the best, created by the Library of Congress and the National Archives, have been around for years. I also really like the stuff created by the Stanford History Education group, especially their Historical Thinking Chart.

We should be using all of those evidence analysis tools with our kids. They can be especially helpful for training elementary and middle school students to gather and organize evidence while solving authentic problems. And for high school kids without a strong background in historical thinking skills, the tools provided by the LOC, NARA, and SHEG are incredibly handy to help guide their thinking.

But what about other types of graphic organizers? Are there some organizers you should be using but aren’t? Spoiler alert. Yes.

Before we jump into the fabulous five, a quick graphic organizer 101 review.

Brain research tells us that mental images are powerful tools that support cognitive tasks and that by creating unique mental pictures, our students deepen their understanding, attach new information to prior knowledge, and create new learning. Graphic organizers are “visual and spatial displays that arrange information graphically so that key concepts and the relationships among the concepts are displayed” (Gunter, Estes, and Mintz 2007).

They can present information textually, with images or symbols, or a combination of both. Graphic organizers give kids a clear strategy to gather, process, organize, and prioritize information. All things that are encouraged by Common Core lit standards, the NCSS national standards, and the Kansas social studies document.

Okay . . . what five graphic organizers should all social studies teachers be using but probably aren’t? Continue reading 5 graphic organizers you’re probably not using but should be