I 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.
We’re all very aware of the stereotypical social studies teacher. Former jock. Current coach. Always busy with game plans and practice schedules. Hands out worksheet packets on Monday with a test on Friday. Constantly interspersed with movies and videos along the way.
We also know that the stereotype very seldom rings true. I was a coach for years. We all know great social studies teachers who teach and coach. I get the chance to wander the world working with all sorts of excellent social studies teachers. Keil Hileman in the Kansas City metro area district of De Soto uses 25,000 historical artifacts as part of instruction. He was the Kansas teacher of the year several years ago. Nathan Mcalister in Royal Valley MS simulates Civil War surgery with original medical tools, hosts a yearly history fair with kids hacking out canoes and building sod houses. His kids pushed an actual bill through both houses of the Kansas legislature. He was selected as the Gilder Lehrman national teacher of the year.
Kori Green routinely connects her students with kids around the world in live chats as they solve authentic problems. Jon Bauer teaches in one of the most isolated places in the state of Kansas while implementing all sorts of powerful learning activities. Activities such as having 8th graders rank historical events and developing a March Madness tournament as an end of year summative assessment. Jill Weber uses a variety of technologies to encourage high levels of learning including a TV Reality Show Pitch.