Category Archives: resources

Educators and Art Museums: Doing Social Studies Together

na art museumThe following is a guest post written by Bonnie Thomas.  Bonnie is the Manager, Education Programs and Resources at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO.

“School subjects are like individual rectangles, the teacher explained. And this long, curved line represents the arts and humanities, linking concepts and modes of thinking across disciplines.”

nelson atkins painting

painting creditsThis teacher, speaking in front of a vibrant geometric painting by the artist Robert Mangold, was one of 15 participants in a partnership project dedicated to exploring how art museums can support humanities education in public schools. Her comments emerged during a reflection activity in which teachers chose an artwork to represent their experience in the partnership project. Many other participants made similar comments, pointing out newly recognized connections between classroom subjects and visual art.

These teachers had first gathered several months previously at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, an encyclopedic art museum in Kansas City, Missouri. The Nelson-Atkins, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, was seeking teachers’ input on how its strong collection of American art could be leveraged to strengthen student learning in American history and related social studies topics.

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Use Crop It tools to help elementary kids think historically

One of the easiest but most effective strategies for having younger kids work with primary sources is called Crop It. In some ways, it’s a lot like my Evidence Analysis Window Frame but I really like the flexibility embedded in the Crop It idea. The idea is pretty simple: students use L-shaped paper “cropping” tools to explore a visual primary source.

One of the problems that we often face is finding ways to help students see details – and to make sense of those details – when viewing a primary source. Photos, paintings, and graphics can contain a ton of specifics that get missed if students don’t take the time to look for them.

Crop It slows the process down so that students scan a source at a deep level and think about what they’re looking at. It gives them a way to find evidence, see multiple viewpoints, and gain a more detailed understanding of a primary source.

This strategy works especially well with elementary and middle school students to help them develop and support historical thinking. And the cool thing is that you can use it with all sorts of visual sources. Continue reading Use Crop It tools to help elementary kids think historically

Black History 365

Cross-post by Glenn Wiebe from his site, History Tech.

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The beauty of studying history is that you can never learn it all. There’s always something new to discover. A fresh piece of evidence. Another interpretation. A person or event or idea that has always been there . . . just waiting to be uncovered.

Maybe it’s a small discovery that changes how you personally understand the world. This week I learned that Paul Revere was an amateur dentist. (And if you’re like me, there’s now an image in your head of Revere on a horse – “The cavities are coming! The cavities are coming!”)

Not earth-shattering. But still cool.

hiddenfigures2And then there are those people and events that are just a bit bigger and should change how we all see the world. The movie and book Hidden Figures are like that.

Seriously? How did that slip by?

African American women calculating aeronautical and astronomical math, helping push the United States into space? In the Jim Crow South? Now that’s cool. And powerful. And part of the American story. But up until the last few years, the story of people like Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson was relatively unknown and certainly not mentioned in any of the history classes I ever took.

Which brings us to February.

And Black History Month.

I’m always a bit conflicted about the idea. The concept of a month specifically set aside for the study of Black History started back in 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” That particular week was chosen because it marked the birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

In 1976, the federal government followed the lead of the Black United Students at Kent State and established the entire month as Black History Month. President Ford urged Americans, and especially teachers and schools, to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

The hope was that Black History Month would provide a very intentional time for all of us to remember together the struggles of African Americans to obtain the basic civil rights afforded to others, the challenges African Americans have faced for centuries, and the contributions of African Americans to who we are. But . . . the real hope was Continue reading Black History 365

“The Anti-Washington”: Using Art as a Historical Tool in World History Class

I believe that a key aspect of “doing” social studies is to give kids the opportunity to not only connect prior knowledge to the content being studied, but also allow them the chance to reevaluate their opinion of historical figures using new knowledge that is presented.  Teaching high school world history normally involves introducing students to a wide range of individuals, concepts and events.  Trying to help students achieve some level of mastery of these concepts can seem daunting, especially if you are not able to tap into that reservoir of knowledge that the kids bring with them into the room.  In teaching the French Revolution and its aftermath I attempt to achieve this by bringing in the single historical figure in which kids are the most familiar: George Washington.  In the process I also give the students a chance to flex their non-text discipline specific literacy muscles by analyzing two pieces of art work that say an awful lot about the subjects of depicted in each.

Continue reading “The Anti-Washington”: Using Art as a Historical Tool in World History Class

The George Washington Teacher Institute- A Great Opportunity for Teachers!

The following is a guest post from Doing Social Studies contributor Joe Zlatnik, an 8th grade Social Studies teacher at Basehor-Linwood Middle School


Professional development, for most of us, occurs in our own building and districts, and, in my experience, is not usually planned with social studies teachers in mind. The professional development I have been involved with is usually very general and is rarely specific to what I teach. While this is unfortunate, the burden on school administrators planning professional development opportunities is understandable. STEM subjects and reading are the major priorities of the state of Kansas, and school districts follow suit. Considering the shrinking budgets across the state, there is less and less available for content-specific professional development, especially for Social Studies teachers.

While this is certainly a disappointing reality, there are incredible opportunities available for those who seek them out. Conferences, such as KCSS and NCSS, are great opportunities to network and learn from some of the best Social Studies teachers from around the state and country. There are also a number of opportunities available during the summer for teachers who seek to grow as a professional.

Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to take part in the George Washington Teacher Institute at the our first President’s beloved estate, Mt. Vernon. This five-day, four-night residential professional development program focused on the leadership and legacy of George Washington, and the lessons that we can derive from him and his experiences. Dr. Denver Brunsman of George Washington University led the institute. We also had opportunities to collaborate with Mt. Vernon’s historians, curators, educational experts, and the fellow teachers taking part in the institute.

Continue reading The George Washington Teacher Institute- A Great Opportunity for Teachers!