Many of you are ready to jump off the end of the pier – sometime in the next few weeks, kids are heading back to your classrooms.
To help energize your first awesome week with kids, here are six great ways to kick off the school year. Use what you can. Adapt what you can’t.
What not to do
But before we get too far along with what we know works, it’s probably a good idea to think about what doesn’t. I’ve mentioned Fourteen Things You Should Never Do on the First Day of School before but it’s still a great reminder of what it looks like when we’re doing it wrong. Mark Barnes suggest that your goal should be a very simple one during the first few days of school:
You have many days to assess students’ strengths and weaknesses. You have months to discuss high stakes testing and standards. You’ll spend weeks probing the textbook.
The first day of school should be dedicated to rapport-building and to joy.
Your goal should be that students go home that night and tell their parents: “I’m going to love history class because my teacher is awesome!”
So what should we be doing the first week?
Kids need to be in groups. They need to be solving problems. They need to get a taste of some social studies and play with some social studies tools. They need to know that it’s okay to fail. Find out more about them. They should practice a few critical thinking skills. Maybe a little tech here and there. Have fun.
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.
One of the new initiatives in my school district during the 18-19 school year has been to begin a Project Based Learning community. This is a group of teachers who came in over the summer for two full days of training, and have continued to meet quarterly during the school year to learn about PBL together and support each other as they implement PBL in their own classrooms.
My mentor teacher, Kim Zielsdorf, teaches 7th Grade World Geography and Kansas History, and she jumped right into PBL from the beginning of the school year with a highly engaging, yet short and sweet project to introduce the students to the World Geography curriculum. Kim presented this question to the students: How big is 7.7 billion? The students then worked with partners to find creative ways to represent the global population. How long it would take Crayola to make 7.7 billion crayons, how far you would travel after taking 7.7 billion steps, each partnership came up with their own way to represent a number that is so high it can be hard to grasp.
Beginning the school year with a short PBL unit allowed the students a fun and engaging way to ease into the school year and get to know each other, while also giving Kim a chance to practice the fundamentals of PBL and learn more about her students’ interests through the decisions they made while completing the project. Do you use PBL in your classroom? What is your favorite PBL unit to teach? Share in the comments below!
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.
You might recognize Lori from her previous posts here on Doing Social Studies.
And now you’ll be able to greet her as the KCSS Excellence in Teaching Award winner.
The award is named in honor of Judy Cromwell, a social studies teacher in the Topeka area for over 38 years. Intended to reward and encourage high quality instruction in the social studies, KCSS selects one winner at the elementary and secondary levels.
Not only is Lori our elementary winner but she also won the Kansas Department of Education Social Studies Teacher of the Year. Needless to say, she’s a fantastic educator and we’re so happy to have her here in Kansas.
Lori Rice currently works at West Elementary in Wamego as a fourth grade teacher. While she is responsible for teaching all content areas, it has been her goal to “teach social studies standards even when these are often neglected due to mathematics and reading instruction taking priority.”