Tag Archives: strategies

The Syllabus Can Wait! A Day One Strategy for Fostering Student Ownership

Despite the best efforts of teachers nation-wide to freeze their calendars and squeeze in as much family and pool time as they can, the school year is fast approaching.  As we begin to transition back into educator mode the plan for the first day of school begins to crystallize in our minds.  For the past several years I have utilized this activity to get my students communicating with each other, receiving invaluable guidance for myself, modelling a skill we utilize repeatedly, and setting the tone for our entire course..

After a standard intro and icebreaker I write the following prompt on the board:

“Describe an effective teacher.”

Since I have taught freshmen four of my six years in the classroom, I am keenly aware of the importance of explaining EVERYTHING.  As much fun as it is to hear a student say “no homework” as if they are the first to come up with the joke, I immediately ask students what the mission of a teacher is.  

As they come to their consensus I break up the class into groups of three.  I task each group to collaborate and develop four criteria to judge whether a teacher is effective or not, keeping in mind the mission of a teacher.  After 3-5 minutes of conversation, each group shares out their list of four.  As they share I write down every response on the board.  Normally we end up with a list of between 10-15 characteristics, since I do not write down repeat suggestions. Continue reading The Syllabus Can Wait! A Day One Strategy for Fostering Student Ownership

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

Five great back to school ideas for social studies teachers

have a great first day

(Several years ago, I wrote a quick post on strategies that can be used during the first week of school. I updated the content and posted it below.)


We have two very simple unbendable, unbreakable rules in our house. No Christmas music allowed before Thanksgiving. No talking about school before August.

It’s August. So . . . we’re talking about school.

Spoiler alert.

If you’re not already at school, you’re heading there soon.

And you probably already have some idea of what you and your students will be doing during the first few days of school. But it’s always nice to have a few extra tips and tricks in your bookbag to start off the school year.

So today? Five great ideas that can be adapted for just about any grade level or content. Use what you can. Adapt what you can’t. Add your own ideas in the comments.

What not to do

Before we get to the good stuff, it’s probably a good idea to think about what doesn’t work. Continue reading Five great back to school ideas for social studies teachers

Play Like a Pirate – Fun needs to be a part of what you do

I spent part of the morning chatting with golfing buddy and educational expert Steve Wyckoff. He’s got a way of sucking people into unplanned conversations that end up making everyone smarter. It’s always a good time when it starts with Steve’s signature line:

“So what’s become clear to you?”

This morning wasn’t any different.

We spent perhaps an hour meandering around a matrix that focuses on levels of engagement matrixstudent engagement. The different quadrants of the matrix ask students to think about how challenging a class is and whether they love or hate it. We’re thinking about using this to get usable data from middle and high school students. As in, “pick a quadrant that best describes each of your classes.”

We talked about how we could use this collected data to help design high quality professional learning. We chatted about what does the word challenging mean. How grit and rigor might figure into the matrix. And how an Uber business model might impact how kids complete the matrix.

The scary thing?

I think a lot of kids sit in classes that could easily fit in the Grind quadrant.

Part of the solution? Continue reading Play Like a Pirate – Fun needs to be a part of what you do

Inspiration from American Colossus Part Two: The Ascendancy Cycle

brands bookIn my previous post I wrote of the inspiration I gained from H.W. Brands’ book American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865-1900; specifically how Brands discussion of the dueling natures of capitalism and democracy could lead to a solid classroom discussion in an 11th grade US History course.

This post is regarding another aspect of Brands’ thesis, something that Brands calls the ascendancy cycle in American history.  What follows is far from a polished lesson, but instead the beginnings of an idea that hopefully will result in something beneficial for my students.

In the book, Brands claims that the competition between the forces of pure capitalism and pure democracy can be used to characterize the last 200 years of American history.  This competition has resulted in the proponents of each of these founding principles consolidating power, furthering their beliefs, losing that power to the opposing group as they create policy furthering their agenda, so on and so forth.  I believe that looking at US history through this lens provides students a concrete example of the ebbs and flows of American politics and how these elections can fundamentally alter the course of the nation. Continue reading Inspiration from American Colossus Part Two: The Ascendancy Cycle