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Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast and 5 easy ways to use it

Most of us like to think that we know a lot of history stuff. We’re great at Trivial Pursuit, Heads Up, and You Don’t Know Jack. We love reading non-fiction. We enjoy poking holes in the plots of “historical” movies and generally annoy our friends with random historical facts, Cliff Clavin style.

And, in the back of our minds, we’re always a bit concerned that someone else might just know more about history than we do. So we also are always on the hunt for additional history trivia bits.

A great place to find those cool history tidbits and extra background for your class is Read more

What’s our job?

Next spring, the Kansas Department of Education will roll out a pilot version of the Social Studies State Assessment. The test is designed to measure how well classroom instruction is aligned to the one-year old state standards by focusing on document analysis and addressing a specific writing prompt. It will be interesting.

For quite some time, the Kansas state standards – like many across the country – focused on the collection and memorization of content. The test aligned to those standards was 60 multiple choice questions that measured the ability of a kid to memorize data. It’s not hard to figure out what happened next.

We know that tests drive instruction and so what happened over time in Kansas – like many states across the country – was that teachers focused on finding the best way to make sure that students could regurgitate specific content knowledge.

So instead of making sure kids could process information and solve realistic problems, the goal in many schools was to find a way to game the system. We knew which specific content indicators were on the test (and because the questions never changed most of us knew what exactly what would be asked) and so class content became focused just on those things. Teachers drilled and killed on specific indicators without context. Kids memorized data in no particular order.

All in the name of test scores and the exalted Standard of Excellence that indicated the majority of your students were at the “proficient” level. And, of course, most schools eventually achieved the Standard of Excellence. Kids and teachers got good at playing the game.

Except we were all playing the wrong game.

We don’t need kids who are able to memorize 60 specific facts about 30 specific content indicators. We need kids who ask good questions. Analyze evidence. Work with others. Make mistakes. Learn from their mistakes. Solve problems. Communicate solutions.

Which brings me to last weekend. Read more

2 Google Chrome extensions I’m falling in love with

I’ve been on a bit of a Chrome browser / Chromebook / Google Apps for Education kick lately. There’s always been a strong connection between me and Google but we’ve been hanging out a lot more the last month or so.

Firefox has been ticking me off since last spring and so I migrated over to Chrome during the summer. I got my first Chromebook in July. Had the chance to do some training on using Google Drive mobile apps. And we’re hosting an awesome GAFE/Chromebook mini-conference in October. So it’s past the tipping my toe in the water stage. I’m at least waist deep and then some.

As a result of all the Google love, I’ve been spending hours in the Google Web Store.  Trust me . . . it’s a quick way to lose all sense of time. But I have found some useful stuff in there. Today? Two of my latest finds that I think you might like too.

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Tip of the Week: Social Studies Web Site Showdown

I was working with some secondary teachers a few weeks ago and our conversation shifted into the topics of useful websites. What sites were the best and most useful? Where can teachers find primary sources slash lesson plans slash videos slash whatever. We were a bit off task but the discussion turned out to be very helpful.

(I flashed back a bit to my middle school teaching days when my kids would work very hard trying to shift the conversation over to current events rather than, say . . . causes of the Civil War. Shocker. It wasn’t that hard.)

The web site discussion has stayed with me. What are the best sites for social studies teachers? Are there ten or five or one site that is so good that everyone, everyone, should be using? I’ve got my favorites. You’ve got yours. But I’m curious what that sort of combined list might look like.

More importantly, cause I’m competitive like that, can we narrow this down to the top four, the top two, to the ultimate, best social studies web site of all time? I think we can.

So . . . welcome to the first annual Social Studies Web Site Showdown!

Between now and September 12, I will be collecting in the comments below, via email, and online via this Google Form your favorite social studies web sites. I will then seed the top 32 sites into a tournament bracket and we’ll play off the sites until we get to the Final Four and ultimately the best social studies web site of all time. So let me know – what are your favorite sites? Leave up to ten of your favs.

Let the Showdown begin!

24 great places to find primary sources

It’s always a difficult task. If we’re going to have kids think historically and to solve problems, you’re gonna need two things. Engaging and authentic problems to solve. And . . . evidence they can use to solve the problem.

For teachers, of course, both of those things present a challenge. Creating great questions is not easy. NCLB and older standards encouraged us to feed kids low level questions that anyone with a cell phone could Google in a minute. Writing un-Googleable questions is hard.

But even when we can make that happen, teachers often run into another issue. Where to find useful evidence? What primary and secondary sources can I make available to students? Read more

How to make your presentations awesome

I had a conversation several days ago with a teacher who was asking all the right questions. She wanted ideas of what works, what the research is saying is great for kids. In her first year, she was using primary sources and other kinds of evidence. She was having kids address deep questions. But she was still concerned about lecturing too much.

And I had to agree. She was probably lecturing too much. It’s an easy habit to fall back on – it makes it seem like you’re doing your job. It fills the time. It covers the content. And it’s often a “great” classroom management tool . . . in the sense that kids are busy “learning” so they’re not setting stuff on fire.

But for a lot of reasons – most of them accurate – lecture as an instructional tool is seen as a bad thing. And for the most part, I agree. Kids need to be solving problems. Working in groups. Messing with evidence. Creating products. Communicating solutions. It’s tough doing that when they’re sitting in rows listening to you.

But I will also suggest that short, interactive conversations between you and your students can be one way for kids to collect foundational knowledge that helps them do those other things. Short and interactive being the operative words here.

Another word that needs to be added to the mix?

Read more

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