Since the fall of 2010, I have had the incredible opportunity to work with 40 middle school teachers as part of a three-year Teaching American History project. Funded by the federal Department of Education, the TAH grant program was created to encourage and support the teaching of American history.
We’ve spent our time tracing historical events through the 1800s and talking about how best to teach those events to 8th graders. And it’s been awesome. Great conversation. Useful lesson plans. Teaching materials. Famous authors. Primary sources. But suddenly, it’s almost over. We’re in the last four days of the project.
The best of times. The worst of times.
So while I’m documenting the sweet learning going on this week, it will be with a bit of a sad heart.
This week’s focus? Environmental History in the West.
We’ve got some great scholars this week – Mark Fiege with his The Republic of Nature, Elliott West of The Contested Plains, and Thomas Andrews with Killing for Coal. All incredible environmental / western historians. These guys define the phrase “history stud.” Read more
I get the chance to work with all sorts of teachers, across the state and around the country. We’re all different. But when the conversation turns to teaching and learning social studies, I often hear the same thing:
“I have to lecture (or have students read their textbooks out loud, create outlines from the chapter, complete fill-in-the-blank worksheet packets, or watch a 30 year old video converted from 16 mm film) because the kids have to know their facts. It’s not fair asking them to think historically without the basic facts.”
I get it. And I don’t disagree. Kids do need the facts. But I think for too long we’ve just assumed that acquiring foundational knowledge and historical thinking are two distinct and different activities. We fill up their heads with facts and then, if we have time in the school year and after the state assessments are over, then . . . we can try some of that historical thinking stuff.
We need to stop doing that.
The brain is not a basket that we can just fill up with stuff. The brain is a bucket full of holes. The brain works very hard to find ways to forget things and if something is not important enough to be useful, it’s gonna find its way out one of the holes.
Our task is not to fill brains with facts. Our job is Read more
- Google Earth.
- Landsat images.
- Change over time.
- Cool tools for instruction.
What do they all have in common?
Psst. I’ll give you a hint. They were approved last month.
That’s right! The new Kansas social studies standards and even some of the Common Core literacy pieces are asking kids to analyze change over time and to evaluate relationships between people and place. And it’s a good thing.
But are there tools floating around that I can use to help kids do that? Read more
One of the best things about working with social studies teachers is that I get the chance to see all sorts of great ideas and strategies. Several weeks ago, I watched a teacher use something called a SAC or Structured Academic Conversation.
It’s a discussion / debate strategy that I haven’t seen used before. And it worked great so I figured I would share it with you.
History and social studies classes are perfect places for debate. And we’ve all used debates as part of what we do. I’m a big supporter of the idea of having kids research and use that research to create persuasive arguments. I especially like the Fence Sitter idea.
But with these types of class activities, it’s easy for students to lose sight of the objective and get very competitive, focusing more on winning the argument rather than about what they should be learning. And I admit, I’m probably the worst. I love a good social studies argument. And I love to win.
Cause I’m right.
The Structured Academic Conversation can help with this problem. Read more