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7 great reads that are gonna make my brain bigger

Most of you already know about the History Tech summer reading program. If you just starting hanging around, a quick recap.

For years, I’ve been making a list of books that I plan to read between the end of school in May and back to school in August. Social studies superhero, teaching guru, and my unofficial mentor back in the day, Mike Ortmann, encouraged me to use June, July, and August as a time for personal professional growth. Don’t just waste it at the pool – use the summer to build up some new content knowledge and research a few teaching strategies with a little individual book study.

It was great advice then. And it still is. Getting better at what we do should always be a focus. My job has changed a bit since the Mike Ortmann days but I still love the idea of stacking up six or seven books and jumping in.

And what better time to do that than right now? You’ve got a little free time. I’m guessing there’s an easy chair by an AC vent or an Adirondack set up outside somewhere.

I’m still a fan of print but feel free to go the e-book or audio route. Heck . . . there are great podcasts out there as well. But Mike was right. Summer’s the perfect time for personal professional growth no matter what format you prefer.

So . . . here’s what I got going. Read more

Google Arts and Culture needs to be in your teacher tool belt

I’ve seen it so many times.

And you probably do it every day, without even realizing it.

I’ll be chatting with a teacher just before they start a class or enter their room and there is subtle but powerful shift in body language. It’s happened so often, I started calling it the Wonder Woman pose. You’re making a very deliberate mental shift to teacher mode and that mental adjustment impacts how you stand and move.

I asked a teacher about it once and she said:

“I’ve never really thought about it. But I guess I’m thinking about what I need to do and how I’m going to do it. I’m clicking on a mental tool belt.”

She’s right. We all put on a virtual tool belt every time we get in front of students. Pulling out just the right tool for a specific task.

If you’ve never been to the Google Arts & Culture site, this is truly one of those tools that needs to be in your instructional tool belt. Arts & Culture gives you free access to millions of primary and secondary resources to use as part of your instruction and learning.

Basically it’s a database of artwork, objects, artifacts, and documents from thousands of museum collections and historical sites from around the world. Much of this content comes from Arts and Culture partners – public museums, galleries, and cultural institutions. These partners also provide such things as 3D tour views and street-view maps that allow you to “walk” through their actual brick and mortar sites. Read more

Wayback Wednesday: These are the 7 most important things our students should be learning. Or maybe not.

I wrote this post about 18 months ago.

Back during the Before Times.

Back when, you know, things were normal and not so fricking . . . not normal. At the time, along with some amazing social studies rock stars, I got the chance to review and update the state standards document. That revised document was approved by the state board just days before all of this fricking . . . not normal stuff started. And I do think this newly approved, just rolled out document is better. It focuses on process while providing flexibility for local districts to decide on specific content.

And in many ways, it’s a fairly radical departure from what many state level standard documents look like. It’s got some suggestions on broad ideas and themes, some ideas on grade level scope and sequence. But no required history minutiae. No specific dates. Or people. Or events. We wanted kids to walk away with critical thinking skills that they can apply in a variety of contexts.

But now I’m curious.

If we had known then what we know now, would we have created something even more revisionist? As in, as the educational system is shifting towards a more blended, hybrid learning environment – one focused on problem-based learning, on a competency-based model rather than seat time – do the standards need to be pared down even more?

What truly is important for social studies students to know and be able to do? And do we even call them social studies students any more? Would Humanities students make more sense?

This Wayback Wednesday post focuses on 2018 Washington Post article that asked seven history gurus a simple question:

What are the most important things young people should be learning in school today?

Your homework is simple. Answer the question: Read more

Wayback Wednesday: It puts kids to sleep. And just so ya know . . . that’s a bad thing. (Plus 18 ways to keep them awake)

School looks different today than it did back in 2017 when I first wrote this. But I think in many ways it applies more now than three years ago.

Why? Because it’s easy right now to revert back to the familiar. To what’s comfortable for us. But the situation teachers and students and families are in right now lends itself to innovation and change and problem based learning. To exploration and virtual reality and primary sources and datasets and all sorts of things that we know are good for kids.

So here it is. A Wayback Wednesday History Tech re-do.

And I know you may not be in the right place for this right now. I get that. If that’s you, I’m good. File this away then for next fall – it’ll still be here.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Shocker. Lecturing to students puts them to sleep.

Who could have guessed?

Well . . . I should have. But I didn’t. During my first few years as a middle school teacher and later, during some time I spent teaching in a college social science department, I lectured.

A lot.

Early on, I didn’t know better. I was taught that way in both K-12 and in my college content courses. There were no real alternatives provided in my ed classes. And I started teaching long before established mentor programs got cranked up. Lecturing in a social studies class was just the way things were done.

By the time I had moved on to higher ed, Read more

So many engaging activities for a blended social studies classroom. So, so many.

We’re getting close.

For many of us, the end of the school year is just a few weeks away. It hasn’t been easy. But perhaps you can see the end of the tunnel approaching.

So couple of things. First thing, hang in there. You need to continue finding ways to engage your kids through to the end.

Second? Making it to the end this spring doesn’t necessarily mean this Continuous Learning Plan / virtual learning / distance learning / online learning / I never see my kids except in a Brandy Bunch looking Zoom call learning is over.

Maybe you’ve already heard this. If you haven’t, take a deep breath. Let it out. Sit down. Take another deep breath. Let it out. Okay . . . here it is:

School in the fall of 2020 isn’t going to look like school in the fall of 2019.

Chances are good that most of you will be back together somehow when we kick off the school year next fall. But chances are also good that some of that will be online, blended, staggered starts, late starts, students split into pods that attend on different days, relaxed attendance policies, a mix of both paper/pencil and tech tools, or longer school days that allow different grades to attend at different times.

Chances are good that it will be . . . well, different.

So what should we be learning about and doing this spring, this summer, and next fall to help our kids as best we can in situations that aren’t anything like what we’ve been in before?

The same sort of stuff we’ve been talking about at History Tech for a while now:

  • authentic problems for kids to solve
  • resources and tools to solve those problems
  • encouraging choice, collaboration, and creation options
  • providing a way for them to share their solutions

For Kansas social studies teachers, some of the best news is that our state standards seem designed specifically for a blended learning environment. With its focus on problem solving, effective instructional practices, historical thinking skills, use of evidence, and communicating solutions rather than rote memorization of basic knowledge, the document should be one of the first places you go.

(And if you’re not from Kansas, it’s okay. We’ll sneak you in. Head over here, then scroll down to the Table of Contents, click on Appendices, find your grade level, explore the sample compelling questions, and browse through the grade level competency lists. And be sure to poke around the Effective Classroom practices section.)

Need a few practical ideas? Read more

6 books you should be reading. (Maybe now. But later works too.)

My daughter calls them “the Before Times.”

As in . . . the days before COVID-19. Before stay at home orders. Before you were teaching via Zoom and Google Classroom and Meet.

In the Before Times, I wouldn’t feel at all uncomfortable suggesting that you read more. Whether you prefer the feel of paper, use a Kindle, or do long reads online, reading for both fun and personal professional growth is always a good thing. Learning more content. Expanding perspectives. Exploring teaching strategies. All make us better at what we do.

And now?

I feel just a little bit uncomfortable. Because the normal normal of spring 2020 is not like the Before Times. You’ve been asked to do a ton of things differently. Your last few months of the school year (and your life) are not what you expected them to be. But here’s the cool thing. As I talk with teachers around the country, the new normal really is becoming a normal normal. Teachers, kids, and families are adapting and doing some really cool stuff.

Is it easy? No. But I get the sense that you’ve been taking deep breaths, figuring some things out, that you’re adjusting and getting your head above water a bit. So I’m suggesting (with a little uncomfortableness) that you begin to think about some personal professional growth. And I’ve got a few suggestions of things to put on your to read list.

I’m a hard copy kind of guy. But feel free to grab these suggestions via a Kindle app. Or even better, grab the Overdrive Libby or Hoopla app and check them out digitally via your local or state libraries.

Let’s start with Read more