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Tip of the Week: 8 great elementary social studies teaching ideas and one great conference

It seems like a natural fit. Combine social studies content such as early American colonies with important ELA skills such as close reading and writing to support a claim. Great secondary social studies teachers have been doing this sort of thing forever. Create an engaging question. Encourage the use and analysis of primary, secondary, and literary sources. Provide print and digital tools for the creation of solutions to the question.

But for elementary teachers, this process can seem intimidating. And time-consuming. And confusing. For years, NCLB encouraged a focus on math and ELA. Social studies found itself on the fringes of most elementary building schedules. So most K-6 teachers, many without a strong background in social studies and without the support for finding ways to integrate social studies into their instruction, have been doing very little with the discipline.

That’s changing. Current state and national standards in both ELA and social studies are now asking grade schools to shift their instructional model. Common Core literacy standards for history and government are encouraging the use of social studies content as the vehicle for developing reading, writing, and speaking skills.

That’s the good thing. The bad thing? Read more

#WHA2016 and creativity in the K-20 social studies classroom

Okay. I’m trying to not let my history fanboy nerdiness bubble over too much. I sitting in on a discussion at the Western History Association conference and Richard White is one of the panelists.

Yes. There are others on the panel. Brian Collier (Notre Dame University), Linda Sargent Wood (Northern Arizona University), Jean O’Brien (University of Minnesota), Darla Mallein (Emporia State University), Tom Hoogland (Minnesota National History Day), and Brendan Bell (Cristo Rey High School). All wonderful people.

But seriously? Richard White? It’s a bit like my daughter heading to ComicCon and getting the chance to sit next to the cast of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Just so cool.

And once I got over the “that’s actually Richard White right there” phase, I was able to jot down a few things from the conversation. The panel discussed a variety of topics and started by talking about the most important innovation in teaching history.

Several panelists highlighted the impact Read more

GameOn World: Geography game that plays like Kahoot

If you love Kahoot – and who doesn’t – you’re gonna love Game On.

The idea is simple. Start a game. Students browse to on any smart device. Share a pin number with your students. Start the game. Project questions and images onto a screen. Students view questions on screen. They answer the questions on their device. Students see the results on the large screen.

And here’s the cool part. While there are a variety of topics, you can choose to focus on geography and history facts. Read more

Argumentative writing prompts, scaffolded tasks, and using evidence

We want our students to grapple more with content, to think historically, and solve problems. One of the ways we can support this behavior is by asking our kids to think and write to support a claim using evidence.

Here in the great state of Kansas basketball, we use the term argumentative writing to describe this process. That term makes it sound a little too much like the recent televised debates but asking kids to create an argument and to support that argument really is a good thing. We want them to be able to look at a problem, gather and organize evidence, and use that evidence to create a well-supported argument.

As many of us move from a content focused instructional model to one that instead asks students to use that content in authentic ways, it can sometimes be difficult knowing how to actually have them write argumentatively. But there are resources available to help with your lesson design. I’ve shared a few of these resources below. Pick and choose the ones that work best for you.

The very excellent website, Read more

Mission US: Up from the Dust

Mission US: “Up from the Dust” is the newest simulation from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and WNET with a focus on saving the Texas family farm during the Dust Bowl.

The mission provides young people with an experiential understanding of the enormous hardships facing Americans during the late 1920s and early 1930s, as they struggled against the joint catastrophes of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. The game is divided into five parts, with a prologue offering background information and an epilogue extending the story of the main characters. A new feature in Mission 5 is a tool for gathering and organizing historical evidence to support explanatory and argumentative writing aligned to the mission’s learning goals.

Students assume the roles of Frank and Ginny Dunn, twins growing up on a wheat farm in the Texas Panhandle. The simulation begins in summer 1929, as the Dunn family is preparing to plant their wheat crop. During the 1929-1930 growing season, the stock market crashes and wheat prices begin a precipitous fall. Later, a drought adds to their problems. Over the next few years, the Dunns witness how the Great Depression affects not only their neighbors in Texas, but people all across the United States. They also experience how people came together, both through charity and government programs, to get through this challenging period in American history. Read more

Summer reading list? Epic fail. Fall learning? 3 ways it can still happen

It really is a noble goal.

I start each June with the idea of working my way through 4-6 books before September that can help me grow professionally and personally. It’s a habit that started way back during my middle school teaching days and it makes a lot of sense – focus intentionally on finding ways to improve my content knowledge and teaching chops.

Of course, it never really happens. I set aside a pile of books – both print and digital – with the best of intentions. But . . . something always sidetracks me from my original list. One year, I got sucked away into a Civil War blackhole. Some years, it’s just that I was too ambitious with my list. Other times, my list turned out to be less than interesting than I thought they would be and I moved onto other titles.

This year? Pretty much the same result – I went four for seven. The theme this summer, of course, was politics and presidential elections. I did actually get through: Read more