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Happy 100th Birthday National Park Service!

Way back in August of 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the National Park Service Organic Act, establishing the creation of the National Park Service “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife” found inside the United States and make them available for public enjoyment.

According to National Geographic and the NPS, there are more than 84 million acres across the U.S., at sites as diverse as national monuments, Civil War battlefields, and historic sites. There’s a big range in size among NPS sites, too: The biggest is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska, at 13.2 million acres, while the smallest is Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania, at 0.02 acre. These sites attract more than 300 million visitors every year.

Shelton Johnson, a park ranger at Yosemite National Park and published author, shared his thoughts on this important milestone.

“No longer were rivers a force to be dammed, virgin forests a source for board-feet, or mountainsides blasted for gemstones or coal. The idea of parks has the power to transcend culture, a currency whose value speaks of something profoundly human.”

To celebrate, Read more

Newsela adds “tampered” primary sources

Last week, I had the chance to lead a quick conversation centered on this simple question:

“Is it ever okay to tamper with history?”

As in . . . is it okay to modify and edit the primary and secondary sources that our students use as part of the historical thinking process?

It’s always an interesting conversation. Because without fail, you get both ends of the continuum. On one end, you’ll have teachers who will argue for “absolutely not. You never mess with the raw data of history.” Or the other side that sees no problem with massive changes in vocabulary, wording, and voice.

I’m gonna fall somewhere in the middle. There are steps that you need to follow but without some editing and modification, most primary sources are not accessible to most of your students. Providing evidence that is usable to your kids is one of the first steps in creating historically literate students and modifying difficult to understand evidence is often necessary.

An article written in 2009 by historical thinking gurus Sam Wineburg and Daisy Martin for the National Council for the Social Studies journal, Social Education, provides some helpful tips for what this can look like.

In Tampering with History: Adapting Primary Sources for Struggling Readers, the two write:

We are unabashedly urging history teachers to tamper with history.

And in addition to offering a variety of arguments supporting that statement, the two also provide a three step process for how you can do the tampering. It’s an article you need to spend time walking through – perfect for the year’s first department meeting.

But once convinced, most of us run into the next set of problems. Finding the time to doing the tampering or finding already pre-tampered documents. The curriculum at the Stanford History Education Group Reading Like a Historian is a great place to start but other modified documents are practically non-existent.

Until now. Read more

Brainstorming is a waste of time. Try this instead

We’ve been a part of it. We’ve all used it. And we’ve probably all noticed that it really doesn’t work very well.

Brainstorming sounds like a good strategy. Generate new ideas. Encourage creativity. Engage lots of people all at once. In theory, it makes all sorts of sense.

But in practice, it usually falls flat.

Brainstorming was first introduced by Alex Osborn, an ad man in the 1950s. And it’s been used by millions of people, including educators. The problem?

There’s a ton of evidence that suggests that brainstorming actually harms creativity. A recent article by Jonah Lehrer in The New Yorker highlights study after study that found individuals generate more ideas on their own than in groups.

A meta-analytic review says that we’re more likely to develop better ideas when we don’t interact with others. Brainstorming is particularly more likely to limit creativity in larger groups, when teams are too closely supervised, and when performance is oral rather than written.

Why? Read more

Guest Post: Jill Weber and historical thinking bootcamp

Jill Weber gets it. She’s a middle school teacher honing her craft in Cheney, Kansas and she is rocking it.

Finding the balance between foundational content and process. Problems to solve. Evidence to analyze. No obvious answers. Academic discomfort. Groups to work in. Hands on. Physical movement. Obvious passion for the subject.

She’s one of those teachers that I would have wanted for my own kids to have when they were in middle school. And I’ve had the opportunity to work with her for almost six years.

She jumped in feet first to our second Teaching American History project back in 2010 and then transitioned into the ESSDACK social studies PLC. She was awarded the Kansas Council for the Social Studies 2016 secondary mini-grant and is the 2016 Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year. And she shares a ton of her stuff on A View of the Web.

One of her recent posts caught my eye and asked if I could re-post it here. I love her idea of starting off the school year with a historical thinking bootcamp. She wants her middle schoolers to understand what they’re getting into and spends six days training her kids in the basics of thinking and reading like historians.

This is the sort of thing that I think all good social studies teachers are doing but I like that Jill has been very intentional about planning for this type of learning to happen. And while her focus is on middle school and Kansas / US history, this is stuff that all of us need to be doing.

So use what you can and adapt where needed but put these ideas into practice. Read more

Tip of the Week: Seven Social Studies Strategies for Back to School

Yup. It’s that time of year already. The annual Back to School Ideas in a Social Studies Classroom post. And I know some are already back in the classroom but most of you crank up this week or next.

So. Here ya go.

Use what you can. Adapt what you can’t. Add your own ideas in the comments.

What not to do

Before we get going with what we know works, it’s probably a good idea to think about what doesn’t. Read more

Play Like a Pirate – Fun is an essential part of learning

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 student 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.” Read more

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