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I’m still loving hexagonal thinking. And so should you.

I can’t remember where I first learned about hexagons in the classrooms. But I’ve loved them ever since I started exploring the idea. If you’re already using hexagons, good on you. You are excused. (Though feel free to hang around for a quick refresher and maybe a couple of new tools.)

If you’re not quite sure what I’m talking about, you’re in the right place.

Using hexagonal thinking in the social studies classroom is a way for students to think about and understand connections between ideas, people, places, dates, events – basically all the stuff we’re asking our kids to mess with while they’re in our classrooms. Hexagons are a perfect tool or creating intentional conversations between students and content. They give you a great tool to encourage deep and critical thinking about the foundational knowledge that make up the discipline.

Why are they perfect?

A hexagon can connect with six other hexagons. And those six can connect with even more. So when you put a bunch of ideas or events, people or places on a bunch of hexagons and pass them out to different groups of kids, every conversation and every set of connections will be different, even though the decks of hexagons they received are all the same. The discussions that develop will go in all sorts of directions, with kids asking questions and justifying their connections with evidence. And this works in all the social studies disciplines.

The basic idea? Read more

Throwback Thursday: TPS Inquiry Kits should be on your Faves list

Inquiry is one of the biggest buzz words in the social studies world. And it should be. Having kids use evidence to solve problems is a great way to build foundational knowledge while encouraging critical thinking skills. About I year ago, I ran across a great resource designed specifically to help teachers use and develop there own inquiry based lessons.

So today it’s Throwback Thursday.

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

Hypothetical.

You’re looking to create an Inquiry Design Model lesson and need some resources. Maybe you and your kids are getting ready to start a problem-based project. Perhaps you need some really good thinking or writing prompts. Or four or five engaging primary sources to add to your instructional unit.

Where do you go to find what you’re looking for? What’s your go to?

The Library of Congress, National Archives, and SHEG are my top three. But I’ve got a new favorite.

Developed by the folks at Maryland Public Television, the Maryland Department of Education, and the Maryland Humanities Council with funding from the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program, the recently created Social Studies Inquiry Kits give you access to great questions and powerful primary sources.

Each kit contains three guiding questions, five primary sources, and one secondary source. The Inquiry Kits are designed specifically to help as you plan your instruction. We know that it can be hard to work with primary sources in many of our classrooms. Sources are often not accessible, because of illegible text, high reading level, or simply a lack of interest on the part of students.

So how can Inquiry Kits help? Read more

You need to be using the Smithsonian History Explorer. Seriously.

I thought I knew the Smithsonian History Explorer. I’ve been using it and recommending it for years. But I was wrong. I don’t know the Smithsonian History Explorer.

Not like I should know it. Cause they’ve changed and updated it.

So if you teach US history (or even world), you seriously need to head over and do some poking around. The staff from the Smithsonian  Museum of American History has added so many new resources, lessons, activities, and themes, I guarantee you’ll walk away with all sorts of stuff you can incorporate into your instruction tomorrow.

Start by using the Read more

11 history podcasts. Cause . . . you know, squirrels.

Back in the Before Times, I was traveling constantly. A lot of that involved hours of drive time. And so I did what many of you did. I listened to audio books.

Well . . . I tried to. I never seemed to get the hang of it. You know, cause listening is hard.

I would lose focus. I would need to pass a semi or make a stop for gas or look, a squirrel! And the book would just keep on going as if I wasn’t even there. Then I’d rewind. Then fast forward because I went back too far. Then another squirrel. Yes, definitely first world problems. But it became a deal breaker.

Now, of course, not as much driving. But even in the Before Times, I had switched over to podcasts. Not sure why there’s a difference between those and audio books but I don’t seem to have trouble following podcasts. Maybe because they’re shorter and more focused. Some research is telling us that podcasts feel more conversational than books and make them easier to digest. Part of it, I’m sure, is that podcasts are free. For whatever reason, podcasts for the win.

And for us as social studies teachers, podcasts can go beyond just a way to kill time in the car. They can also be great teaching and learning tools. For personal professional growth, the right sort of podcast is perfect for building content knowledge. For instruction, podcasts can be perfect for doing the same for your kids.

What are some other reasons to use podcasts? Read more

History shouldn’t be boring. Or leave out stuff. Resources for your Indigenous Peoples’ Day

A year or so ago, I sat with a group of upper elementary teachers and asked them to read an article titled How Do We Teach With Primary Sources When So Many Voices Are Missing? Published by Education Week, the article highlights the difficulty in telling a complete story when Native American voices are hard to find.

Bottom line? We need to train both ourselves and our students to look beyond what the easy to find sources are telling us. It’s what Sam Wineburg once called “reading the silences.” We need to be more intentional about finding and using sources that fill in those silences, that let kids listen to the stories that are often untold and left out. 

Finding these missing voices is important for a lot of reasons. But one particular quote in the EdWeek article stood out for me:

The nice little progressive American story is boring. Once students realize it’s complicated, it’s interesting.

We want our kids to go beyond just hearing and memorizing the story. When students get the chance to hear the nuance and connections and people and interactions and relationships and context and motivations and emotion and similarities to contemporary issues, you don’t have to work very hard to keep them engaged.

No one likes a boring story. No one sits through a crappy movie on Netflix. No one finishes a book with poorly written and unimaginative characters.

So why should a student have to sit through a tedious and dull history class that tells a story without subtlety or interesting individuals? Read more