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Structure Strips: Training wheels for making claims with evidence

Sure. There are probably some of you bike riding savants who had no need for them. You just hopped on and started riding, jumping ramps, and weaving through traffic – no problem.

But most of us needed them to get started.

Training wheels.

They let us get on our itty bitty bikes and tootle around town like we knew what we were doing. We could do basic stuff like steering around the dog and brake at the corner. But doing all of that while keeping our balance? Not yet.

Writing argumentative essays and making claims using evidence is a lot like that. You’ve got some kids that can jump on and just take off, no problem.

But most of your kids are going to need a little help. Especially elementary and middle school. And there are lots of things you can do to help them keep their balance while doing that.

But I’m really starting to like the idea of something called Structure Strips. I ran across them a few years ago while I was working with some elementary ELA teachers. They were using them to help students create descriptive paragraphs. A little more research highlighted how others were also using Structure Strips in a variety of ways, including in social studies.

And as I’m working with Kansas teachers to prep for next year’s state social studies assessment, these just seem to make more and more sense.

A Structure Strip is a simple but powerful scaffolding tool that can help kids focus on organizing their thinking and written responses to prompts. Kinda like training wheels.

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Your kids are screwing up their summative assessments. 5 ways to fix it

I’m spending a lot of time recently around the soon to be required Kansas state assessment.

A lot of those conversations has focused on ways to prepare our kids for the assessment. Bottom line? Have kids practice critical and historical thinking skills. Done.

At its most basic level, the assessment will ask kids to solve a problem using evidence and communicate the solution. This assumes, obviously, that the kid will have acquired a few historical and critical thinking skills somewhere along the way.

And the more I get the chance to work with our current standards and the planned assessment, I’m starting to realize that we need to do more than just train students to start thinking in certain ways. We also need to train them to stop thinking in other ways. We want them to be able to source and contextualize evidence. We want them to read and write effectively. These are useful skills.

But there are also ways of thinking that can slow that process down and even grow into habits that can lead to ineffective (and perhaps dangerous – I’m looking at you, January 6) citizens.

I recently ran across an older article on my Flipboard feed that specifically addresses these ineffective and potentially dangerous habits. Posted by Lee Watanabe-Crockett over at the Global Digital Citizen, the article highlights both the problems and their solutions. You’ll want to head over there to get the full meal deal but because Lee focuses more on generalities than things specific to social studies and history, I’ve given you just a little taste below:

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It’s okay. Sam Wineburg says kids can hate your class.

Okay. I don’t want kids to hate social studies. Let’s be clear about that from the get go. But . . . I also think that we sometimes fall off the wagon on the other end by working way too hard trying to find activities that our kids will enjoy or projects that are “engaging.”

It’s been more than just a few years since I first heard Sam Wineburg speak. I had read his book Thinking Historically and Other Unnatural Acts. Read some of his early articles on historical thinking skills and loved his ideas about how we needed to re-think our approach to teaching history. But it wasn’t until a combined Kansas / Missouri Council for History Education conference way back in 2008 that I first heard him speak. He opened the conference with a keynote highlighting the main ideas in his book.

And now, of course, he’s a future social studies Hall of Famer having helped to swing the pendulum of social studies instruction over to something more focused on a balance of both content and process.

But something he said way back in 2008 has stuck with me:

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Wayback Wednesday: RealClearHistory – Right there in plain sight. (With maps. Lots of maps.)

I’ve been messing with maps this week. And why not? Maps are awesome. As part of my messing around, I ran across this older post about a great site that I had sort of forgotten. So . . . welcome back to Wayback Wednesday and RealClearHistory.

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For a while now, I’ve hung around over at RealClearPolitics. For a poly sci junkie, it’s a great place to spend a few minutes or a hundred, digging into polls, commentary, and election gossip. But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that realized that the RealClear network of sites also has a History version.

Duh.

At RealClearHistory, you get the same sort of article aggregation from a variety of places in a variety of topics. We can all use a little more content knowledge and RealClearHistory is pretty decent place to find interesting resources and insight. And what better time than summer? To take full advantage, be sure to use the search feature in the top right to find articles, resources, and maps.

Yup. Maps. We all love a great map. Robert Louis Stevenson once observed:

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The Fab Five of Primary Source Archives

All is not yet right with the world. But the NCAA basketball tournament is doing a lot, at least in my little corner piece, to help make things just a little bit better.

I love the upsets. The underdogs. The last second shots. It’s a great way to spend a couple of weekends.

So when I was messing around with a long list of primary source archives this morning and needed a way to organize them, I figured, why not just sort them by five starters and bench players? My starting five are my favorite archives- the ones I know I can always count on, that have easy search features, that let me save and tag stuff, and that are designed for teachers to use.

And there are others, that while super important to the success of the team, come off the bench just when I need them. Maybe their interface is a bit wonky or it can be difficult to find things at times. Maybe their database is a bit small. Or I can’t save what primary sources I find. Still good. Just not part of the starting five.

So if you’re looking for some great primary source archives – look no further. This is the list that takes the championship.

And if you’re looking for a few great ideas for using primary sources in the classroom, try some of these.

History Tech Live Stream – Top 10 Tech List and Hexagonal Thinking

Dan Krutka and I got to know each other several years ago when he was teaching and working at Wichita State.  Dan was one of the original #sschat folks and did a ton for social studies ed here in Kansas. He’s since moved to Texas but continues to be a force in the social studies education and edtech world.

A couple of months ago, we started thinking about doing a series of livestreams. And we figured, why not? We’d get smarter together, maybe a few other people might get smarter, and it gave us both an excuse to spend some time talking about social studies. Cause who doesn’t love talking about social studies? So we sketched out a quick plan that let us hang out once a month, talking about, well . . . social studies tech related stuff.

Dan set up some quick StreamYard / YouTube connections and we streamed a couple of test runs. And last week, we rolled out an actual episode on what we hope will be a regular schedule – the first Monday of the month.

The March episode started with what turned out to be an extended conversation around a Top Ten tech list that Dan had created back in 2017. Dan was curious if any tools that made his list were still usable. We decided yes and no.

The highlights?

  • We’re upset about Google Expeditions
  • We love Smithsonian Learning Lab
  • Docsteach is still awesome
  • Chronicling America has been updated

We eventually got to a discussion about the power of Hexagonal Thinking and a few tech tools that can help you pull it off.

Catch the latest episode below and save the date to stop by April 5 on Dan’s channel: Read more