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History is like a pig. A few valuable tools that can help catch it

Five years ago, the Kansas State Board of Education approved the adoption of a new set of state social studies standards. Next week, I get the chance to work with 30 social studies teachers as we start a process of revising them.

If you weren’t around the first time, here’s the Cliff Notes version. Previous to 2013, the standards focused almost entirely on discrete facts and the 60 question multiple choice state assessment encouraged teachers to focus on training students to memorize those facts.

Nothing wrong with memorizing facts . . . if you actually apply those facts while solving problems, becoming an engaged citizen, and working to make the world a better place. But that rarely happen in most classrooms. Schools across the state were re-arranging curriculum so that only the tested indicators were taught, often without context.

But in 2011, the winds shifted. The work of Sam Wineburg and others suggested that traditional social studies curriculum and instruction needed a do-over. So some thirty-plus educators came together and spent 18 months creating a standards document that encouraged process as well as content. Historical thinking skills along with facts. Contextual and authentic problem solving using evidence.

And now?

And now we get the chance to improve on what we came up with five years ago. We pushed out some surveys. We’ve gotten a ton of feedback. Almost every one of the group is a classroom teacher with five years experience using the document. How to make it better?

During an interweb browsing session in preparation for our work next week, I ran across an interesting quote. It’s not a real quote by an actual person but it fits, I think, what we’re trying to accomplish in a couple of ways.

In the book Flaubert’s Parrot by author Julian Barnes, a character reminisces about his earlier school days:

. . . some pranksters at an end-of-term dance released into the hall a piglet which had been smeared with grease. It squirmed between legs, evaded capture, squealed a lot. People fell over trying to grasp it, and were made to look ridiculous in the process. The past often seems to behave like that piglet.

As teachers, this is obviously something that we deal with everyday. History is hard. It’s like a greased pig. We can’t ignore it even though it’s difficult to grab and can be uncooperative. But we know it’s a problem we have to solve in order to move forward.

So we want kids to have the tools and skills needed to understand the past. But we also want them to grasp the ambiguity of it all. History is hard. And is biased. And can be viewed differently through different lenses. And it takes some effort to make sense of it.

Your task is difficult. Greased pigs always are. The soon to be revised state standards will help. Between now and then, use the following tools to make your life a little easier:

  • Zoom In
    This under the radar site went live a few years ago but it’s still a powerful tool for training kids in the art of argumentative writing and the use of primary sources.
  • Stanford History Education Group
    The gold standard of historical thinking skills. And assessment. And civic online literacy.
  • DocsTeach
    The National Archives version of SHEG. Thousands of activities – all aligned to thinking skills and primary sources.
  • Graphic Organizers
    Old school is still good school if it helps us do our jobs better.
  • EDSITEment
    Lessons, activities, and resources ready to use.

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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Speaking and Consulting page.


One Comment Post a comment
  1. Paige Deathe #

    Looking forward to next week!

    August 21, 2018

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