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Doing more than just treading water . . . three success stories

Resist. Accept. Embrace.

A few days ago, I wrote about the different ways we can choose to respond to the “normal normal” of what school looks like in the spring of 2020.

We can resist the changes that are happening in our schools. We can accept them. Or we can embrace them.

And I understand that every situation is different. Student population. Community demographics. Number of kids. School resources. Tech support.

But when we embrace the current situation, actively look for ways to support our students, and remain focused on quality instruction even when it seems like the circumstances are stacked against us and our kids, it is possible for some truly wonderful learning to happen. Need a few examples of how teachers and educators are embracing the normal normal?

I’ve got some.

I got to know Monty Graber, an 8th grade social studies teacher at Chisholm Middle School, several years ago. And I’ve always been impressed by his commitment to middle school kids and his love for the content. He does a great job of integrating the right kind of edtech in just the right way at just the right time. An extra star in his crown? He, along with the others on his teaching team, jumped off the ledge several years ago as an early adopter of the Kansas state education Redesign process. A true middle school social studies rock star.

As the state has moved to a virtual delivery model for the rest of the school, it could have been easy to resist or just accept the circumstances and quietly ride out the next eight weeks. But that’s not what happened at Chisholm.

After schools were closed to face to face instruction, districts were given a week to develop plans for delivering virtual instruction until the end of May. The 7th and 8th grade ELA and social studies departments at Chisholm MS decided to embrace the opportunity and developed a cross-disciplinary project asking students to produce a variety of products documenting the events of the current pandemic.

The project also asks kids to practice historical thinking skills, look at primary sources, evaluate points of view, and use an assortment of media tools to create their final products.

Because I know Monty and several other teachers who’ve been working in the school Redesign process, I’m not surprised. I love that these eight teachers are not just encouraging kids to continue learning but that the project is exactly what we should be doing with kids whether they’re in a stay at home order or not. Reading. Writing. Process skills. Collaboration. Choice. Student voice. Cross-curricular. Focused on the learning, not seat time. Connecting past and present. Relevant to the learner. Authentic products. Authentic use of tech.

I love love love that the group decided to use StoryCorps as part of the project’s foundation. (Need some idea of the power of StoryCorps?) And how cool is the option for having kids create a Spotify playlist?

The combined 7th and 8th grade team of teacher ninjas includes Micki Fryhover, Jonathan Gaytan, Kristin McNett, Christine Rende, Nova Latta, Jordan Dennis, Daniel Buller – all knocking this out of the park. Realize that it’s a work in progress and the ninjas are adapting in real time but they’ve shared a PDF of what they sent students as an entry document that you need to take a look at. And then take the pieces you like and adapt the project yourself.

Have questions? Would like more details? The Chisholm ninjas would love to help as much as possible. Connect with Monty or the rest of the team by heading to their specific just to this spring Continuous Learning Plan page.

One of the questions that teachers are asking all over the country is how can they adapt face to face instructional activities to a virtual environment. Amy Clements, a US history teacher in the Kiowa County school district, has had success using the very cool hexagon strategy and found a great way to reshape the activity for her students online.

Basic hexagon idea?

In a face to face environment, students are given a set of paper or laminated hexagons with key words or phrases from a specific topic on them. Students then link together related hexagons and explain why they arranged the hexagons the way they did. The more connections a student can make and explain, the more complex the thinking. It’s a great way to encourage historical thinking skills:

  • Analyze connections between people, places, ideas, and events
  • Recognize and evaluate
  • Analyze context
  • Draw conclusions
  • Investigate and connect
  • Advance a thesis
  • Explain multiple causes and effects

Get a sense of what it can look like with this Revolutionary War version shared by KCSS past president Kori Green:

But Amy was curious about what that might look like in a virtual teaching environment. She’s planning a two part approach with her hexagon activity. She first wanted to remind her students of how hexagons work so she created a set of hexagons and made the connections herself. She pasted her version of those hexagons connections as an image in a Google Form sent out to students via Google Classroom. Beneath the image, she posted a series of questions concerning the different connections and asked students to respond.

This provided a handy way for kids to settle back into the process while also giving Amy a quick way to assess student responses:

The second stage of the process will involve a more student focused activity. Amy plans to move on to asking students to make the connections themselves. She’ll use Google Slides and Drawing to generate individual hexagons, paste those hexagons into a Google Slide presentation, share the Slide preso with students, and ask kids to re-arrange / explain them before shooting their versions back to Amy via Classroom.

I love how Amy is keeping everything in her school’s G Suite – that makes it easy to manage and easy to provide feedback. But if you’re not part of the Google world in your school, try one of these two digital hexagon generators:

Social studies tech tool guru Russel Tarr has a handy hexagon generator on his site. Simply copy and paste in your words / phrases and with a couple of clicks, the tool generates a web-based version of your hexagons. (Explore my Civil War online example.) And Pam Hook has created a very cool iOS mobile app that you may want to try out.

A third success story involves finding ways to support reading in a virtual learning environment. We still want kids to read and have access to books, journals, and articles – for both instructional lessons and for fun. But for most of you, traditional access to hard copy books and magazines in a library isn’t an option anymore.

Rachel Yoder, library media specialist at Hesston school district, is finding a variety of ways to share resources with her teachers and students. She highlights just a few of the many tools available via a shared Google Doc. Check out the latest version here. Be sure to explore her links to Facebook Live, YouTube live, and Instagram read alouds by authors.

I especially like the audiobook options that you can use with social studies activities. And I love the fact that most state and public libraries provide digital checkout options using school library accounts. Not sure how that works? Check with your district media specialists. And this is the perfect time to explore what other resources – especially articles and databases – that you and students can access directly from your school library’s website. When you’ve done that, expand on Rachel’s list using this handy one from Reading Rockets.

This spring is unusual. I get that. But be willing to embrace the changes to what we’ve always done and find ways to engage kids with new tools and adapted lessons.


You got this.

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

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 Work with Me page.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jennifer #

    Thank you for sharing this! I was feeling very overwhelmed this morning and reading this has put me back into the right frame of mind. It really came at the perfect time. Kudos to my fellow educators who are doing great things with their students!

    April 6, 2020
    • glennw #


      You’re welcome! It’s always fun to hear what others are doing and what we can borrow and adapt. You got this! (Let me know if I can help in any way!)


      April 6, 2020
  2. Jill Weber #

    Great resources in this post! Everything can be adapted to fit content and age level! Thanks for sharing these successes from rockstar teachers across the state!

    April 6, 2020
    • glennw #

      I love all the ways teachers are creating great things for kids to do.

      (Looking forward to hearing more on Wednesday!)


      April 6, 2020
  3. Larry and Paula Taylor #

    This sounds like a fantastic project. Learning and creativity can be accomplished on many different levels. I think the kids can be challenged and have fun at the same time.

    April 6, 2020
    • glennw #

      Absolutely agree! Also love that the teachers provided a variety of product options.


      April 6, 2020

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