Skip to content

It’s okay to throw stuff out. Now’s a good time to rethink a lot of what we’re doing.

This morning, I was poking around in the History Tech archives looking for some research on the best way to integrate literature into social studies instruction. And as often happens, I got sucked down a rabbit hole and ran across a different article I wrote five years ago and forgotten all about.

With the uncertainty of the next few months and the changes we’re being asked to make, the message seems appropriate to share today. Simply put, what we’ve always done in the past probably isn’t going to work today. Traditional types of instruction like 45 minute lectures or packets of worksheets asking kids to copy and paste answers from a textbook have never been good for kids. They become even less useful in a hybrid or remote learning environment.

A silver lining in what we’re all experiencing right now is that we have permission to do social studies differently. And not just permission. Depending on where you teach, you’ve got active support and encouragement from the powers on high to really rethink our instruction. (In Kansas, the state ed department published a 1000 page document detailing what that might look like. Feel free to jump in on that.)

Will it be easy? Nope.

Is it something we need to do? Yes . . . absolutely.

I’ve edited the five year old post a bit to update the resources at the end. But the message remains the same. Holding on to what we know won’t work is not doing our kids any favors. Be willing to lean into the hard work ahead, throw out the old, and embrace a situation with literally no walls that allows you the freedom to do all sorts of amazing things.


I knew the day was coming. There is a fairly extensive remodeling project happening in our office, including the need to move some storage areas to make room for a new ESSDACK MakerSpace.

One of the storage areas sitting right in the middle of the danger zone includes some of my stuff. So Michelle, our Facilities Director and owner of the trademarked phrase “clean up your crap,” let me know that my things had to find other living arrangements.

Fifteen years. That’s how long I’ve had the privilege of spending time here. Lots of good times. But also lots of stuff. Seriously, lots of stuff. So I spent four hours this morning going through shelves, folders, and three ring binders trying to decide what to keep and what to toss.

recycle 750

Yeah. Fifteen years of collecting books and resources. Fifteen years of lesson plan ideas and materials. Journals, articles. Freebies from conferences. Workshop handouts.

I eventually ended up with seven very full boxes headed to the recycle bin.

But here’s the thing. I was keeping tons of stuff that was outdated. I found grant applications from 2003. As in unsuccessful grant applications from 2003. Stuff that literally is no longer supported by research. It needed to go. And for a variety of reasons, it was still hanging around.

It was simply time to get rid of it. And without the remodel happening, I probably would have hung onto it for another 15 years. I needed that urgency to start the process.

I think we’re all like that sometimes. We get used to what we’re used to. Same strategies. Same novels. Same resources. Same primary sources. And I know that some of that sort of stuff we need to keep. I didn’t throw all my goodies away.

But summer is a great time to mentally and physically re-think what we do during the other nine months. What worked well? What didn’t?

It might be as simple as looking at all of your lesson plans through the simple filter of

What have I done the same way for the last three years? If I stopped doing _________ and started doing _________, how might that change make the lesson better?

Another question to ask

How can I modify this unit to make it less direct instruction and more student centered, less memorizing and more focused on historical thinking skills, less textbook and more literature, art, and music?

And I know that this can sometimes feel like cutting off a limb. The cool thing is that it’s gonna grow back and it’s gonna be better. But the growth that we know is going to happen sometimes has to start with a chainsaw and a recycle bin.

Need some resources to start the process? Try some of these:

Jill Weber is one of the best. She gets it. And even better, she’s always willing to share it. She recently posted her thoughts about what her classroom is gonna look like along with a link to a Google folder with sample resources she’s developed for a 1920s unit. A great article for giving you a sense of what you might be able to do.

EDweek and Larry Ferlazzo chat with eight teachers who are also doing great stuff remotely. Catch their thoughts and steal integrate their best ideas into yours.

These lesson plan and activity sites are wonderful places to find quality examples – perfect for adapting to the kinds of things Jill and others are asking from their kids:

I love #sschat. The hashtag represents a group of social studies teachers living in the virtual world of Twitter that are a couple thousand of your best friends. You just might not know it yet. Every Monday evening there is an online get together using the hashtag – you can follow along even without a Twitter account. And all the chats are archived so you can browse through them later. Post a Tweet with the hashtag anytime and you’re hooked directly into an instant PLC to help with all your questions.

Common Sense has put together a nice collection of tools for the hybrid world we’re all heading towards. (Be sure to click the tab at the top if you’re looking for K-5 stuff.) Explore their Distance Learning Teacher Center and the Social Studies specific page.

Our Story is a great site for littles and upper elementary. Activities and strategies related to fiction and nonfiction literature.

Most of us are using Google Tools. Explore their new Teach From Anywhere site with tons of how-to’s. And use this Google Classroom tutorial if you’re jumping into that world.


What are you going to throw away?

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

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

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Out with the old | Kate's Crate

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: