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Masterpiece Matchup: Stick figures, primary sources, and amped up learning

I’m so lucky. Four times a year with the Essdack SS PLC, I get the chance to sit around, drink as much Diet Pepsi as I want, talk to super smart social studies teachers, and walk away smarter.

We started meeting after our last Teaching American History grant ended because we couldn’t imagine not getting together anymore. Over the last ten years or so, the group has changed but the goal is still the same:

sit around, drink Diet Pepsi, talk to super smart social studies teachers, walk away smarter.

Last week was no different. Jill Weber shared some claim / evidence / reasoning magic. We explored the brand new African Americans in the Midwest website, and Laura McFarren walked us through something she calls Masterpiece Matchup.

Laura teaches middle school US History in Derby and is always on the lookout for ways to engage her kids with primary sources. Cause . . . like for most of us, that’s always a struggle. But in a perfect example of teachers helping teachers, Laura ran across an idea from Amanda Sandoval called Masterpiece Matchup. (FYI – Amanda is amazing. And, yes, you should be following her. If for no other reason than to see how she has her learning environment arranged.)

Laura took Amanda’s original idea, mashed it up with a SHEG Structured Academic Controversy that focuses on the Lewis and Clark expedition, tried it in her 8th grade classroom, and shared it with the group. And it was awesome. As the A-Team’s Hannibal Smith used to say:

Because this activity has pretty much everything. Primary sources. Compelling question. Small group. Large group. Individual work. High tech. Low tech. Hands-on. Movement. Historical thinking. And . . . art.

Yup. Art. As both Jill and Laura said . . . sometimes kids just like to color. And we know it’s good for them.

The goal of Laura’s activity is to encourage kids to think and talk more deeply around a set of primary sources.

Here’s how it works:

  • Start with a SHEG lesson. In this case, Laura wanted students to walk through one of SHEG’s Structured Academic Controversy. (We’ve talked before about powerful these are.) She choose one that asks kids to read five primary sources that give different accounts of how Lewis and Clark treated the Native Americans they met on their expedition. Students are assigned to teams to locate evidence to support or refute the claim that Lewis and Clark were respectful to Native Americans. Students present their evidence to the opposing side and then come to a consensus on an answer to the central historical question.
  • Provide students with copies of the primary sources. (The bonus with SHEG? The docs are already modified for use with kids.)
  • Use a traditional primary source analysis worksheet activity to work through the sources as a whole group.
  • Assign each student to one of the primary sources. Be sure that each of the different sources is lettered – so some kids will get a copy of Document A, some will get Document B, etc.(You could also put kids in small groups but both Laura and Amanda suggest working individually with this.)
  • Ask students to re-read their source and then use crayons, colored pencils, markers, or water colors to “recreate” their source visually. So depending on their interpretation of the document, their artwork will reflect that thinking. And it’s okay if it’s mostly stick figures. But make sure that they know to put their document’s assigned letter on their artwork.
  • Collect the artwork and organize it by the letter. The next day, hang all of Document A artwork on one wall, all of Document B artwork on another wall, etc.
  • Ask students gather all of the primary sources and do a gallery walk to examine the different pieces of art. Their job is to match the artwork collections to the correct primary source. So they should recognize their own artwork in one of the galleries but encourage conversations among students to help them identify the others.
  • Ask students to make their guesses and justify their thinking. This could happen in small groups, sticky note comments left at each gallery, or more formal writing paper and pencil or digitally.

This leads perfectly into organizing students into the Structured Academic Controversy. In this case, dividing students into groups and assigning them a position that addresses the SAC’s compelling question: “Were Lewis and Clark respectful to the Native Americans they met on their journey?

Laura’s evaluation of how it worked in her classroom?

The SAC went so much better. Kids really knew their documents and were able to dig into the SAC conversations at a deeper level. Definitely a redo.

That’s all I need to know.

We see how powerful artwork and visuals can be in the learning process. And we understand how effective a SAC can be. When we combine both of these things, as Laura has done, the learning goes from ho-hum to supercharged.

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

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.

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