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4 sites that support argumentative literacy, debates, and controversial topics

Next week, I’ll be spending time with a group of teachers as we discuss ways to support reading and writing in the social studies. Specifically, strategies for creating formative feedback opportunities that support argumentative and persuasive writing.

And what better way than by using contemporary issues tied to historical events?

A middle school teacher might use the exodus of unemployed from Detroit between 2008 and 2015 as a way to talk about why families moved to the American West during the mid to late 1800s. A high school teacher might use the Nuremberg Laws in 1930s Germany to highlight current immigration conversations. Perhaps a teacher might use laws such as the Kansas Act of 1940 and the House Concurrent Resolution 108 of 1953 to guide student thinking into 21st century discussions on race in the US and around the world.

But it’s always nice to have a little help. So plan to check out these four sites that provide resources and ideas that can help you as you delve into contemporary issues. Read more

Online resources for controversial topics

The Teaching History website always has great stuff. A recent article by Ben Bohmfalk, a high school teacher from Colorado, continues the tradition of excellence. Ben shares a few websites that can help you and your students gather un-biased information about current events, policy issues, and election topics.

He highlights three and I’ve added four of my own.

ProCon.org
An independent non-profit designed “to provide resources for critical thinking and to educate without bias.”

National Discussion and Debate Series
Video, text, and links from debates at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. This program was created “to encourage a vigorous, well-informed discussion on the national stage about the major issues of our time.”

Debatepedia
“The Wikipedia of debates . . . an encyclopedia of pro and con arguments and quotes. A project of the International Debate Education Association

PolitiFact
Every day, PolitiFact and its partner news organization examine statements by anyone who speaks up in American politics. They research these statements and then rate the accuracy on the handy-dandy Truth-O-Meter.

Factcheck.org
A nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.

FactCheckEd.org
The aim is to help students learn to be smart consumers of information, not to accept it at face value; to dig for facts; and to weigh evidence logically. Lesson plans, resources, and frameworks for analyzing information.

Flackcheck.org
Uses parody and humor to debunk false political advertising, poke fun at extreme language, and hold the media accountable for their reporting on political campaigns.

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Protests are as American as . . . well, America. And, sadly, so is racism. Resources for teaching about both

“. . . it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
Angela Davis

Let’s be clear.

I really have no idea what I’m talking about. As a middle aged white guy born and raised in Western Kansas, who taught 8th graders in a suburban school district and higher ed at a small liberal arts college, I’m probably the last person who might have some answers to the issues of racial injustice and systemic racism in the United States.

But I do know that I need to take responsibility for trying to figure it out. How to start? By acknowledging the privileges I enjoy because of who and what I am.

I’ve never enslaved others or transported kidnapped Africans to North America or passed Jim Crow legislation or attacked civil rights workers. But I can acknowledge that the world I live in was built by people who did, as part of a system specifically designed to benefit me and others like me. Uncomfortable as it is to admit, some of my actions in this world have directly or indirectly contributed to further divisions. And I need to continue learning how best to work alongside others to correct the flaws in that system.

As a history teacher, it’s easy for me to think of America in the abstract. But we need to recognize and admit that there has always been two Americas. The abstract one – the one we aspire to, a place of equality and freedom and idealism and democracy. You know, the America we teach our kids.

And then there’s that other America, the actual one we all live in. For many of us – especially those of us living and teaching in small, rural, mostly white communities – life can seem like the one we teach. So it’s easy to forget how big and diverse and ugly and difficult the real America is for many around the country – and if we’re honest, how difficult it is for some in the small, rural, mostly white communities as well. The disconnect between those two realities has always existed but events this spring have made that disconnect more obvious for many of us.

There is no amount of Read more

Discussion strategies so good, your kids won’t be able to shut up (And a few that even work long-distance. Cause . . . coronavirus.)

I can’t find it now but I ran across some research a year or so ago that suggested that 70-80% of all conversations in K-12 classrooms is teacher to student. As in . . . we can’t stop talking long enough to let our kids get a word in edgewise.

Since I can’t find the research, I’m not going to include it in this quick post on ways to encourage student conversation and discussion. If I had found it, I would say that teachers talk too much and that we need to find more ways to support student to student and student to teacher and student to content conversations. But I haven’t be able to find that research so I wouldn’t think of suggesting that probably 70% of the time, we talk too much. 70-80%. Can you believe it? It must be hard as a student to sit through a whole class period when the teacher is really the only one who gets to talk and who is the only one who gets to explore the primary sources and to solve the problem that they started the class with and then the bell rings.

So. What can we do to increase student conversation and encourage discussion? There are a few ideas out there. Read more

History at the movies: The 20 best films of the decade and how to use them

There’s nothing like watching a movie in a big screen theater – the kind that bans small children and has heated reclining seats –  holding a mega-tub of popcorn with a side of nacho cheese and a Diet Pepsi.

(You mean you don’t dip individual pieces of popcorn into nacho cheese while watching movies? While then . . . you’re welcome.)

And it’s even better when the movie is history related.

I’ve written about movies before. Because I like movies. I’m also convinced, when used appropriately, that they’re great teaching and learning tools. And a recent Smithsonian article highlighting their choices for best history movies of the last ten years got me thinking. So now I’m curious . . . what were the best movies of the last decade? Maybe more important, how can we use them as part of our instruction?

Read more