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Posts from the ‘books’ Category

Using tradebooks to make your life easier and your students smarter

Long time readers know how much I love maps. I don’t really know for sure when the infatuation started but Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton may have had something to do with it.

I ran across Katy recently for the first time in years as I was sorting through bookshelves containing some old books. For those of you too young to have read Katy and the Big Snow as a child, a quick recap.

Katy is “a brave and untiring tractor” who pushes a bulldozer in the summer and a snowplow in the winter, making it possible for the townspeople of Geoppolis to do their jobs. In this particular story, Katy drives around all over the town – north, south, east, and west – with her snow plow, opening up the town so that citizens could complete a variety of different public and private tasks such as delivery the mail, putting out a fire, and shopping at a grocery store.

It’s a great book for a lot of reasons but one big reason is there’s so much to look at, especially in the margins. I loved that book growing up.

The best part of the book, I’m sure we’ll all agree, Read more

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

7 great reads that are gonna make my brain bigger

Most of you already know about the History Tech summer reading program. If you just starting hanging around, a quick recap.

For years, I’ve been making a list of books that I plan to read between the end of school in May and back to school in August. Social studies superhero, teaching guru, and my unofficial mentor back in the day, Mike Ortmann, encouraged me to use June, July, and August as a time for personal professional growth. Don’t just waste it at the pool – use the summer to build up some new content knowledge and research a few teaching strategies with a little individual book study.

It was great advice then. And it still is. Getting better at what we do should always be a focus. My job has changed a bit since the Mike Ortmann days but I still love the idea of stacking up six or seven books and jumping in.

And what better time to do that than right now? You’ve got a little free time. I’m guessing there’s an easy chair by an AC vent or an Adirondack set up outside somewhere.

I’m still a fan of print but feel free to go the e-book or audio route. Heck . . . there are great podcasts out there as well. But Mike was right. Summer’s the perfect time for personal professional growth no matter what format you prefer.

So . . . here’s what I got going. Read more

6 books you should be reading. (Maybe now. But later works too.)

My daughter calls them “the Before Times.”

As in . . . the days before COVID-19. Before stay at home orders. Before you were teaching via Zoom and Google Classroom and Meet.

In the Before Times, I wouldn’t feel at all uncomfortable suggesting that you read more. Whether you prefer the feel of paper, use a Kindle, or do long reads online, reading for both fun and personal professional growth is always a good thing. Learning more content. Expanding perspectives. Exploring teaching strategies. All make us better at what we do.

And now?

I feel just a little bit uncomfortable. Because the normal normal of spring 2020 is not like the Before Times. You’ve been asked to do a ton of things differently. Your last few months of the school year (and your life) are not what you expected them to be. But here’s the cool thing. As I talk with teachers around the country, the new normal really is becoming a normal normal. Teachers, kids, and families are adapting and doing some really cool stuff.

Is it easy? No. But I get the sense that you’ve been taking deep breaths, figuring some things out, that you’re adjusting and getting your head above water a bit. So I’m suggesting (with a little uncomfortableness) that you begin to think about some personal professional growth. And I’ve got a few suggestions of things to put on your to read list.

I’m a hard copy kind of guy. But feel free to grab these suggestions via a Kindle app. Or even better, grab the Overdrive Libby or Hoopla app and check them out digitally via your local or state libraries.

Let’s start with Read more

My first social studies superhero and Teaching What Really Happened.

I’ve always had social studies heroes.

The people who made and continue to make National Geographic magazine map inserts. My 7th grade geography teacher. Garden City High School’s Mr. Tomayko. James Clavell and Stephen Ambrose. Sam Wineburg.

But my first real social studies hero . . . the first person who I consciously recognized as someone impacting my career as a social studies teacher?

James Loewen. As in, the author of:

  • Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
  • Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Racism
  • Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong
  • And his latest, Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History

Years after first reading Lies My Teacher Told Me, I’m not even sure now how and where I ran across the book. But for someone who had grown up in western Kansas and Read more