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Posts from the ‘curriculum’ Category

Wayback Wednesday: These are the 7 most important things our students should be learning. Or maybe not.

I wrote this post about 18 months ago.

Back during the Before Times.

Back when, you know, things were normal and not so fricking . . . not normal. At the time, along with some amazing social studies rock stars, I got the chance to review and update the state standards document. That revised document was approved by the state board just days before all of this fricking . . . not normal stuff started. And I do think this newly approved, just rolled out document is better. It focuses on process while providing flexibility for local districts to decide on specific content.

And in many ways, it’s a fairly radical departure from what many state level standard documents look like. It’s got some suggestions on broad ideas and themes, some ideas on grade level scope and sequence. But no required history minutiae. No specific dates. Or people. Or events. We wanted kids to walk away with critical thinking skills that they can apply in a variety of contexts.

But now I’m curious.

If we had known then what we know now, would we have created something even more revisionist? As in, as the educational system is shifting towards a more blended, hybrid learning environment – one focused on problem-based learning, on a competency-based model rather than seat time – do the standards need to be pared down even more?

What truly is important for social studies students to know and be able to do? And do we even call them social studies students any more? Would Humanities students make more sense?

This Wayback Wednesday post focuses on 2018 Washington Post article that asked seven history gurus a simple question:

What are the most important things young people should be learning in school today?

Your homework is simple. Answer the question: 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

So you need a compelling question? How about a couple hundred?

For whatever reason, I’ve gotten into a ton of conversations lately around the topic of compelling questions. Some of the conversations have focused on the creation of quality sample questions as part of the ongoing revision of our current state standards. There’s been discussions with schools and individual teachers as they continue to develop quality curriculum designs and instructional units.

And while there always will be – and should be – conversations about the differences between compelling, driving, essential, and supporting questions, the point remains the same. If we’re going to help our kids become knowledgable, engaged, and active citizens, they need to be solving problems and addressing questions. So quality questions of all kinds are something we need to be incorporating into our unit and lesson designs.

But what can they look like? Read more

You want kids to have skills. Read Inquire Write can help.

Last week, I got the chance to work with about 25 teachers and educators from around the state as we started the process of revising our state social studies standards. Long time readers will recall a similar process from seven years ago.

At the time, the Kansas state standards were very much the same as other state level standards documents. The focus was on the details of history – people and places and dates. Assessments tried to incorporate critical thinking but since the entire test was multiple choice, it was difficult to measure high levels of thinking and problem solving.

To be successful on this type of high stakes state assessment, teachers shifted to a drill and kill,  memorize specific pieces of content out of context instructional strategies. These strategies increased test scores but lowered student engagement, failed to create critical thinkers, and didn’t prepare kids to become informed citizens.

So we started from scratch.

The 2011 process resulted in a brand new set of standards that shifted instructional focus from memorizing details to one that encouraged analyzing evidence, solving problems, and sharing solutions. We created five big ideas that acted as our standards. We adapted reading, writing, and communication expectations and instruction best practices to guide local curriculum development. And we left the specific content up to each district.

Teachers appreciated the freedom to focus on the doing of social studies rather than asking kids to memorize minutiae. But this “new” style of teaching can be time consuming and difficult. The old standards had trained both our kids and our teachers that drill and kill was acceptable – now we were asking that instruction and assessment look different.

And teachers had questions. What does this sort of teaching look like? How do you assess the learning? How long should it take? If we don’t have to “cover”so much content, what content is important enough to focus on? What resources are available?

Back in 2013, as the revised document rolled out, there weren’t a ton of examples and resources out there that supported this kind of inquiry based teaching model. But around the country, others were having similar conversations:

Things got better.

And now, if you’re looking for examples, resources, lessons, student samples, and rubrics, things are looking even rosier. Read more