One of the most powerful professional learning strategies is also one of the easiest.
You ready for this? You might want to sit down. Ready?
One of the most powerful professional learning strategies is . . . making intentional time for teachers to talk with other teachers. Yup. Teachers yakking with each other. Consultant presentations? Absolutely. Book studies? Yes, please. After school webinars? Sure. But the best PD is often just the two of us sharing ideas over some nachos and a cold beverage. (Hmmm . . . Nacho PD? On a Friday? At 4:00? Today?)
It’s taken me longer than it should have to realize the simple fact that teachers talking with other teachers makes everyone smarter.
You already know this. When two or three social studies teachers get together pretty much anywhere besides the hallway outside their classroom, you’re almost 100% guaranteed to get a great conversation about best practice and great strategies.
I’m lucky. I get the chance to have conversations with so many really great social studies practitioners. Heck . . . just a few days ago, high school history rock star Derek Schutte shared his awesome idea of asking kids to do voice-overs of historical events as if they’re sports casters. I love that idea! Research. Context. Primary sources. Emotional engagement. Student choice and voice. (You know want to know more about that. Make that connection and see an example via Twitter.)
It was last fall during one of those random but powerful teacher conversations that got me hooked on the idea of Caption This. I did some online internetting and found several different variations floating around so I wasn’t exactly sure where the idea for the activity might have started. But I loved the concept and especially appreciated how it asks kids to contextualize and solve problems using visual clues.
So I shared the basic idea with the ESSDACK Social Studies PLC. A recent Tweet from one of my PLC buddies (and former Kansas History Teacher of the Year), Jill Weber, reminded me of our conversation:
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:
A year ago, during final keynote of the 2020 NCSS national conference, author and actor George Takei shared his experience growing up in what he called an American concentration camp. As a five year old, he and his parents were forced into several different camps during World War II simply because of their racial ethnicity.
As he shared his experiences and connected them to contemporary issues, I flashed back to an earlier History Tech post highlighting the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, FDR’s executive order legalizing the internment of thousands of American citizens like five year old George.
Takei’s session was a good reminder about the power of the Bill of Rights and what can happen when we ignore its principles. As you continue to plan your instruction for the rest of the year, don’t shy away from telling the story of America even when it makes you and your students uncomfortable.
One way to do that? Lean into using primary sources that document the topic – such as Takei’s personal story.
Takei shared a bit about his recent graphic memoir titled They Called Us Enemies. It’s a perfect (and powerful) way to begin a conversation around Executive Order 9066. Use the available teaching resources and discussion guides to hook your kids and get them asking the right sorts of questions.
Another way? Use photographs, like these taken by Dorothea Lange.
We want our students to make sense of content, be engaged, and see connections to contemporary issues. That’s why we’re so bought into the idea of using primary sources. But we also know that using primary sources can be difficult. So we’re always on the lookout for handy primary source analysis tools.
Based on work done by the Project Zero people over at Harvard Grad School of Education, the See Think Wonder strategy is one of those all purpose thinking routines that can be use across grade levels and content areas. And it’s perfect for helping kids break down primary sources, especially images, artwork, and political cartoons.
So . . . if you’re not already using it, hang around. Some ideas and free resources coming up.
If you already are using See Think Wonder, hang around. Cause Google Jamboard and STW were made for each other.
The beauty of STW is that it encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. And when paired with Jamboard, it can stimulate curiosity and help set the stage for more inquiry.
Way back in the day, there was no access to digital primary sources. There weren’t any online archives. DocsTeach? Nope. Stanford History Education Group? Nope. Library of Congress? Nada.
W all made due with whatever supplementary materials showed up with our textbooks and the assorted primary source Jackdaw kits that were able to track down. But here’s the thing . . . even if I had somehow gotten access to actual digital primary source documents back in the day, I’m not sure what I would have done with them. Like most social studies teachers at the time (and more than just a few today), I really didn’t have a clue of how to use primary sources as part of the learning process.
Even worse, I wasn’t really sure why I should be using this sort of evidence. What was the point? I mean . . . every kid had a textbook. I had a teacher’s version of the textbook. I could lecture. They could copy down my notes. What else did we need?
But with the help of some amazing mentors, I began moving more towards the idea that kids need to be active users of evidence while solving problems. And there is now a clear shift in social studies and history instruction towards this idea of historical thinking, using evidence, and problem solving. More and more teachers are using primary sources as integral pieces of the learning process.
I still remember how great that day was. I had rocked it in all five sections of my 8th US history class. I spent 55 awesome minutes each period highlighting the causes of the American Revolution. And. I. Killed. It. The kids clearly couldn’t get enough. They were so busy copying down all of the notes I had provided for them that they didn’t have time to ask any questions.
The French and Indian War. Proclamation of 1763. Stamp Act. Some other Act. Maybe two, not positive cause I was on a roll. Something, I think, about the Boston Tea Party. Pretty sure there was something about Crispus Attucks and that guy who kept yelling about liberty or death. Seriously. This lecture was on fire. And I left the building that day convinced that my kids walked out smarter than when they walked in.
Except . . .
they probably weren’t smarter. They were maybe better copy downers. Better taker noters. And for sure a whole lot better at not interrupting the teacher when he was talking.
But smarter? Nope. Clearly my perspective of how the day went wasn’t accurate. I wasn’t on fire. Kids weren’t engaged. And it’s very unlikely that they actually learned anything long term.
How do I know? The research says so.