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Posts from the ‘prior knowledge’ Category

Super Dave and Connect, Extend, Challenge

I had the opportunity this spring to spend time learning together with about 35 middle school ELA and social studies teachers as part of a Library of Congress TPS mini-grant project. We’ve spent multiple sessions over the last few months exploring the connection between literature and social studies content. (As Ferris Bueller once said, “. . . I highly recommend you picking one up.”)

The project was awesome for a lot of reasons but one of the main reasons was middle school teacher and social studies rock star Dave McIntire. It was last summer that I asked Dave to act as a master teacher for the project, sharing his experience and expertise with the group. And so ever since we kicked the project off in January, I’ve had the chance to soak up all the goodness that is Mr. McIntire and have learned so much.

Last Monday, as he shared a sample lesson with the group, I was able to pick up one final nugget before we broke for the summer.

A simple but powerful strategy called Connect Extend Challenge.

Now I’ve had the chance to learn about all sorts of primary source and evidence graphic organizers, thinking strategies, and summary activities. So while there are always new things to learn, running across something I haven’t seen before doesn’t just happen every day of the week.

And when Dave threw out the Connect Extend Challenge tool, it just reinforced his reputation as a social studies guru. If you’ve heard of this activity, love it, and use it already . . . feel free to go about your business. But if you’re like me and Connect Extend Challenge is something new, hang around.

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Ed tech is good for kids. Except when it isn’t.

Some things just don’t make sense when we first try wrapping our heads around them. The balloon should move backwards like everything else in the car. Working together to solve a problem makes sense. Chilling water at 150 degrees to 32 degrees should be harder to do than chilling water that starts at 75 degrees.

Only it’s not.

How about this one?

  • Ed tech is good for kids. Except when it’s not.

The whole point of History Tech is focused on finding ways to integrate technology into social studies best practices. Ed tech is a good thing. Ed tech can be used to support data collection and analysis, critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, communication. It’s a good thing.

Except when it’s not.

Recent research seems to suggest that there are times when using technology Read more

Tip of the Week – 5 Back to School Ideas for Social Studies Teachers

(There’s an updated 2018 version! Find it here.)


I know that some of you are already on the ground with kids, doing point of the spear stuff. But for many, school starts next week. And you may already have your entire week planned out, ready to go.

But if you’re still struggling with what to do or maybe just looking for a few fresh ideas, here’s five great activities that you can use right away without a lot of prep time.

History in a Bag

Purchase or find enough brown paper bags for all of your students. Write a number on each bag and give one to every kid. Ask them to place five personal items into the bag, close it and to remember the number (for identification later). These items can be anything in their pockets, backpack, etc. Place all of the bags in a pile and have the students select one at random.

Provide a series of questions that they will answer as they attempt to decipher these “artifacts.” Is this person male or female? What do they think is important? How old is this person? Where do they live? The questions aren’t so important as the rationale used to answer the question. You want kids to start thinking about how we know what we know, to start to understand the historical process.

Have students get into groups of two or three to explain their answers. As a large group, ask kids to identify the owners of their bag’s artifacts. Lead a discussion about historical process and how we know what we know.

Fence Sitter

One of the best things about being a social studies teacher is that we get to discuss and argue all of these great questions.

Should we have dropped the bomb? Is it ever okay to violate the Bill of Rights? What really happened during the Gulf of Tonkin incident? Is it legal for law enforcement to search student lockers? Why did the South lose the Civil War?

The problem, of course, is finding a structure that ensures that everyone gets involved. I’ve run across a great way to encourage participation and keep the focus on content.

It’s called the Fence Sitter activity and I’ve used it with elementary kids all the up to college age. It works every time! And you can set it up to work with just about any question or problem that has two opposing sides. Get all the details here.

Time Line Challenge

Print 10-12 photos from the time period you will be studying. Mix up the photographs and distribute them to random students in the classroom. Have the kids with photos head to the front and hold up their photo. Ask the rest of the class to work with those standing to correctly arrange the photos chronologically. Lead a discussion that allows kids to explain their order and to introduce future content.

It also works great to divide your class in half, give each group the same set of photos and have the two groups create “competing” timelines. Let them argue for the correct order and work to convince students in the opposing group to change sides. You might give extra credit to the group with the largest number of students. Provide the correct order and subtract points for any mistakes made by the “winning” group. Give those points to other group.

Learn more about tech usage

Create a short tech survey for kids to complete. The quickest way to gather data would be to use a Google Form to create an online survey but paper and pencil work too. This gives you data that can help you plan instruction. Questions should include such things as:

  • do you have a computer at home?
  • do you have a cell phone?
  • what is your text plan?
  • other mobile devices?
  • internet speed at home?
  • printer?
  • digital camera?

History Couples

A quick way to group students, activate prior knowledge or encourage kids to mingle is to use History Couples.

Create a list of historically related items that can be matched together. These could be people, events, places or even ideas. The items could be completely random or specific to your class content and time period. Preview one of my lists to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

I use Word to arrange them so that they can be printed on Avery mailing labels and then stuck on note cards. Randomly distribute to your students and ask them to find their partners.

Once kids find their match, you can have them do a variety of things.

  • Discuss why their match makes sense.
  • Find another group of two so that all four items make sense in a group.
  • Arrange themselves chronologically.
  • Brainstorm four more items that could be added to their group.
  • Find another group that is completely opposite of their own.

Good luck as the school starts.

Be sure to have fun!

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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.

The History of America ala Facebook – Great start of school activity

Last week at the Teaching America History conference, I had the chance to share with a few groups some ideas for using Facebook as an instructional tool.

During the discussion, we discovered a light-hearted History of America as seen through the eyes of America’s Facebook wall. Got us thinking.

It seems like a great way to start your school year.

Have kids re-create the wall through the perspective of different groups. What would the wall say if Native Americans were typing? African Americans? Different political parties? Women? Other countries? Have different groups of kids create walls and then lead a whole-group discussion about which events to add / subtract from a class wall.

You could have kids re-create the wall for just a specific period of time or for just the period of time covered in your class.

However you decide to adapt the activity, it will stimulate interest, encourage history conversations and provide you with some idea of students’ prior knowledge. I could even see teachers using this all year long as sort of Big Picture graphic organizer.

Let me know how it turns out!

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Thinking about teaching – Something new?

The Curse of Knowledge.

It can be a killer.

The Heath brothers talk about the Curse in their book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Apparently first used in a 1989 paper in The Journal of Political Economy, the Curse means that once you’ve become an expert in a particular subject, it’s hard to imagine not knowing what you do.

The better we get at generating great ideas—new insights and novel solutions—in our field of expertise, the more unnatural it becomes for us to communicate those ideas clearly. That’s why knowledge is a curse. Your conversations with others in the field are peppered with catch phrases and jargon that are foreign to the uninitiated. When it’s time to accomplish a task — open a store, build a house, sell insurance — those in the know get it done the way it has always been done, stifling innovation as they barrel along the well-worn path.

Sound familiar?

We teach the way we’ve always taught, using the same language, assuming that kids are getting it because . . . after all, we get it. Our stuff is actually pretty easy, right? And if kids don’t get it, we can’t figure out why they’re so stupid. The content is obvious, the steps are obvious. If students aren’t getting it, it must be because they’re not really trying. Read more

Tip of the Week – Sit Down Quiz

As part of our Teaching American History grant, I get the chance to hang out in the classrooms of some great teachers. Last week, it was lessons by Nathan McAlister and Keil Hileman. Both teach middle school and have been recognized for their ability to motivate students.

And it was during my time in Keil’s class that I saw a very cool strategy that I hadn’t really seen before. Some of you may already do this but since it’s new to me, I’ll just call it Sit Down Quiz. Keil used the strategy as a way to review past material and assess student knowledge at the same time.

It’s pretty simple.

Give kids time to prepare for the quiz. Keil told his kids:

You have to share one thing from the reading, from the video we watched or something you saw / heard / read outside of class that connects with our topic. You’ve got 60 seconds to get ready. Go!

He used the 60 seconds to take roll and get organized. Keil then had every student stand up. He proceeded to  select students one at a time to share what they knew. Once a kid had shared their content or had answered a question, he allowed them to sit down. This made it very easy to see who had contributed and who hadn’t. It also ensured that everyone participated.

And because kids shared stuff from all over the place, the content was completely and totally random. But as the teacher who knew the content, Keil was always directing the discussion back to the specific topic. While some students were allowed to sit after sharing a minimal amount, Keil used the Sit Down Quiz with other kids as an opportunity to focus on higher order questions. He asked kids to make connections with what was shared by students before them, to refer back to prior knowledge, to compare their information with the text or to predict how their information might tie in with other content.

Keil also used the Quiz as an opportunity to share mini-lectures on specific topics, especially if it seemed kids weren’t making proper connections.

I like this. Kids clearly knew that they were expected to take part and to have something ready to share. Because kids never knew who he would pick next or what question he might ask, they all stayed engaged. Keil didn’t do this but if you need more documentation, ask kids to write a quick summary paragraph that outlines what they shared and how it connects with your topic. They should also include new content from the discussion.

The day I was there, Keil used this activity with 31 eighth graders and 32 seventh graders. Both times, he spent about 15 minutes with the strategy.

Sit Down Quiz seems like a quick and easy way to check for comprehension, review content and activate prior knowledge. And with practice, it would be fairly easy to do but remember that underneath there’s a lot of stuff you’ll need to stay on top of – classroom management, review, assessment, thinking skills, content presentation. But it’s all stuff that’s good for kids.

Have fun! Let me know how it turns out.

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