It’s as American as apple pie. We’ve been finding ways to re-organize voting districts to our advantage for years. Heck, the Kansas legislature just did it.
But I don’t think we spend enough time having kids explore the whole gerrymandering thing as part of our government / civics engagement instruction. And I don’t think enough of us or our students truly understand the power that redistricting can have on the democratic process.
“As a mapmaker, I can have more impact on an election than a campaign. More of an impact than a candidate. When, I as a mapmaker, have more of an impact on an election than the voters, the system is out of whack.”
Republican redistricting consultant following 1990 Census
Quick primer. Gerrymandering is the legislative act of creating voting maps that favor your particular political party. And according to a Wired article from a few years ago, it usually involves one of two different tools:
Earlier this week, I flashed back to a semi-obscure movie called Conspiracy Theory. Two sentence summary? The main character is freaked out because she keeps seeing this guy, meeting him in elevators, or jumping into a cab before realizing that he’s the driver. She begins to believe that this guy is out to get her but he eventually ends up saving her life, because spoiler alert, there really is a conspiracy.
I don’t think my life is in any danger but my brain jumped back to that movie because over the weekend, my news feed kept sending me to multiple articles that featured headlines like “Teaching Practices to Leave Behind” or “4 Reading Strategies to Retire this Year” or “Stuff We Know Doesn’t Work” and “Why You Shouldn’t Use These Activities in Your Class Because They Will Ruin Your Students and They’ll End up in a Movie with Mel Gibson.”
A search engine conspiracy based on something I may have said out loud within earshot of Alexa? Oh, absolutely. But I took it as a sign and it got me thinking about strategies that I used to use in the classroom and about things I still see teachers doing. Strategies that research tells us really didn’t work.
And the list got pretty big. There are a lot of things we do as teachers that we do . . . well, just because. (And full disclosure? I used almost all of them at some point.) Not because they’re research based or because we have any evidence to suggest they work. We do them perhaps because we saw someone else use them or we experienced them ourselves as students.
And we should stop.
Curious what’s on the list?
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:
Current events have always been something that we as social studies teachers are acutely aware of. There are so many ways that we’re able to use them to connect past with present. But the last few weeks have been difficult. Ukrainian people are suffering. And it doesn’t seem like that will be ending anytime soon.
What’s the best way to integrate the events in Ukraine into our classrooms?
We all love Mister Rogers. Something he said once seems to fit here:
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.”
The more we talk, the manageable things become. Browse through this short list of resources that can help. And while the list is separated by grade level, don’t be afraid to cross-pollinate between the two.
As a founding member of the National Women’s History Project, Mary Ruthsdotter knows the importance of teaching kids about the accomplishments of women.
“As a youngster, I thought I had drawn the short straw being born female. None of the stories I was told of adults actively and effectively engaged in the world had to do with women. How startling it was to learn (after college!) that women have played important roles in every aspect of American life – establishing homes for family life, fighting and spying during every war, establishing social service networks, and dramatically influencing laws and attitudes.”
Students who don’t learn the facts can develop the wrong idea about what women have accomplished.
“If women’s contributions and accomplishments are not mentioned, the omission is not even noticed, but a subtle lesson is learned just as certainly: Women haven’t done anything important. Knowing that teachers cannot pass along what they themselves have not been taught, the NWHP aims to make excellent, user-friendly materials readily available for all areas of the K-12 curriculum. Language arts, social studies, creative arts, the sciences – women have been active in all these areas, and the stories of their accomplishments are fascinating.”
Yes and yes.
But I’m conflicted about the whole Women’s History Month thing – a lot like my hesitation around the idea of a separate Black History Month. Too many of us still use February and March to have kids memorize random Black history and women’s history facts and call it good. (We also seem to have a habit of doing the same thing with Latino history and Asian American history and Native American history and . . . well, you get the idea.)
I’m conflicted because I know many of you may be looking for great Women’s History month resources. And I have a list. But part of me is afraid that it will only get used between now and the end of the month.
So here’s the deal.
Who doesn’t love sticky notes? Different colors. Different sizes. Plus . . . you know, they’re sticky. But they’re easy to underestimate. I mean, they’re literally a single use, throw away, forget about because their job is done, sort of thing.
But I was reminded recently by a friend of mine that sticky notes can be used in a lot more ways than just as a simple reminder stuck the corner of your computer monitor. There are lots of cool ways that we can use them to support historical thinking and the collecting / organizing of foundational content.
The simpliest way?
We all use exit tickets. But I like the simplicity of having a kid write down a few quick things on a sticky note and just whacking it on the door or bulletin board on their way out of class. The prompts might be: something new, rate its importance 1-10, how it connects to something else I know. Or try one of these sentence starters:
- One thing I knew already was
- I’m confused about
- I learned . . . and now I’m thinking
- One idea that challenged my thinking is
- I agree or disagree with
- One thing I got done today was
Maybe even have kids color code their ticket. Green for something that made sense to them. Red for a question.
So . . . how else can you use a sticky?