It’s been an awesome week! Jump started it on Monday working with a small group of middle school and elementary teachers in the great state of Arizona. And am bookending it today and tomorrow with the fantastic staff at Rockdale County schools outside Atlanta. It doesn’t get much better than working with social studies folks who are passionate about their work.
And the super crazy thing?
They all start with kids next Monday. Next. Monday. As in, four days from today. Seriously? I would be so freaked out – worried about all the different things that need to get down to kick off the school year. But both groups have jumped in with both feet – learning new things, sharing their ideas, playing with tech tools.
But it got me thinking. Maybe you’re in the same boat, ready to shove off with kids already next week. If you are, this post is probably a few days too late. But I’m hoping that for most of you, you’ve got at least one or two more weekends before your first student contact day.
To help energize your first awesome week with kids, here are six great ways to kick off the school year. Use what you can. Adapt what you can’t.
What not to do
But before we get too far along with what we know works, it’s probably a good idea to think about what doesn’t. I’ve mentioned Fourteen Things You Should Never Do on the First Day of School before but it’s still a great reminder of what it looks like when we’re doing it wrong. Mark Barnes suggest that your goal should be a very simple one during the first few days of school:
You have many days to assess students’ strengths and weaknesses. You have months to discuss high stakes testing and standards. You’ll spend weeks probing the textbook.
The first day of school should be dedicated to rapport-building and to joy.
Your goal should be that students go home that night and tell their parents: “I’m going to love history class because my teacher is awesome!”
So what should we be doing the first week?
Sure. There are probably some of you bike riding savants who had no need for them. You just hopped on and started riding, jumping ramps, and weaving through traffic, no problem.
But most of us needed them to get started.
They let us get on our itty bitty bikes and tootle around town like we knew what we were doing. We could do basic stuff like steering around the dog and brake at the corner. But doing all of that while keeping our balance? Not yet.
Writing argumentative essays and making claims using evidence is a lot like that. You’ve got some kids that can jump on and just take off, no problem.
But most of your kids are going to need a little help. Especially elementary and middle school. And there are lots of things you can do to help them keep their balance while doing that.
But I’m really starting to like the idea of something called Structure Strips. I ran across them a few years ago while I was working with some elementary ELA teachers. They were using them to help students create descriptive paragraphs. A little more research highlighted how others were also using Structure Strips in a variety of ways, including in social studies.
A Structure Strip is a Read more
If you aren’t a member, it’s time. Seriously.
If you’re teaching social studies K-12 and not a member of the National Council for the Social Studies, it’s time. Professional organizations in general are a good thing – they support the discipline, provide resources, offer avenues for advocacy, and promote high level conversations between members.
And because the NCSS focuses specifically on social studies, it’s perfect for folks like you and me. There are multiple memberships options available including a digital version. One of the biggest things I get out of my membership are the NCSS journals that arrive in my inbox and mailbox throughout the year. Social Education, Middle Level Learning, and Social Studies and the Young Learner provide a wealth of ready to use resources and teaching strategies.
I’m always finding great ideas to use and share and one of my favorites just showed up. The May / June issue includes their Notable Trade Books pullout and it’s always chock full of hundreds of the latest fiction and non-fiction books perfect for K-8 classrooms. (If you’re High School and are ready to check out seeing that K-8 tag, hang on. Feel free to scroll to the bottom for lists you can use.) Read more
Maybe it’s there.
Maybe it’s not.
But we had to go either way, just to say we did. Because it’s not very often that you get the chance to view the burial site of someone’s arm.
So we followed a dirt road off the main highway down to Ellwood Manor near the Chancellorsville battlefield. We had a great tour of the house, discussed why Union general Sheridan hated his fellow general Sedgwick, and examined the cannon balls embedded in a preserved tree trunk.
And then . . . the arm cemetery.
On May 2, 1863, during an evening scouting ride, Confederate general Stonewall Jackson was shot multiple times by his own troops. His left arm was amputated and he died days later from pneumonia. But military chaplain Tucker Lacy didn’t think that the arm of such a Confederate rock star should end up in a pile of limbs of lesser men. So he wrapped the arm in a blanket and took it to the family cemetery at Ellwood. The chaplain gave the limb a standard Christian burial and placed a marker above the site.
The arm is still there. At least the marker is. Urban legends suggest multiple attempts at reburials including one by a Marine Corps general in the 1920s. After conversations and research, the National Park Service staff there aren’t so sure.
But it was an interesting side trip as a part of the larger Wiebe family Civil War Battlefield Extravaganza. Inspired by Tony Horowitz’s book Confederates in the Attic, three of us spent ten days last month exploring multiple sites, battlefields, and that one cemetery with the arm.
It’s was awesome.
As a self-described history nerd, what better way to spend part of May tramping around places like Gettysburg, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Harpers Ferry, and Corydon, Indiana? I’ve got pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.
But how about four things I learned instead? Read more
Just so you know. I’m not impressed with the NCAA basketball tournament. March madness? March boring maybe. Too few upsets. Lots of blowouts. And not enough interesting story lines. I could have just picked all the tops seeds to win and I’d be at the top of my bracket pool.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still gonna watch. Just not a ton of excitement so far.
So when I ran across the American Battlefield Trust’s History Movie Madness Bracket Contest my weekend was saved. You’ve probably heard of the Trust back when it was called the Civil War Trust. It started as a group dedicated to preserving Civil War battlefield sites. It’s now also working to do the same for Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites. So . . . they’re good people.
And now I love the Trust if even more because we get to apply our bracketology skills to history movies. I’ve written about my favorite history movies before (and am planning an update soon) so having the chance to break down 32 movies to find the all time best is right up my alley.
The Trust starts off with by claiming somehow that Gods and Generals is the best movie ever: Read more