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Posts from the ‘TAH’ Category

Jill Weber and historical thinking bootcamp

Jill Weber gets it. She’s a middle school teacher honing her craft in Cheney, Kansas and she is rocking it.

Finding the balance between foundational content and process. Problems to solve. Evidence to analyze. No obvious answers. Academic discomfort. Groups to work in. Hands on. Physical movement. Obvious passion for the subject.

She’s one of those teachers that I would have wanted for my own kids to have when they were in middle school. And I’ve had the opportunity to work with her for almost six years.

She jumped in feet first to our second Teaching American History project back in 2010 and then transitioned into the ESSDACK social studies PLC. She was awarded the Kansas Council for the Social Studies 2016 secondary mini-grant and is the 2016 Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year. And she shares a ton of her stuff on A View of the Web.

One of her recent posts caught my eye and asked if I could re-post it here. I love her idea of starting off the school year with a historical thinking bootcamp. She wants her middle schoolers to understand what they’re getting into and spends six days training her kids in the basics of thinking and reading like historians.

This is the sort of thing that I think all good social studies teachers are doing but I like that Jill has been very intentional about planning for this type of learning to happen. And while her focus is on middle school and Kansas / US history, this is stuff that all of us need to be doing.

So use what you can and adapt where needed but put these ideas into practice.

(Update: I’ve added these great ideas of Jill to my August 4, 2017 post titled 7 great social studies ideas for back to school.)

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Today’s history geek question – what is nature? Why should we care?

Since the fall of 2010, I have had the incredible opportunity to work with 40 middle school teachers as part of a three-year Teaching American History project. Funded by the federal Department of Education, the TAH grant program was created to encourage and support the teaching of American history.

We’ve spent our time tracing historical events through the 1800s and talking about how best to teach those events to 8th graders. And it’s been awesome. Great conversation. Useful lesson plans. Teaching materials. Famous authors. Primary sources. But suddenly, it’s almost over. We’re in the last four days of the project.

The best of times. The worst of times.

So while I’m documenting the sweet learning going on this week, it will be with a bit of a sad heart.

This week’s focus? Environmental History in the West.

We’ve got some great scholars this week – Mark Fiege with his The Republic of Nature, Elliott West of The Contested Plains, and Thomas Andrews with Killing for Coal. All incredible environmental / western historians. These guys define the phrase “history stud.” Read more

Tip of the Week – Five Great Teaching History Books

Ya gotta love the Teaching American History program. I’ve been working with a group of 42 middle school teachers for about a year and a half. Very cool. Lots of great conversation, sharing of ideas, and useful resources.

Part of what we do is encourage teachers to become history scholars – not just learning new history content but also new instructional strategies. And part of what we do is ask teachers to read a variety of books that provide handy teaching ideas.

So . . . here you go. Five of the books from the Century of Progress TAH project. It’s not the same as being a part of the 42 but if you read and apply this stuff, you’re getting pretty close.

America’s History Through Young Voices: Using Primary Sources in the K-12 Social Studies Classroom
America’s History through Young Voices combines an engaging selection of diaries, letters, and essays with thoughtful teaching strategies designed to meet the needs of both pre-service and in-service teachers. The book offers teachers both the content (primary sources) and skills (instructional activities) they’ll need to incorporate the use of first-person narrative in the classroom. Designed to help teachers foster active, engaged learning, this book conveys the immediacy of historical study through primary sources.

Reading Like an Historian: Teaching Literacy in Middle and High School History Classrooms
Reaching beyond textbooks, this is a guide to teaching ”historical reading” with middle and high school students. This practical resource shows you how to apply Sam Wineburg’s highly acclaimed approach to teaching, Reading Like a Historian, in your classroom to increase academic literacy and spark students’ curiosity. Each chapter begins with an introductory essay that sets the stage of a key moment in American history–beginning with exploration and colonization and the events at Jamestown and ending with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Following each essay are all the materials you’ll need to teach this topic–primary documents, charts, graphic organizers, visual images, and political cartoons–as well as suggestions for where to find additional resources on the Internet and guidance for assessing students’ understanding of core historical ideas.

Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12
Every major measure of students’ historical understanding since 1917 has demonstrated that students do not retain, understand, or enjoy their school experiences with history. Author Bruce Lesh believes that this is due to the way we teach history—lecture and memorization. Over the last fifteen years, Bruce has refined a method of teaching history that mirrors the process used by historians, where students are taught to ask questions of evidence and develop historical explanations. And now in his new book “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?” he shows teachers how to successfully implement his methods in the classroom.

Making History Mine: Meaningful Connections for Grades 5-9
Middle school history teachers confront the same challenge every day: how to convey the breadth and depth of a curriculum that spans centuries, countries, and cultures. In Making History Mine, author Sarah Cooper shows teachers how to use thematic instruction to link skills to content knowledge. By combining thought-provoking activities and rich assessments, Sarah encourages teachers to challenge students to make history personal and relevant to their lives.

Social Studies Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites: 20 Instructional Strategies That Engage the Brain
Best-selling author Marcia L. Tate brings her trademark “dendrite-growing” teaching strategies to this collection of brain-compatible methods for engaging K–12 students in social studies.

Have fun!

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The Holy Grail gets more easier and more awesomier

Library of Congress Main Reading Room

Okay . . . grammar and spelling may be a bit unconventional. But easy and awesome is not good enough. More easier and more awesomier just seems to fit here.

It’s the last day of my time here in DC and I was able to spend a couple of hours at the Library of Congress. It truly is the Holy Grail for any one who teaches history or social studies. (Even if they didn’t honor my Kansas Library Card and let me into the Main Reading Room, I was able to join the unwashed rabble and view it through safety glass.)

But while the actual Library of Congress is not easily accessible to everyone, the LOC web site has gotten much easier to use.

More easier. Especially when it comes to searching. Earlier searches at LOC were based more on how archivists think rather than how, well . . . normal people think and so were extremely confusing.

The new search feature is much more streamlined and allows for huge amounts of refinement. So how to use the more easier, more awesomier search feature?

Find the search box in the top right-hand corner of the site and type in your keywords. I used “battle of gettysburg.” That got me 1363 hits. Way too many.

In the old days before more easier, there wasn’t any good way to narrow your results. But now you can just use the handy “Refine Your Search” box on the left side and check or un-check a variety of choices.

Select from digitized / non-digitized, original and online formats, subject site, contributor and date. Using this new feature helps you quickly narrow down your results to find exactly what you’re looking for. And once you find what you want, a new site design also makes it more easier to navigate the final document you’re using.

The more awesomier Teachers Page has also gotten a re-design and is more easier to use. I especially like the handy classroom materials by state standards feature.

So if you’re like most people and can’t get into the Main Reading Room either, try the new easier, more awesomier web site. It’s not the Holy Grail but it’s pretty darn close.

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History humbles and affirms

It’s been a great week so far with our Century of Progress summer session. We’re deep into Tim Bailey and Dr. Stephen Aron today. Yesterday, Dr. Matthew Booker finished up his time with an incredibly interesting discussion of the impact of the bison on the American West.

But before he left, Dr. Booker shared his vision of history and history teachers. It’s a view that I’ve not heard articulated quite this way before and so I’m paraphrasing it here:

History is the most important thing we can study. It is the most important thing my students will study. History speaks directly to the central problems and solutions of human existence.  It teaches us that we are not the center of the universe. It humbles us.

It also affirms our existence.   Nothing in our lives tells us that we matter more than the fact that we are connected to this web of human relationships.

History places us in a community of human beings which is vast and ancient and will continue into the future. History makes us aware that we are never alone. You are never alone if you think about the past. We are merely the latest in a long line of human beings who will continue into the future. And no other habit of mind has that power to make us feel connected. We feel that sense of connection when we look backward.

History both humbles us and affirms us.

What a great way to look at both history and our responsibilities for teaching it.

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Tim Bailey – Cool Beans Primary Source Summarizer

Tim Bailey is good.

He was the 2009 Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year. He teaches at Northwest Middle School in Salt Lake City. He’s written several books for Scholastic that provide some great primary source teaching activities.

And the awesome thing is that he’s here in Hutchinson working with our Century of Progress teachers.

One of the participants put it quite nicely when she said:

Cool beans.


Today he’s sharing an activity that helps kids analyze and summarize primary source documents. I’m gonna try and explain how you can use it, because . . . well, it’s cool beans.

It’s a multi-step process that takes some time but the end result is a kid who can look at document and develop a summary in their own words.

Start with a short document and paste it into a graphic organizer like the one above. Put kids in groups of two or three and ask each kid to select ten words from passage. A couple of rules – no words they don’t understand, no more or less than 10. Pulling the keywords from the text is the crux of the exercise – it’s what the writer actually means.

Once each kid highlights their own ten words, each small  group must negotiate a set of ten for their group. You can then lead a discussion with the whole class to get a sense of what sorts of words the different groups selected. Give each group the chance to re-do their list if the choose.

Each group then uses these ten words to write their summary. To do this, they can use just the word bank of their 10 words. They are allowed to use “connecting” words but otherwise can’t go off the list. They also don’t have to use all of their 10 words. The goal is to create a summary that should be no more than 1/3 of the original text,

Kids share out their summary, including the number of words. The teacher should help guide kids to better understand this particular part of the project. The final step is to ask kids to re-write the summery in their own words – “in plain, old English.”

The first time you do this, the goal is not so much a clear document analysis but an understanding of the process. Doing this several times will solidify the process so that you can begin to hand kids documents and they’ll be able to do this themselves.

A couple of tips:

1. Model the steps for your kids. Literally do a think-aloud so that kids can hear you think through the process.

2. Use smaller documents or small chunks of documents the first few times through the process.

3. You may need to do some vocabulary work before you start this process to clarify specific words in the document.

4. Not a tip but a question. Could you do this somehow with maps? Photos?

As I watched Tim work through the process with project teachers this morning, I saw how powerful this summarizing tool could be for history students.

Cool beans, indeed.

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