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Pirates. The Columbian Exchange. And hot chocolate.

My daughter was able to spend some time last year in Washington DC waiting to start an internship at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. And she had a few days to act like a tourist – touring monuments, exploring great little eateries, and visiting museums that have remained open. One of her new faves is the Folger Shakespeare Library. And to be honest, it’s a site I haven’t spent a ton of time exploring until she started texting photos and links to it.

One of the most interesting images for me as a history nerd?

A photo of a botany book from 1672.

Written by a guy named William Hughes, the book focused on the “roots, shrubs, plants, fruit, trees, herbs Growing in the English Plantations in America.” Hughes, who apparently was also a pirate, added a separate “Discourse of The Cacao Nut Tree and the use of its Fruits with all of the ways of making Chocolate into Drink.”

So I’m hooked already. Old books. Chocolate. And piracy. How have I never heard of this place before now?

Here’s the point. We can sometimes get in a rut in our instruction. Textbooks. The occasional SHEG lesson plan. Some Library of Congress documents now and again. And a test. There always seems to be a test.

But we shouldn’t forget that Read more

Thursday Throwback: The humanities are “useless.” (Unless you want a job. Or to change the world.)

It’s Thursday. I’m busy with some stuff that needs to get done and you need something to read. So take five minutes to browse through one of my faves from a few years ago. It seems especially important this spring that we continue to state the case for the social studies and humanities.

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As my two kids weaved their way through middle and high school, they experienced the first waves of STEM, Career Pathways, and the focus by school districts on specific technical skills. As students who were also interested in art, music, and journalism, it became difficult for them to find room in their schedules for those “non-essential” courses.

The reasoning? We need to get kids ready for high paying jobs after graduation. Get them ready for engineering majors in college. For careers in computer science or coding cause that’s where the money is.

Not that STEM and tech and career tracks and coding for 8th graders is necessarily a bad thing. I truly believe that we need to provide all types of learning experiences and opportunities for our students. But it seemed at times as if all of those things were added at the expense of things like art, history, and music.

It’s gotten better as STEM morphed into STEAM and personalized learning plans have become the norm here in the Midwest, giving students more latitude in what and how they study. But I still hear – and maybe you do too – that the liberal arts and humanities classes are “extra” kinds of things in grades 6-12 and something to be completely avoided during any sort of post-secondary experience.

To me, it becomes problematic when there’s a singular focus on specific job skills or career tracks. It’s not just that our students can end up missing out on exploring ways to make sense of and improve the world they live in – developing tolerance, understanding others, building empathy, strengthening communication skills, and solving problems.

It’s also pushes an assumption about the perceived monetary value of some disciplines and the “worthlessness” of others. As social studies teachers, we need to continue to champion the value of what we do. The content and skills that kids learn in a history class are important for everybody, whether they’re repairing wind turbines, managing a hedge fund, or setting up a company wide LAN.

Here’s the point. Read more

Doing more than just treading water . . . three success stories

Resist. Accept. Embrace.

A few days ago, I wrote about the different ways we can choose to respond to the “normal normal” of what school looks like in the spring of 2020.

We can resist the changes that are happening in our schools. We can accept them. Or we can embrace them.

And I understand that every situation is different. Student population. Community demographics. Number of kids. School resources. Tech support.

But when we embrace the current situation, actively look for ways to support our students, and remain focused on quality instruction even when it seems like the circumstances are stacked against us and our kids, it is possible for some truly wonderful learning to happen. Need a few examples of how teachers and educators are embracing the normal normal?

I’ve got some. Read more

7 virtual resources and a few iCivics distance learning suggestions

(An earlier version highlighted NARA in the title rather than iCivics. Not sure what I was thinking, I corrected it March 27.  Sorry iCivics. You’re doing awesome stuff!)

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The new normal is fast becoming the normal normal. But it’s always nice to hear what others are doing and using.

And I love Jenifer Hitchcock’s suggestions about structuring our normal normal distance learning instruction. It’s part of a handy toolkit that she and other folks over at iCivics have put together. I’ve summarized Jenifer’s list but you need to head over and check it out all of the details as well as their Toolkit.

Further down, I’ve also posted 11 resources that are perfect for your distance learning normal normal. So if you’re already in a normal normal teaching situation, all of this is super useful.

But if you’re still in some sort of traditional face to face setting, skip Jenifer’s tips and bounce down to the resources – still useful for you because, well . . . they’re awesome sauce for any sort of learning environment.

Here’s a quick list of some of Jenifer’s suggestions:  Read more

The New Normal of School: A few suggestions, a few resources, a few tools. You can do this

It’s been less than a week. It doesn’t seem like it. But think back to last week. I was looking forward to watching the Big 12 basketball tournament and already had a tentative NCAA bracket filled out. You were relaxing on your spring break or looking forward to a well-earned break this week.

Today?

Whole different world.

Here in Kansas, the entire school system has shifted from a face to face model of teaching and learning to one that revolves around e-learning. For the rest of the year. And you may not yet be in that sort of long term distance learning environment. Yet. But I think school for the rest of spring 2020 is going to be very different for most of us.

So what can that look like? What tools should you use? Are there tips and tricks that can help? I want to start the conversation and share some ideas and resources that can help in this world of a new normal. And I know you’ve all been buried under a ton of information and emails and free offers and suggestions and to-do lists.

So I’m going to try and keep this short. Today is just enough to get you started – I’ll be updating and adding posts all spring.

First thing? Read more

Discussion strategies so good, your kids won’t be able to shut up (And a few that even work long-distance. Cause . . . coronavirus.)

I can’t find it now but I ran across some research a year or so ago that suggested that 70-80% of all conversations in K-12 classrooms is teacher to student. As in . . . we can’t stop talking long enough to let our kids get a word in edgewise.

Since I can’t find the research, I’m not going to include it in this quick post on ways to encourage student conversation and discussion. If I had found it, I would say that teachers talk too much and that we need to find more ways to support student to student and student to teacher and student to content conversations. But I haven’t be able to find that research so I wouldn’t think of suggesting that probably 70% of the time, we talk too much. 70-80%. Can you believe it? It must be hard as a student to sit through a whole class period when the teacher is really the only one who gets to talk and who is the only one who gets to explore the primary sources and to solve the problem that they started the class with and then the bell rings.

So. What can we do to increase student conversation and encourage discussion? There are a few ideas out there. Read more