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Tip of the Week: Six Super Sweet Social Studies Strategies for Back to School

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?

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Calculating your Social Studies ROI. Cause it’s #RefreshFriday

It’s #RefreshFriday.

Yup. It’s that time of year when I want to say I’m too busy to write anything new but it probably has more to do with the fact that’s Friday. It’s 103 degrees outside. And I’m just super lazy.

But part of it does have to do with a conversation I had yesterday with some of the marketing geniuses at ESSDACK. We spent an awesome 60 minutes talking about a variety of different topics –  all focused on our ROI. And I started getting flashbacks to this post I wrote several years. If you remember reading it, it’s okay to go back to your cold beverage. If not, welcome to a quick updated post on #RefreshFriday.

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ROI was never something I had to worry about back in the day when I was teaching middle school. If I made to 3:30 with nothing on fire and all 145 middle schoolers accounted for, I checked it off as a major success.

Return on Investment? ROI? I’m not even sure the term had been invented yet. And if it had, I would have had no idea what it meant and how the idea might apply to my classroom.

For anyone without the MBA degree, ROI is Read more

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

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 these “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 STEAM 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 Read more

Structure Strips: Making a claim using training wheels

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.

Training wheels.

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

RealClearHistory. Hiding there in plain sight. (With maps. Lots of maps.)

For a while now, I’ve hung around over at RealClearPolitics. For a poly sci junkie, it’s a great place to spend a few minutes or a hundred, digging into polls, commentary, and election gossip. But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that realized that the RealClear network of sites also has a History version.

Duh.

At RealClearHistory, you get Read more