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Posts tagged ‘historical thinking’

It’s a podcast! Darren, Ashley, and the incredible Smithsonian Learning Lab

I had the opportunity to run into Ashley Naranjo and Darren Milligan last summer at the 2016 ISTE conference during their rollout of the new Smithsonian Learning Lab. And I was blown away. Seriously.

And, yes, Ashley and Darren were incredible. They’ve got the chops. But it was the Learning Lab and all of its cool tools that really got me fired up. I was literally writing a blog post during their presentation.

At the time, I said:

This will change how you and your kids collect, organize, share, and analyze primary evidence. It is seriously that good.

And after getting the chance to talk with them via Skype two days ago, I remain blown away. The Smithsonian Learning Lab truly can and should change how we do our jobs. At its core, the Lab is an online storage facility for 2,000,000 Smithsonian primary sources that gives you the opportunity to access those sources, organize them into collections, and share those collections with students.

And wait for it.

Your kids can do the same thing. So whether it’s you who creates the collection or your students do it, the Lab is a powerful way of curating resources. And it’s done in a beautiful, image driven environment that encourages users to make sense of the past and apply it to contemporary issues in ways not possible even five years ago.

So if you haven’t had a chance to experience the sweetness that is the Learning Lab, Read more

History, Art, and Archives of the House of Representatives (and the Senate)

I’m a member of a semi-active Facebook group that was started several years ago following the final session of the Century of Progress TAH project. The group was an attempt by project participants to stay somewhat connected and supported after three years of working together.

We were able to develop a face-to-face PLC that meets four times a year and the Facebook group continues to act as a sort of digital conversation space. Most of us aren’t super active, simply lurking around and picking up the helpful tidbits posted by the few truly active members of the group.

One of those truly active members is Nathan McAlister, middle school teacher at Royal Valley MS. The 2010 Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year, Nathan is one of those seriously gifted individuals, perfectly tuned to be a great middle school social studies teacher. And not only is he a great classroom teacher and GLI Master Teacher, he’s connected to both the state and national Councils for History Education and seems to know everybody in the social studies / history universe.

He’s one of the reasons I lurk on the Facebook. He’s got awesome teaching tips and resources to share. And last week, he did it again.

The History, Art, and Archives of the US House of Representatives.

Who knew? Read more

It’s not always what you see that bites you in the butt. All in with the Dorsal Fin

The reason why the movie Jaws is so incredibly spooky? Because for most of the film, we never really see the main character. Just the scary music and the occasional dorsal fin. We can’t see what’s under the water but we know something’s there.

Something big and hungry.

History is a little like that. It’s easy to see the surface stuff. People, places, dates. But it’s the stuff that our students don’t see that is usually the biggest and most important. Underlying causes. Past events. Hidden connections. All of these contribute to how things happened and continue to happen.

I recently ran across a handy graphic organizer idea that I think can help kids intentionally think about these hidden, under the surface pieces. The Facing History folks have titled this teaching strategy the Iceberg because it can help students organize and make sense of the different factors that lead to particular events. The strategy is also great for training kids to balance informative and literary texts, for building content knowledge, for generating text-based responses, and supporting the use of evidence.

It’s also great for organizing notes as student learn about a period in history, as a review, or as an assessment tool.

And yes. I get it. An Iceberg is only Read more

Top Ten Posts of 2016 #2: 6 C’s to better document analysis

I’m sure most of you are doing the same thing I’m doing right now. Spending time with family and friends, watching football, catching up on that book you’ve been dying to read, eating too much, and enjoying the occasional nap.

But if you need a break from all of the holiday cheer, we’ve got you covered. Between now and the first week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-read the top ten History Tech posts of 2016. Enjoy the reruns. See you in a couple of weeks!


Over the last few years, we’ve seen the instructional strategy pendulum swing over to encouraging more use of evidence by students to solve authentic problems. And there’s tons of stuff out there to help us and students make sense of primary and secondary sources.

You’ve got the Library of Congress primary source analysis worksheets. You’ve got the awesome stuff by Sam Wineburg and Stanford. There’s the DocsTeach site by the National Archives as well as all of their document analysis lessons / worksheets. And lots of things like Historical Thinking Matters and Historical Scene Investigation. Read more

Top Ten Posts of 2016 #5: Using evidence and primary analysis worksheets

I’m sure most of you are doing the same thing I’m doing right now. Spending time with family and friends, watching football, catching up on that book you’ve been dying to read, eating too much, and enjoying the occasional nap.

But if you need a break from all of the holiday cheer, we’ve got you covered. Between now and the first week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-read the top ten History Tech posts of 2016. Enjoy the reruns. See you in a couple of weeks!


There’s a cool buzz running through the history education world.

teaching history poster

Primary sources. Documents. Using evidence. Solving problems. Historical thinking. And that’s a good thing. But I know that it can be difficult sometimes trying to figure out how to use primary sources.

First piece of advice?

Don’t worry so much about primary vs. secondary sources. Start thinking about evidence, about data, instead of focusing just on one sort of document over another. Because if we’re asking great questions, kids will be using all sorts of documents and sources to solve the problem.

I’ve always tried to preach the idea of Read more

Top Ten Posts of 2016 #7: 300 sample compelling questions for the social studies

I’m sure most of you are doing the same thing I’m doing right now. Spending time with family and friends, watching football, catching up on that book you’ve been dying to read, eating too much, and enjoying the occasional nap.

But if you need a break from all of the holiday cheer, we’ve got you covered. Between now and the first week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-read the top ten History Tech posts of 2016. Enjoy the reruns. See you in a couple of weeks!


sticky student

I had the chance last week to spend a very fun afternoon with an energetic group of elementary teachers. I always enjoy chatting with K-6 folks. (I just don’t know how they get up every morning and keep going back. Because, seriously . . . grade school kids freak me out. They smell funny, they always seem to be sticky for some reason, and they throw up at the most awkward moments. So God bless anyone willing to spend all day, every day, with an large group of people all under the age of 12.)

Part of our conversation centered around planning different units in a year long scope and sequence at various grade levels. And some of the discussion revolved around possible essential / compelling questions that might anchor each of those units. I don’t get the chance to have these kinds of discussions with K-6 people much – when I do, it’s always a good time. Once they start rolling, it’s hard to get them to slow down. We started with the basics: Read more