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Posts tagged ‘literacy’

Using tradebooks to make your life easier and your students smarter

Long time readers know how much I love maps. I don’t really know for sure when the infatuation started but Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton may have had something to do with it.

I ran across Katy recently for the first time in years as I was sorting through bookshelves containing some old books. For those of you too young to have read Katy and the Big Snow as a child, a quick recap.

Katy is “a brave and untiring tractor” who pushes a bulldozer in the summer and a snowplow in the winter, making it possible for the townspeople of Geoppolis to do their jobs. In this particular story, Katy drives around all over the town – north, south, east, and west – with her snow plow, opening up the town so that citizens could complete a variety of different public and private tasks such as delivery the mail, putting out a fire, and shopping at a grocery store.

It’s a great book for a lot of reasons but one big reason is there’s so much to look at, especially in the margins. I loved that book growing up.

The best part of the book, I’m sure we’ll all agree, 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

You got your regular hexagons. You got your visual hexagons. Both are awesome for making connections.

More than several years ago, I asked my daughter, a fourth grader at the time, to work her way through the very cool Plimoth Plantation’s You Are the Historian simulation. It’s a wonderful online tool that asks kids to answer a very simple question – what really happened at the first Thanksgiving. Using evidence and video clips from experts, elementary students learn to make a claim and create a final product using evidence that supports their answer.

And I wanted a product review from a true end user. Used to these sort of requests from her history nerd father, Erin plunged in. During our in-depth debrief over milk and cookies, I asked her a variety of questions about her experience. Much of the conversation is now forgotten but I still remember what she said when I asked her to tell me one thing that she would share with her teacher the next day.

The past is what happened. And history is what we say happened.

I couldn’t have been prouder.

Of course, we still made her wade through the rest of her K-12 experience but doesn’t Erin’s comment pretty much sum up the whole point of teaching social studies? Yes, there was a whole ton of foundational knowledge that she continued to gather. There were specific sorts of skills she continued to perfect. But the core of what we want students like Erin to walk away with is embedded in the simple idea that history is about interpretation and analysis.

About balancing bias and perspective, about collective and individual memory, about investigation and rethinking and keeping an open mind. About making sense of evidence and making a claim using that evidence.

Traditional social studies and history instruction – instruction that focuses on helping kids find the “correct answers” through the use of traditional lecture / take note / fill in the blank / memorize the content is not just poor instruction. It also denies students the opportunity to learn the valuable skills of balancing multiple perspectives and accepting the absence of a single “history” and the co-existence of multiple “histories.”

We too often get caught up in the attempt to “cover” our content. To get to the end of the chapter. To the end of the textbook. And in doing so, we end up pushing process and thinking skills offstage rather than allowing them to share the spotlight with content. We need to go beyond basic foundational knowledge and create a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty in how things are going to work out.

One suggestion?

If our students really are going to learn and master historical thinking skills, it’s essential that they experience for themselves how historians reach their conclusions. (See Sam Wineburg and his Reading Like a Historian, his SHEG website, and . . . well, just about anything that Sam has ever written.)

But what can that look like? Read more

Fave Posts of 2019: “Somebody Wanted But So” makes your kids smarter

Most of you have probably settled deep into holiday break mode. Getting up a little bit later than normal. Watching football. Eating too much. Catching up on your reading. Trying to decide if The Mandalorian is worth your time. Enjoying family and friends. Not really thinking about the back to school schedule that cranks up in January.

But if you need a break from all of the free time, we’ve got you covered. Between now and the first week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-live five of the most popular History Tech posts from 2019. Enjoy the reruns!

I’ve been spending a ton of time this summer working with groups around the country, helping facilitate conversations around reading and writing in the social studies.

It’s always a good day when I get the chance to sit with social studies teachers, sharing ideas and best practice, talking about what works and what doesn’t. And the cool thing is that I always walk away smarter because teachers are super cool about sharing their favorite web site or tool or handy strategy.

This week was no different. I learned about a simple but powerful summarizing strategy called Somebody Wanted But So.

Summarizing is a skill that I think we sometimes take for granted. We ask our kids to read or watch something and expect them to just be able to remember the content and apply it later during other learning activities. We can easily get caught up in the Curse of Knowledge, assuming that because we know how to summarize and organize information, everyone does too.

But our students often need scaffolding tools to help Read more

Fave posts of 2019: Memes. Fun waste of time or incredible literacy integration tool?

Most of you have probably settled deep into holiday break mode. Getting up a little bit later than normal. Watching football. Eating too much. Catching up on your reading. Trying to decide if The Mandalorian is worth your time. Enjoying family and friends. Not really thinking about the back to school schedule that cranks up in January.

But if you need a break from all of the free time, we’ve got you covered. Between now and the first week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-live five of the most popular History Tech posts from 2019. Enjoy the reruns!

We all love a good meme. Visual. Easy to understand. And just the right amount of snark.

But can we use them as part of our instructional designs? Or are they just a questionable way to spend way too much time online? Ask me that question five years ago and I probably would have said waste of time. Fun, sure. But a waste of time.

And now? Read more

Emojis. Cause they’re good for kids and fun to use. What’s not to like?

I always walk away smarter after spending time with classroom teachers. Wednesday was no exception. I got the chance to work with about 35 K-5 teachers and spent the day focused on the Inquiry Design Model – tweaking previous IDMs and developing new ones for next semester. And in addition to finding out about some new ways to integrate primary sources, a teacher shared this little gem:

“Never wear white when teaching Kindergarten.”

 If you teach K-3, you already knew this. But for secondary folks like me? Good tip.

I’m not sure that there is any sort of measurement tool able to document the level of respect I have for elementary teachers. But that’s it, right there in a nutshell. Teaching five year olds is hard enough, what with all the reading, writing, arithmetic, social emotional, classroom management stuff. But now I find out that my wardrobe choices are also impacted. (And you really don’t want to hear the reasons why white is a bad choice. Trust me. Seriously . . .  just walk away.)

Once we got past the never wear white idea, we had the chance to jump into our work on their IDMs. Including some conversation about effective teaching strategies and activities. One of my fave conversations centered on the idea of using emojis as a way to help kids make sense of social studies and incorporating them as part of a quality lesson that can help improve student thinking and literacy skills.

And yes, I can hear you. You’re saying that integrating little graphic images used by millions of Instagram tweeners instead of more traditional tools is no way to teach historical thinking and literacy. But I’m convinced that these little graphic images have tremendous potential to help kids makes sense of evidence, increase literacy skills, and demonstrate learning.

We started our day on Wednesday introducing the idea by using a fun web tool called Emoji Scavenger Hunt. We got into groups and raced around the building, collecting actual objects that matched emojis provided by the game. It was a great way to kickstart the conversation.

You can get an idea of the emoji potential by taking a look at Read more