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Nerdfest 2015 Day Four: Google Apps and Extensions for the Social Studies

The last day of any conference is always a bit bittersweet. You’ve had a great time. You’ve learned a lot. But, man, Sunday mornings are rough and a large piece of my brain is suggesting – loudly – that I should have stayed in bed.

Yeah, I know. #firstworldproblems.

But this session looks like it’s right in my wheelhouse. If using Google apps and tools to teach social studies doesn’t wake me up, then I’m in the wrong job.

We start by agreeing that Google is a great entry point for using lots of tools that helps students do social studies. Why should we be using Google?

  • supports the reading of non-fiction and content texts
  • encourages deciphering primary sources
  • applying social studies concepts
  • it’s more fun

They suggested buying their own website domain for using with kids. In fact, they suggest having two – a public one and private one for the teaching and learning. They can be connected but the private domain allows for specific filtering and controlling access. There was some discussion about why a separate private domain for individual classes adds value past what a district or school wide GAFE account might add.

They’re a Chromebook school so the Chrome Browser is already built into those laptops. But if you’re not using Chromebooks, using the Chrome Browser is still probably your best option if you plan on using tons of Googly things. Read more

Nerdfest 2015 Day Three: Quick Writes to assess historical thinking

If you aren’t familiar with Bruce Lesh, author of the very sweet book titled Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?, then . . . well, you need to be. The book highlights his experience as a classroom teacher struggling to find ways to get his kids to think historically. More importantly, how best to measure that type of thinking. His stuff is just incredibly practical and useful right away.

So I’m pumped to hear him share some ideas about quick, easy to use, writing assessments to gauge student thinking. Bruce started the session with an audio clip of a Scantron machine scoring multiple choice answer sheets. The more noise it makes, the “worse” teacher you are. Because that means students were missing lots of multiple choice questions. Like many teachers, he used to use that type of test to measure learning.

But at the same time that he was using MC and other traditional types of assessment, he was changing the way he designed his instruction to focus more on the processes of the discipline, on having kids think historically. Bruce continued by suggesting that quality instruction measured by poor assessment does more harm than good. We need to focus on both powerful learning activities with appropriately aligned assessments.

He’s preaching to the choir.

To set the stage for his Quick Write assessment idea, Bruce shared a bit about what he calls his History Lab idea. A History Lab has the following characteristics: Read more

Nerdfest 2015 Day Three: Advocating for the Social Studies

It’s late in the day on Saturday and it’s a battle between Bourbon Street and conference sessions. Right now, it’s looking like Bourbon Street is winning. Not a lot of people hanging around. So . . . I’m patting myself on the back just a little bit. Especially since I’m in a session focusing on the very important but potentially not-very exciting topic of social studies advocacy.

I want to learn more about how to do this. I think we all need to learn more about this. Things seem to be swinging back to a place where social studies gets a place on the podium. But there is still lots of work we can do to help parents, the media, and politicians better understand our mission and goals.

The questions I have are pretty simple:

  • What works best at the local and state levels?
  • What resources are available?

And we’ve got an esteemed panel this afternoon to help me figure out the answers:

  • Michelle Herczog, Los Angeles County Office of Education
  • Catriona Macdonald, Linchpin Strategies
  • Christopher Caltabiano, Council for Economic Education
  • Brenda Barr, National Geographic Society
  • Lee White, National Coalition for History
  • Ted McConnell, Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools

So it’s a lock that I’ll walk away smarter. Read more

Nerdfest 2015 Day Three: New York State Social Studies Toolkit

For too long, state standards have encouraged social studies teachers and students to simply focus on the memorization of foundational knowledge. The pendulum is swinging back to quality instruction focused on the development of historical thinking skills.

This is a good thing. But it can also be a bit intimidating and discouraging. I often hear from teachers asking what this sort of instruction should look like. What resources should they use? Where can they find resources? How long should a unit last? How can this type of learning be assessed?

The answers to those questions just got easier thanks to the great state of New York. Over the last few years, teachers in New York have worked to create what they are calling the Toolkit. Made up of 84 different Inquiries across multiple grade levels, the Toolkit provides specifics about what the historical thinking can look like in your classroom.

The Toolkit is designed Read more

Nerdfest 2015 Day Two: Art, Artifacts, and World History

And we just keep on rolling. Daniella Green from the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School is rocking this session on using art and artifacts to teach World History.

Why use art and artifacts?

Art and artifacts can help reveal a civilization’s culture because these things come from all levels – economic, educational, cultural., political – of that society. Daniella says we don’t need to live near a museum to do this so a few ideas of what this can look like.

She usually starts with Mesopotamia and has kids explore artifacts that she finds online. Her basic lesson structure with artifacts have students write brief summaries (like the labels found on artifacts in a museum) and create a replica of one artifact of their choice.

She starts by having kids “source” an artifact: Read more

Nerdfest 2015 Day One: Thinking like a geographer

There’s been a big push in the last few years to train kids to think historically, to ask better questions, to analyze evidence, to solve problems ala Sam Wineburg.

But what does it look like when kids think like a geographer? The last session of the day yesterday at the NSSSA conference focused at interpreting primary sources with a geographic lens. What sorts of questions can we train kids to ask that helps them think about connections between events and place?

And I love the idea of thinking geographically. I would be the first to admit that I am very US History-centric. Thinking historically – ala Sam Wineburg – has been my life for the last few years as I helped write state standards and train teachers.

So having a conversation about a different lens to think about the past is a great way to end the day. I’ve pasted a few resources below that you really need to go check out but the basics of thinking geographically look like this: Read more


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