I just got off the phone with a former social studies teacher and current building admin. She’s working with several of her teachers as they develop standards-based lessons and units.
Part of the problem that they’re running into, of course, is that the state standards here in Kansas are not your typical standards. Our document does list some suggested people, places, events, and ideas for each grade level. But that list is not mandated or assessed at the state level. The social studies standards in Kansas is made up of a simple bulleted list:
- Choices have consequences
- Citizens have rights and responsibilities
- Societies are shaped by beliefs, ideas, and diversity
- Societies experience continuity and change over time
- Relationships among people, places, ideas, and environments are dynamic
The purpose behind this “simple” list is to encourage classroom instruction that ties social studies content to these big ideas. We used the term mental velcro a lot – why teach the aftermath of the Civil War? Why teach about the Army of Amazons in southeast Kansas? Why teach redlining in Chicago during the 1930s?
Because Read more
When I firsted started teaching 8th grade American History, there was no access to primary sources. There weren’t any online archives. DocsTeach? Nope. Stanford History Education Group? Nope. Library of Congress? Nada.
I made due with whatever supplementary materials showed up with my textbook and the few Jackdaw kits that I was able to track down and order. But here’s the thing . . . even if I had somehow gotten access to primary source documents, I’m not sure what I would have done with them. Like most social studies teachers at the time (and more than just a few today), I really didn’t have a clue of how to use primary sources as part of the learning process.
Even worse, I wasn’t really sure why I should be using this sort of evidence. What was the point? Every kid had a textbook. I had a teacher’s version of the textbook. I could lecture. I was set.
But with the help of some amazing mentors, I began moving more towards the idea that kids need to be active users of evidence while solving problems. And there is now a clear shift in social studies and history instruction towards this idea of historical thinking, using evidence, and problem solving. More and more teachers are using primary sources as integral pieces of the learning process.
There has been a cool supply and demand process happening over the last few years. Teachers want and need more primary sources. The internet has made those sources more available and accessible. More availability and accessibility means more teachers are using those sources. More teachers used to this availability of sources demand even more sources.
But there will always be questions about how to best use primary sources. A recent article by Discovery Ed’s Joe Sangillo does a nice job of highlighting five effective integration strategies. I’ve pasted a quick summary of Joe’s thinking but be sure to head over to Discovery Ed to get the full meal deal: Read more
Several years ago, I had the chance to be part of a learning community facilitated by Bruce Lesh. At the time, Bruce was teaching high school in Maryland and traveled to Kansas for a week as part of our Century of Progress TAH grant.
He shared a ton of great stuff including his idea of History Labs and the process of historical thinking. Like many of us, part of his social studies world view included ideas from Sam Wineburg. Wineburg uses the semantics of sourcing, contextualizing, and corroborating. He also talks quite a bit about kids working to “read between the lines” as part of that analysis process.
Bruce altered that language a bit and used the words text, context, and subtext to describe student thinking skills. The basic idea is the same but I like the alliteration / re-use of the word “text” and how that can help kids remember what their task is when making sense of evidence. Since then, teachers in the group have continued to use his vocabulary.
Many of the TAH project participants continue to meet four times a year to share ideas and hone their skills. Yesterday was day four of the year and among other things, we celebrated the birthday of Thomas Jefferson and hosted a historical political campaign t-shirt design contest. Read more
On occasion, I have been accused of being too US history centric at the expense of world history, civics, and econ. And it’s possible.
Yeah, okay. It’s true. But seriously . . . come on. It’s the Civil War. Lewis and Clark. Teddy Roosevelt. Gordon Parks. The Amazon Army in southeast Kansas. Freedom Riders. Who doesn’t love those stories?
But I am working to get better at finding stuff that is useful across the disciplines. So I was excited to get a press release from the Chicago Field Museum about what looks like some very cool and useful Chinese history and cultural instructional resources. If you teach middle or high school world history, this is definitely worth a look.
If you’re looking for some personal professional development, need an article for a department meeting, or just looking to generate some brisk social media conversation, look no further than a recent article in The Atlantic. Written by Christine Gross-Loh, A Better Way to Teach History does a great job of explaining how history instruction is changing as well providing specific examples of what that can look like.
The focus is on using the case study idea to teach history at the college level but there is a ton of transfer between higher ed and K-12. If nothing else, the article is great for highlighting what works and what doesn’t work in social studies instruction. The article addresses a basic question that social studies folks have been dealing with for the last few years: Read more
It really is the ultimate question, isn’t it?
What do our kids need to know and be able to do? Our Kansas state social studies standards and the NCSS national framework provide some great guidelines. Both of those documents emphasize a balance between process and content, trying to move people away from a simple checklist of people, places, and dates.
But our state ed guy continues to use the phrase:
We don’t care what you teach. Your kids will not be tested on specific content. Your kids will be tested on their ability to make sense of and use evidence. You and your district need to decide the content.
He does qualify that by saying that the content needs to fit the state’s broad K-12 scope and sequence. So an US History 8th grade class needs to focus on the period between 1800 – 1900, for example. But within that 100 years? Do what you want. But that can sometimes be a bit scary for classroom teachers.
We’ve trained our teachers over the last ten years or so to focus on very specific bits of social studies data. So when we tell them that they can teach whatever they want with a focus on social studies process skills, they start to freak out:
Just tell me what I’m supposed to teach!
If I could teach whatever I wanted to 8th graders? I’d ditch the War of 1812 to spend more time on Reconstruction and Populism.