That can’t be right, can it? A musical about the founding of America that’s better than that tired, old Hamilton thing? I mean, we’re talking about a musical that was Hamilton before there was a Hamilton. Before there was even a Lin-Manuel Miranda.
So I’m guessing it’s a musical that many of you haven’t heard about. I had the chance to see a performance of it back in the day – like, seriously back in the day – at the amazing Wichita Musical Theater. And, of course, then I had to go and find the movie based on the Broadway version.
Cause we know how powerful poetry and music and emotion and pop culture and all the things that make Hamilton so awesome can be to encourage student connections to historical content. So why not go back a bit to the original Founding Fathers musical that ruffled a few feathers of its own?
After the last few years, there’s not much that surprises me anymore. It’s been such a weird two and a half years of school. (And for classroom teachers, an incredibly challenging and difficult time.)
But I’m always just a little bit shocked when I hear about districts that crank up during the first week in August. As in . . . next week. Seriously? I’m just now starting to figure out the Delaware beach system and you’re going back to school?
But maybe you’re in that same boat, shoving off with kids already in seven days. If you are, this post may be a little 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 seven great ways to kick off the school year. Use what you can. Adapt what you can’t. Ignore the rest.
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 few days 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?
To quote Jim Nantz and his love for the Master’s golf tournament, “it’s a tradition unlike any other.”
And just like the Master’s, the March Madness basketball tournament, the NCSS national conference, and the annual May collapse of the Kansas City Royals baseball team, my self-assigned summer reading program is something that’s been part of my yearly schedule for almost as long as I can remember.
An early mentor from my Derby Middle School teaching days, Mike Ortmann, was fairly adamant about the whole thing. “This is not a part-time job,” he said.
Don’t get lazy over the summer, he said. Read some books. Expand your mind. Hone your craft. Be sure to stay current, he said.
So . . . who was I to argue? The guy was a social studies rock star. And ever since, I’ve created a list of books that I plan to read during the summer months. It’s a great idea. Read some stuff. Take some notes. Get smarter. (Of course, it’s common knowledge that I’ve never actually finished one of these lists. And it’s not going to happen this year either, just saying. A used book store five minutes from my house? Yeah. That’s gonna be trouble.)
This year’s list is a mix of work-related and just fun-to-read books. In no particular order:
One of the most powerful professional learning strategies is also one of the easiest.
You ready for this? You might want to sit down. Ready?
One of the most powerful professional learning strategies is . . . making intentional time for teachers to talk with other teachers. Yup. Teachers yakking with each other. Consultant presentations? Absolutely. Book studies? Yes, please. After school webinars? Sure. But the best PD is often just the two of us sharing ideas over some nachos and a cold beverage. (Hmmm . . . Nacho PD? On a Friday? At 4:00? Today?)
It’s taken me longer than it should have to realize the simple fact that teachers talking with other teachers makes everyone smarter.
You already know this. When two or three social studies teachers get together pretty much anywhere besides the hallway outside their classroom, you’re almost 100% guaranteed to get a great conversation about best practice and great strategies.
I’m lucky. I get the chance to have conversations with so many really great social studies practitioners. Heck . . . just a few days ago, high school history rock star Derek Schutte shared his awesome idea of asking kids to do voice-overs of historical events as if they’re sports casters. I love that idea! Research. Context. Primary sources. Emotional engagement. Student choice and voice. (You know want to know more about that. Make that connection and see an example via Twitter.)
It was last fall during one of those random but powerful teacher conversations that got me hooked on the idea of Caption This. I did some online internetting and found several different variations floating around so I wasn’t exactly sure where the idea for the activity might have started. But I loved the concept and especially appreciated how it asks kids to contextualize and solve problems using visual clues.
So I shared the basic idea with the ESSDACK Social Studies PLC. A recent Tweet from one of my PLC buddies (and former Kansas History Teacher of the Year), Jill Weber, reminded me of our conversation:
I’m so lucky. Four times a year with the Essdack SS PLC, I get the chance to sit around, drink as much Diet Pepsi as I want, talk to super smart social studies teachers, and walk away smarter.
We started meeting after our last Teaching American History grant ended because we couldn’t imagine not getting together anymore. Over the last ten years or so, the group has changed but the goal is still the same:
sit around, drink Diet Pepsi, talk to super smart social studies teachers, walk away smarter.
Last week was no different. Jill Weber shared some claim / evidence / reasoning magic. We explored the brand new African Americans in the Midwest website, and Laura McFarren walked us through something she calls Masterpiece Matchup.
Laura teaches middle school US History in Derby and is always on the lookout for ways to engage her kids with primary sources. Cause . . . like for most of us, that’s always a struggle. But in a perfect example of teachers helping teachers, Laura ran across an idea from Amanda Sandoval called Masterpiece Matchup. (FYI – Amanda is amazing. And, yes, you should be following her. If for no other reason than to see how she has her learning environment arranged.)
Laura took Amanda’s original idea, mashed it up with a SHEG Structured Academic Controversy that focuses on the Lewis and Clark expedition, tried it in her 8th grade classroom, and shared it with the group. And it was awesome. As the A-Team’s Hannibal Smith used to say:
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.
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.
And as I’m working with Kansas teachers to prep for next year’s state social studies assessment, these just seem to make more and more sense.
A Structure Strip is a simple but powerful scaffolding tool that can help kids focus on organizing their thinking and written responses to prompts. Kinda like training wheels.