Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Summer Reading, Had Me A Blast...

Are you ready for summer? Do you have big plans? Some summers I jet-set all over the place but this summer I think I’m mostly staying in town. I have lots of big plans of house projects and play dates and beach time and time to read (Am I crazy? Will any of that actually happen?)

hammock-read.jpgNormally, give myself a Summer Reading List to dig into some of the books I have on my “to read” pile that I don’t have time for during the school year. Fiction. Non-fiction. History. Education.

While I realize that this summer may have less reading time than summers before, I don’t want to completely drop my summer habit. I kind of like it. So, below is my Summer Reading List 2014. I am sure I won’t make it through all the books, but maybe I can make it through one or two.

How about you? What’s on your book pile? What are you doing to keep your brain functioning (or rebooting)  over the summer?

Enjoy a wonderful, well-deserved, hard-earned break! I’ll see you all fresh and ready to rock in the fall

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Survey Says? Ask them

Survey Says? Ask Them

What’s the countdown? Ten days left of kids, 11 or 12 for us teachers. ...  I know it’s been a long year. I know that both kids AND teachers (and everyone else) are ready for a long break...

Quick -- what’s the number one thing that kids in my classes had to say during my last year in the classroom? Do you know the answer? Survey says? “We hate keeping a notebook! Let’s turn in assignments separately!”

Do you know how I know that? I asked my students.

As you wade through the end of the year chaos, do final grades, grade projects, attend award ceremonies, pack up your classroom, plan your vacations, chaperone prom, and do all that other seasonal stuff, try to squeeze in a few minutes to reflect on this school year.

How did your year go? How was your teaching? How was your classroom management? How do you know?

If you want to know how to get real, honest, knowledgeable feedback about your class, consider surveying your students about THEIR experience in your class this year. It sounds obvious, but one of the best ways to get students’ feedback is to ask them. If we want to know the impact we’re having on kids, we need to ask the kids.
Wait, wait, wait. Hear me out.

Do you remember being an adolescent yourself? I’m pretty sure that in middle school and high school, I announced that “those teachers” had “no clue” about being me. There IS one way to avoid being the teacher who has “no clue” about the realities of your class or of being a teenager (as if you missed that phase of life, amiright?). Honestly, one of the best ways to get students’ feedback and learn what is important to them in class is to ask them.

We, your district social studies office, often assess and reflect on OUR year, too. I just recently sent out a couple of surveys for teachers to provide valuable input on several things. I feel very strongly that if we, your district Social Studies department want to know what teachers want, we should find out. We should ask them.

I had a rough experience with a national chain restaurant recently. I gave them feedback online and got an amazingly specific email in response that explained how that chain was going to fix the problem. If a chain restaurant wants to get a customer’s business back, it should ask them about their successes and areas for improvement. If they want to know the impact they’re having on the customers, they should ask them

It’s definitely time for we-the-teachers, to reflect and learn from our successes and our areas of growth. We need to learn from our students by asking them.

I know that the idea of getting the opinions of adolescents is a little weird. I mean, they’re KIDS! They love you one day and curse you the next. They make an “A” the first marking period and a “D” the next. They change hairstyles and boyfriends and opinions at the drop of a hat. And, of course, you will have to take a few with a grain of salt. The kid who says you should “never do any work” is obviously not asking to be taken seriously.

But overall, your kids will surprise you with their thoughtfulness and their honesty and their perceptiveness.

You don’t have to ask for students to put their names on their surveys. You don’t have to tell your colleagues or administrators what the surveys said, or what you asked or even that you gave one at all. This is just for you and your own professional contemplation.

Ask them -- survey your kids to get specific, useful feedback to help you improve your craft next year. Ask your kids about your class -- and give them an opportunity to give you feedback. Ask them about your classroom management, your content knowledge, your assignments & tests, your lessons & teaching style, your professionalism. DO it paper and pencil or on Survey Monkey or another survey website.

Here are a few Dos and Don’ts about end-of-the-year surveys

...give one to every kid (yes, even THAT kid)
...make your surveys anonymous
...make your survey specific about your teaching and classroom culture

...attach your survey to Portal (kids need freedom to be honest) the wheel. Use one of the links below
...make it a quiz or content based

Here are a few suggested links, if you’re interested in trying one this year or even just thinking about it!

Here’s an end-of-year survey I created and used in the past...

Here’s several different end-of-year surveys from Google Docs

Here’s a Social Studies/tech blogger taking on the student survey idea, too

Monday, May 12, 2014

World War II -- The War to End All Content?

When I was in middle school, we had a social studies teacher who was a WWII veteran. As kids, we knew that all we had to do to get him off-track from the lesson was to ask him about WWII. He would then tell (boring, in my 12-year old opinion) war stories instead of whatever we were supposed to learn. We never made it past World War II in our content.

In high school, my favorite teacher was a World History teacher who had escaped Nazi Germany as a small child with his parents. He also told World War II stories (I thought his were more interesting, but that’s just me). In World History (and later AP Euro with the same teacher) we never learned anything past WWII in our content.

My other favorite teacher, my high school US History teacher also stopped content at WWII (except Civil Rights. I learned solid Civil Rights in his class)

In college my favorite professor was a dry, sarcastic World History professor. He was an unbelievable wealth of knowledge. I took his classes for everything -- Western Civ, History of Britain, Modern History. Those classes also ended at WWII.

It wasn’t until later, until I was studying for my NBCT assessment that I realized that I didn’t know anything about the post-WWII world. I had a decent clue about the Cold War in general, but not the particulars, like Korea or the Cuban Missile Crisis. I had missed the Decolonization era completely. I had no idea what terrorism was until 9/11. I knew there was something up in the Middle East, but I couldn’t have told you what. I knew the US went to war in the Persian Gulf in the early 90s, but I didn’t really pay attention. I knew that a president got “in trouble” at something called Watergate, but I didn’t know what that was all about.

I knew almost nothing about the second half of the twentieth century because every class I ever had ended with World War II.


It’s rough for all of us. And as my boss Linda likes to say, “Our content gets longer every year.”

So much of our world is the way it is because of things that have happened in the past 60 (or 20) years.

We can’t understand the kidnapping of the schoolgirls in Nigeria and Boko Haram without an understanding of the nature of 21st Century terrorism, militant Islam, African de-colonization and the poverty that has increased there since independence.  

We can’t understand the crisis in Ukraine without understanding not only the Crimean War and WWI but the fall of the USSR and the rise of the EU.

(PS -- Check out the California History-Social Science Project's latest resource -- "Current Context" where they give historical context to current events. The first one is on Ukraine )

In our own country we can’t understand the polarization of politics or the debate on gay marriage or the debt ceiling crisis without understanding recent history.

If you’re still on WWII in any class, it’s past time to wrap that up. Skip ahead to the new stuff.

6e8f06b18d5a9f4df6e32d814c98f0ec.jpgAnd while you are frantically trying to cram in all the recent content you can in the next three weeks, take a few minutes to reflect on your pacing this year.  (Except EOC classes. You all enjoy some much deserved exhaling and slowing down and teaching of the stuff you flew thorough).

Did you follow the Curriculum Guide pacing? Did you cover everything you wanted to? What content did you extend? What content did you zip through? What content did you skip? What did you wish you could spend more time on?

Before you leave for the summer and take your heard-earned down time, jot down some notes about your pacing from this year (if you’re like me, you'll forget by the end of June). Make yourself a note about where you did well and where you want to improve. Where you took too much time and where you didn’t take enough.
Make a note about what project took too much time and what unit was too quick. Comment on where you had to reteach.

Jot them on a sticky note you can find again or type them in a Word doc or write them with an actual pen and paper. Put them in Evernote or in your phone.  It doesn't matter how you write them or where you leave them -- as long as you can find them again at the end of the summer. It is always such a help to spend a few minutes dedicated to reflecting on your pacing so you can use your own experience and expertise to improve your craft next year.

Once you have some notes down about your own pacing, take one extra minute and think about how you can get to the more modern content. How can you get past WII to 1980 or 2000 (or the Roman Empire or Reconstruction for 6th and 8th grade teachers)

As one of my favorite education superstars, Bill McBride says, “The systems you have in place are perfect for the results you are getting”. Check your systems. You’re the only one who knows where your pacing was awesome and where it could be improved.

Counting down to the end of the year? How far did you get this year? Any pacing “a-ha” moments? As always, I love to hear your thoughts! Email me

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Kent State, Historical Messiness, and Historiography

From the song “Ohio” by Neil Young (performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young)

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

For those of us who weren’t there in 1970, four college students were killed when the National Guard opened fire on anti-war protesters at Kent State University in Ohio.

What could we use the above picture for? Is it accurate? What could we argue about the incident, using that photo? What part of the story does it tell? What part of the story is it missing? What other document might have more value?  What can we know about the photographer? For what did/would she use the photo? What effects might this photo have on the school, the different groups, or America-as-a-whole?

During my senior year of college, I took a Historiography course. Nobody had ever taught me about historiography being the study of historians’ methods -- how historians do what they do. I did my senior thesis paper on the Kent State shootings of 1970 thinking that the topic was relatively contemporary and I could find a lot of sources to prove “the answer”.

I read newspaper accounts. Eyewitness accounts. National Guard hearings transcripts. Court records. Commission findings. Life magazine articles. Rock and roll lyrics.

It turns out that the whole thing was kind of a big mess. And hard to piece together.

All that research was an eye-opener to me.(I was a pretty concrete-minded kid) I had an extremely tough time creating a thesis about what really happened and who was at fault for the incident and how that happened. I had wonderful social studies teachers in middle school, high school, and college but I had never put together the ambiguity and multiple perspectives and “grey area” involved in real research.

History is not black and white. It’s grey. And purple. And green. And messy.

Think about the last time you saw a fight or similar incident at school. If you tried to find out what really happened and asked each student who was fighting, several eyewitnesses, nearby adults, administrators who took statements, viewed the campus cameras, and watched the phone video footage, sometimes you can’t STILL come up with the absolute coherent picture then either.

Now, try to piece together the Kent State shooting, where hundreds of people were around doing hundreds of different things without the video cameras or cell phones.

Now try to piece together something like the crisis in Ukraine or the sinking of the south Korean ferry -- or Apartheid or the Cuban Revolution and you will see how complicated the world really is.

People are complicated.

As we wind down to the end of the year, folks with AP exams or EOCs are done or finishing with their content. There are many different things you can do with these last few weeks (and you probably LOVE the freedom to teach what you want, instead of running at breakneck speed through the pacing guide).

If you’re up for a new challenge, I’d like to propose some historiography work with students. It can be as big as a traditional research thesis paper or as small as examining the author’s perspective and background to read the “invisible text”. Invisible text is the perspective -- where the author is coming from -- socially, politically, economically, geographically, etc. It can be practicing reading and using documents for different theses. It can just be imagining effects of certain documents.

Give the kids two different takes on an event and ask them which is a better perspective, which is the “right” answer, or the “real truth”. Then, engage them in a conversation about the differing usefulness of various sources. What is the value in each source? What can you use it for? What might it argue for?

Any thoughts on historiography at the end of the year? I’d love to hear from you!