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United Nations Day: Studying Historic Events with Documents and Images

On October 24th, 1945, the required number of nations ratified the United Nations Charter, including the United States of America, making the UN the international organization for peace.  The charter was encouraged by American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as he urged the powers of the world to unite against aggressor nations like those fought during both World Wars.

Teaching to significance of these types of events can be challenging.  While reading the documents can help students to evaluate their importance, using images and guiding questions can help them to take that basic understanding to the next level.

How can you arrange this type of event analysis in your classroom?

Three easy steps will help you to provide the ideal setting in your classroom for the investigation of a historic event such as the signing and ratification of the United Nations Charter.
  1. Access the original documents to allow students to read through the actual words of the text.  Set up your class into pairs or small groups, and provide copies of the document transcripts so students can highlight passages and write comments along the sides as they read.
  2. Provide images of the document meetings and signing.  Use focused websites for authentic images.  The UN Photo Gallery provides many for the UN Charter.  Encourage students to find as many clues as possible through investigating the images.  Utilize a simple image analysis process:
    • What do you see?
    • What symbols are present in the image?
    • What do/could the symbols represent?
    • What interactions can be seen in the image?
    • Are emotions visible?  What are they?
    • Describe the setting and the overall mood of the image.
    • Are there any clues as to the importance of this event?  Describe.
  3. Use Guiding Questions or a Document Analysis Activity to walk students through the document and images for a clearer understanding of the entire historic event and to evaluate its significance, including the importance of the document on our modern world.
The only thing left to do in implementing this wonderful lesson for any Social Studies course is wrapping it up in the end.  Be sure to discuss the significance of the historic event for your course or current unit and then emphasize its importance on our modern world.  Lesson done!

Happy Teaching!

Seeing the Big Picture: Helping Students Visualize Multiple Perspectives

Teaching from a textbook or singular source can often leave the impression on our students that history is one-sided. After years of this indoctrination to history, our students are blind to the truth about history.  It becomes a battle at the secondary level to teach students that there are always multiple perspectives, and that history is relative.

How can you help students visualize the multiple perspectives in history?
First and foremost, stress to your students from the very start of each lesson that there are many sides to every event.  The Cold War was not controlled completely by the US, nor was it controlled by the U.S.S.R..  Even the two superpowers had quite a bit of help in feeding and fueling the fires between democracy and communism.  And if we cannot clearly define events between world powers, how can we begin to touch the surface of interactions between individuals?

One strategy for teaching multiple perspectives is to utilize as many primary sources as possible in every lesson you teach.  Provide students the first hand accounts, and encourage them to analyze the information to come to their own conclusions about the events in question.

Next, practice perspective posting on every assignment by adding comment bubbles.  Have students add in the conversation between key players.  Discuss their comments, and evaluate the plausibility of the comments based on what is known of the historical events.  An additional step to this activity would be including a 3rd bubble and allowing students to include an outside viewpoint.  Teach them to ask about those who are not seen or heard in history.  (These are great Interactive Notebook wrap-up activities!)
Finally, set up and encourage role playing in your classroom.  Remind students that they will never be able to truly walk in another's shoes, but through reenacting historic events or imagining the thoughts and feelings of individuals of that time period, they can get a better idea of the era.

And when students find themselves unable to find multiple perspectives in history, remind them of the Blind Men and the Elephant.  The poem, told in many different versions (how fitting) helps remind us all that nothing is ever what it seems at first encounter!

Happy Teaching!




Building a Positive School Climate: What's Your Role?

Stepping into the teacher's lounge or workroom can be a risky adventure for some teachers.  It is not always the welcoming atmosphere most picture when they think of working in a school setting, and it can sometimes exude a climate similar to what you would find on Antarctica after all the scientists have gone home for winter.  For new teachers, this can be especially daunting, but what can one do about the negative climate in their school?

How can one teacher make a difference?
Once we put on our teacher caps and step into our classrooms that very first year, we are all leaders.  We are the authority figures in our own classrooms, and we have the skills required to lead others.  Furthermore, when it comes to classroom climates, it is highly likely that most of the teachers (especially the newer ones) in the building want change; they just don't know how to work toward the positive climate they crave.

Be the initiator.  Be the spark for change.  Be the one who speaks up to bring to light the elephant in the room, and stand firm that you )and your co-workers) deserve more.  You deserve a school setting where you feel safe to go to work, teach your students, and leave at the end of the day without having been subject to a cumulative bad mood for eight hours of your day.

Here is a great tool to help you find your way through the muck and to greener pastures:
  • What To Do When Your School's In A Bad Mood is filled with incredible information for remedying that school-wide bad mood.  Distribute this to your administration and your faculty, and encourage a reading club or book study to discuss the strategies suggested.  Even the first chapter can get you an a great start!
Need a more detailed step-by-step approach?  Start off with this Problem Solving Model.  The ideas included may give you the light bulb moment you need to find your own solutions!

Good luck on creating that perfect school climate.  I know it's out there.  :)

Happy Teaching!

Analyzing Legislation: A Political or Social Approach?

In my first few years of teaching, I taught with a U.S. History teacher who believed every law was passed simply because Congress saw it as what should be.  He gave no credit to the social movements that encouraged the legislation, and saw no value in teaching about "social issues" in his classes.  I was appalled!  And as a Social Historian myself, I saw every piece of legislation as the result of social action.

Could we both have been right?  Or were we both wrong?
Now that I am much older, and somewhat wiser, I do see that the creation and passing of legislation has to be both political and social.  Our founding fathers had it right when they decided there should be elected officials that could distinguish between emotional appeal and a true need for change. 

Still, in our modern times, we see legislation passed that is often misunderstood.  It does not seem to adhere to the demands of the populous, and often seems in direct conflict with the wants and needs of the people.  Why is this so?

And then the more important question: 
How can we help our students understand this conundrum in our American legislative system?

We can't!  But what we can teach them is the lesson we all learn as we grow older.  Our government is not always serving in our best interest, often because it is seeking to serve in the best interest of others at the time.  And that's truly the way the founding fathers wanted it to be.   And whether legislation is passed through political measures or at the hands of a social movement, it is still a document worthy of investigation for all.  Through the evaluation of our American documents, we can all become better citizens, and in the end, that legislation will be our foundation.
Do you need quality resources for your classroom?  Take a look at my latest Document Analysis Series on TpT!  They will help you save time while providing your students the tools they need for learning and practicing the analysis process.

And be sure to introduce your students to Our Documents, an incredible website where they can see the actual documents and read the transcripts to better evaluate our American government.

Happy Teaching!


Collaboration in Your Building: Is It Worth It?


 Friends or Acquaintances
Helping your own, while avoiding the trouble

In my college graduate program, I spent a full year in a high school with a high number of teachers eligible for retirement.  Many of these educators had been teaching since the 1970s, and were lost in the new teaching strategies and different students than what they’d been accustomed to the last 30 years.  They were ready to go.

These teachers sat around the workroom and the teacher’s lounge each day and complained.  They moaned and they groaned and they went on and on about the deterioration of education in America.  After my semester of classroom observations and my semester of student teaching (with one of those ready to retirees), I was feeling burnt out myself.  It was just a dreary, dead climate.  It was depressing and simply not a place I wanted to get out of my warm bed to go to each and every morning.

When I finally graduated and headed out to the teaching world, I went looking for brightness.  I wanted to teach at a school with a positive climate and with teachers who still taught.  I wanted to be with positive attitudes and teachers who loved walking into their rooms each day. 

Your colleagues in your school building can really make your life easier.  They will be your allies and your leaders and your followers.  They will be the shoulders for you to cry on when your lesson fails terribly and will be the ones ready to throw the high-fives when your students are blazing through the halls bragging about your latest lesson.  You fellow teachers will be the ones that help you make your teaching days less like work and more like what you want to do your entire life.

At my first teaching job, I came in weeks before classes were to begin to get my classroom ready.  Oh, I had no idea what a task that would be.  I had replaced a retired teacher that had taught in that same classroom for almost 30 years.  It quickly became apparent that he had not moved anything in that time period, and as I went to move a bookshelf to another side of the room, part of the tile on the floor moved with it.  The gum and the melted hard candy was everywhere, and papers bled from every shelf and cabinet.  It was a disaster.

I was almost in tears from the overwhelming mess when a friendly face peeked into my room.  She was standing there in her overalls, her hair pulled back, obviously in the building to do the same as I.  But instead of returning to set up her room, she pushed up her sleeves, introduced herself and came into my room to help.  Before we knew it, the assistant principal was also in the room with an assortment of trash cans and the three of us were trashing 30 years of history and laughing through the whole process.  Those two women gave me hope and inspiration.  The teacher in the overalls became my best friend and we often laughed and cried together in the years we worked there.

Many of the other teachers in my building became good friends, and others remained acquaintances for the time I worked there.  I tended to be choosey about my friends in the building, surrounding myself with the positive teachers, the ones who taught with similar methods to myself and held high expectations for their students, as well.  It gave us more in common and we were able to understand each others’ needs for support when times were rough.

Another thing to remember about teaching is that you never do it alone.  I have not been in a school where I am not part of a team.  At the high school level I worked with my other content area teachers to plan, gather resources, and attend trainings.  We collaborated on our units, working to make sure our students would be prepared despite the schedule or teacher they have in the department.  In middle school, I have worked on teams, collaborating with all content area teachers to integrate all areas together for learning. 

Collaborative teaching is a wonderful thing!  Working with other teachers allows you the opportunity to check and develop your ideas before you ever introduce them in a classroom.  Having a sounding board helps you to hear your ideas and to get suggestions or improvements done before implementation.  Sharing resources is another benefit. 

In my two years of middle school teaching on teams, I have been surrounded by incredible teachers.  We have worked together to make activities and to introduce lessons to help reinforce our content from other classes, and the students have a richer learning environment.  While this does require team planning, it makes the learning so much easier to reinforce.  Here are a few simple examples that teachers can adopt and modify to fit their own teams:

  • Write a math open response question using content from the Social Studies lesson.
  • Building Roman houses in the Social Studies classroom using learned math skills.
  • Reading supplemental books in Language Arts to reinforce the Social Studies content.
  • Creating maps that integrate the Social Studies content with the Science content.
  • Take field trips with activities to foster all academic areas.
  • Team teach to introduce varying perspectives on topics.
  • Require students to keep their own grades on a running basis to reinforce math skills.
  • Teach an entire Social Studies unit within a Language Arts class using primary sources.
  • Collaborate on cumulative assignments so they will earn credit in two or more classes for the completion of one project.

All teachers can be great contributors to your classroom.  Experienced teachers know what works, and new teachers have just been introduced to the latest and greatest methods.  Share what you know with others, and work to make your entire team or school successful.  Use each other to get ideas, tweak ideas, and to implement ideas and your students will be the ones to gain.

Another excerpt from my book, A Lesson Plan for Teachers.

Happy Teaching! 

Happy Birthday Hubby! A Lesson On the Value of Teacher Collaboration

In honor of my hubby's 45th Birthday, I am writing this post on Teacher Collaboration!

A few years ago, I was sitting at home talking in an AOL chat group for teachers.  We were discussing the state testing and sharing our frustrations on having to take precious time away from our instruction to administer the tests.  At one point in the conversation, someone asked everyone to share what they taught, their grade level, and their location.  I quickly responded with my information, and just after I hit enter, I saw another contributor's information pop onto the screen, and he was also in Kentucky!  Small world!  "Where are you in KY?" I asked.  Two and a half years later, we were married!

So what is the value in teacher collaboration?

I will not guarantee everyone will find their future spouse through online collaboration, but I do have many other ideas on the benefits of "following" the crowd!

The benefits of online collaboration are many.  In simplest terms, you can share ideas for classroom organization, student management, parent involvement, and of course, classroom resources.  Teachers are also sounding boards for one another, just as we were doing in those early days, helping one another get through the stresses of the teacher workday.

And getting involved in the online world is so much easier now.  Some of the earliest chat rooms were difficult to navigate and were often filled with those not really interested in the posted topic.  But now, thanks to a number of modern resources, finding those who can bring you the greatest information is just a few clicks away.   My suggestions:
  • Search for professionally designed and maintained blogs that discuss your subject area, grade level, or other teaching characteristics.  (You can find wonderful ones on the right side of this blog post!)
  • Find collaborative boards on Pinterest and build up a network with those who contribute ideas that will enhance your classroom. Here are a few to get you started:
  • Investigate Linky Parties and other collaborative events by your favorite bloggers that can lead you to other online sources that will enhance your knowledge base.
  • Participate in contests to help navigate your way though networks of established online presences that can be valuable to you.
  • Friend colleagues or other Facebook posters that share ideas that could help you find the resources or advice you need.
  • And most importantly, find and learn all about TpT!  TeachersPayTeachers started right after I met my hubby, and I joined it right at the start.  It has been a blessing in my life in so many ways.  For you, it can be the time-saving tool you need to help you make through those challenging days when you just don't now what to do.  
 Oh, and one other important piece of advice... Don't just troll the blogs and Facebook pages, but participate.  We are not each islands of information.  All of our classrooms will be so much more incredible if we all share our thoughts and ideas with one another. 

Can you just imagine the relationships you could make!

And who knows?  Maybe you will meet your sweetheart!

Happy Teaching!


Building up Expectations... A Requirement in Every Classroom


Almost a decade ago, I sat on a desk in my classroom talking to my student teacher on her last day.  She was sharing her fears about stepping into her own classroom, and I was trying my best to offer her every piece of advice I could muster.  The result of that conversation was my book, A Lesson Plan for Teachers, and eventually this blog.  My goal in writing both is the same now as it was in the very beginning.  I wanted to help new teachers and those who were struggling in their classrooms.  

And then I sat down to write the book.  While I did include all the topics I felt vital for establishing a highly effective secondary classroom, I also thought it was important to make one thing clear...

It all starts with expectations. And I started my book with that first topic.
Here is a related article I wrote on the topic... one that is still so relevant today!

Expect Excellence:
Teaching without Excuses from the students or from yourself

Why do you teach?  Really think about that question.  Why do YOU teach?  Think about all it means.  Why are you in that classroom?  Why do you get up each morning, put on your working face, and step into that tropical forest that could grow and flourish or wilt and wither all at your hand?  Assuming you are a teacher, and not just one of those among us that took the job for the 3-month vacation (like that really happens), you already know the answer to the question.  You are a teacher because, simply stated, you are. 

I started teaching as soon as I could speak.  Education was important to me, and I wanted everyone to know its importance.  Now, unlike so many of today’s students, I was raised with an appreciation of education, a great and mighty need for learning.  Even before I started reading at age 3, I forced my knowledge on others, even strangers.  It should be understood that I grew up in a time when strangers were not feared as they are today, and often times were welcomed into our homes, especially if they were carrying a Bible or a vacuum.  So, as each traveling salesman or missionary came to the door, I would fling open my book and begin my instruction.  In the beginning, my lessons were the verses I had memorized in Sunday school the week before, and Grandma would lean down to me and tell me the adults already had this knowledge and that I should run on and play.  With a few taps to my head, and laughs from the adults, I would move on to my other victims – an assortment of dolls and stuffed animals arranged neatly in rows across my bedroom floor.

Teaching is in me.  It is a need.  It is gut.  Plain and simple, I must be in a classroom, surrounded by minds that I can instruct.  I must be sharing with them, not just my time or my criticism or my resources, but my knowledge and my love of knowledge.  I am a teacher because I am.

I feel comfortable in my classroom.  Like no other place I have ever been, my classroom is my refuge.  It is the place where I feel like I need to be, as some refer to it – my calling.  Along with that idea, I consider myself a natural.  I don’t say this to be bragging, but it just comes easy to me.  It is what I do.  It is what I am meant to do.  Some will understand this, some will not, and some may someday just “get it,” but it is my firm belief that teaching must be a natural act.  It cannot be taught.  I imagine that any administrator, or college education professor, reading this text is jumping out of their skin right now.  Additionally, any parent reading may be thinking, “What kind of quack is this writer, thinking a teacher could control and teach my child without being taught to teach.”  So, explanation is needed.

A teacher is a teacher at heart.  You have it, or you don’t.  It is not that you should jump in without any schooling or preparation (which is illegal in the U.S. anyway), but your purpose in being there should be in you in the beginning.  My last student teacher comprehended this idea.  She was a natural.  She took the bat, stepped up to the plate, and swung with a free flowing follow-through that was, without a doubt, a homerun.  She felt the mood of the classes, saw the future of each student, and anticipated the rises and falls that may take place in a typical day.  There is no hesitation, no quandary, no question.  She was supposed to be there.  A teacher.  Does she still need to complete her student teaching and her college courses?  Absolutely.  She needs to learn methods and skills to practice with her students.  She needs to hear the ideas of others.  She needs to see the hope and dreams that others also have for the success of the children placed in our care.  She needs to learn.

Now please do not think that I am one of those happy all the time teachers that create a glow through the building as they click through the halls with a bright smile or a pleasant word for everyone, but I do love being at my place.  It’s where I feel most “at home” and where I get my energy.  It is my sanctuary, but also my asylum, which is another reason I want to share my experiences and ideas to help others walk an easier path.  Moreover, I don’t just want to pass on my own ideas, but I will also divulge all the great secrets disclosed to me from all the incredible teachers I have met in my life.  After all, teaching is all about learning, and I like to learn from the best.  It’s like writing a cookbook without considering the input of Julia Child or Emeril or the newest ingredients of the Food Network’s Top Chef.  What works should be shared and passed on to help those that come after us.

So what does all this have to do with expecting excellence?  We must first expect it from ourselves.  Once we've accomplished that, setting high expectations for students will be easy! And the more direct answer was in the subheading...Teach without excuses from the students or from yourself.

Happy Teaching!