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In Honor of Our Founding Fathers: Addressing Protests and Creating Resolutions

On September 17th, 1787, the Founding Fathers approved the proposed Constitution of the United States.  They worked diligently to address the wrongs protested by the American colonists that had started the Revolution, and they created a document that could continue to resolve issues that could arise in the future.

Do you allow your students to Address Protests and Create Resolutions?
At the beginning of the school year, we expect that our students will need clearly stated ruled and expectations so they will abide as productive classroom citizens.  Yet, as the school year progresses, our students begin to test the classroom limits, and they often search for a chance to exert their own opinions and beliefs in the classroom settings.  To ignore this student need may lead to classroom management concerns, while creating opportunities for student expression may enhance student learning and cooperation.

How can you do this without losing classroom control?
  • Utilize assignments that provide student topic choice.
  • Introduce current events that open the door for discussion and the sharing of opinions.
  • Set the stage for student presentation and performance or role-playing.
  • Allow students to create their own resolutions for key historic events.
  • Organize response groups where students gain collective power and report shared ideas.
And all else fails, provide students an open forum in your classroom where they feel comfortable to share their concerns and their ideas.  What could be better than a weekly or monthly soap-box session in every Social Studies classroom?  Imagine the lessons they could learn.

Happy Teaching!

Trusting Sources in Your Classroom: Internet Reliability

With Columbus Day upon us, we face the reality that what is taught in our classrooms, or at least presented in our textbooks and other resources, is not always the truth, but instead folklore or misrepresentation of actual events.  In our modern technology-based classrooms, we have a new challenge: Steering students away from sources that are not reliable, and helping them to understand that what they read online is not always the truth of the matter!
In the past, History courses were taught with a silent understanding that the textbook, while not always accurate, was the truth to be told in our classroom instruction.  The words in the text became the standard, and for generations, students were given one-sided interpretations of historic events.  Now, we can check that information in a number of ways:
  1. Using Primary Sources to allow students to develop their own view on historic events or topics from history.
  2. Provide varied resources that illustrate the opposing views on history, allowing students the opportunity to see that historic events can be seen and recorded in a variety of ways, some with bias or set objectives.
  3. Teach students to test the information they have on hand for reliability.  In our modern tech-dependent world, this may be a valuable lesson, far beyond the value of our standard Social Studies lessons.
Here a a few tools to help with teaching this valuable lesson:
And once they learn this lesson, they may be one step closer to understanding that each historic event can never be truly understood as absolute truth.  After all, history is relative!

Visit the Classroom Freebies Manic Monday Blog for other great Free Resources and Helpful Information for your classroom!
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday
Happy Teaching!

I'm Off To Make the Donuts: Your Boring Curriculum Problems Solved

Every Social Studies certified teacher could be assigned a number of different courses in the Social Studies Department.  My first year of teaching was just that nightmare, with 6 different preps within 3 different courses.  I taught both honors and general (collab) courses in Government/Economics/Geography, World History, and U.S. History.  Who is equipped for all that?  After some initial adjustment, I was!  BUT, then came those topics I just hated.  I hated studying them myself, so having to teach them to my students was just torture.

What did I do?

Oh, yes!  I assigned student research and presentation projects!

Now I know better!

As my students presented their projects each year, I was tortured even further.  Not only was I enduring the topic I didn't love, but I was also being taught the content over and over by those who could not teach!  And rightfully so; they were not trained!  I was.  So, I did the only thing I could do:  I created my own resources and activities.

That was many years ago!  Since that time, I have created many resources, but I have also traveled the country to show others how they no longer need to reinvent the wheel (or the resources).  Thanks to the internet, and sites like TeachersPayTeachers, incredible, teacher and student-tested resources can be found to save you from the torture I suffered!

The lesson here: Do not be afraid to admit defeat, or a lack of interest, in some of the things you will be tasked to teach in your Social Studies classroom.  While we are all college educated, we are not, and never could be, knowledgeable on every topic in our department.  It's just not feasible (unless you are Sheldon Cooper!).

So, what is your least favorite topic?  Find mine here!

Happy Teaching!

September 11th: A Day We Should Never Forget

In the years right after 9/11, many of us struggled with how to teach the event in our Social Studies classes or scheduled school-wide memorial events.  It was still too fresh in many of our minds, and we had students who had seen the day unfold still fearful of the implications in their own lives.  Now that we are over a decade out, I fear that the opposite may be a problem: We may be forgetting the significance of this devastating day on our nation and on the world.

Teaching the events of September 11th, 2001 is still a challenge.  We want to provide our students the information without causing them fear or anxiety about the possibility of terrorism affecting their lives.  More importantly, we want to show them what can happen in a world divided by hatred and anger, and how to bring change in their lives and in the world.

My recommendations are simple:  Use clearly defined objectives and allow plenty of opportunity for reflection.  When students have an open forum for discussion, and even tears, they will learn the lessons we so hope they learn in our classes and beyond.

Some of my recommended resources:
  • The 9/11 National Memorial Website provides great information on the memorial site and the developments since that fateful day.
  • History Channel coverage of 9/11 provides great visual images including videos of the day and the events that followed.
  • The National Memorial Timeline is an interactive timeline with incredible primary resources from the days leading up to 9/11 and after.  In takes you step by step into the lives of many involved.
  • My 9/11 Response Group Activity provides the student resources and those clear objectives that will help students navigate the challenging information.
My greatest recommendation would be to simply have an open classroom where students feel free to discuss the day's events and share their thoughts and fears about the world we all live in.  Allow them to voice their concerns, and then brainstorm ideas to bring the needed change to take up into a more cooperative and safer future.

Happy Teaching!

Grading in the Interactive Classroom

The idea of having an interactive classroom fills teachers' minds with many different thoughts and visions:  Thirty to forty young minds all engaged and active in critical thinking.  Students discussing content and enjoying the learning process.  Thoughtful debate and content-based questioning.  
And then...

An empty gradebook!

If students are engaged, and not completing worksheets everyday, what can be entered into the gradebook?  How can they be assessed?  How can parents be informed about student participation and progress?

After my first chaotic year of teaching, I met with my college adviser to ask those exact questions.  I felt like I was spending endless hours in creating and setting up engaging lessons, only to find myself unsure of how to assess the learning OR I was spending every evening eyeballs deep in notebook grading until I fell asleep on the couch.  Where was the happy place?

It's in the bluff!

Students will rise to your classroom expectations IF you set them in the very beginning and stick to them.  If you begin the year with dedicated attention to the process, you will set the standard your students will always expect to see.  And then you can pick up speed as they take more responsibility in the process for themselves.

Here's my method:
  1. Require students to keep (WITH THEM, not in your classroom!) an Interactive Notebook.  This is their tool to success.
  2. Start every class period with a bellringer prompt.  This can be a review question, or may be a personal or opinion question for students to answer that will lead into the day's topic.  If this prompt is always on the board or projected as students enter the class, they can begin with the bell.  Allow them 3-5 minutes as you take attendance.
  3. Ask random students to share their responses as you walk around the class checking that space is filled by all students in the correct notebook area.  Give some praise as you make your rounds, and encourage others to think a little deeper if needed!
  4. Transition into the day's lesson.  Provide directions on the activity and provide students the activity handouts (I love graphic organizers) or guide them to take appropriate notes in their notebook.
  5. As students are engaged in the activity, listen to their discussions, ask questions about their thinking, and read over their shoulders as they enter information into their notebooks.  Point out anything they miss, and encourage them to add it to their notes.  Encourage them to highlight or underline key facts.
  6. As students are nearing the end of the activity, walk around with your clipboard.  Enter checks as students show you their completed activity notes.  Engage finished students in topic-based conversation while allowing others to complete activities.
  7. Hold a whole-class wrap-up for every lesson.  Touch on key points and encourage highlighting, bolding, or underlining.  Require students to write the wrap-up questions and responses in their notebooks.  Hint that these same questions may appear later (on assessments) and stress their importance for understanding history!
  8. Assign the end of class wrap-up question or exit slip.  Do this in the last 5 minutes of class ONLY.  With the clipboard out, stand at the door and read each student's response as they exit.  If the response is not complete, have them sit back down and re-do.  You will only need to ask this of students for a few days before they realize you are serious about your expectations!

And then the grading.  How do you compute it all into numbers?
  • If your school (or parents) require a daily grade, convert your check marks into points.  Make it a small amount, but something to show participation or progress.
  • Collect larger activity handouts for thorough grading.  Do this randomly; maybe only 1-2 per unit.  Choose assignments or tasks that will show more individual input, including all extensive writing assignments.  Grade for a more significant point value.
  • Give small assessments on a regular basis.  Quiz on vocabulary or key facts after reinforcing the content 2-3 days in a row.   Turn this into a review activity by allowing students to self grade as you review the quiz, adding to their answers in a different color pen or marker.  Enter original grade or corrected grade or both!
  • Thoroughly grade student notebooks on the day BEFORE each unit test.  Use this as a review day, allowing students to work in pairs or small groups on a unit study guide.  Call each student to the desk and flip through each day's entries, skimming for key words or specific responses.  Give a set amount of points for each bellringer, each day's notes, and each exit slip (I did 10 points each).  These grades may total an enormous amount (Mine were usually 390.  13 days per unit X 30 a day).  And compute this as a significant portion of the class grade (I kept mine at 50%). This may seem extreme, but they are being assessed in this grade on organizational skills, note-taking, content, opinion sharing, and responsibility!

Most importantly, be firm in your notebook and class activity expectations.  Lost notebooks = Zero points!  Allow 2 days, not weeks, to redo for half credit.  Require absent students to meet with you to collect missed work for their notebook.  And, stress its importance EVERY DAY!

After a few months, you will be an interactive classroom grading pro!  You will be able to fly through the checklist and grading, while providing your students invaluable tools for their academic careers!

Happy Teaching!

A Cultural Lesson at Disney

I love being a Social Studies teacher, but I do think I might just love Disney more!  My visits to Disney each year are well planned, and I am always more excited than any child as we pull into the parking lot and head toward the monorail.  

As a Geography and History teacher, I am always seeing "lessons" in our visits to the magical world, and I am constantly amazed at all the culture I see in the parks, not only in the attractions, but through my interactions with the visitors.

And that is why, when in one of my Disney fan forums this afternoon, I became absolutely outraged!

Twice a year, large groups of South American students come to visit Disney World in Orlando, FL.  They wear matching shirts, follow their guides with tall flags, and chant as they wait in line for their anticipated rides.  They also move quickly as a large crowd, are often rushing through lines they are designated for by their guides, and take up seating in restaurants and entertainment venues.

Today, as I flipped through the fan forum looking for upcoming events or tips from fellow Disney addicts, I found absolute ignorance that pushed me to my absolute outrage: A petition to Disney, requesting that the "Brazilian Groups" be banned or "controlled" by Disney due to their creating "an unsafe environment for the paying Americans" who are visiting at the same time. 

Did I read that right?

An unsafe environment?  Let me tell you about my personal experiences at Disney with large South American (they are not all Brazillian) tour groups:
  • A group of 10-12 teenage girls let me go ahead of them in the bathroom line after they saw my urgency, despite our language barrier.  We all laughed when I came out of the stall, after I signaled all was good!
  • A group offered to share their lunch table with us one afternoon, where we ended up spending over an hour talking to them about their culture and traditions and comparing them to our own.
  • While standing in a very long line for Soarin, I was forced to take a handful of snacks from a whole group of teens because my blood sugar had started to drop and my hands were shaking.  They were not going to let me move on until I ate something.
  • Numerous tour group members have offered to take pictures for my husband and I after witnessing us struggle to take that perfect selfie.
  • Three young college students tried to teach me Portuguese as we stood in the waiting area for Fantasmic.  Sadly, I was a dismal fail, but we had great fun trying!
  • And more than a few times, we have been urged to move ahead of the large groups in line when we have ended up between them in ride lines.
Have I ever encountered rude foreigners at Disney?  Yes!  But when that happens, I have to ask:  Could it be the language barrier?  Is it a cultural difference?  Am I in the way?  Are they out of their comfort zone and just trying to stay together?  Are they just kids?

And then there is one other question to ask... Have I ever encountered rude Americans at Disney?  Oh, the answer is not surprising.  The answer is a resounding YES!  And sadly, that happens far more often than it does with the South Americans.

So what does any of this have to do with teaching? 

Social Studies teachers are charged with teaching about the world.  How do we teach it?  Do we introduce each region of the world and discuss the differences OR do we look for the similarities?  Do we find our commonalities?  Do we discuss our interdependence?  Do we teach that we are all have contributions to the world, and without each other, the world would be a very boring place? 

And more importantly, are we teaching tolerance or appreciation of different cultures? 
Maybe that is the answer!

Happy Teaching!

He Said, She Said! Inviting Community Involvement

As we study topics in history, we are often dependent on the information available in texts and through other basic resources, primary or secondary.  But, for modern events, we have a wealth of resources at our fingertips. 

Inviting the community into your classroom can bring history to life, and can be the motivating factor some of your students need to get them to buy into the lessons you teach every day.  Guest speakers can be the tool you need to open the doors to controversial topics, and can be the resource to open minds to difference and acceptance.

It's all about what He Said and She Said!
Involving the community can be a challenging task.  Finding the perfect speakers can be a hit or miss experience.  I have experience both incredible, heartwarming class sessions, and I have been embarrassed beyond belief, but it the end it was all worth it!

Where can you find guest speakers?  Try the following avenues:
  • Contact local universities for professors or researchers who study specific topics.
  • Make a call to the local churches or synagogues to request listings of local survivors from persecutions (Holocaust survivors) or refuges.
  • Call cultural centers or organizations for varying perspectives on world events. 
  • Make calls to the local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) for a listing of soldiers from Vietnam and more recent American war efforts.
  • Your local military recruiters are always willing to come talk about their military branch or other military topics.
  • Invite your local Junior Achievement organization or bank professionals to guest teach economics lessons.
  • Request assistance from your state Geographic Association (some are tied to universities) for great map resources and those who can share the facts behind them.
  • Connect with your local or state museums for leaders in local historic events, especially from recent events such as the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Invite park rangers or environmentalists to report of Geographic features or concerns.
  • Get in touch with senior centers or nursing homes to request speakers.  Even "everyday" people can tell incredible stories, especially the generation born during WWI or the Great Depression!
And finally, ask your school community.  Invite in parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, former students, faculty family, and anyone else who has a perspective that could help your students to better see and understand history! 

Need some more specific ideas?  Here are some of my most memorable examples:
  • Missy Jenkins Smith spoke to our students on bullying. She was a survivor of the 1997 school shooting in Paducah, Kentucky.
  • A Holocaust Survivor shared her experiences with my students, not only telling her story, but also showing her evidence (the tattoo of her prison number) of the torture endured by the Nazis.
  • One of my former professors from our local university's International Studies Department spoke to my students about his time as a CIA agent living in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
  • The visit by a gentleman who was held in a Japanese interment camp and later joined to serve in the military for the U.S. who shared about the suitcase his mom packed as they were moved from their home into the camp.
  • A very senior gentlemen who came from the local VFW to share his stories from WWII, and his wife shared about her experiences on the homefront.
  • One of my family members came to share his Vietnam experiences, leaving me in tears and overwhelmed with appreciation.
And my favorite:
One of my former students returned after graduating from college.  She had a debilitating and progressive disease that took her life not long after that last visit.  But her message to my students was most valuable:  Never give up, no matter what your challenges are!

The guest speakers that came into my classes not only enhanced my lessons; they taught my students about history (and life) in a way that no other resource could.

Happy Teaching!