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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!

Super Secondary Labor Free Labor Day Blog Hop

Whether you start back to school after Labor Day, or you have already been in the classroom for weeks, you need a break from the stress of starting off the school year!

To help you be "Labor Free" this Labor Day weekend, we Super Secondary Sellers would like to offer up our no-prep, or very little prep, ideas for your classroom.

In the Secondary Social Studies classroom, I always started the year with a Geography review.  Students came in to my classes, in both middle and high school, with very little knowledge of the world or the basic Geographic skills they needed to survive my World History or U.S. History course.

To remedy that problem for you:  My Geography Skills Review!
This complete set is Print and Go, and it can be a great assessment to help you know where your students are on those first days of school!  It also includes a number of ideas for implementation, including as a response group activity, class bellringers, or as a unit starter.

Visit my TpT Store this week to find my Geography Skills Review Set on SALE!

What could be better than prep-free and a discounted price?!

And be sure to hop to the other Secondary Sellers' Blog Posts for additional ideas and resources to help you take Labor Day off!  Here's the Link-up:

Happy Teaching!

Whose Line Is It Anyway? Lecture versus Student-Centered Instruction

As a high school student, I HATED my history courses.  I had boring teachers who stood at the front of the class and lectured to us from bell to bell.  And then came Mr. Hurt for my Junior year United States History course!  Thank goodness, Mr. Hurt was different.  And thanks to that year of ship sailings, trench battles, and a huge assortment of hats and voices, I was hooked!

That brings me to asking: In your classroom...

Whose Line is It Anyway?
According to a report released by Duke University, the lecture teaching strategy "is not highly effective to help students accomplish student learning outcomes."  Those of us who have taught with multiple intelligences in mind can also verify that so many of our students in today's classrooms will simply turn off their attention in those lecture-based classrooms.  They are lost from the moment the monotone begins.  More importantly, ALL students can learn at higher levels with varied instruction.  Even AP courses can be taught MORE effectively through non-lecture based methods. I've done it!

What are the methods?

Student-centered activities can include simple strategies such as Pair & Share Responses or Group Presentations, or they may involve well developed activities like a Classroom Jigsaw or Research Project.  These methods can be found all over the internet (A great list is available at Facing History and Ourselves with clear directions), but the key to remember in your own classroom is to keep changing things up.  Here's my rules for unit implementation:
  1. Introduce the unit with an experiential exercise or through an attention-getting writing prompt.
  2. Utilize current events and thought provoking articles or reports, allowing students to read in grouped formations and to report out to the class.  OPINION is always welcome!
  3. Bring in unit key content through Walking Tours, Archeology Digs, Scavenger Hunts or other out-of-the seat student activity.
  4. Further discuss most significant unit points through discussion or comparison activities, including role playing act-it-outs or Quiet Big Paper activities.
  5. Use visuals, music, video, quotes, journals, and other primary sources with analysis skills practice to review specific unit topis.
  6. Play classroom games to reinforce core content of the unit and to check student understanding.  See my "Have You Found Your Game? Blog Post for ideas!
  7. Hold an INTERACTIVE Lecture to wrap up each unit, encouraging student participation throughout lesson.
  8. Take time to allow students to prep for any unit assessments through game creation or study guide completion (usually in pairs or small groups).
  9. Include a question session where students can ask the questions for unit clarification.
  10. Assess students through a comprehensive test that offers a variety of prompts, including writing assignments with significant of the unit stressed.  (Offer options for prompts and allow students to include opinion and encourage the addition of multiple perspectives in responses.)
And one last thing to remember... while you are the expert in your classroom, each and every student has something to contribute.  Allow them that opportunity, and you never know which one may become an expert themselves in a few years!

Need to find great resources to help you get started?  Visit My TpT Store!

Happy Teaching!

Have You Found Your Game?

Most Social Studies classrooms and synonymous with heavy reading and content learning.  They are seldom discussed in terms of play, fun, or interaction.  
And that is sad!

So, Have You Found Your Game?
Playing games is HISTORIC, and in the Social Studies classroom, has so many benefits.  First, and most importantly, they can debunk the myth that Social Studies is boring!  But, beyond settling myths, take a look at the many other great benefits:

  • can be used to introduce, review, or assess content and student learning.
  • allow all students to participate and remain involved in the learning process.
  • encourage relaxed competition between students.
  • can be utilized as an individual activity, for small groups, or between whole classes.
  • motivate all levels of students to push themselves to higher expectations.
  • help lower level students feel valuable in the classroom.
  • reward higher level students for meeting their self-set learning goals.
And the list could go on and on.

That brings us to the next question:  How can you bring games into your highly structured Social Studies classroom without lessening the rigor of your course?

Here are a few of my ideas:
  1. Play BINGO to introduce key terms or unit vocabulary.
  2. Use a Word Wall Game to record key terms, people or places.
  3. Play Pin the Flag on the Map or any other Map Locating Game to review locations.
  4. Toss a Globe to practice identifying countries of the world. (Inflatables at Dollar Tree!)
  5. Allow your students to create Game Boards to review any topic or content.
  6. Set up a Human Game Board in your classroom to review full units.
  7. Play classroom Jeopardy to review content. (Templates are online everywhere!)
  8. Assign pairs or small groups Matching Game activities to help students make connections.
  9. Play "I Am..." or "To Tell the Truth" to share significant people in history.
  10. Use Scavenger Hunts or Task Cards to encourage student research and investigation or for unit review!
And that's just the tip of the iceberg!  The ideas online are endless and the resources are plenty!

Happy Teaching!

Make Your Move... In Classroom Seating

For the first few weeks of school, my students are tortured with sitting in straight rows, all assigned a specific spot for my benefit.  I am not a name person, so learning the names, first and last, of 200+ students is my most frustrating teacher obligation.  But then, as I start to get the names, I feel more comfortable to make my move.  And then comes the question:

How do I arrange the desks?

Now keep in mind, I continue to have seating charts until... Oh, about the last week of school!  I think that structure and clear expectations are vital for a successful classroom, but I also love to change things up!  One of the greatest compliments I ever received from my students was, "I never know what to expect from you!" 

So, why move the desks?  Varying up the seating arrangements has a number of clear benefits:
  • Students can focus more on the activity at hand.
  • Greater interaction can take place between students.
  • Activities or lessons can be implemented in an easier or more logical format.
  • Classroom management can be more easily achieved.
  • Student relationships can be molded and modeled.
And then the best reason... Just to keep them guessing!  Stimulating brain activity just by moving my desks was the start to engaging lessons.  As students entered the classroom each day, they asked,

"What are we doing today?" 
"Is this one of those activities you do?" 
"Are we doing something fun?" 

And I could always answer, "Yes!"

How can you vary things up?
  1. Arrange for group small group interaction and response required group work.
  2. Pair for analysis activities and pair discussion and sharing activities.
  3. Circle for whole class discussion or direct instruction.
  4. Set in straight lines for timelining activities or cause-and-effect lessons.
  5. Do a wall-face for individual assignments where focus in imperative.
  6. Arrange in staggering rows for testing or assessments.
And then one final note... Sometimes students entered my classroom to find all desks against the back wall.  These were the most valuable and engaging days!  This meant we were doing a walking tour, and archeology dig, a review game, or even better, we were all going to sit in the floor to discuss a topic dear to my heart and to share our thoughts as a group. 

In the end, it's not about the seats.  It's about making the move to encourage student connections.  What could be more valuable in a Social Studies classroom?

Happy Teaching!

Teaching Styles and Strategies: Change It Up!

Most likely, you have taught your first few days or weeks with a safe and dependable teaching style.  You have used the same methods or strategies that you've practiced in years before, and you are comfortable.  So... it's time to Change It Up!

Stepping out of our comfort zones is always a challenge, but the task is a requirement for the benefit of our students.  And the easiest way to justify this for yourself is to answer the following question:
Are this year's students the same as last years?

If your answer is NO, your old style just may not be effective.  If your answer is YES, think about last year.  What has changed in the world since then?  Do your students have more internet access?  Are they more engaged in social media?  Are their parents more or less involved?  Do they care more or less about learning?  And most importantly, were your methods 100% successful last year?  If not:

Change It Up!
Changing your teaching style can be a difficult task IF you are resistant!  So relax!  Tackle the challenge like you would work in a new pair of shoes!
  • Add new methods and strategies one at a time.  
  • Seek ideas from the superstar teachers in your building or district.
  • Request feedback from your students after implementing new strategies.
  • Follow blogs and other online resources, including webinars, for new ideas.
  • Find great activities that will change up the norm.
  • Switch up seating arrangements to change the classroom climate.
  • Allow students a greater role in content selection and instructional delivery.
  • Display student work and evaluate the learning that IS evident through the assessments.
  • Open up your personality and recreate yourself in your classroom.
  • Accept that teaching is 99% performance, and train accordingly!
Transforming your classroom can be a great challenge, but the benefits for your students can be tremendous. More importantly, as you learn to change things up, you will find a level of stress relief you may not have known before.  Teaching can be fun!

Find interactive, student-centered activities in My TpT Store!

Happy Teaching!

Start the School Year with Great Tools in Your Teacher Toolbox!

The tools you provide your students in the first weeks of school will be the ones that have the greatest impact on your students' success.  Introduce them to valuable learning skills, and help them to create their own learning tool box that can guide them through their academic careers!

One super tool is the skill of analysis.  More importantly, teaching them to use and analyze primary sources can integrate two important skills into one!  Analyzing primary sources will also open their eyes to the many different perspectives in historic and current events that will help them to become better citizens now and in the future.

What's in Your Tool Box?

There are many tricks to teach the skill of analysis, but there are a few FACTS about the process that should always be followed.
  1. Always start with what is seen, heard, etc.  This first step is crucial for setting the stage for more critical analysis.  In addition, every student can answer this basic question, requiring their participation and giving them confidence.
  2. Most primary sources should be open to interpretation.  This is a hard one for most teachers, especially in this day and age of testing, where the businessmen who create our assessments seem to think there is always only one right answer to everything in life!  Buck this!  We each see things differently, and the value in this is in the PROCESS, not the result!
  3. Develop questions in a spiraling format with the goal of reaching a critical level of understanding in every analysis.  Again, there will often NOT be a key for the right answer!
  4. MOST IMPORTANT: Let your students do the work!  They WILL, without fail, call you over to ask if they are right or what you think.  Resist the urge to interfere!  Interpretation is in the eye of the analyzer, and you must let it be their own work, right or wrong!
Need a resource to help you get started?  Try my "Causes of the Civil War Primary Source Analysis Activity."  It's FREE!  And then if you need more... take a look through the Analysis Section of My TpT Store.  You will find activities for U.S. History, World History, Geography, and more!

And my newest addition... A Full Bundle of my Primary Source Handouts from the Civil War through Modern Day.  It's an 84 page bundle covering key topics from the mid-1800s through current U.S. events.  What a great way to start the year!

What else is should be in your tool box?  Hmmm... we will see!

Happy Teaching!

The Importance of Cheating for the New Generation

Way back in the old days, when I attended high school, we were mainly taught through the reading of textbooks, the writing of notes, and rote memorization.  There were no other tried and true strategies, and classroom teachers were held to the norm that had been set by generations before.  

With the introduction of technology, and a new generation of visually stimulated learners, we are forced to try new strategies in our classrooms to reel them all into our lessons.  And then there is the issue of state and national testing.  We must make the scores!  

So, what do we do to engage our students, and help them to "learn" the materials they must to pass?

We teach them to CHEAT!

I should explain... We need to teach them how to cheat their brains!  We need to teach them how to use tools and how to practice skills to help them achieve at the level expected.

These tools are actually easy to find, and I will not waste your time in reciting them all here.  Just google key phrases such as multiple intelligences strategies, or teaching methods, learning styles, etc.  You will find an assortment of great ideas!

However, I will introduce one of my favorites!  And it is a bit old school!  After all, how many of you could tell me how to do Math equations without reciting "Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally?" or remember the colors of the rainbow without thinking of good ole "Roy G. Biv" and his classic name!

Use word games to cheat the system and to cheat the brain!  One of my absolute favorites?  Acronyms!  I've just started creating a whole series of reading handouts with SPRITE Acronym Organizers for the Social Studies classroom.  They are easy to explain, use, and organize.  And more importantly, they help students to retain and recall the content they need AND to organize and explain it in a way that answers the BIG QUESTIONS!

What is SPRITESPRITE is just one of many, but here goes:

S - Social
P - Political
R - Religious
I - Intellectual
T - Technological
E - Economic

Top that off by asking for the Big Picture and the topic's Significance in History, and you have a complete analysis and critical thinking activity that will help your students prepare for that big test, and any course they will study in their futures!

Want to try it?  Here's a freebie!  This set includes the student guide and a general organizer!

And then come back for SPRITE Sets with Reading Sheets, A Student Guide, the SPRITE Organizer, and a Teacher Key.  And new topics are being added as I can get them completed!

But remember... this is just one tool that should be included in your teacher toolbox!  Even in the acronym section, you could...

Give them a taste of SPRITE!
Let them eat GRAPES!
Send them to PERSIA!
Or even sacrifice them to the PIRATES!

It's up to you!  What tool will you use?

Happy Teaching!