Whatcha Readin’ This Summer?

 

Finally – time to kick back, relax, and take in a good book (or six+)!  What’s on your social studies shelf this summer?  If you are looking for a quick read that can help transform your social studies classroom, maybe check out … img_4263.jpg

Reading Nonfiction by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst – It’s true – we are all reading teachers, especially in the social studies.  The printed word (paper or digital) continues to be the primary form of transmitting information to students in the social studies, and we often make assumptions that our students can simply read any words we put in front of them.   Consider the various types of text your students read – textbook entries, news articles, speeches, primary source documents, captions on graphs, words within political cartoons … the list is endless.  Keep in mind, as well, that this is usually nonfiction text that students do not want to read – no wizards, no dragons, no vampires, no video game environments. Beers and Probst explain a series of signposts to help students digest the text and serve as a topic of discussion about both what was written and how it was written.  I have used the signposts for major primary sources, including the Declaration of Independence and “I Have a Dream”, and the process works great in partner settings.  The book also offers some great strategies for nonfiction reading, including a beefed up KWL and genre reformulation. Diving into Reading Nonfiction will not only open your eyes to the importance of reading instruction in the social studies, but also gives hands on examples to help students connect with text.

A History Teaching Toolbox by Russel Tar – Looking for some creative ideas for teaching and assessment – and not just in the history classroom?  Russel Tar has what you need in his fun read about practical classroom strategies for social studies teachers, veteran and newby. You may know Russel from his incredible websites, Active History and Classroom Tools. He brings a ton of his awesome ideas to the page in the Toolbox, providing snapshots of countless activities to get students thinking about the content. He has creative assessments (designing wedding invitations), awesome collaborative experiences (such as The Apprentice), cool methods for comparison (I like Linkage Bingo), and much more. One approach to the book – think of an area in your curriculum that you want to improve and look at Russel’s ideas through that lens – you will have something fresh and new come school time!

Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer? by Bruce Lesh – I see Bruce’s book as a play in two parts – why we need to change the way we teach history, and tons of examples how to make this change in our history class. Bruce pushes his students to think like historians, read text, subtext, and context, and analyzing sources in making an argument. His examples are all for American history, but the process can be used for any historical content. Bruce presented  his work at the WCSS Conference in March to rave reviews.  If you ever get a chance to see him (or to bring him to your school, district, or council), don’t miss him!

Instant Relevance by Denis Sheeran – Even though Denis is a math teacher, his message of using our experience and the relevant real world to teach our kids is perfect or the social studies.  I mentioned n a recent post that “the world is handing us our curriculum”, and it more prevalent in our discipline than any other – but it’s  not just the headlines that can be used for relevance. This quick read will give you some inspiration to search your everyday life for ways to connect to your content and engage kids.

Explore Like a Pirate by Michael Matera and Play Like a Pirate by Quinn Rollins – I have to begin with a disclaimer – I teach with Michael, and I have known Quinn for a quite a few years, so I am quite biased.  But it’s a good bias, because these two books will give you ideas that you can integrate into a lesson, unit, or entire curriculum.  Both guys are social studies savants, so their experience and examples play right into our hands. Plus, the two books go together like (fill in any go together pair here – mine is peanut butter and jelly). Michael talks about utilizing game mechanics in class to increase engagement, and Quinn offers countless ideas for adding good old fashioned play in the classroom.  They also have awesome websites to support their books and ideas  – check out Explore Like a Pirate and Play Like a Pirate online!

What’s on my own list for the summer?  Rebooting Social Studies by Greg Milo is my social studies read for the next few weeks, and I am also planning on checking out some general ed books as well, including Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor Mackenzie, Time to Teach, Time to Reach from Nat Damon (uncle to one of my young historians), and Spark Learning from Ramsey Musallam.  I have a couple of coaching books that I will digest and see how they can apply to the classroom as well as the diamond and court. And, of course, my personal penchant for espionage / counter terrorism / cloak and dagger thrillers will lead me into adventures far and wide … but that’s a whole other discussion!

Have any additional ideas?  I’d love to hear them!

Getting Loud About ISTE 18

As a content teacher, it was challenging to manage all of the offerings at ISTE18 in Chicago. For a tech coach, STEAM teacher, or maker space guru, the place is true nirvana. For social studies guy like me , I had to investigate a little more and be careful picking and choosing. However, it’s fun to try to look at the technological platforms and hardware from a content lens, trying to figure out what would work best in social studies classes and for my students. Here are my top social studies take aways from my time at ISTE1 18.
The world is handing us our curriculum – are we taking it? Kristen Ziemke gave me this beautiful phrase, influenced by Smokey Daniels, and it reinforces how I have changed my focus in the content I teach in American studies. I will have a deeper post on that in the near future, but to put it simple – if what I’m teaching does not connect to today, I’m I’m making a mistake. In addition,  if I’m not teaching about today, I am making an even bigger mistake.
Google has it all – for any content area, any learner, really anything you want to do in this world. A fantastic presentation about the updated Google Earth platform gave me a simple message – GE is insanely awesome and must be integrated into any social studies classroom. It’s awesome not only for instructional purposes, but it is much  easier to have students create content and interact with the world. Google keeps rolling out additional tools for their educational suite, and there were so many presentations about these tools that is nearly impossible to keep up. Check out An Epic Smackdown of G Suite Tools and Teaching Tips for starters.
AR and VR are the wave of the future – but how do ride this wave? I presented on the concept at WCSS 2017, but the change is dramatic and nearly exponential.The amount of AR and VR hardware and software I encountered was overwhelming. The application for social studies teachers is immense, from having students go on virtual field trips to interacting with the seven wonders of the world to investigating current events through the New York Times.  It seems the price of virtual reality is scaling down, with awesome platforms like the Oculus Go being much more manageable than first presented. In conversations I had with some other teachers, however, the question is about student creation. Is VR and AR just consumption platforms, or will it be viable to use for students to create and utilize as learning tools?
We need to make sure we focus on the ed and not on the tech. The exhibit hall at ISTE is a huge toy store, with incredible learning platforms, software, and hands-on materials.  I couldn’t count the number of bots and coding platforms.  However, I still wonder about the true educational value of many of these. It’s important to integrate technology into the core curriculum and not have it as a standalone course. That’s real world, isn’t it? However, we can’t just throw technology into any class because we have these shiny new toys or awesome platforms. Is there a rationale for using bots or Lego mind storms in the social studies classroom? What about they AR and VR? Is it just bells and whistles, or can we move  past engagement to get students thinking critically, communicating, collaborating, and creating? Are the flashy online social studies content textbooks just simply the 21st-century version of a worksheet? We don’t want to fall into the problematic “cool, right?” rabbit hole that Wes Kieshnick describes (not at ISTE, but I love it). We need to keep the “ed” first and foremost, because we do not want a computer telling (not teaching) our social studies students.
Relationships make it all happen. Seeing Joy Kirr talk about shifting the culture in a classroom was an eye opener.  She challenged the crowd (and it was a big crowd) to develop relationships with kids in a variety of ways, and gave food for thought in a conference dominated by technology becoming more of a medium between teachers and students.  I am reading a recent publication by Nat Damon and had a few examples in my own practice that reinforce this concept even more. In addition,  relationships amongst educational professionals are just as important.  The conversations at ISTE were the true value of the conference, and meeting educators from all across the globe instilled me with even more desire to connectate (as we say at Summer Spark) with the best of the best.  However, it also brought to mind that the most important professional relationships we can make for the success of our studnets are the ones within our district, school, grade level, and department. Deepening these connections will be one of my goals for the upcoming school year.
Would I suggest that content teachers go to an ISTE conference?  Absolutely – if you go with a plan.  The schedule is presented well ahead of time, and it’s essential to make choices and sign up for the ticketed events in advance. Check out the poster sessions too, because that’s where conversations start.  It’s also important to find and connect with similar teachers in advance and seek them out at the conference.  Finally, expect long lines (at everything), an immense exhibit hall, and a ton of social possibilities. I’ll possibly see you in Philly in 2019,!

The Power of Choice in Assessment

Who doesn’t like the ability to choose?  We love the huge multiplexes that offer us myriad options for seeing a movie; we frequent restaurants with the most diverse and broad selection of items; and we love browsing at major bookstores with volume upon volume of great reads. Isn’t the lack of choice one of our biggest complaints about high-priced cable systems, when they choose the stations for you in charge and arm and a leg?

As teachers, we lobby for more personalization and choice in our professional development. The personalized PD movement is growing like wildfire, and I can’t think of any teacher I know that doesn’t want to have a voice in their professional growth. Personalized learning is becoming more popular as well, offering students the ability to charge their own path in their educational environment. How can we implement the power of choice into the social studies (or any content) – especially in the area of assessment?

In our content based classes, there are definitely specific topics that we want all students to master for cultural literacy, civic participation, and an ability to understand our society.  With the emergence of unlimited content at the palm of student’s hands and at their fingertips, it’s not as essential to drill the facts, dates, people, and places. The days of tell, test, and forget are (or should be) history – pun intended.  Instead, we need to push students to think critically, collaborate successfully, communicate in an effective manner, and create impressive original work. That’s where choice can become very powerful.

How can we do this, with choice? Simple – by designing learning targets that not only assess the content knowledge of students, but also their aptitude in the 4 Cs.  Targets should be shared at the beginning of a content area or unit, allowing students to use them as the progress through historical, geographical, economic, and political information in whatever the manner it is presented and discussed.  As a subject or unit progresses,  students can develop their end assessment progressively (although some will wait until the end, of course). While suggestions can be given, students should determine their possible medium or platform to demonstrate their learning, possibly submitting it as a checkpoint.  The rubric should have the specific areas of assessment, both with content and communication.  For me, the rubric is a guideline for their creation, not a step by step recipe to follow to the letter.  This isn’t rocket science from a teaching perspective – but it does force teacher to give up some control, which is tough to do – especially for me!

Why change? For multiple reasons.  When students choose their path, there is much more personal investment into both the content material and the eventual product that is created. Choice involves failing forward for some students, as the struggle to come up with a topic or medium but keep pushing to design something that works for them.  Anyone can succeed in the choice assessments, allowing for instant differentiation by ability and interest.  And, in my mind, it is much more real world for students, as they will face more projects than tests  in life.

Another reason to change?  Selfishness on my part! The evaluation and feedback aspect of the assessment becomes less laborious and actually more enjoyable (although it still takes time).  A few years ago I had an assessment of the turning points of the Civil War, in which each student (alone or with a partner) plotted the turning points of the Civil War on Google maps, came up with a creative title, described and evaluated the turning point, and included images and a hyperlink to source.  It was a great way to have the kids geographically represent the war, and they all did a great job following my formula.  However, they were a bear to assess, because it became monotonous (I don’t know how AP graders can do it).  Also, it was not my original intention to teach Google maps to kids.  Is that a necessary skill?  Just like we don’t have to teach kids Slides, or Power Point, or any tool, right? Now, that same Civil War Turning Points assessment is offered, and Google maps is a choice.  They still have to hit the same targets!

I have even allowed a traditional test as part of a choice.  The targets are the same, and the feedback for the content is similar in the record book.  On the test, I do not offer feedback for communication, mechanics, creativity, and the like.  Interestingly, some students choose to create a test (with an answer key) as their form or presentation.

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Click to check out some examples of student choice projects  / target displays

My two favorite choice assessments have been The Legacy of WWI and Federal Project Number One. I think each of the projects was powerful and beneficial due to the deep dive into a content area, the challenge of the project, and authenticity of the student works.  For the Legacy of WWI, students have to design a method of conveying the involvement, importance, and impact of America and the Great War, based on the centennial of the war. The New Deal project gives studnets a choice of creatively portraying some aspect of the New Deal based on actual New Deal era creative works.  I haven’t used that one since I moved to targets, but I plan to do it in the spring.

Some other examples of choice assessments I have used include …

Is this anything new to a typical educator?  No – and many have posted about the power of choice, including Cassie Shoemaker, who refers to choice as “the fifth C” .  There are multiple choice boards utilized and available online as well. My point is the substitute for the big assessment – the traditional test – and trying to align the content with the actual project, pushing for some authenticity.  Hopefully this will give you the impetus to offer more student choice in both topic and method of communication.  Some students struggle with the open concept and just want to be told what to do.  When that happens, I hand them the spoon that sits on my desk and instruct them to “feed themselves”.  I like the challenge – and for the most part, the kids do as well!

 

 

Here are a few of my favorite … clues!

Last week, I was crunching out some copies in the faculty workroom when Michael Matera (yeah, I get to hang with him in at out of school – pretty awesome).  He asked if I had ever posted my preferred ideas and platforms for original BreakoutEDU / Quest / scavenger hunt clues, and I responded with a “not yet”.  Thanks for the inspiration, Mikey (I have said that many times in the past) – here are a few of my faves!

Timelines are usable for social studies geeks, right?  Have students determine the years of a series of events and put them in order. They can add one color and subtract the other to get a numerical clue, or have each event in one of four colors and use colors on a directional lock. It’s a great way to preview or review some of essential events – plus, it makes kids use their quick Google skills! Here’s a basic example – easy and effective!

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The old children’s dot to dot puzzle can become very versatile when you us use it as a clue!  Create your own dot to dot puzzle at PictureDots.com by uploading an image.  Think of the social studies possibilities – the outline of a famous landmark, geographic borders, a picture of something hidden in your room .. you name it! Pre-made ones can be purchased, like Extreme Dot to Dot US History – wow!

Text mazes are awesome ways to hide instructions for finding aclocation, clue, or code.  They serve as effective roadblocks and are also great for larger scavenger hunts.  How easy are they to make?  Thanks to Festisite, it’s a matter of typing in your text and clicking “download”! Here’s one I recently used …

The first time I saw Snotes in use, I grinned from ear to ear.  It is a super simple web based code maker that can be used bit digitally and in print.  All you need to to do is type in your words, choose some colors and a background theme, and let your code breakers go from there! Here’s a Snotes message to you!

I love using Match the Memory.  It’s like the old game of concentration, but you can create your own matching pairs and infuse content as part of your clues.  Once students have matched them all, a message appears for the next clue.  Easy peasy! I have used it for the Roaring 20s – content and fun!

I almost lost my mind when I saw Mystery Piano used in a Breakout.  It is about as cool of clue as I can think of – you program a tune inthe platform, save and share it, and create a clue for the music.  You don’t have to be super musically inclined.  I thought of my tune and searched for the notes – it took about a minute! Click my alter ego below for an example.indiana_jones.0

Remember “Salvation lies within” in The Shawshank Redemption (in of my five fave movies of all time)? The hiding space in the Bible was an awesome gotcha in the movie – and a perfect place for a BreakoutEDU clue! Obviously, you can use a book for a clue about numbers or letters, but you can also conceal a physical object – a flashlight, laser pointer, film canister, invisible ink pens … you name it!

Fake receipts are awesome to use as clues.  A few receipts scattered around a room can lead to numerical or word clues.  They are simple to make using a few different platforms, including Express Expense and FakeReceipt – but don’t use these to fudge an expense report!

Integrating some augmented reality is also one of my favorite Breakout tools.  WallaMe allows you to hide numbers, letter, words, and images on your own walls in your classroom.  Aurasma lets you take the AR a step further (with a few more wrinkles) by allowing audio, video, and links to appear over an image.  The sight of kids when the see the AR work is well worth the effort – and it makes for a great clue!

I’ve been to a few Escape Rooms in the Milwaukee area, and I love grabbing ideas from those awesome  experiences.  So far, I have incorporated physical jigsaw pieces with a message and a laser pointer that bounces off a mirror and points to a number – very cool.  I am still looking for a way to use a clue frozen in a ice cube and a mini-drone – but I’m working on it!

It’s a starting list – there are so many more! I’ll try to add some in a future post. As most of you know, many digital tools are available on the old BreakoutEDU “Build Your Own” site.  Do you have any other awesome ideas?  Please comment, tweet them, share them on the awesome BreakoutEDu facebook groups, and most most importantly … keep challenging and engaging your kids with awesome Breakouts!

 

Time to think about summer PD – even in the winter!

One of the most powerful professional development experiences of my educational career was participating in the second Teach Vietnam Teachers Network summer conference in 2004.  Hosted by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the five day conference included presentations from authors and historians, interaction with peers from across the United States, and a once in a lifetime tour of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by the founder of the Wall, Jan Scruggs.  The conference truly crystalized my personal and professional commitment to teaching about, honoring, and supporting military service in history and veterans’ issues today. From developing a curriculum for Milwaukee teachers to helping host a Teach Vietnam conference in Milwaukee to presenting “Teaching Vietnam in the Middle School Classroom” at NCSS to organizing fundraisers over the past decade to support local and national veterans, this one week of my life made all the difference.

Why do I bring this up, well over a decade past my attendance? (It was so long ago, there is very little online archived material about the conference!)  Simple – the Teach Vietnam Teachers Network conference was an example of the incredible, vast, diverse, and often unknown professional development offerings that are available for social studies teachers every summer. Social studies teachers love to travel, meet with others, dig into content and pedagogy, and chat with others. These institutes, conferences, and fellowships have grown in number, and each provides an amazing opportunity, to learn, grow, connect, and contribute to our ultimate goal of becoming better social studies educators that help young people become inspired citizens in our local, national, and global communities. Ask the awesome Rhonda Watton – she attends two or three each summer!

Many of the conferences are my favorite flavor – free – or offer grants and scholarships to defray the cost of attendance. It’s time for me to consider my summer plans, as these conferences have application deadlines and can fill up rather quickly. Anyone interested?

Here is a list of many of the conferences I know of or found through a simple (and not exhaustive) web search. I’m sure I missed a few – so hopefully more will share what they find on twitter!  I hope to attend one or two this summer. – and hope to meet even more awesome teachers from across the country. Whatever the experience, I know it will be rewarding professionally and personally, and only help me be a better social studies instructor.

NCSS has a list of Conferences and Workshops that will undoubtedly grow over the next few months, so keep checking for updates!

COLLABORATIVE TESTING – A different type of learning experience!

The test – the time honored form of assessment that is used (and sometimes overused) in classes across the globe. There’s no surprise that we use tests to get a gauge for students’ understanding of content and ability to analyze information, images, maps, and more skill based abilities.  Is there a way that we can also use tests to increase discussion and engagement with content, offer a challenging method of teamwork, and even make a test “fun”?  Absolutely – by having your students work together on a collaborative test.

Collaborative tests aren’t necessarily a new innovation in assessment, as research has been conducted regarding the benefits of such assessment formats.  Much of the literature pertains to the college level, and the results differ slightly as to the benefits of the practice.  However. classroom experience over the last four years demonstrates that a collaborative test can offer an experience that increases student engagement, collaboration, and understanding. The experience can also offer less anxiety concerning testing and learning, even when the experience itself is “stressful.”

One more note for our rationale on this approach – for the past four years, the Civil War Challenge takes place on the last day of school before Winter Break.  It is already an anxious time for students (especially secondary students) as teachers in all classes are trying to get that final test or score into the grade book.  We have found that students still take the collaborative test seriously, but appreciate the environment that they don’t need to know and memorize everything –  and we appreciate this perspective as well, because we agree!

In our American Studies course, we (the awesome Laurie Walczak and very basic me) have used a Civil War Challenge to close our interdisciplinary unit.  I utilized an individual Civil War test prior to teaching a combined curriculum, and I personally feel this format is a better learning experience for my young historians. The challenge consists of a combination of traditional test items (multiple choice, short answer questions, map identification and analysis) with more interactive and collaborative thinking exercises (vocabulary tangrams, making connections with dominos). The experience moves progressively, as groups receive the test items one at a time in a 70 minute period, giving the test a feeling of a game or breakout.  Plus, offering feedback is much more manageable, and students can actually find out their success as the challenge progresses.  We make instant marks and comments and offer them to the groups.  It’s a great motivator for students to hear that they aced a section while they are still working on other parts … and an even great motivator when they hear they need to pick up the pace!

We created the groups, based on students schedules and abilities. Similar to any test in our class, students are given a review guide ahead of time and encouraged to collaborate through google docs or other formats.  Our students report that they use group chats as well.

As the challenge progresses, students enter into deeper discussion about the content.  It’s refreshing to see a small cadre of students dig into a multiple choice question and discuss the options of each.  When the test item requires evaluation (in this case, the most important turning points of the war), student discussion goes beyond what an individual will do alone.  The dialogue that we saw and heard demonstrated deep thinking about many of the topics, as students were stretched to go beyond lower level thinking. As for test scores, all but one team (out of 24) hit the overall targets for the challenge.  Fortunately, members of that team can either individually or collaboratively reassess, per our class policy.

We ask students to provide a self assessment of their own preparation as well as the collaboration and contribution of their group mates (before and during the challenge). In addition, we ask for their opinions of the experience.  In our four years, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.  This year, students remarked:

  • I like collaborating because we can build on each other’s ideas.
  • It was good to learn while taking the test.
  • It was fun and kept you on your toes.
  • It was harder than a normal test, but more fun to collaborate.=
  • I actually enjoyed the test.
  • I love doing it together – it was more of an activity than a test.
  • The pressure was scary yet fun too.
  • It’s good to have multiple minds helping everyone with their work.
  • I love it – as long as you study and your group studies.
  • We all hd different strengths and contributed to success.
  • There was less pressure to cram and more about general understanding.

Many students commented how the test was less stressful, while a few felt the pace added to the stress of the test taking – but made it fun at the same time. Only 2 out of 90 students remarked that they would rather take an individual test.

Obviously, some students will not contribute as much as others and ride along.  To be honest, this doesn’t bother me very much, for a few reasons.  First, our goal is discussion and learning, not pushing for a grade.  The test environment gives the kids more of an impetus to have a serious academic discussion, and anyone involved will learn.  We also monitor the groups and encourage/prod/cajole the few that are not as engaged.  In addition, we use other formative and summative assessments to gauge their learning, including original poetry, a vocabulary assessment, a Civil War sensory figure and larger Civil War Turning Points project. Also, in our strong desire to eliminate the concern over letter grades, the challenge doesn’t have a huge bearing on a semester grade (but we don’t let the students know that!)

So, if the topic, timing, and class are right, I encourage you to give a collaborative assessment a whirl.  If our students’ performance and feedback is any indication, you will be offering an exciting learning experience!

 

Getting Loud at NCSS17

I’ve been very fortunate to attend the past 20 NCSS conferences in spots all across the United States. Whenever I return back to my home and school, I’m usually posed with a few simple questions (often by myself): Was the trip worth it? What did I get out of the conference? How will it help me improve as a teacher and have more impact on my students?

Ahh … here are answers aplenty. But first, a suggestion.  While many teachers approach conferences as a tie to be a sponge and consume ideas, information, and resources, I always suggest attacking a conference by pushing to share, connect, converse, and converse more.  I other words – be loud!

CONNECTION – Since becoming somewhat active on Twitter in the last 10 years, the biggest benefit of attending the national conference is making and reinforcing connections with amazing educators across the United States. They come from all regions, all types of schools, all grade levels, and all have one thing in common – a commitment to being awesome social studies educators. The Saturday morning unconference hosted by the gurus of #SSchat is the mother lode of connected educators,  as I get to sit side-by-side with the best of the best and glean incredible and practical ideas that I can incorporate in my classes and share with others. The excellent NCSS Tech Community (@TechNCSS) session turned into a time to meet and share as well.  If you go to NCSS (or any professional conference) and don’t seek to make connections, you are missing out on a treasure trove of people that can help you become a better educator.

EXHIBIT HALL – Touring the exhibit hall has changed radically over the past 20 years. It used to be dominated by textbook publishers – and they still have a prominent presence. However, I am overwhelmed by the professional development opportunities that are available in the exhibits. From The World War II Memorial Teachers Network to the offerings from Gilder Lehrman to the George Washington residential programs at Mount Vernon to the James Madison Fellows to the TransAtlantic Outreach Program in Germany offerings, the opportunities for social his teachers are almost countless. I wish I could sign up and get accepted for all of them, but I think one next summer will suffice. It’s also beneficial to meander through the exhibit hall and chat with organizations that provide a boatload of lessons and resources, both in print and online. While they are often available through a search or highlighted on social media, it’s nice to have many of them publicized in one place.  It’s amazing how much awesome free stuff there is available for social studies teachers now – you just have to look for it. A perfect example is the American Battle Monuments Commission, one of my favorite organizations -and they have great education resources!

PRESENTING – Presenting is always excellent professional development for anyone, and sharing great ideas has been a highlight for me at many NCSS conferences.  It’s the best way to meet other teachers and instantly find common interests and skills. I was fortunate to have a nice crowd for Engaging Your Students with a Social Studies BREAKOUT and I feel like they got something out of it. I also made a bunch of new edufriends, including the awesome Shyra Dawson who brought me a Diet Coke the next morning!

SESSIONS – Of course, attending sessions is the reason to hit the conference in the first place, in my mind. Unless there is a over-the-top major-league keynote, I tend to stick to the many presentations that apply to my role and curriculum. While I sometimes session shop and move from place to place, I was able to grab some awesome ideas from multiple sessions. Joe Schmidt’s Questions are the New Answers was an eye opener, got some great ideas from a trio of Fayetteville teachers on their WWI curriculum, saw awesome new excellent VR platforms for teaching social studies. The poster presentations are becoming more valuable every year, as one on one conversations lead to great ideas and more personal connections.

TRAVEL – What social studies teacher doesn’t like to travel? Fortunately for me, as an American studies teacher, every NCSS conference also involves some sort of historical site. I always talk about walking in the footsteps of history, and every NCSS conference offers that opportunity. Whether it’s going to the Alamo, touring Martin Luther King Jr.’s boyhood home, walking the battlefields near Washington DC, visiting the Boston Tea Party museum, or marveling at the Golden Gate Bridge this year, it’s both energizing and important to see different parts of our country. Plus, it really helps me get my steps up (over 76,000 steps while in San Fran!)

PEARLS – What?  I’m always looking for pearls – small ideas, techniques, and platforms that i can infuse in my classroom right away.  This year’s pearls include having students track my questions and we graph theirs as a class, integrating Recap @RecapThat and Formative @goFormative in the weekly/daily life of my class, new ideas for virtual reality in the classroom, some great thoughts on creative additions to my WWI curriculum, making more creative student videos in class, and using even more digital breakouts (inspired by the master, Tom Mullaney).

REFLECTION – The conference always offers multiple opportunities to reflect on my classroom, my practice, and where I am professionally. I always realize that, while I have some strengths in and out of the classroom, there are many areas that I can improve – growth mindset! Having three days to process everything without worrying about the next day’s classes is a bonus, and the long plane trip is an incredible opportunity to relax and think. I never leave NCSS without having my batteries recharged. The timing is also great, as we enter into the holiday season. The awesome ideas can keep me engaged as a teacher in a very busy season. It’s also a bonus to travel with colleagues like Brian Markwald, Will Piper, and Michael Matera, because our trip turns into a 72 hour department meeting – and it’s one of the reasons we work so well together.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the unwavering professional development support I get from my school, University School of Milwaukee.  I am incredibly fortunate.

I look forward to NCSS18 in the beautiful midwest as SS gurus descend on the Windy City after Thanksgiving next year. See you there!