TECH YOUR SS ROAD TRIP!

One of the great aspects of teaching social studies is that your curriculum is everywhere – historical site, a market, museums, a bank, government buildings, courtrooms .. you name it, it probably has something to do with social studies.  Taking your kids on the road is always a great way to get the social studies to come alive, set the stage for inquiry and discussion, differentiate your curriculum, and offer something new by getting out of the classroom.  How can we make these trips even more engaging and informative?  Go tech!

The typical field trip is often accompanied by worksheets for students to fill out as they visit a museum, science center, or fine arts location. Also, reflection usually takes place after the trip, sometimes when students have already forgot what they’ve seen. Are you looking for ways to innovate on your next field trip, allowing students to be more interactive, integrate technology, ditch the clipboards and paper, and get real-time reflection and feedback? Here’s a couple of ideas to supercharge your next social studies odyssey with your students.

Of course, when integrating technology at any point in education, there needs to be one disclaimer – you need to have access to technology. The ideas below will work with mobile devices and tablets, but for much of it there will need to be cellular connectivity or access to the Internet. Many museums that you visit will have wifi access, but it’s always good to check before you go. Also, you may need a advance reconnaissance trip in order to plan out your awesome new visit. Just a note to remind you!

You probably already know it – Nearpod is a great engager and formative assessment tool in your classroom. However, it also has a lot of power when you take it on the road. You can create a Nearpod presentation that guides students as they proceed through a visit, or you can have them control the slides themselves. You can integrate visual cues of places and items to look for, specific instructions for the visit, and links to additional information that they may want to consult. You can also get feedback from them through Nearpod’s multiple assessment tools and solicit reflections as they travel through a site. The information you collect will be great for debriefing when you get back to school or in a common area at the location. They can even draw something from their experience!

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Teach led, student paced interfaces for Nearpod

The assessment tools also keep students on their toes and give them some responsibility for their own successful learning experience outside of the classroom – without the clipboard. If you control the slide show, you can also ask questions on the fly – and have the responses collected for later use. Here’s an example from a recent trip to Gettysburg – take a look! (The code to join the student paced presentation is PMGZT – give it a whirl).

 

Looking to crowd source student photos on your trip? There’s a ton of ways to do that with mobile devices. You could have students utilize a social media hashtag for your trip to document the experience from their eyes. You can also have students airdrop you their photos or upload them to a common dropbox or Google Drive folder when they return to school. It takes the camera work off of your shoulders – it certainly helped me in DC last year!

Another way to solicit feedback and collected in one platform is using Poll Everywhere. Ask students a pointed question about the visit or solicit some general feedback about the trip. Their responses will be collected in one single poll that can be private only for you or can be published for others to see. You can use it as questioning platform or get student reflections from a trip – just a few ideas!

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If you want to record student observations on the trip in real time and have them available for others to hear, try Ipadio. Ipadio is a mobile podcasting platform that allows you to record audio from your cell phone and upload it to a media player. It’s super easy to do … so easy that I sometimes forget to do it! By posting the media player on the classroom website or learning management system, parents and colleagues can follow along on your trip. Combining the audio with images allows visitors to feel like they’re virtually going along on the trip.

You could also experiment with live streaming video platforms. Periscope, Facebook live, and Ustream are all methods of sharing live video to people online. If privacy is a concern, just check your privacy settings and limit the publicity of any link.  You should also check your schools media policy for sharing student images.

IMG_1959Looking to keep kids engaged as they ride a bus to and from your location (or any other time)? If they have mobile devices with cellular connectivity, give Quizziz a whirl. You can create your own that deal with the location that you were visiting, or use it as a time to review class material. It’s also a good way to balance curriculum if you’re taking kids out of a different class in order to see a site in your subject. You can have them play a couple quizzes of the subject are missing. Prizes are always a great motivator, but the simple competition of the quiz usually does the job. Want to try your hand at some Constitutional questions? (If the game is active try 575335 for a code – it may need to be monitored!)

If you are taking a longer journey and want to collect everything in one happy place, a trip website is easy to use, especially if you front load it with essential info, pages, and embedded material.  I have used both Blogger and Weebly to a great deal of success. Parents love keeping up with the group, and it also serves as a chronicle of the trip after the fact.  Here’s our recent tour of DC – great times!

Of course, all of these ideas can be scaled for younger students by giving the instructor more control.  A discussion of positive digital citizenship should proceed any souped up field trip – but you would probably talk about behavior expectations anyway, right? And, you can scale the amount to cater to how much you want your students on screens.  It’s all up to the head traveler.

Have any other ideas about using tech on a field trip?  I’d love to hear and see it.  Please comment below or share with me (and others) on Twitter. Have fun the next time you hit the road!

BREAKING OUT in the Social Studies!

Every teacher has been there – the dog days of March, when your class is getting a little squirrely waiting for Spring Break and struggling with the routine of school. You want to light a fire in your kids with an awesome activity that will engage the students, push their problem solving and critical thinking, strengthen their collaboration, and also present some content in a challenging way.  As you comb the Internet and get on social media, you find a bazillion ideas, but nothing seems to work perfectly for your goals and your class. You feel the need to design your own opening experience when you stumble across a very intriguing idea on your favorite social studies blog. You now know what you’re going to do – BREAKOUT!

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We’re not talking about the early Atari video game or the constellations of acne that appear on a teenager’s  face – we’re talking about Breakout EDU.  The concept of a Breakout EDU is similar to a scavenger hunt or escape chamber activity. A scenario is presented, various clues are scattered in a room or location, and participants work together to solve clues and unlock a box, a door, or a something else using a combination of numbers or letters or a secret clue. Scavenger hunts have been used by teachers far and wide, along with Amazing Race type experiences – but Breakout EDU takes these games to the next level with physical items in their creative kits and prepackaged games. 

Classroom Breakouts are incredibly engaging, especially when two groups are pitted against each other (and the clock). They involve collaboration and team building, and it’s fascinating to see how participants work together to solve problems. The commercial Breakout EDU games are fun, challenging, and easy to set up. Many of their pre-made breakouts deal with the social studies – but you do need to be a subscriber to access them.  However, you can create your own breakouts using their products and/or inexpensive store-bought materials. Physical items that you can purchase yourself include simple combination locks, key locks, and boxes with pass keys. Breakouts can be all-tech, high-tech, low-tech, or no–tech – it’s up to you and the technology available to your students. Rachel Porter has a great Smore overview of Breakout EDU – check it out!

Why do I break out in the social studies classroom? The harder question answer is “why not”? These types of experiences are perfect for social studies. You have themes and scenarios galore in every content area. It’s simple to put together a storyline for any sort of Breakout.  Code breaking in World War II, escaping an Egyptian tomb, breaking into the National Archives vault – situations that go beyond Hollywood.  It’s very easy to use a Breakout to introduce content in an engaging and interactive way. I love using breakouts as previews for a unit or an introduction into an era. It’s much more exciting for the kids then just pushing play on an overview video. It’s also simple to integrate primary sources and have students complete a close analysis of a document, speech, or artifact. Depending on the design, students will have to utilize search skills as well, something we try to develop in all of our classes. Finally, the best reason to use breakouts and the social studies is simple – they are social (and can get LOUD!) Students work together and find their own method of collaborating, recording answers, and problem-solving.  Three letters – FUN!

The best way to approach developing a classroom Breakout experience is to start with the beginning and the end – what are your curricular or content goals, and what is the ending apparatus that will eventually be opened?  From there, you can meet in the middle as you design your clues based on the content or curriculum in order to lead to the numbers or letters for the breakout. I use a planning document to organize my original breakouts.

Creativity is the key for developing the clues to a successful and challenging Breakout. Ideas for Breakout clues include …

  • Content or school based ciphers or cryptograms, hidden messages in word searches, double puzzles, and fallen phrases (easy to create at Discovery Education’s Puzzlemaker)
  • Map puzzles, with locations leading to certain locations, numbers, and letters
  • Jigsaw puzzles or block puzzles that lead to a clue when assembled
  • Remember that letters can easily be turned into numbers through a telephone keypad or any sort of cipher or code (which, of course could be another clue).
  • Rebuses, word mazes, using the first letter of a series of images, colors, timelines …
  • Examining the commercially created Breakouts and doing a quick search of Breakouts on YouTube will give you countless clue ideas as well!

While Breakouts can be no tech / low tech, I love integrating various digital platforms into the experience. Some ideas for tech integration in a Breakout include …

  • Utilizing QR codes placed in an area to lead students to text, images, audio, and video
  • Various augmented reality apps, including Aurasma and WallaMe
  • Leading students to a pre-made online document or google slide, with a shortened URL using bitly or tinyurl
  • Creating a google form that sends participants to specific pages when a certain code or series of numbers or letters are entered
  • Challenging student search skills by having them find various data or info online
  • Utilizing Google maps and Google Earth to have students search for locations
  • Using Classroom Timers to add to the engagement and excitement!
  • The INCREDIBLE crowd sourced list of digital platforms available from Breakout EDU – some of my faves are Snotes, Match the Memory, GeoGreetings, and making a Word Maze.

The debriefing aspect of the Breakout is powerful as well.  You can not only discuss the content presented in the challenge, but also ask students about their observations on collaboration, problem solving, and creative thinking.  And, you will hear them plead for you to plan another one. Better yet – have them design their own BreakoutEDU!

Breakouts can also be entirely digital – but we will save that for another post.

What are you waiting for?  Get started by going small – maybe one code or lock on a small box – and build from there.  You will love the engagement as you watch the kids work together to solve problems and get excited to be in your classroom.

 

 

Smash Up the Social Studies!

We’re a family of games, especially with my youngest son who loves playing every type of game out there – video games, board games, card games, you name it. Games are social, so they’re perfect for the social studies classroom in for social studies teachers. And, if you’re lucky enough to know Michael Matera and call him a pal, you can find out about any game in existence – the guy is incredible. My family’s current infatuation is with an awesome card game called Smash Up from Paul Peterson and Alderac.

We were introduced to it by our game nut nephews and my brother in law Rick, and it now is a nighttime staple! Not only do I love the game for it’s flexibility, gameplay, and creativity, but I also think it would be an awesome game to repurpose for the social studies classroom. So … here goes …

If you’ve played it before, skip down to the next paragraph. If you haven’t, here’s a brief description of Smash Up – the rules are pretty easy to follow.  In the game, there are multiple sets or factions of cards linked to a specific topic, genre, or concept.  Players take two different factions and mix them together – smashing them up. Each faction has a set of minions any set of actions. Each turn, you can play a minion on a base and then play an action. The abilities of each minion and the actions are thematic – for example, Pirates are able to move from base to base, Dinosaurs have a great deal of numerical power, Killer Plants keep growing and growing, and Elder Things make opponents mad by having them draw certain cards.  Your goal is to total enough points to score a base and add to your overall tally. It is cleverly written game, because each deck has certain powers, making it on par with every other deck. The creativity that went into the development of the game is astounding, in my mind, and that’s something I’d like to tap into when he comes to my students.

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Smash Up involves long term and short term strategy, thinking well ahead of your turn, but also the ability to make decisions instantly.  No two games are the same, since the various factions mix to make combinations with different powers and actions.   It’s great head to head, but the more the merrier in Smash Up.  I could easily see students partnering with a deck and discussing their next move – what great collaborative thinking!

So, I have gushed about this awesome game, but where am I going with this in the world of social studies? Simple – students can create their own Smash Up  decks based on historical eras, geographical locations, political systems, or anything else that involves people (or animals, or weather, or geographic features … there is no limit!) The game already includes one truly historical faction, Mythic Greeks, so I can’t be too crazy with my idea (and I guess I’m not very original either, but bear with me.) Smash Up minions each have a printed point value and an action or talent that goes along with them. Students could take a historical era and create minions for real or representative individuals.

For example, for a Civil War Smash Up, the theme could be moving up in rank and building larger armies to wear out the opponent. A simple Private in the army could have the full value of one, but played with another Private, this value could increase.  A Major could have a higher value, while a General could have the highest value and the ability to move around any subordinate officers to different battlefields (bases, in the game). The actions can be historically based and involve some sort of thematic element from the time period, location or topic. For the Civil War, a Spy action would could allow a player to look at an opponent’s cards and discard one, while a Hospital action could allow a player to revive a minion from their discard pile. As students create the deck, they are digging into the content, developing a theme for the deck, and creating minions, actions, talents, and bases that match the theme curricular area.  The challenge, critical and creative thinking, and fun would explode – especially when they get to play their deck!  How cool is that?

Here are some examples I developed for the Civil War.  Could it work, maybe for that creative gamer that doesn’t like playing the game of school?  I think so!

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I made some templates for minions, actions, and bases.  Let me know if they help out!

Some possible ideas for Social Studies Smash Up sets:

World History: The Roman Empire, Chinese Dynasties, Ancient Egypt, the Middle Ages, the French Revolution (think of the actions – “Off With Their Heads”, “Let Them Eat Cake”, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”), The Cold War, The Age of Exploration, Barbarians, Greek Philosophers, Aztec Warriors, Enlightenment Thinkers, the Industrial Revolution

American History: Colonial America, the American Revolution, Manifest Destiny, Civil War, the Women’s Rights Movement, the AEF in WWI, the Roaring 20s, Captains of Industry (I can see the minions – Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan), the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement

Geography: general geography, any specific area of the globe, environmental challenges (Global Warming would be a high powered minion)

Government and Civics: political systems, the Constitution, citizenship (the actions could all be ones of civic duty)

Economics: The Stock Market, Comparative Economics, International Trade

This could totally work for other curricular areas t00.  How about factions for Shakespeare, the Periodic Table,  or great Mathematicians?

You can print the cards on heavy card stock at home or at school.  If you want a more professional card set, try MakePlayingCards.com or TheGameCrafter.com.

Of course, to understand the repurposing of the game, you have to play it – and I encourage you to do so.  After a few times through, you will be nodding your head, thinking “Michael and Chuck are right, this is a totally fun game” and “Chuck is onto something here with the repurposing of Smash Up.  Has he ever written about repurposing other games?” Actually, I did! Check it out, please!

Hopefully you get the chance to play this awesome game at home and with your students. It’s addictive to social studies nuts and gamers! And, when you have your students make a deck, send a copy my way – I need to beat my son with some great social studies factions!

The Awesome Six Sided World of Hexagonal Thinking

Hexagonal Thinking Title (1).jpgEvery connected educator loves social media because of the incredible new ideas that they get on their feed hourly, and last week was no exception. As I was scrolling through my litany of awesome professionals that I follow, I was instantly struck by Richard Byrne’s share on hexagonal thinking. The method looks similar to something that my teaching partner Laurie and I had done in the past, using dominoes to have students make connections between terms about a certain era. After reading the post from Terri Eicholz (Engage Their Minds), I quickly realized that hexagonal thinking stepped it up a notch with the ability to make more connections and interrelated tessellations. I knew we had to use it and use it soon. Lo and behold, soon was today and it was a great experience for our students in for us.

There are many additional posts that you can consult to check out hexagonal thinking, but here it is in a nutshell: Terms (and images, if you want) can be put on cutout hexagons. These hexagons are then maneuvered and linked in order to display connections between ideas. They can be used to display larger concepts as well. WIth multiple terms, the hexagons turn into an honeycomb of information. There are some posts about using hexagonal thinking for design thinking, which could be my next step in a creative project.

We put the method to work as we introduced the Progressive Movement in our American studies class. We already examined the Gilded Age and the rise of industry, under the title of “Progress and Problems”. To prepare for today’s activity, students watched a 25 minute video overview of the Progressive Era to serve as a preview. In our 70 minute blocks, they were given over 80 hexagons (including some blank ones for them to fill-in if desired) and tasked with categorizing the terms, making connections to get the big picture of the Progressive Movement, summarizing their categories into a succinct definition, and passing some judgment on the involvement of the progresses.  Our assignment prompt is available here,  along with a collection of our terms and blank hexagon template. You can also make your own hexagons using the HookED SOLO Hexagon Generator. One thing we learned quickly – have the hexagons cut out ahead of time!

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The results? Outstanding. Students were completely engaged for 60 minutes, making connections, discussing common categories, correcting and critiquing each other, all in a collaborative fashion. We noticed that students were moving as they looked at the hexagons from different views. They made keen observations about the connections in the movement, including that it was a sometimes fractured movement with many different goals. One student said that she loved the activity because she learned so much and was able to see it develop with her own eyes. That’s tough to beat, don’t you think?

Needless say, this method will  become a staple in our American studies class, and I plan to use it in my social studies methods class as well. This can be used at any age level  and any curricular area– in and out of social studies. As a formative assessment, it is powerful – but I feel the collaborative aspect and visual representation of thinking is the magic.

Now … it’s back to social media to look for the next awesome inspirational idea. It’s probably going to take only a couple minutes!

 

Go 360° with RoundMe

VR is all the educational rage these days – and it should be, especially in the social studies.  There are multiple platforms teachers and students can use to show off the world and their learning in 360° awesomeness, and I thought I would highlight a little known  one – Roundme.  Roundme is a fun 360° platform that you can use for engagement and student creation, even if you don’t have 360° capability with cameras. By creating a panoramic image or collage or annotating one from online, students can present their understanding of the concept in a pretty cool way – and have it visible with virtual reality viewers! RoundMe has both a Web version as well as an app for iOS and Android.

Roundme has countless panoramic images already loaded from users around the world, and a simple search can take your students across the globe.  Using the platform’s world map or explore functions, you can access amazing virtual tours for free with the freemium membership. Teaching global cultures, and looking for an engaging hook? Take your studnets on a tour of the Forbidden City, Venice,  or Chichen Itza  Roundme tours have portals, or little windows that will take the viewer to a different location – super cool!

The web version of Roundme is great for creation as well. If students can find a panoramic image online, they can import it into RoundMe and add text and audio to describe a scene or present information. Even better, in my mind, students can create their own panoramic images using any image creator, including Google drawings. By offering students a template of the preferred size for a RoundMe, students can insert images and original artwork to create their own panorama. After uploading it to Roundme, they can add text and voice descriptions of their work. Imagine students being challenged to present their understanding of the Constitutional Convention, or the economic concept of supply and demand,  or a explanation of the causes and effects of the Munich Conference. Other students can jigsaw the content and access their classmates work, learning from each other in the process. As an instructor, you can make a menu of a panorama, and then link your students’ work to one central location. Why use RoundMe instead of other non VR platforms for something like this? Simple – because it would interest students, and when you put it into Google Cardboard viewers, you get a definite wow factor.

Some ideas for utilizing RoundMe include:

  • Having students take a panoramic picture in their community or some historic site and annotate it for some place-based learning
  • Students take a existing panoramic or 360° images and turn it into a virtual field trip through linking different locations
  • Students create a panoramic image on a image creator, possibly as an annotated mural of a historical era or a biographical sketch of an important individual

I created an example for the 13th Amendment and used it as an intro to the Reconstruction Era (and the Roundme platform). Make sure your audio is on!

Using the mobile app, Roundme easily splits into a virtual reality viewer format for use in Google Cardboard or any of the many available VR products.  The sound doesn’t work yet on the app, but can be utilized in the mobile browser.  The portals can be accessed by staring at them until they fill up – hands free global travel! The wow factor of the VR viewer is always cool!

If you haven’t tried out any VR yet, give Roundme a stab.  The user loaded images are awesome, and the possibility for creation (my favorite possibility) is awesome.  It’s a great option when offering choice to students for presenting their learning.

Why we do NHD – and why you should too

Every year around this time – National History Day crunch time – as I am digging through annotated bibliographies, helping eighth graders find that ultimate primary source (which should have been found months ago), and spending hours upon hours reviewing student research all while taking time away from our daily curriculum, I ask myself the same two questions – “Why do we do NHD?” and “Will the hair that I lose every year during NHD crunch time ever come back?”

The second question is easy to answer – no. The hair is gone, kaput, like the dinosaurs. But the first question requires a lot more in-depth analysis. Yes, NHD takes a great deal of time, in and out of school.  Yes, my students and I do feel some stress about the NHD project process. Yes, I do get worries from parents, anything from my child is overworked to my kid’s partners aren’t holding up their end of the bargain to my child is dreading this process. And yes, I do have to confer a grade, which is not my favorite thing in the world – more on that in a later blog post.

So why do we do NHD considering all of those challenges? I have a litany of reasons for the positive, and they far outweigh the few negative factors. Consider the following:

National History Day is challenging.

In fact, you could basically say NHD is hard – really hard –  and my students would agree with me.  I like that. I’m not trying to be an old codger or masochist, but life is hard, full of challenges, and our students need to develop that resilience and grit that is essential to succeeding in anything. If it was easy, and everybody could do it, why bother?

National History Day is as close as I can get my students to become real historians.

The process of developing an NHD project is similar to job of the professionals. Students find a topic that really interests them, making sure it is related to a theme. They read for context, develop search terms, dig for excellent primary and secondary sources, interview experts,  develop subtopics in their research, take notes and organize them into their subtopics, dig for more resources, analyze what they have found in order to develop a thesis, and combine their research into effective method of presentation.  My students have interviewed Joan Baez, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, the Captain of the 1980 Olympic hockey team, members of the Little Rock Nine, the first African-American member of the NBA, and the first test tube baby. They have talked with the makers of history, delved into archives and search through the stacks of historical societies, and run into roadblocks while finding new paths for research. Sounds like the quest of a typical historian, right? Throw in an incredibly supportive librarian (like I have) and the research process is powerful and productive.

National History Day hits many if not all of the important standards for history and social studies education.

Students develop disciplinary literacy skills as outlined in the C3 framework, along with the ability to create research questions and analyze resources for bias and relevance. They integrate the Thinking Like a Historian areas of literacy that we desire, along with 21st-century skills of communication, critical thinking, creativity, and (if they choose a partner or two) collaboration. There are many posts about how NHD aligns with the standards, and I firmly believe the process is my best assessment of my kids as young historians and overall students.

National History Day offers a framework for the rest of my curriculum.

In many ways, I can organize my survey of American history using the NHD theme in process each year. The yearly theme always provides a way to look at American history through a specific lens and help students categorize events and ideas.  We also use some common subtopics in our NHD process, and students can utilize these “buckets”  as we go through the course of American history. We look for context, causes, events, reactions, impact, and legacy in our projects, but we can also use these terms in our day-to-day discussions. In addition, student NHD projects can be referenced throughout the study of a class. I have used student websites and documentaries as resources for my classes, even in the same curricular year.

National History Day improves students’ writing.

We always want to get writing into the social studies curriculum, and NHD involves a ton of it. From crafting an excellent topic selection proposal to taking notes from resources; from developing detailed annotations in a bibliography to writing a concise yet informative process paper; and in the writing of a script, exhibit text, or a formal paper, various types of writing are involved in National History Day. Teachers have the opportunity to really get to know their students’ abilities through the writing and help them improve in that all important life skill. I’m fortunate to have my English expert (and American Studies partner) as a co-coach in our process – it makes a huge difference.   

National History Day provides rally points for students and our community.

A few years ago, we had a consultant examine our overall schedule, and she highlighted the concept of “rally points” – major events in the school year where an entire grade for school looks comes together. NHD has served as one of those not only for my eighth graders, but for the middle school and our eighth grade community. We hold an annual showcase in which our students show off their work, and we always get parents, teachers, past students, and members of the local community to attention. The regional competitions are at a local college on a Saturday, and students get to show off their stuff and also hang out together as a group outside of school. Parents are involved, and they get to see students that they may not know very well while also increasing our community connections.

National History Day offers a lot of student choice.

Many research projects that are assigned in school have a specific topic limit and defined method of presentation.  With NHD, students can research almost any topic of their choosing. While there is an annual theme that must be utilized, the themes are broad and applicable to nearly any historical topic, era, and grade level. Students can choose a project category that fits their strengths and interests. Strong writers can select a paper, while creative visual-spatial learners can go with exhibit. Tech dogs can develop a website, young Spielbergs can create a documentary, and those that love the stage and perform. In addition, students can choose to work alone or collaboratively.

 

National History Day offers great deal off support and professional development.

The support materials available in print and online online and in person for NHD rival any other academic program that I know of. The national headquarters offers a ton of PD, from webinars and podcasts to “how to” materials available online.  Every state has an affiliate organization with a  wealth of support materials as well as a professional staff dedicated to helping teachers integrate NHD into their curriculum. Plus, there is a cadre of teachers in every state that are always more than welcome to help out with ideas and materials.

Students like National History Day

To be honest, they like it after it’s done. But I do see a great deal of satisfaction when student show off their work, when they utilize feedback to improve, and especially when they present their work to people outside of school. Having students  hear their names called when it comes time for awards and get noticed for their work as young historians makes me smile.  My most recent survey of my students regarding the National History Day project demonstrate that they overall endorse to project.

Is NHD for every class? I would argue yes. It may be hard to fit into an AP curriculum that needs to cover a breadth of content. However, the skills that we try to develop in any history class of any content at any grade level can all be strengthened through National History Day. If you haven’t considered integrating NHD into your curriculum yet, contact your state NHD organization and see what they have to offer.  Also, use Twitter as a resource by following @NationalHistory and connecting with other NHD teachers. Give it a whirl – its a win win win!

MLK – The LOUD teacher!

LOUD doesn’t just mean high volume.  It also means ‘strong or emphatic in expression’ and  ‘clamorous and insistent’.  When I think of someone who was LOUD, who used his voice in order to affect change, who spoke out to (as Rep. John Lewis likes to say) “get into trouble … good trouble … necessary trouble”, I always point to Martin Luther King, Jr. – and not just on a Monday in January.  However, today gave me a great chance to look back on some of my own experiences involving Dr. King and what I (and my students) have learned from him.

As social studies teachers know, the Civil Rights Movement was more than just the famous names and sometimes isolated events that are the emphasis of most textbooks and documentaries.  Still, I feel it’s imperative that we but we must focus on King as both an icon and an example.  What are a few of the lessons I have learned … and try to teach though King?

Ordinary people can do extraordinary things, but it takes extra to make it happen.

I was fortunate to tour the south a few years ago (thanks to a generous grant from my school), and half of my focus was digging into the history of various Civil Rights sites.  Fittingly, my tour opened in Atlanta, with visits to the MLK NPS site, the King Center, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and MLK’s boyhood home.  The locations are essential to understanding of the the Civil Rights Movement, but more importantly, the life, character, and contributions of Dr. King.  I always share my experience in his boyhood home, walking through a house that was similar to a modest home in my own Milwaukee.  Seeing his humble beginnings and finding out that he liked board games and baseball (but not doing chores) brings the legend down to the average person – me.  As the NPS ranger said on my tour, “anyone can be great if you make the right choices and help others”.  That’s what we need to instill in the hearts and minds of our students – and ourselves.

To learn about the past, you need to walk in the footsteps of history.

It probably goes without saying to the social studies crowd, but there is no better way to understand the great stories of the past and how they still resonate today by visiting historical locations, monuments, and memorials.  To truly appreciate what John Lewis, MLK, and the many others did marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, you have to go there, walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, drive along the county highway that they traversed, visit their encampment, and walk the grounds of the Alabama state capitol.  Going there inspires a sense of understanding, wonder, curiosity, awe, and inspiration. The same can be said for the countless other historic sites, local, national and international, that we can try to visit and encourage our students to do the same.  If we had unlimited funding, a school year on wheels would incredible – but not feasible.  At least taking kids to a historical site, government building, or memorial location is (hopefully) a possibility for teachers, for the best classroom is often not in a school building.

Words are powerful, so use them wisely.

MLK was a master of the spoken and written word, perhaps more than any other in modern history. His words still resonate with society today, both the famous phrases or relatively unknown passages, and I always challenge my students to find the most impactful statement from Dr. King when we visit his memorial in Washington DC. We can use his mastery of the words in classes by having students examine his works, consider his word choice, his use of allusions and repetition, his cadence when he speaks, and how he is very careful with how he expresses his ideas. it’s certainly beneficial for students to listen to his speeches and read his writings, but it’s more important for them to really dig into what he says and how he says it. My American studies partner Dr. Laurie Walczak and I have done so with King’ seminal “I Have a Dream Speech, utilizing the nonfiction reading signposts presented by Probst and Beers.  Most Americans don’t know that the speech actually has two parts, in the often-overlooked prepared part of the speech really ended before King expressed his dream. A much deeper analysis of King’s most famous oration not only provide students with a deeper understanding of his message, but also about how words are incredibly important and powerful, and therefore must be chosen wisely, both in print and when spoken.  Hopefully students can use this is a lesson when they are preparing your own orations, but more importantly when they are expressing themselves in the various forms of media that they choose. Plus, they can realize that you don’t need to say “like” 20 times in a sentence to get your point across.

Leaders lead by example, not by intimidation.

We are always looking to foster leadership in all of our students, especially in the social studies, since our task is to develop civic competence in our students to set the stage for a better future for our country and globe. We often stress the importance of leading by example through positive actions and not by the strongest fist or the deepest pockets. MLK is a great case study in this key concept of leadership.  He talked the talk of nonviolence and civil disobedience, but he also walked the walk, both literally and figuratively. His experiences in Birmingham in 1963 and the subsequent efforts of thousands of Birmingham residents in Project C showed that you can effect change buy doing the right thing and leading others by your exemplary actions. Seeing a replica of his jail cell at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and walking the grounds of Kelly Ingram Park reinforced that concept for me. There are many other figures that we can use in this study on leadership, and MLK can be a central one or just the example that most students will know.  Whatever the case, the message is important, and a crucial one for our social studies classes.

I’ll close with a message that I shared are lower school students many years ago our MLK assembly. MLK was a great leader, an Incredible speaker, and an inspiration to countless people across the globe. However, I see him not just as an activist, or a preacher, or an icon – I see him as a teacher.  His words, presented on the wall of the MLK Memorial, are really the objectives to what we want to teach our kids, in school and at home. Doing the right thing the right way; respecting all people regardless of race, religion, or belief; working together to solve problems; finding a cause or passion to push for positive change–isn’t that we want to see in our kids? In the social studies, this should be the focus of all of our lessons, activities and discussions– it’s not about memorizing names and dates, but about inspiring kids to evaluate the past, understand the present, and push to make a better future. That’s what Dr. King did, and we should still use him as our example for our teaching.


I have approached the Civil Rights Movement differently the past few years, asking students to immerse themselves in various events in the movement and, instead of trying to take copious notes and memorize for a test, to figure out what lessons we all can learn from the movement. Here a few samples of what my students have developed … so far.