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.


How do you Kahoot? Here’s a new idea!


Unless you been completely off the ed tech grid in the last few years, you obviously know the engaging power of Kahoot. There’s something about the platform that turns the simple concept of answering multiple choice questions into the final minute of a close national championship football game – tension, excitement, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, and it’s always LOUD! From elementary level learners to my undergraduate method students, I’ve seen Kahoots have students on the edge of their seats, excited to display their knowledge (and crush their classmates). While I don’t have any statistical data to back this up, I predict that most teachers are using Kahoot either as a formative assessment or to review content, right before a test or quiz. However, I think it can be used for much more than the quick review game – how about the foundation of an entire flipped lesson?

I’ve used Kahoots as a structure for in-depth discussions about historical content, based on an essential question and focusing on learning targets. If you flip your class, this is a great way to process the content students have examined at home. It also could be an awesome method of providing skill review for students, especially in the area visual literacy.

To give you an idea about how this progresses, imagine you are in a LOUD 8th grade American Studies class, checking out the ins and outs of the Reconstruction era. The essential question is “Was Reconstruction a success or failure?”, while the learning target is “I can discuss and evaluate the short term and long term impact of Reconstruction”.  

The experience begins with the preparation, as students are asked to examine a reading, video(s), series of websites, articles, or a combination of all three, all with learning targets in mind. Students should be provided focus questions or topics, not specific literal questions.  In my experience, I have students take notes in the form of an applicable graphic organizer (usually rooted to the EQ or target), or in any manner of their choosing.  The flipped goal is to give them a broad base of knowledge about the content, and then we make sense of it in class.

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Class proceeds with a Kahoot based on the flipped content, but designed to dig deeper, answer any questions, and continually focus on an EQ or target.  I enjoy using the Team Kahoot function for this, letting students discuss the content and learn from each other.  It’s always fun to have them develop content based nicknames for their teams.  I also try to get the students moving by rearranging their seats after every four questions, putting them in rank order (thanks to Jason Bretzmann for that pearl).

In between Kahoot questions, I probe for opinions, dig deeper into the content, utilize various tabs on the SmartBoard to share cool content and relevant links to today, categorize information, and use response systems like Plickers for a quick formative assessment.  As we progress, students can add to their notes, ask questions out loud or in another form (back channel chat, online board …), and make observations about the content, all relating to the focus of the content.  A 10-15 question Kahoot can form the structure for an entire class, with students focusing on the content similar to a traditional lecture, but engaging, discussing, interacting, categorizing, reflecting, and moving – and having a ton more fun while doing so.

How do I assess their understanding? You name it! Assessment could be an exit ticket, an PollEverywhere post, a response on a Google form, even an email from their parents stating they discussed the question at dinner – or a student choice! My goals are for my students to be engaged with the content, think about an essential question, and hit a learning target – and Kahoot has been a great platform (in doses) to accomplish these.

I’m sure you use Kahoot in other awesome ways – please share yours! Tweet them on the Twitter thang, and add @chucktaft to your post.  Much obliged … and keep Kahooting!

Need a framework for assessment in your class? We came up with …

For a few years, I’ve become borderline obsessed with improving the assessment component of my eighth grade American studies class. I probably should have been obsessed much earlier … then I wouldn’t be obsessed now … or would I? I wasn’t content with the feedback and grade calculation that was happening, so my push originally started with me asking the question “How do I figure out what grade to give my students?” It didn’t take me long to realize that I was asking the wrong question.  We teach to help student learn and grow, not to get good grades.  I really should’ve been asking the question “How do I know that my students are learning the content, skills, and processes they need to be successful as young historians, overall students, and members of our society?” And, “How do my students know what the content, skills, and processes they should be learning – and why?” After a lot of research, reading, and discussion, I moved from grades and letters and points to targets, and I feel the changes been beneficial for my students in me (I will write about that conversion later.) However, I was looking for a structure that can frame all of the learning in and out of class to make sure it is meaningful, relevant, and transparent – so that students understand not only what our learning goals are, but also why we are trying to achieve these goals.

I have always consulted a slew of resources to help guide my curriculum – the National History Standards, Wisconsin Academic Standards, the recently developed C3 Framework, Thinking Like a Historian, Common Core Standards that support History/Social Studies, and the Framework for 21st Century Learning, to name a few. While all of these sources offer great insight into the most valuable goals for student learning in the social studies, they are overwhelming for a single curriculum, and nearly oppressive for an adolescent student.  In addition, some of the habits we are trying to develop involve the basic processes needed to succeed as a student – organization, responsibility, timeliness – that don’t appear on the more content and skill based standards lists.  I was still searching for an elusive framework …

During our recent marathon department meeting (also known as NCSS 2016 in Washington D.C.), Michael Matera and I chatted at length about assessment and brainstormed some ideas for a new framework, one that provides students with a structure for all of the learning targets they try to hit and allows them to understand the big picture of being a social studies student.  We combined foundational elements of some of our favorite resources to create a social-studies-assessment-profile.  It’s amazing what can be done when colleagues travel together!

Interact with the ThingLink image above for some additional info!

This profile will serve as the anchor for all of the learning targets in our curricula. The historical content standards can be revised to fit economics, civic, geography, and sociology, so the assessment profile is very adaptable to different disciplines within the social studies. Is it a perfect system?  I’m not sure, but I do think it provides an excellent conceptual body for students to understand what we want them to do with historical content, the skills we want them to utilize in making sense of the past, and the habits they should develop to be successful in and out of an educational setting.  By displaying it online and in our classroom and referencing it when posing objectives, students can see the big picture of learning in social studies.  Look for additional discussions about the assessment profile in the future as we integrate it into three consecutive classes in our middle school. I feel it will improve the overall learning and assessment in my class – and maybe yours as well!


“Thinking Like a Historian” courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Created by Dr. Nikki Mandell, UW-Whitewater and Dr. Bobbie Malone. For a great overview of the program, please check out Nikki Mandell’s article from the OAH Magazine of History in April 2008.

So … Why a blog? And why now?

So, why a blog, and why now? Two great questions, considering starting a blog has been my New Year’s resolution for five consecutive years. I really started following a lot of great educators and checking out their blogs when the Twitter ed-revolution exploded a few years ago, and I was always amazed and inspired about what they had to offer in terms of general philosophy, teaching and learning.  I also loved all of the practical pearls of wisdom and awesome ideas that I could incorporate in my classroom. I felt that I might have a few things to share as well, but the timing never seemed right. A hectic schedule at school and a lot going on on the home front kept a blog on the back burner for most of the teens.

My schedule has only become busier, and being a husband and a dad continues to me the happiest way to spend my time – but after entering my 26th year of teaching, I really feel that getting my thoughts in an open forum and sharing some of the cool work of my students and colleagues is not only great professional development, but also an increasingly powerful way to increase my connectivity with other educators around the globe. Plus, I feel this could be a great way to communicate, discuss, and reflect on what’s going on in the world of social studies education, promote some excellent professional development experiences for others, and highlight other great educators that I am fortunate to call colleagues and friends.

The title of the blog is kind of like the term “doughboys” for a World War I soldier – there are a variety of origins, and all of them wrapped together explain the purpose of phrase. Volume has always been both a gift and a curse for me – I don’t need microphones, but a lot of times I need a muzzle. I also feel social studies is a discipline that needs speaking, discussing, debating, music, volume – it’s not a quiet world when humans interact! My friend (and blog instigator) Andi Kornowski suggested the concept of “out loud” two years ago, it is always been in my mind. In addition, I would love to reenter the world of podcasting that I attempted years ago, so “out loud” it is. While the title is “Social Studies Out Loud”, I think many of the concepts and ideas that are presented here can apply to other disciplines, especially in the area of technology. Plus, “Learning Out Loud” was pretty much taken.


My hopes? To present ideas that can help other educators near and far as we continue to grow in the noble profession of teaching. I’d love to keep the conversation about social studies education at the forefront, as I worry about it being marginalized. Much of what I write about and share will not be entirely original, as I am definitely a educator who is gratefully influenced by hundreds, if not thousands, of others. I just may try to write it with a little more sarcasm and silliness. Most of all, I hope this helps me grow as a professional as I continue to play the back nine of my teaching career.

Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, thanks for sharing, and thanks for helping make me a better professional educator.  Let’s get LOUD!