Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Training Future Historians

This is a long post, mostly because I tried to give a good view of what my class looks like the first few days, but also because I included pictures.  

Each school year I start with a new crop of 7th graders who I know are about to experience Social Studies in a completely different way.  In my classroom...

  • There is no textbook to lug around.  We use one periodically, but rarely.  I keep a class set in the room.
  • Very few, if any, multiple choice questions.  A lot more writing.
  • Less and less "worksheets."  A lot of collaboration with peers.  
  • More projects.  Technology integrated into the subject.  
  • Every day vocabulary such as primary sources, contextualize, corroborate, bias, artifacts, inference.
  • Questions that don't have one right answer.  Having to defend their answers with evidence.
  • And learning to "Think like historians."

This takes training.  Students don't just come in knowing how to do this.  I take a good amount of time at the beginning of the year introducing my students to the process of historical thinking.  This is what I do...

Day 1:
Discussion about sources.  Primary vs. Secondary sources.  Sometimes there is a student who knows the difference, but they are in the vast minority.  We explore the difference between primary and secondary sources and talk about what it means to infer..  We brainstorm the different types of primary sources.  I have done this differently every year, usually by Googling "primary and secondary source lesson plans" and piecing together what works for me.  This year, I came up with these which were mostly taken from this lesson plan.

These are recorded in a notebook that is my take on an interactive notebook.  I call them HIT (Historians In Training) books.  These books are used to collect information from a variety of sources and determine the accuracy of that information.  (Click here for a post that goes into more detail on my HIT books).

Day 2:
Application of the discussion from day 1.  I usually have a variety of stations (10-12) that have either scenarios or actual objects for students to travel to, in pairs, and decide if it is a primary or secondary source.  The scenarios often come from the powers of Google.  The process of students moving through stations is a teaching strategy that I use OFTEN.  Such a great way to get kids up and moving, AND have them experience a variety of things in one class period.

This year I had 10 stations, each with a scenario card that they pasted into their HIT book and selected whether it was a primary or secondary source.

**The scenarios and base lesson plan I used for inspiration can be found here

Day 3:
Historical Thinking Day.  Students learn some big words today.  Sourcing.  Contextualize.  Corroboration.  Close Reading.  I am a huge fan of SHEG (Stanford History Education Group) and their website.  They have so many awesome lesson plans for teachers to use.  I am a frequent flier on their site!

I created these posters using PowerPoint, printed them off and laminated them together for the students to use.  The information for these posters comes from SHEG and Gilder-Lehrman (another go-to website for social studies teachers!)  Students are placed into 4 teams.  Each group spends time with each term and students are required to fill out the charts about each word based on the information they discover.  These charts are then cut out and pasted into their HIT notebooks.  We have a brief whole-class discussion on the terms and I talk about how important it is to start with "sourcing."

And we move on to an exercise in sourcing.  I call it "All Sources are not Created Equal."  Again, the premise for this activity comes from SHEG.  I took their idea and made a few changes.  I create 6 different "Historical Questions" and then provide two types of sources.  Students have to identify which sources are the most reliable based on the question.  These are set up as different stations.  Working in teams and rotating through stations, kids fill out these charts and paste them in the HIT notebooks.

**The point of today's lesson is to teach them that just because something is a primary source, it doesn't mean that it is truly accurate.  By this point, my 7th graders think that a primary source is GOLD and cannot be wrong.  This activity attempts to have them detect bias. I will have to refer back to this activity throughout the year.  They LOVE primary sources!

Day 4:
Lunchroom Fight Part I and II

**Both of these are taken directly from SHEG**  Click this link to create an account and access the lesson plan. (You'll be glad you did!)  I made no changes to this one.  The kids love it! may help provide a little empathy for the tough job Principals have when it comes to figuring out who to discipline when disputes happen!

Day 5-6ish (depending on the unforeseen variables that tend to "pop up" at the beginning of the year:
History in a Bag.  This is without a doubt my FAVORITE lesson of the whole Historical Thinking Training that I do at the beginning of the year.  I split this up into two different days.  Usually PART 1 won't take an entire class period for me (75 minute classes), so I'll tack it on to the end of the previous one.  You can read the entire lesson for PART 1 by clicking here.

Part 2 is really the one to get to.  The shortened version is that I fill a tub with primary sources that all center around one person.  Students analyze the artifacts and are able to determine who the person was, what he/she did for a living, where he/she lived, and some of his/her hobbies.  Plus, there is a fun secret fact they figure out by the end of the day.  The kiddos mention this each year as one of their favorites!  Read the lesson for PART 2 here.

And there you have it.  A new crop of 7th graders who have been trained in the art of historical thinking.  They will spend the remainder of the year using the skills they learn in these first 5 to 6 days of my class.

**I do work in a middle school that uses a block schedule, so my class periods are about 75 minutes long.  Each day can be split into two traditional 50 minute classes.  There is definitely room for cross-over between days and time to add it technology "how-tos" that are necessary at the beginning of the year.  Flexible is the way to be!**

Teachers reading this, or saving it to read for later, feel free to steal, borrow, copy, and use whatever you want.  Don't hesitate to comment or contact me through Twitter (@JillWebs) if you have questions!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Olympic Inspiration

I love the Olympics.  I join millions of people waiting for the latest news on athletic triumphs, upsets, and records.  But it's more than just entertainment.  Each time the Olympics is on, we are give stories of inspiration.  People who do extraordinary things to reach long-held goals.

I think my favorite story to come out of Rio so far is Michael Phelps winning the silver medal.

Wait a minute Mrs. Weber...your favorite story is one of 2nd place??


Michael Phelps is someone who can teach us a lot about perseverance, attitude, drive, and the list can go on.  He has been controversial, but I can bet you that if each of our lives were played out in front of the nation, ours would be just as controversial.  That's not my point of this story anyway.

My point is inspiration.

You see, Michael Phelps was awarded the silver medal in the 100m Butterfly because he was beat by Joseph Schooling of Singapore.  Schooling is a long-time fan of Phelps.  So much so, that he had his picture taken with the star swimming before the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Photo Credit: The Telegraph

I just love it.

Michael Phelps was so inspiring to this young boy in 2008, that he eventually grew up to better Phelps in his signature event.


In my opinion, this is the story of the year.  This is the story to use in your classrooms.

Be so awesome.  Be so great.  Be so inspiring that you inspire someone to become better than you

If imitation is the best form of flattery, then let's try to imitate awesome!  Whether you teach Kindergarten, High School Band, Chemistry, or coach a sport.  You see, teachers have a unique opportunity.  We have the chance to touch thousands of lives throughout our career.  How awesome would it to be so inspiring to young people, that together we help create a world filled with the best!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

H.I.T. Notebooks: A Different take on Interactive Notebooks

I used Interactive Notebooks in my social studies class for eight years.  The majority of the students loved them.  I had a serious love/hate relationship with them.  After taking a long look at the pros and cons of the books and my current curriculum, I decided not to continue with the interactive notebooks last year.

While I found a relief not having to keep up with the grading of 60+ notebooks, there was something missing from my class.  I had a number of kids ask me why we weren't doing them anymore, and others who were disappointed that the "hands on" cutting, pasting, and creativity was replaced with more writing assignments.  I felt guilty that my answer was "because I just couldn't keep up with all the grading."

That got me thinking on ways that I could bring the interactive notebooks back without having all the copious grading that went with it.  I talked with our language arts teacher, who uses her interactive notebooks as tool to keep materials and doesn't grade it at all.  I liked that idea.

But I wanted more.  I wanted a way to hold kids accountable.  I wanted them to take pride in the organization and appearance of the book.  And, most of all, I wanted it to be used as something more than a storage device.  I want it to be something they will reference throughout the year.

The Idea:
Then an idea started to take form.  An idea to use the notebook more like a detective's note book when trying to solve a crime.

So this year, we have:  Historian In Training Notebook, or HIT books. (HIT is a cool name for a middle school activity, right? )

The HIT notebook will be designed as sort of a history detective notebook that we'll use to identify historical thinking techniques, analyze primary sources, keep information over specific historical questions, and refer back to skills learned throughout the year.

A few examples of pages ...

8th Grade book.  Pages 6 and 7 -- Review from last year on how to think like a historian.

8th Grade book.  Choosing between two sources as to which is more accurate.  Pages 8-9

7th Grade HIT Book. An introduction into primary and secondary sources.

7th Grade book.  Application of primary or secondary sources.  

The Grading.
This was the difficult part, but I will admit, it is the part I'm most looking forward to seeing how it turns out.  The grading will be all self-assessed by the student themselves.  The reason for this is really two-fold.  1.) It adds in some of the evaluation piece for the students.  They MUST be familiar with the rubric and hopefully start to recognize what "quality" work looks like.  2.)  To make the grading process for me more simple.  The kids are still held responsible for the work, but I don't have to collect and score 130 notebooks!

I created a standard rubric that can be used for each section of the HIT book. (And each grade...) This gets pasted at the start of each separate section of the book.

A very basic rubric that can be used for all grade levels and content units.

When it comes time for their self-evaluations students may reference my book as an example of what "3" scores should include.

Ready for the best part?  Students then briefly meet with me to discuss their self-assessment and explain their reasoning.  We'll discuss what they did well in the book and what they could improve on in the next section.  At the very end, to earn the last point, students must tie something in their book to P.R.I.D.E. our school's core values. (PRIDE stands for Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Dependability, and Empathy).

I believe this will be a way to give me the things I loved about using interactive notebooks as well as combat some of the issues I had with grading.  I am excited to see how the student-self-assessments will look and the skills that my kids will gain throughout the year.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Welcome to Mrs. Weber's History Class!

I used to want to be Indiana Jones.  Seriously.  I even met with the guidance counselor my Freshman year of high school to find out what I needed to do and where I needed to go to college to make this happen.  As I was sifting through the pamphlets he gave me that I realized Dr. Jones spent the majority of his time researching in the library and not actually out exploring ancient ruins.  Boring! That's not what I wanted.  I wanted to "do history,"  not read about it.

So naturally I decided to be a history teacher, right??  Well, not exactly.  But that's another story for another day.

Now that I am a history teacher, I attempt to try to create a classroom that allows my students to "do history."  To experience history in a different way while incorporating hands on activities (that are inspired by Indiana Jones), incorporating technology, and changing the way they think about what "history" is.  I consider myself very lucky to be working in a school district that allows me the freedom to make the class "my own" and try new and different ways to learn.

So, for the parents of the kiddos about to enter my room, it will be different.  It won't be the social studies classroom that you remember growing up.  Hopefully your child will come home telling you more about their day than the old standby, "it was fine."  They may love it.  They may find it difficult at first.  That's OK.  And if they don't??  Follow me on Instagram (@jillwebs) and Facebook (Jill Weber-cms) for updates and links to this blog that tell about our days.

For the Students who are about to walk through my doors.  Be ready.  Be ready to think differently.  Be ready for challenging questions that don't necessarily have a right or wrong answer.  Be ready to choose a side, support your answer with evidence, and write.  Be ready to work with a team to gather evidence and then complete tasks on your own.  Be ready to have an opinion about what and how you like to learn. You have choices in my classroom and I will listen to your suggestions.  That doesn't mean I drop everything to do whatever you want, but if you have a something you enjoy...tell me.  We'll see if we can't figure out a way to squeeze it in.

Most importantly, be ready to DO History!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

August Excitement!

I love memes.  They always seem to depict much of what I'm thinking and feeling at any given point. I have used them in my class a few times.  (check that out here)  The kids love them too!

I came across this one the other day...

I can honestly say that this meme doesn't even begin to reflect me.  While, I totally get the humor of it, and I did laugh.  It's not me.

You see, by August, I'm chomping at the bit ready to get back into my classroom and put into action all the things I've been thinking about doing.  I look forward to seeing my vision actually put into place.

I really try to have a separation from school during the summer.  Trust me, I love school and will talk your ear off about it at any given point of the year.  But I'm not just a teacher.  I'm also a mother.  During the school year, I wage war against the balance between work and home, just like many other parents.  My house is clean maybe on Saturdays, and laundry is almost never put away.

But during the summer I don't have to wage that battle.  I don't have to feel like I'm letting my kids down because I wanted to stay at work an extra hour and I don't have to feel guilty about a lack-luster lesson because I had to leave unexpectedly from school for a sick kid.  I get to me "just mom."

But by August, I have heard "MOM" 8,098,896,475,495 times.  I have had dreams of lessons and class activities that have both been sweet and nightmarish.  I start dusting off my computer, looking in the school bag I brought home, and begin the process of putting on paper (or computer) the ideas that have randomly been floating through my head all summer.  I start to get "the bug."

I have less than a week before I send my kiddos back to daycare and start to focus on setting up my classroom and making sure things are ready to go.  I am still enjoying the trips to the pool, a cleaner house and later bedtime. I have much to do and the excitement can hardly be contained.

Trust me.  It's time.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Preamble Pete

Confession.  Teaching the unit on the Constitution is my least favorite of all the content I cover.  It's not that I don't think it's important, it is.  In fact it's probably one of the most important units I teach. I don't like it for two reasons.

1.) I personally find it boring.

2.) The concepts of the Constitution are VERY difficult to get 7th or 8th grade kids (who have very little, if any exposure to government) to understand.  I mean some don't even know about the 3 branches.  Trying to teach kids the process for amending the constitution, the electoral college, or even how a bill becomes a law can get really complicated really fast.

Because of this, I am always on the lookout for ways to make this unit more fun and engaging.  This is where I look to my American History Study Group for help.  We meet four times a year, and I LOVE those days! Such a great chance for awesome ideas to be passed from one teacher to another, and it all benefits kids!

This is where Preamble Pete comes from.  An awesome social studies teacher from Dodge City, Sheila Howard, shared with me her ROCK STAR lesson for teaching the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.  I quickly asked if I could "steal this" and implemented into my unit too.

The scenario:  Students are doctors at a cutting-edge medical facility.  They have a very special patient today.  Preamble Pete is 226 years old and suffering from old, outdated organs (words).  They are to replace the old organs with new, updated versions.

Students were required to take a picture of their finished transplants.  This picture would come in handy later!

Pete, prepped and ready for surgery!

Gearing up!

Reading over Pete's "chart" to make sure they know what they need to do.

Careful...only ONE organ can be removed at a time.

Searching for "new and improved" organs to replace the outdated ones.

All focused on the preamble.  This would NOT have happened with a lecture!

At the end, each team got to take a picture with Pete and a sign telling us if they succeeded with the surgery!
Most surgeries were successful today.

Unfortunately, not all teams read through Pete's "chart" before starting.  This team's surgeon got a little "cut-happy" and removed all his organs at one time.  This caused Pete to expire.  :(
The results:  The kids LOVED it!  In fact, I had no doubt they would think this activity was fun.  I was concerned whether or not these kiddos would see through the fun and actually understand the content.  But I was happily surprised with their "new organs" and how the majority of kids seemed to grasp the concepts of the Preamble.  They took a quiz today, in which they could use the picture of their "reworded Pete" to use to help them on the quiz.  Most kids did very well.

The best part about this for me, is that it replaced a lecture/note delivery method I have used in the past to explain the meaning behind the preamble.  I am looking for ways to replace lectures and worksheets with more engaging and active learning activities.

Thanks Sheila for this awesome activity!

PS...I was lucky enough to have all the medical gear you see in these photos donated to the school from parents and members of our community.   If you're doing something cool in your classroom...SPREAD THE WORD!  Share what you do.  Let the community see inside your room!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Cutthroat History: Using Reality TV to Create Engaging Activities

Earlier this year I posted how I used the premise for the show Chopped/Master Chef to create an activity in class that provided students the opportunity to answer a essential question using teamwork, creativity, and speed.  Read that post here.

The biggest take-away from the History Chef activity was how much the kids loved it.  They loved being challenged to come up with an answer, incorporate creative items, and present their information.  They wanted to do it again.

But we can't do the same thing.

Since my husband and I have finished binge watching House of Cards on Netflix and we quickly finished the Chopped episodes, we decided to try out Cutthroat Kitchen.

Good move.  It's great!  Chefs compete to create a dish (like chicken parm).  At the start of the show each contestant is given $25,000.  The contestants then use that money to "bid" on different sabotages to throw at their competitors.  Such as swapping out all knives/cooking utensils for a pocket knife or forcing two chefs to share one small Bunsen burner to cook on.  They are still expected to complete the dish no matter what is thrown at them.  After their cooking time is up, an impartial judge, who knows nothing about the challenges each cook has had to persevere through, selects a winner based on the dish.  At the end of the show, the winning chef gets to keep the money they have left.  There is probably just as much strategy in this show as there is cooking skill.  You have to risk losing money in order to purchase sabotages to throw at your competitors, while still wanting to have some dough left at the end!  (Pun intended)

After watching the show, I figured this would be simple to modify into an activity in class.  So that's what I did.  I did some more research (by watching more episodes of the show of course!) and got to work cooking up an activity for class that would make the kids become "cutthroat" in the classroom!

I created my rules:

Came up with a list of sabotages I could auction off:

They could force two teams to swap boxes of supplies.  This was much more "challenging" that I thought it would be!

My box of "goodies."
Created my own "Weber-Bucks":

Picked a topic/question for my 7th grade class.

And recruited some surprise guest judges who didn't know or care about the sabotages each group had to face.  They judged on accuracy of content, creativity, and involvement of each group member. Each judge ended up being a high school teacher.  It was a great way to introduce the kids to some of their future teachers!

Here's a few images of how it went:

1 minute to "shop" for supplies!

If it's not in the box, you can't use it!

"Shopping" time is almost half over!
30 minutes of "silence" is cruel and unusual punishment!

Why me???
Swapping all writing utensils for water paints.  Sucks.

Don't worry... "I got this."
Ha!  Had to stop during work time to put these event cards in the correct order!  Couldn't go back to work until it was done right! Pure evil. MUWAH...HA...HA
Probably my favorite sabotage.  Must wear gloves.  Glove and iPads don't mix!  Hilarious!

That's can't talk AND you have to touch your iPad with your nose.  Priceless!

I asked the kids what they liked and didn't like or wish I would change to this activity after it was all done.  Here are a few of their pointers.

  • Loved this activity.
  • Wanted to do it all the time.
  • Loved how they had to know the same content information as if they were going to type a written paragraph, but were able to be creative in presenting the content
  • Wanted MORE sabotages and MORE money
  • Wanted different stages of activities so winners could "advance" to the next challenge.  
  • Loved the idea of having to "shop" to get their supplies before hand.
  • Wanted to do more stuff like this!  
Really, there wasn't much they didn't like (other than having to keep quiet for 30 minutes or write with water paints), so I'd call this a very successful activity.

What I love about this concept is how adaptable it can be for all ages and content areas.  This basic idea of having kids preform an answer with "challenges" thrown at them can be done in science to explain Newton's 3rd Law or in Language Arts to create a poems over a topic, and in math to explain the Pythagorean theorem.  Add more challenges, take some away.  Make them more difficult or make them easier.  This can be used across all classrooms and content areas.  

In the words of one of my students "This was way more fun than writing a paragraph!"   

**If you are interested in the typed up google doc that I have with the instructions and possible sabotages, just contact me through Twitter and I'll hook you up with a copy! @JillWebs