Monday, September 18, 2017

Kansas Historical Society and Traveling Trunks

I love to use artifacts.

Some are actual, real artifacts that have been purchased through eBay, acquired at workshops or conferences, or passed down. Some are replicas, but look and feel like the real thing. Some are photocopies (letters, diaries, etc...).  I loving being able to put something from history into the hands of my students. It's amazing. That one arrowhead can hook their attention and help them engage in the lesson better than any other teaching technique I use.

Kids love to "do history."

One of my favorite lessons I have involves the students studying artifacts, sourcing, contextualizing, and corroborating, before finally making a claim (close reading) as to what these artifacts all have in common. What they all mean.

Here is my lesson in detail.

The Hook: 
I ask my class..."What are the things we have to have in order to survive?" I have them brainstorm with their teams what (four things) we need to live. After about two minutes we share out. They are good at this. I think they talk about it in science the year before, so we get them down in no problem. I have them copy it on their page in their HIT Book (Click here to read about my Historian's In Training Interactive Book).

Then I have them brainstorm a list of supplies they would need in order to fulfill those needs. This takes a little longer, but again, they are pretty smart and their lists are excellent. Together we make a large combined list on the board. They add things they didn't think of to their lists in their HIT books.

I ask..."Today, where would you go to get all of these supplies?"

They throw out different store names, but eventually it comes out that they could really get all the things they need to survive at Walmart. Sometimes a debate ensues between Walmart and Target, but that's not really the point.

Artifact Analysis:
I now explain that we are going to study some artifacts. I have 6 different stations and an analysis chart. The chart allows them to source and corroborate at one time. I ask them to simply sketch their artifact, describe the physical characteristics, and then infer what it is and could be used for.  Students already know that we are studying Native Americans, that helps them put all of this in context. They are able to look at the artifacts knowing that the time period revolves around Indians.

In teams the students move from artifact to artifact, interacting with each item. Some are easier than others to guess, and some are a little gross.

I am constantly amazed by the conversations that I overhear as I walk around.
Look at this part, it's sharp, but it probably isn't used as a weapon since they had arrowheads.

Ok! See this right here...there's little grooves. I bet this was used to take meat off of the skin. If you look at the hide closely there's little grooves in it.

This thing is gross. I don't want to touch it. Oh...but it's like plastic. Maybe they used it to carry water. I hope it's not what I think it is...

Class Discussion
When the analysis is all done and we're all back together, students have sourced, corroborated, and thought about these items in context. This leads them to make the claim that these are all parts of the buffalo used by early Native Americans. (See...thinking like a historian all class period!)

They are right, and now I get to tell them what each item actual is and what it was used for. They ohh and ahh when they find out something new, and they cheer when they were right. This year I had two boys who guessed correctly what the flesher and awl was. That has never happened before! Not gonna lie...they kinda stole my thunder. (I make a big deal about it... I am THRILLED for them). It's fun to let kids have the joy of impressing the teacher.

Our discussion ends by revisiting that question we talked about during the hook. If you lived as an early Native American, where would you go to get all the supplies in order to fulfill your basic needs to survive.

The answer is, the bison.

The bison was their Wal-Mart.

Such a great I get to watch their faces when they realized they have all touched a buffalo bladder.

This lesson is made possible because of the awesomeness that is the Kansas State Historical Society. They LOVE to provide teachers with resources that help make history come alive. Their traveling trunk program allows for teachers to rent out artifacts, complete with lesson plans and other primary source resources for a reasonable cost.

$30.00 to rent out and pay for shipping to return the trunk. All in all, I pay about 60$ when I borrow a trunk.  If I was ever going to be in or around Topeka when the trunk was due back, I could always drop it off and save the mailing cost.

Depending on who you are and what your situation is at your school this cost may seem small or too large.  I pay for the trunk, I could probably ask my school to do it, and some years they might. I keep my receipts and claim it as part of my $250 deductible for being a teacher. I try to make sure when I spend money on my classroom it's going to be something that will make my lessons better. Usually it's spent on tech items like mice and headphones, or these traveling trunks. Think about what you spend your money on for your classroom. Is it going to enhance the learning, or is it going to provide a reward for compliance (candy, prizes, etc...)?

The KS Historical Society has a variety of trunk options to choose from...Including

If you've ever thought about how fun it would be to let your students get their hands on some pretty cool artifacts, give these trunks a try. Your kids will thank you!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

My Blogging Story

This Monday night at 8:00 CST 

I have the pleasure of leading the #ksedchat Twitter chat. Our topic for the night will be teacher's blogging. Within the last year I have had more and more teachers approach me with that subject and want to know more. I figured the topic would be fitting. 

I also thought it would be fitting to write a post about how it all started for me, and the changes that have taken place since then. 

In the Beginning...

I didn't take a class on blogging. I didn't learn how to write a specific way to blog. I simply read blogs. My cousin, Casey, wrote a blog about her family. Stories here and there that allowed us to follow their lives and feel connected even though it would be months (sometimes years) that would pass before we would be able to get together. 

I decided to do that too. I chose the exact same program that she used, Google's Blogger. It was free and relatively easy to setup. 

After four years of blogging about my personal life, dating, to engaged, to married, and babies. I decided that this could be beneficial for the classroom.

So I added another blog. This time one about my classroom.

My Audience...

Initially I started my classroom blog as a way for me to reflect about my day, but also share with parents of our community what was happening in my classroom. That was it. I wasn't anticipating large numbers of readers, just parents and students of our area. 

But as time went on, my audience started to shift. As more and more teachers started taking notice and commenting on posts about lessons or activities, my writing started to change a bit. 

I was now writing for educators.  I still shared the blog with parents, but the majority of my readers were other teachers. Today I am contacted by more teachers for materials and lessons and collaboration than I ever thought was possible. I love it. I love making connections with other educators, sharing resources and collaborating to make our classrooms better for kids.

Getting Started...

I am not an expert in blogging. I can't tell you step-by-step how to create a blog or what to write about. All I did was open up a free blog and started clicking. 

I think many people I talk to are worried about that part. The technical stuff. How did you do all the backgrounds, fonts, colors, pictures, etc... I seriously just clicked buttons until I liked what I saw. If I saw something cool on someone else's blog that I wanted to try, I Googled it.

Monday Night at 8:00

Join us at #ksedchat to talk about teacher blogging. We'll look into the benefits and possible pitfalls to writing a blog, and share some resources or favorite blogs we like to read. 


If you're hoping to get step-by-step instructions on setting up a blog, I'm probably not the person you want to talk to. There are blogs out there just for stuff like that. Remember...I just started clicking around until I liked it.  Never be afraid of clicking to learn. There's not much online now-a-days that can't be changed with a "delete" or "undo."  You can also refer to these links for some set-up help and advice.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Classroom Seating: Increasing Movement, Collaboration, and Easing Prep

IF you're reading this blog post, chances are you're pretty up-to-date with education today and some of the new things that are happening in the classrooms.

One of those is Flexible Seating.

My classroom does not have flexible seating. While I love the theory behind it, and I hope that my own children get to experience a classroom with flexible seating at some point in their education, it just doesn't work for my classroom.

And that's ok. What I have works for me. So I thought I'd share, cause it may work for you too!

One of the reasons we don't do flexible seating in my room is that we move around a lot. A set seating chart gets us started for the day, and many times we move from there. I have finally figured out a system of being able to quickly and easily move students from one place to another.

Each table group is given a colored label. On the label is a letter and a number. So now, each group can be identified by a color, number, and letter.  I hang signs from the much smarter than taping it to the desk like I used to do. Drove me crazy when kids picked at it. Now they can't :)  I then created cards out of construction paper and labeled them with a number and letter.

This allows me to quickly and easily get students into random groups all by handing them a simple card either as they walk in the door in the morning or as they are sitting quietly working on Bell Work. Then I just simply say....

"Move to your color group to play a vocab game over the terms from the Civil War."
"Move to number groups to read this diary entry from a soldier in the Civil War."
"Now to letter groups to create an acrostic poem with the word ABOLITIONIST"

Three quick movements, and the students have all the need for it with one card they get at the beginning of class.  TEACHER BONUS...I can "set up" at least one group by placing the cards of one specific letter or number at the bottom of the pile. I slyly pass out the cards from the bottom of the pile to students I have selected to be in a specific group and the students just think it's "random." What they don't know won't hurt them...but many times it helps them! :)

I have also split the class into two large groups for a competition review game by passing out the cards and having all the evens on one team and odds on another.  I try to vary when and what I do with the cards to keep the kids guessing. I have even been known to pass them out and then do nothing with them!

So many possibilities with colors, letters, and numbers.

Monday, September 4, 2017

HyperDocs - A Game Changer!

I have mentioned before that I have been on a quest the last few years to find ways other than lecture or direct teacher instruction to present new information to my students.  I have tapped back into the Kagan strategies, played with gummy bears, had my students dig for artifacts, and operated on Preamble Pete.  These have all been great additions to my classroom.

Last year I stumbled onto another strategy that I have been obsessing about, if I had time to obsess about something new...

I have, once again, gained another powerful tool to add to my "teacher bag of tricks" from getting together with other Social Studies teachers at our Social Studies Study Group, which meets four times a year.  The room is just filled with awesome ideas from amazing teachers.  Two of those rock star educators are Derek Schutte (@coachschutte) and T.J. Warsnak (@thewarsnak).  They teach at Halstead High School and do some pretty powerful things in order to increase student engagement in their classrooms.

One of those is Hyperdocs.

T.J. and Derek presented their use of Hyperdocs to the group back in February.  Needless to say, I was hooked.  (Which just happens to be part of using hyperdocs.)

What is a hyperdoc?  Google Teacher Academic says:
Hyperdoc is a term used to describe a Google Doc that contains an innovative lesson for students- a 21st Century worksheet, but much better. ... With one shortened link, students can access a lesson that contains instructions, links, tasks, and many clever ways to get kids thinking.
I like to think of it as the extreme makeover of a digital worksheet.  Improving on it so much, that it's not even worthy of the name "worksheet."  You see, a quick search for "how to create a hyperdoc" can tell you that the goal is to make this MORE than just a worksheet.

We are looking at trying to find ways to use technology beyond the simple "substitution" method. Don't get me wrong...I still use substitution type tech with my kids, but I try to limit it. I want the technology the ENHANCE the lesson or make it better, not just scan a worksheet and have kids complete it online just to say I'm "using technology." But sometimes it happens. Sub days are a prime example. Or at least it use to. Until Derek and T.J. introduced me to hyperdocs. I knew I wanted to try it and wanted some guidance. I found this very helpful site with some templates for creating Hyperdocs. That site is HERE and the template I used is pictured below.

Hyperdocs can be created in any of the Google Suite programs, however my favorite it Google Slides. By using Google Classroom I can push this out to my students so that each one gets his/her own copy. Students each complete their own Hyperdoc by editing the document directly, then turn it in via Classroom. So awesome!

BONUS...while they are working on it, you can use the edit and chat tools of Google and give immediate feedback to students. (It freaked my HS students out the first time I did that...I was away at a workshop and "stalking them" as it was so kindly put to me)

This is an example of one I did for my high school Teaching as a Career Class. I was going to be gone, but didn't want to give "busy work." Our next topic was classroom management and I decided to try out the Hyperdoc on the HS kids. They were the guinea pigs :)

You'll notice that I attempted to color-code the document similar to the template. I did this more for me as I was creating it try and hit all of the items in the template.  As you can see I didn't. I've never been good at doing things a "specific way."  I think the important thing is that I give students choices both in their research options, but also in their application. Then I have them create something in the end that can be published, printed, and shared. BONUS...they learned a new tech program Piktochart for creating cool infographics. (I had many of them tell me that they LOVE it and used it for other classes as well... #TeacherWin)

Want a copy of that Hyperdoc?  Click HERE

But Mrs. Weber...that's A LOT of work! How do you have time for all of that???

First of all. Anything worth doing right, is worth the time to put into it!

Second, don't reinvent the wheel. Take a worksheet you already use for gathering information, trim and cut a little, provide trusting websites and videos for students to use to gather data and information. Then find a cool tech website you want to try, something student friendly with self-guided tours and tutorials on YouTube (seriously...the kids can watch a video to learn how to apply make-up or create slime, then they can watch a video to show them how to use Adobe Spark Video). Put learning into the students hands.  BONUS...they will collaborate when they have questions!

With Hyperdocs you can provide student choice, create an atmosphere for student collaboration, showcase student work, and make them independent learners.

Sounds like a #TeacherWIN to me!

Want some more ideas for Hyperdocs already created??? Check out this site. (Warning, there are TONS of examples here and it can be overwhelming, but you can find something on a topic you want, it can give you a start).

Happy Hyperdocing!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Creating My Own "Broken Relics"

I love to mix things up, take something that we have been doing and throw in an extra little challenge. I also love it when the challenge involves something hands-on that makes kids have to work together.

Enter the "Broken Relic"

What I do:
I take a picture of whatever it is I want to serve as the relic.  I love to take a primary source that I'm going to have the students analyze like a poster or photograph. I print off the picture, turn it over and then start creating my puzzle.

I send the puzzle (still together) to be laminated.  This helps preserve the pieces if you plan on burying them.

Once they return all nice and shiny, I cut up the puzzle pieces.  I keep them in envelopes labeled until I am ready to use it.  I can use it as bell work to hook students, as a clue in a Breakout EDU activity, or as a station in order to get the kids moving and working together.  However, my favorite way to use it is...

Bury that baby! I LOVE to bury the pieces in sand. Make the students have to uncover the artifacts. This is a very inexpensive way to add a little "archaeology" into your classroom. Kids love having to uncover them.  You can get a 50 1b. bag of sand at Lowes for $2.00 and a plastic tub at Walmart for less than $2.00. Cheap and easy way to make an activity a little more engaging.

After students put the puzzles together, have them analyze the document. I LOVE to use this evidence overlay (purchase here) with dry-erase markers. Just another way to up the engagement of your students.

Tips for organization and management:

  • If kids have to tape this together and you're planning on using it for more than one class (talking mostly to secondary teachers here) label the pieces on the back a different letter or number for each class.  This way you can keep track of which pieces belong to what class.
  • Anytime you can have a volunteer help you label and cut out the puzzles.  Especially if you have many class periods and you're trying to sort it all out.
  • Reverse the idea and have kids have to locate a primary source photo to turn into a puzzle for their classmates. Rotate puzzles throughout the classroom so that each group gets to analyze another team's primary source. All the prep work is on them and they get to analyze a variety of sources!

By creating your own broken relics the possibilities are endless!

Monday, August 14, 2017

5 Simple Ways to Increase Writing in Social Studies Class

Gone are the days in which reading novels and writing essays belonged in an ELA classroom.  All subjects are expected (and should) be integrating and supporting the reading and writing skills that students are taught in Language Arts class.

"But, but...I went to college to be a history teacher, not an English teacher. I don't know HOW to teach ELA!"

That was me. Seriously. I was ready to fight teaching reading and writing skills as long as I could.

Until I learned some simple strategies to help me.  This list is meant to help those who are struggling to add reading and writing skills into their classrooms and possibly give some new ideas to others.

#1: Go talk to you ELA Teachers. NOW!

Think about it. If another subject area wanted to start adding in pieces of Civic Engagement into their classroom and needed ideas, you would want them to come to you right (get ready...cause that's coming)?? You are the "social studies" expert. Why wouldn't you be running down the hall to see the "reading and writing expert" in your building?  Go.

Tell them you want to start including some more writing skills in your room. Ask them what language they use? How do they teach the kids to structure a paragraph? What grammar skills are they focusing on this year? Trust me...depending on the year it could be different. Last year our 7th grade ELA teacher really focused on capitalization of proper nouns. I was able to help support that. The kids knew it.

Piggy back off of what they are doing...Have they taught supporting evidence with quotes from sources? How do they want students to cite their sources? What are some simple strategies for locating evidence within text?  Anything that you can say that reinforces what your ELA teacher is doing will make it easier on both of you

The amazing ELA teachers at Cheney Middle School!

#2: Start with what you know. 

This is the first thing I did. I started requiring the kids to write in complete sentences. I know that one. I don't know exactly what year the kids are taught how to capitalize the first letter, subject, verb, and end with punctuation. But they know it before 7th grade. Unless it was specified on an IEP I started counting off for those simple errors.

You see, kids came to my class thinking "it's not English so I don't have to do things correctly." Once they knew I was taking points off for not writing correct complete sentences, they magically started doing it correctly.

#3: T. A. G.

I love using acronyms for the classroom. Especially when it's short and easy to remember. TAG is --great because it gets kids writing MORE than just the basic "it happened on 7-4-76"

T: Turn the question into a statement
A: Answer the question. (sentence one)
G: Give more detail. (sentence two)

This is automatically a two sentence response, but it's more than just having the kids respond with two sentences. It forces them to give more detail. TAG requires students to go back into the text and find something else to say about the topic.

I would be lying if I said the students cheered when I told them TAG had to be used to answer questions, but 100% of the time, their answers are better. So I like it and we use it!

#4: Poetry is where it's at!

If there's one thing about incorporating ELA strategies that I love, its using various forms of poetry for students to express their understanding of a topic. We use acrostic poems in our "bell work," haikus to summarize a topics, "I AM" poems to understand perspective, and this year I hope to add "Blackout Poetry" because it is awesome!

#5: Step up your vocabulary game!

Still having kids just match up vocabulary words on quizzes and tests. That's JV ball right there. Let's step it up a notch. Try some of these strategies, which still require that kids know the vocabulary, but apply the word to the correct context.

As you start trying to add more writing into your social studies classroom, give these 5 things a try. As always with everything on my blog, if you need any copies of anything or want to talk ideas don't hesitate to contact me @JillWebs on Twitter.

Want more writing ideas? This post is a shorter version of a previous post with more examples found here.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Mrs. Weber and the Four-Letter "F" Word

Hands-down, without a doubt, this is my favorite time of year.

I just LOVE "back to school" time!

The sight of pencils, notebooks, and glue lining the aisles of the grocery store.

Filling out my brand new "school-year" calendar for the top of my desk...with brand new pens.

The smell of the school as I walk into the doors for the first time in months. You know, that freshly waxed smell.


It's this time of year that I like to take a chance to introduce myself to the parents (and any students who may read this) and give them a little heads up about me, my classroom, and any points of emphasis I'm going to focus on this year.

I teach social studies at Cheney Middle School. 7th and 8th graders are some of my favorite people on the earth and I honestly say, that Mondays don't bother me! Sometimes I get so excited for things coming up the next day, that I can't sleep at night. I am active on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook...Follow me @JillWebs

Many times, I am the first time students encounter someone who specialized in Social Studies. This means that things may be a little different that what kids are used to. 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. Tests will be very different from anything your student has probably tackled before...especially in a social studies classroom.
  • Worksheets are used for data collection, applying something learned in class, and assessment.  A lot of collaboration with peers and team work.  
  • More projects.  Technology integrated into the subject. Projects are completed at school. No "parent assembly" needed...that is unless your child has an awesome idea and chooses to involve your help at home :) 
  • 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.
  • Learning to "Think like historians."
  • And very little homework. If any. 
This is a lot to take in for kids coming into my room...and for parents as well. Don't worry...I will train your child in the ways of historical thinking, they will receive advice from past students, and will have many opportunities to have their great work shared throughout the state, country, and world through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

The Four Letter "F" Word.

Will NOT be allowed in my classroom.

Will NOT be allowed to be used to describe my class.

Will NOT be used to explain how the day went, once mom or dad ask at home. 

Don't worry...we're "G" rated around here. I'm not talking about anything inappropriate. I'm talking about the word FINE.

Ugh! I HATE that word. It literally is the laziest thing you could possibly say in response to "How was _____?" 


Not good. Not bad. Fine. 


All 7th and 8th graders will be told on day one that this word is NOT allowed in my room as a response to anything. Find a word, any word that is better than that. Provide some evidence to your answer... Always. 

For example...if you ask your teen "How was your day today?" Don't let them get away with saying "Fine." Make them give you a REAL answer with examples to back it up.  

And if they try to sneak it past you...let me know! 

I'll handle it.