Thursday, September 22, 2016

Archeological Dig: The Set-Up

This is the first post in what will be a series of posts on a project/activity/experience I have been working to create for my 8th grade American History Students.  There is no real way to put ALL of this into one post.  It would be too long and no one would read it in it's entirety.

I have been working on a way to introduce archaeology to my students and give them some hands-on experience digging up artifacts.  I have been working this last year to gain the funds necessary to even attempt the idea I have in my head.  After receiving some grant money through the Kansas Council for Social Studies Mini-Grant and Walmart Community Grant I was able to start doing some serious planning to get this underway.  The project title is Digging Up America and I have decided to break it into three different sections.  Breaking the project into three different parts allowed for short-term goals for a long-term project, and made it simpler for the kids to grasp.
  1. The Set-Up
  2. The Dig & Identification of Artifacts
  3. The Presentation of Artifacts
Before I let my students participate in an archaeological dig, I needed them to know what they were doing.  I wanted them to look into what an archaeologist is, how artifacts are excavated, and then how they are identified.  

This part needed to be pretty quick and simple.  A hook to get them started before the big dig.  I decided to use one of my favorite teaching strategies.  The jigsaw.

I divided the students into teams of 3.  This would be their "home" team, with which they would do their dig and final presentation.  I divided the information I wanted students to know into three topics. Each team member would be assigned a topic to research, complete with a form to fill out and a list of websites that would be good to use.  The topics...
  1. What is archaeology?
  2. Dig sites and excavation
  3. Treatment of artifacts
With the jigsaw strategy each team member will go off and research their assigned topic.  I can add some differentiation into this as well by assigning easier topics to lower-level students, but as you'll see this won't take as much time.  Plus, the point of this part was to introduce archaeology, not the extensive research.  

I also wanted the students to review how to use one of my favorite technology presentation apps on the iPad.  Adobe Spark Video.  They used this last year as 7th graders and I wanted them to refresh their skills.  Students were required to researching their topic by filling out the form provided and then create a Spark Video that included all of the information from the research form.  Once completed they went back to their "home" teams and presented their information to the team.  

This ensured that each person was exposed to all of the information about archaeology and digs, but didn't have to pour over hours of research.  By dividing up the required work this speeds up the amount of time I spent on it, while incorporating technology that we'll use throughout the year.  Win. Win. 

Here is an example of Spark Video used for each topic!  I just love this app because it is super-easy for students to use and there's not a bunch of options for themes, fonts, colors, and so on. While those effects can be cool, it is also a major time-suck when students are working on a presentation.  Adobe Spark forces kids to focus on good content.  A new super is now available on the web so it can be used on all tablets and computers. (click here for Adobe Spark, they have other cool things too!)

What is Archaeology?  By Camdyn P. 

Dig Sites and Excavation: By Owen H.

Treatment of Artifacts: By Mac

**They were required to pick a "theme" for their video that supported the topic.  With about 15 different themes to choose from, the above "sandy" look was chosen by most students.  Fits perfectly with our topic!

Stay tuned for the next post on The Dig & Identification of Artifacts!

Interested in the project documents including rubrics?  Have questions about KCSS or the Walmart Community Grant?  Want to talk about different options to modify this project without funds, let's talk about it! Contact me on Twitter @JillWebs or on Facebook - Jill Weber-cms and we can collaborate!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

History Blurbs

If you are new to reading this blog, you should know that I am a HUGE believer in teacher professional development.  And by that, I mean I think teachers should seek out professional development that works for them.  One of the most powerful things for a teacher is to connect with other teachers who teach the same subject, scope and sequence, and topics.  Just having a conversation with other educators can have you walking away smarter and with ideas that are good for your students.

Today was another one of those days for me.

I have been part of a Social Studies Study Group made up of 20-40 other social studies teachers (many middle school, but we are growing and adding more high school teachers each year).  We get together four times each school year.  I always walk away smarter, with ideas I can implement tomorrow.

Today I was made smarter thanks to a conversation middle school teacher, Mike Sabala.  We were talking at our tables about different things we do in our class and he mentioned that he has his students complete "blurbs."

Now that sounds interesting...

It is.

Mike has his students fill out "History Blurbs" on the important people and topics in his class.  A blurb is...

  1. The name of the event/person/topic
  2. A definition/description 
  3. A simple illustration
  4. Three facts about it
  5. See Also:  Connect the topic to at least two other people, places, or things that are connected to this event in some way and NOT already mentioned in the above description or facts.  I LOVE THIS ONE!

So I did what I do best... I took his idea, added my own little twist, and came up with this...

I love that this requires students to think just a little deeper about something we learned in class and asks them to make connections to other events.  A simple way for students to keep a record of the information they learn as well as rank how well they feel they understand it.  This might just become a regular thing in my class.

Bonus!  This technique would be very easy to adapt for all content areas and age groups.  Thanks Mike for making me smarter today!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Telling Stories and Seeing That Look!

When you ask a teacher "what is the best part of your job?"  You're likely to get an answer that attempts to convey the way it feels when a student finally grasps a concept they've been struggling with or some sort of "look" that a student gets when they surprise even themselves with what they are capable of doing.


I rarely get that "look."

Not because students don't learn things or have success in my class.  They do.  But social studies isn't like math or science, where kids really need to focus, study, and practice to grasp new concepts. There are very few "Ah-hah moments." 

I have always thought social studies was more about the "social" part and not as much the study. Many times it can be confused with just learning about important events and memorizing dates.  But to me it's more than that.  Social studies is about the people.  The stories of the people who lived through, participated in, and impacted these events that we study.

Today my 7th graders got to hear stories.  Stories of a man who was a captain during World War II, a jeweler who designed jewelry for a princess, a family man who liked to fish and do impulsive things, and part of the "history" we all study.  

And got "that look."  The look of complete awe and amazement at finally coming to realize the important connections that are made by looking into our past.  

This lesson is called The REAL History in a Bag.  It is the finale (or kick-off, depending on how I organize things each year) to my Training Future Historians introduction.  The previous class period had the students participate in a History in a Bag - Teacher Edition, which I wrote about here.  That was practice.  

Today students would be challenged to analyze five artifacts that belonged to an individual that died over 40 years ago.  By studying the artifacts the students should be able to answer these questions...
  1. Was the owner of these items male or female?
  2. What was his/her name?
  3. Where did he/she live?
  4. What did he/she do for a living?
  5. What were some of his/her hobbies?
The artifacts were set out at four different stations.  I held one back to give out for the end.  Students were divided into groups and sent with an artifact analysis sheet and set off to study the sources.  

They are...

1. Jewelry

2. Letters

3. Tackle Box

4. Sewing Box

 Finally once the little historians were through each of the 4 artifacts, I passed out the last one.  A newspaper article.  I save this one for last for two reasons.  One, it is longer and would take longer to go through than the other stations.  Two, it gives most of the answers to the above questions.

After giving them some time with the newspaper article, I ask them if they can answer all 5 questions.  They can.

And then I get to tell the story of Paul A. Lohmeyer.

1. Jewelry:  Mr. Lohmeyer was President of the Green Company Inc.  He made these two pieces out of a thimble cut in half and dipped in gold.  The flowers were old tie pins that men used to wear to hold their ties in place on their shirts.  These pins were a gift for his wife.

2.One of my favorites!  Mr. Lohmeyer had many high profile clients.  He designed and sold a charm to Princess Grace of Monaco, more popular in the U.S. for her movie films such as "To Catch a Thief."  Grace Kelly.  This is the thank you letter she sent him.  **At the start of class I showed a short video clip that was a brief biography of Princess Grace. They are too young to know who she was.  This gave them some background knowledge. Watching the students try to figure out the signature was great!  .

3. The tackle box:  No real mystery to this one.  Paul liked to fish in his free time.  One of his hobbies.  He had a collection of antique fishing lures that I didn't have for the kids to look at today.

4. The Sewing box:  Mr. Lohmeyer also served in the Army during World War Two.  He raised to the rank of Captain and was placed in charge of a German Prisoner of War Camp.  His treatment of the prisoners respectful and fair.  To thank Captain Lohmeyer, the POW's made this box for him.  Without tools.  The screws were inserted with a can lid.  Even some of the pieces were fashioned out of a can.  

 5. The Newspaper Article:   Mr. Lohmeyer stopped off at an animal auction one day, just for the fun of it.  With all the bidding excitement he joined right in and ended up buying a Hampshire Lamb, and taking it home in the back seat of his car (can you imagine his wife when he got home???)  The lamb lived in his back yard and his two daughters would walk the lamb on a leash up and down their suburban street.  The neighbors must have been entertained!

The Conclusion:
Mr. Lohmeyer bought that lamb in October of 1967, little over a year later on December 3, 1968 he was killed in a car accident on his way home.  He was 55 years old.  This picture is a school photo of his youngest daughter in 7th grade, less than a year after he died.  Her name is Julie.

And then I move to the last slide of the presentation.  A picture of Julie today.  And I wait.  I don't say a word.  I just watch them and wait for...that look!

You see...I, along with my sister, is pictured standing here with Julie.  My sister also teaches at the school, so these kids are familiar with her.  It doesn't take them too long to put it all together...

WAIT!  So you're related to her?!?  That makes Paul Lohmeyer your grandpa!  


Stories people...hook your students with stories.  Tell them about the people who lived through these dates and events that shaped our country.  Because it is in the people and their stories that real history lives. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

History in a Bag - Teacher Edition

This activity is part of my "Training Future Historians" Boot-Camp to prepare incoming 7th graders of the changes they need to make in order to analyze history instead of just read about it.  History in a Bag is something I have done before, but this year I changed it up some.

Change is good.  I truly believe that allowing for the possiblity of change to even some of my best activities have opened up the possiblity for those to become even better.  Sharing and collaborating with my PLN on Twitter has provided major ideas that require minor adjustments and create awesome learning opportunities for kids.

This minor adjustment came from @Iola_L4Ri and his take on the lesson idea called History in a Bag.  (Click here for the version from @Iola_L4Ri and click here for the original idea from Glenn Wiebe's History Tech blog)  The idea was just too good to pass up!

About a week ago I sent out an email to the teachers in the middle school asking for their help.  I was hoping to get 5-6 people to agree.  I had TEN!  Just goes to show how AWESOME the staff here is at supporting each other and the things we do in the classroom!

The purpose of this activity is to have my students put into practice those historical thinking skills they've been learning about.  This allows for students to identify, analyze, corroborate and contextualize artifacts, make a conclusion and support it with evidence.  It is an awesome thinking activity that engaged every single one of the students today.

I paired up my students, gave them a record-keeping chart and sent them off to their first station.

The conversation throughout the day was fantastic!

"Mrs. Weber, this is hard, but I like the challenge."

"I think I know this one, but I'm not sure the other artifacts support my idea."

"Ohhh...this bag has to belong to a female.  Look at the name on the dog-tag, we don't have any teachers here by that name, so that means she must be married and have a different last name." - - WOW!

"This one is belongs to a girl, I know it because the t-shirt size is medium and that's too small for any of our guy-teachers."

"This one could be the band teacher, but the pretty cross is from the Methodist church which is my church, the band teacher doesn't go to my church, so it must be someone else who plays the drums."

This was such a great day in class and I'm so proud of the way my 7th graders worked!  They were all mad when I told them they had to wait until next week to find out the answers!  I gotta have them wanting to come back!

Plus...this is just the "warm-up."  The REAL History in a Bag is next Tuesday, and THAT is something to see!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Debating, Creating, and Having a Say

I have about a million things I should be doing.  My to-do list is getting a little scary.  BUT today was just too great for me to sit down and work on sub plans.  I am so pumped with the way this activity worked out today that I have probably told everyone I've seen.

I have 3 blocks of 8th grade students.  We meet for about 75 minutes every-other-day.  Last class period we reviewed the Legislative branch and the steps it takes for a bill to become law by utilizing some awesome Kagan strategies, sequencing cards, and the classic "I'm just a Bill" video from Schoolhouse Rock.  It was a great day full of movement, teamwork, and songs stuck in everyone's head.  But it was just a warm-up for today.

Today is the real deal.  Today the 8th graders had the opportunity to create my classroom policies for the school year.  Their ideas will become "law" if they are able to complete the steps, complete with the fear of a Presidential Veto (I get to be the President!) and the possibility of overriding that veto.

I divide the class into a small group for the Senate and a larger group for the House of Representatives.  I provide them a proposed bill filled with 10 rules for Mrs. Weber's classroom.  They work in their separate houses to revise and create their own version of the bill.  They do have to stick to the "theme" of each 10 laws that were presented.   I do this mostly based on time.  I need to give them a starting point.  If I just give them a blank piece of paper to start from scratch, they'll never get done (at least not in the one class period time limit that I give them).

Once each group has their rules created, they come together for a joint session of Congress.  Each house presents their version of the bill to the other.

Then they get to debate.  They have to come up with a compromised bill to vote on and present to the President.  They have to consider each others ideas.

But here's what made today awesome!  One of the three blocks did not pass their laws.  And not because they ran out of time...because the vote count in the Senate was not a majority.  In fact, not one senator voted for the proposed bill.  They were mad because they didn't feel like the "compromised" bill included enough of their ideas.  They refused to vote for a bill that was controlled mostly by the House of Representatives.


Kids walked away from class M-A-D.  From both houses.  The Senators stuck to their guns and their reasons for refusing to pass that bill and the lead vocalists of the House just couldn't understand why the Senate would refuse to pass it.

It doesn't get much more "real-life" than that!

Oh but wait... it does.

The two previous class periods who were successful in passing the laws added a BONUS law to their list. These kids added a "special interest" rule onto their bill.  They participated in pork-barrel politics without even realizing it!


And last but not least they argued and debated over many of the same topics in education that teachers face today.

  • Should there be a seating chart, yes or no. The arguments they had for and against were the exact same ones teachers make.
  • Should they get to leave class for bathroom breaks, how many is acceptable, is it anyone's business, can they be trusted to just go when they need and come back without "permission."
  • Should they have detentions AND a % taken off assignments for late work?  What is the purpose of detention, punishment or a place to get the work done?  Should they still have to serve a detention if the late work is completed before the scheduled detention? 
  • Should an assessment at the end of a unit consist of a test or project, what about student choice?
  • What happens to papers without names? 

I just loved watching these kids in action today.  And yes, I had to calm them down a couple times, I had to encourage some who were sitting back and keeping quiet to speak up, and I had to flat out say "that will NOT happen" once or twice.  

In the end they were successful.  I will be presenting a combination of 1st and 2nd block rules to all of my classes next week. have good ideas.  Allow them the time to debate, create and have a may just be surprised!  The following laws are a combination of the two classes who successfully passed their laws.

#11 is their "special interest" law.  They wanted a way to have some choice in where they sit.
As President, I did sign these into law.  I didn't feel that I needed to veto anything because their ideas were reasonable.  And...we ran out of time. :) 

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!