Tuesday, September 9, 2014

11 Things You Will See in Social Studies This Year

All across social media are these Buzz Feed lists.  Things like "23 Things Only Parents of Toddlers Will Understand" and "The Best Things About Growing Up in the 80's." I will admit, I can't seem to stop myself from clicking the link and laughing along all the "so true!" statements and funny photos that go along with it. 

Then I clicked on one today that was awesome...called "21 Things Every 21st Century Teacher Should do this Year."  And while was happy to see some of the things that I am currently doing and planning on doing this year on the list, it got me thinking of a neat way to further communicate some of the things that will go on in MY classroom this year. 

So, without further ado...  11 Things You will See in Social Studies This Year

***All photos are real examples from inside my classroom, I'm not holding back or trying to show something different that what is really happening!***

1.  Teamwork/Collaboration:  One of the biggest things that we continue to hear from employers in the "working world" is that youths entering the job world for the first time don't know how to work with a group of people.  We will do a lot of team work and collaboration in this classroom.  It happens on a daily basis in my classroom.  Students read, discuss, and answer questions together as a team.  Daily teamwork and collaboration is just that.  Each day students have the opportunity to show me that they are willing to work together. 

 Yes...there are a few select students who choose to hang back and just wait for the answers.  Just know, that I am aware of who they are.  When it comes time for a BIG project that involves partners or a team, those who hang back will be matched up with other students who hang back.  This solves the problem of the "Donny-Do-Nothing" being paired up with a "Charlie-Do-Everything."   I informed all of my classes this year about that policy...and wouldn't you know, after almost a month of school I have VERY FEW who are choosing the "Do-Nothing" path

2.  Technology: Last year our school made a big jump into the techno world by increasing the technology available to students.  All of my 7th and 8th graders have an iPad that they can take to and from school.  We. Will. Use. It.  It may not be used every single second of every day, but it is an important part of my classroom.  Projects, daily work, photos, communication, etc...  We. Will. Use. It.

3.  Rubrics:  I am not out to trick my students.  I want them to know exactly what to expect.  Rubrics are very important to for everyone involved; teachers, students and parents. 

For me, rubrics make grading simple.  It takes the guess work out of "did he or she really have enough information?" I can simply go through each item and circle what was presented as the final project.

  For students, they know exactly how I grade.  They will always have access to rubrics before, during, and after a project.  I will say, from past experience, very few students use it.  The ones that do, always end up with the highest scores in the class.

For parents, it is justification.  We have more and more parents who are involved in their child's learning, and it is awesome.  Rubrics only give parents more information on what their child is expected to do, and why he or she received the grade they did.

4.  New Social Studies Standards:  Last year Kansas rolled out the new Social Studies State Standards.  I went from having over 30 different indicators in five different disciplines of social studies (history, government, Kansas history, geography, and economics) to having a total of five. 

 They were developed with the purpose of having kids "DO History" instead of memorize trivial information.  No longer are kids asked to know what date the Battle of New Orleans officially ended, or what exactly, word-for-word definition of the Monroe Doctrine.  Instead students are going to be given questions such as... "Was the Declaration of Independence written because of ideological reasons such as liberty and freedom or for selfish reasons of the rich and powerful?"  They will investigate sources, both primary and secondary that support both sides of the argument and then have to answer the questions based on information they learned along the way. 

The good part. It is MUCH better than trying to drill and kill trivial information and there seems to be less pressure to be able to answer specific multiple choice questions on state assessments. 

The hard part.  Retraining students, teachers, and parents who have been taught and have been teaching social studies "the old way."  I have seen over the last two to three years that I have been slowly implementing this new approach, that students who traditionally were very good at memorization and spitting back facts, struggle at first to grasp the idea that they are going to have to analyze information and back up their answers with evidence. 

You now have to put some effort in to social studies.  You have to THINK like a Historian!

5.  Historical Thinking:  Speaking of thinking like a historian...  That is exactly what drives my classroom this year.  Asking questions, questioning sources, analyzing documents.  By the end of the year students should be pros at historical thinking!  We are doing it almost every single day. 

Again, this is new to many students, teachers, and parents, and again I'm not out to trick my students in anyway.  I have a variety of visual reminders throughout my classroom (and more added all the time) to help students remember the process, until it becomes second nature to them!

6.  Social Media:  Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, and most recently Instagram.  I'm using it all.  I'm using it for parent communication, students communication, professional collaboration, and because it it FUN to document what goes on in my class.  It is FUN for kids to see their pictures and ideas on with big wide web, and because it is FUN to see the outpouring support from the community, my family, other social studies teachers, and students.

 7.  Tests and Projects:  Due to the changes in the way we are teaching social studies, my tests have changed too.  No longer do my assessments have multiple choice, fill in the blank, or true/false questions.  Tests are always 100 points in the grade book and will consist of primary source document analysis, photo analysis, essay responses, correctly using vocabulary in paragraph form, and other forms of historical thinking.  Don't panic!  I never put anything on a test that students aren't familiar with the process.  Also, students shouldn't NEED to study in the traditional drill and kill fashion of the past.  All the answers (except for vocabulary knowledge) can be found within the text and documents on the test.  The important thing is that students are able to identify the answers and BACK it up with EVIDENCE found within in the text.  Again something that is practiced in the classroom on an almost daily basis. 

I will not always have a test to end my units.  Sometimes there will be a final project that requires original thinking, technology, teamwork and collaboration, and presentation skills.  Projects will always have a detailed rubric, where they will be able to know exactly how they will be assessed.  Because projects tend to take many days, they are typically worth anywhere from 100-200 points in the grade book.

8. Absences will hurt:  It is hard to express to someone who isn't in my classroom how much we do on any given day. We are busy in here. I have the kids from 75-80 minutes, and some days it seems like we bounce from one activity, to the next assignment, to the group discussion, to a video clip and it's over.  A lot of what we do is done together, or collaborated with team members.  When someone is absent, I can't recreate that.  The student is still responsible for the material, meaning they end up doing a lot of work independently.  Much of what we do in class will show up again on assessments and in projects.  Depending on the day missed and material taught, that information on the test may be more difficult for the student.  I am available to answer questions over make up work and try to help students understand, but bottom line is... Anytime you are absent you miss out on things that cannot be made up or recreated.  This holds true for the "working world" as well.

9. My Mistakes:  I. Am. Human.  I am not perfect, and I don't claim to be.  I forget things at home, I have typos, I have recorded the wrong grade for the wrong student, I have created lessons and projects that have sucked.  I don't try to hide my mistakes.  I want students to see that I am human too.  This helps me have empathy for my students and approach their mistakes in a kind and helpful way.  The same type of treatment I expect.  However, that doesn't mean that I am wrong every time.  Out of every missing assignment that a student says "I know I turned that in..." I have found the turned in assignment only a handful of times, usually the paper has been put in their notebook and forgotten. 

10. Writing:  We will write in here.  This is the area of my subject and Common Core Standards that I am most nervous about.  I was not trained on how to teach students to write, I don't even know if I could still pick out all the prepositional phrases correctly. I do know, that we are doing more and more of it.  As I require more writing out of my students, the more comfortable I am with it.  I try to work with the Communication's Teachers (Language Arts) in using the same vocabulary and strategies that they use in their classes.  And you know what??  The students are getting better at it.  Every time. 

11. Selfies!  Because it is fun.  Because it gives me a little "street-cred" with the students because I actually know the difference between a "Selfie" and an "Us-ie."  And because what better way to blend learning history with modern technology! 

There you have it a taste of what's to be expected this year in my room, although there are many more things I could add to the list.  I seem to change things every time the wind blows in my classroom.  Something sparks an idea and I'm off trying to create something new. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014


In my opinion there are two things a teacher can do to improve their teaching and have a better classroom experience. 

1.  Reflect.

2. Say YES.

Today I want to talk about reflection. (Say YES, is coming soon...)

Today was one of those days.  It followed a SUPER AWESOME lesson on the Declaration of Independence (found here) and unfortunately turned out just blah.  (Although part of this could be that I hadn't seen my 8th graders in 5 days...block schedule is murder on a holiday weekend!)

The students were required to do more independent work with two different sources that had different opinions.  The problem was, they weren't getting it.  I'm still not sure if this is because they truly don't understand what to do, or because they want to be spoon fed answers so that everyone gets an A.  Honestly, it's probably both. 

Now to my point of this post.  Reflection.

I could just sit here and create a post about why kids today want all the answers and how no one wants kids to EVER fail, so that creates teens who don't want to work and just want everything handed to them.

I could say that kids today are just lazy.

It is very easy for teachers to pass the blame of a poor lesson on to the students.   But that doesn't make a better classroom.  The students end up getting the same poor lessons, and the teachers just continue to get mad because of "kids these days..."

Reflection is something that will make a better teacher and an overall better classroom because it is ongoing. 

But it is hard.

You have to take a good HONEST look at your lesson or activity and try to figure out what didn't work.

Then you have to fix it.

About half way through my class today I figured out how to fix it.  How to make it better.  In fact, how to make it awesome. 

(Awesome in "teacher vocabulary" not teen talk, because my idea involves preparing the students throughout the entire unit to write an essay at the end.  They don't think it's awesome.  For some reason anytime I mention that they are going to have to write, there are groans and moans like I just told them they were going to have creamed spinach for lunch.)

The good news is, some things, methods and delivery I can change right away.  Daily work instruction and modeling to get the results I want, and be SURE that the reason for a poor lesson, wasn't my approach.  The problem is that to make the entire unit awesome, I can't do until next year, when I start again.  This unit is almost over, it would be unfair for me to try to force an essay on them, which I haven't prepared them for.  However, that doesn't mean I can apply the methods to future lessons and units :)

In the mean time, I have taken notes, written down what I want to do and how things need to change.  And am beginning to rethink everything for next year. 

HONEST reflection is a MUST for any teacher who wants to continue to improve and make their classroom better.   Good teachers do things that are difficult.  It can be very difficult to look at yourself, your teaching methods, and your poor lesson with open and honest eyes to discover what the REAL reason was. 

Then go to work and make it better.