Class Quotes 2014

I keep a journal in my podium in the front of the classroom. Anytime something funny is said during class, I have a student record it in our “class quote book.”  Here are the highlights from the 2013-2014 school year:

Me: “Does anyone know where Glenwood Ave is?”
Student: “Is that up by that creepy meat shack? The one that’s small, white and no one has any idea what kind of meat they sell there?

Student: “I don’t normally watch TV, but when I do, it’s either ESPN 2 or the Lynx game

After asking the class how many students have ever ridden a horse…
Me: “Holy cow, that’s a lot of people who have ridden a horse!”
Student: “Well, Mr. Moore, there are a lot of horses in the world.

Student: “Guarantee is the biggest word in my vocabulary”
Me: “Do you know how to spell guarantee?”
Student: “ G-U-R-A-N-T-E

Me: “My Thanksgiving strategy is to stuff my face with mashed potatoes and go into a coma while watching the Cowboys game.”
Student: “Your family must be so proud.

Me: “Do you get corn salsa on your Chipotle burrito?”
Student: “No, if I get that, it flies right through me.

Me: “Did you see the musical this weekend?”
Student: “What’s a musical?

Me: “This is a picture of a collar that they used to put on slaves so they couldn’t run away.”
Student: “My mom used to put a dog collar like that on me.

Student: “Want to see my toe?” Said while the class was silently taking a quiz

Student 1: “I heard Mrs. P is pregnant.”
Student 2: “Yeah, she’s got a bun in the oven.”
Student 3: “Bun in the oven is such a weird phrase. It makes me hungry for buns, and then I have to stop and think, wait, that means I’m hungry for babies.

Student :”You’re sarcasm is so advanced that even I can’t understand it.”
Me: “That’s the highest compliment I’ve ever received.

Me: “Has anyone here seen a Western movie before?”
Student: “Yes, Back to the Future Part III

Student 1: “Why did Germany invade Belgium?”
Student 2: “For the Chocolate

Me: “Don’t make fun of that Teddy Roosevelt picture. Have any of you ever managed to ride a moose before?
Student: “I used to ride moose, but now people ride me.”


20 Tips for New Social Studies Teachers

This post was inspired by an article that Lisa Dabs wrote on Edutopia back in the fall of 2011. I’ve stolen some of the tips from her, but also added others that I think are important. As another semester and school year draws to a close, I thought it would be beneficial to add to her article, and also focus some of the suggestions a bit more on specific advice for social studies teachers.  A lot of these suggestions are things I wish I would’ve known when I entered the profession in the fall of 2007.

1. Find a Mentor

The great thing about the teaching profession is that you will be surrounded by experienced professionals who have vast amounts of wisdom to share with you. Your responsibility is to approach these people, ask them questions and learn from them.  If you can find someone with experience, whose philosophy of education matches up closely with yours, be sure to utilize their expertise. If you have a vague idea of a lesson you’d like to try, run the idea by them and ask them for feedback. If you’re having problems with a student, and you’re not sure about how to proceed, ask them how they would handle the situation. If you’re about to be observed by an administrator, ask them to observe you first to give you feedback. In comic book terms, think of this person as your “Professor X.”

2. Journal

At the end of each work day, make a note of what seemed to work with each lesson plan. Also write some notes of things that could be done to improve the lesson in the future.  You should keep a page set aside to jot-down random ideas you have for upcoming lessons or activities. I like to use a pocket Moleskin notebook and a Google Doc for this. These ideas may come at strange times and strange places, this is why it’s helpful to keep a pocket journal or use a smartphone to record these ideas.

3. Keep a Quote Book

Kids will say some amazing things in your room. Occasionally, you will get a student who seems to has a knack for saying off-the-wall things on a routine basis.  Every time a student says something that causes you or the class to laugh and lose your focus, it’s probably worth writing down. Whenever you’re having a bad day and need a good laugh in the future, pull out the quote book and basque in the memories. Here’s a recent one from my class:

Me – “How do you think people found information before Google?”

7th Grade Student – “They used dictionaries and old people.”

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. The first time I tried to do History Day projects with my students, they flopped. 90% of the class didn’t finish because I didn’t set aside enough class time for them. In my 4th year of teaching, I tried to get 7th grade Geography students to do a Choices simulation – it was WAY too difficult for their age level. This year, I tried a mercantilism simulation that I will never attempt again.  In each of these situations, I learned some valuable lessons that continue to inform my lesson planning.  Each activity also pushed me beyond my comfort zone and allowed me to practice my skills at adapting lesson plans that are over-the-head or too complex for students.

5. Take Some Time to Sit and Think

Once the school day starts, it seems like it can be a rat race until the final bell. Every free moment can be eaten up by grading papers, checking e-mail, planning future lessons, standing in line at the copy machine, making copies at the copy machine, un-jamming the copy machine, racing to the bathroom during passing time or inhaling a lunch in as few bites as possible.  Before this chaos starts, take 5-10 minutes and visualize how you want your lessons to progress for that day. What’s the big idea you want students to learn? What points do you really need to emphasize? What questions will ignite the most curiosity amongst your students? Take a deep breath and relax before the chaos ensues.

6. Observe as Many Teachers as You Can

The more ideas and abilities you expose yourself to as a new teacher, the more you increase your ability to adapt and evolve. I’ve picked up some of my favorite lesson plans by stealing from other educators I’ve had the privilege of observing. I’ve also learned the most about classroom management by watching how other teachers work a classroom of 30+ students. There are a lot of nuances you can only pick up and learn by watching other professionals interact with students.

7. Read, Read, Read

Again, this tip comes back to the idea of “exposure.”  The more knowledge you expose yourself to, the better teacher you become. The only way to improve your content knowledge is to read. If you’re going to become a history teacher, read Sam Wineburg’s “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts” and Bruce Lesh’s “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us The Answer?” Both books encourage history teachers to break free from the traditional approach of having students memorize dates and names. If you plan on teaching Geography, read Ian Bremmer’s “The J Curve” and George Friedman’s “The Next 100 Years.” Both books emphasize the importance of global awareness. Make a list of books you would like to read each year and try to read at least one/week in the summer and one/month during the school year. The idea for my “Causes of the American Revolution” game came to me while I was reading a mix of history and pedagogy books one summer.

8. Read and Subscribe to Teaching Blogs

Use an RSS feed like Feedly to track and follow teacher blogs. This will allow you to learn and steal from educators who may not teach in your building.  For Social Studies teachers, make sure you read Eric Langhorst’s Speaking of History and Glenn Wiebe’s History Tech. This is where the journey begins. Once you start reading a few, and start following more social studies teachers on Twitter, you will unlock a whole world of quality teaching blogs.

9. Put in a Few Hours of Work on Sundays

During my first year of teaching, I used to spend each morning scrambling to develop that day’s lesson plans. Students would ask me what we would be doing 2 or 3 days later, and I would have no answer for them. I was a fish out of water. I would try to do some planning at the end of the school day, but usually found myself with a mountain of paperwork to grade and little or no energy to put together a lesson for the next school day. That’s also assuming that you’re not a coach who has practice or games immediately after school. Halfway into the school year, I decided to go to school on Sundays and plan out the whole week. This saved me a countless amount of stress and also made me a much more organized educator.

10. Walk/Workout Consistently

This is not a revolutionary idea – working out will increase your energy, improve your mood and decrease your stress. This makes you a better person and generally, a more pleasant human being. If you let stress and negativity dominate your life, you will not last long in the teaching profession. Find an outlet so that you can separate yourself from your work once in a while.

11. Read Fred Smart’s Article about How to Deal with Backtalk

How are you going to respond to a student when they tell you to “F— Off”?  This scenario never seemed to come up in my college classroom management class and wasn’t prepared for it when it first happened.  I’ve yet to meet an educator who hasn’t run into a similar scenario though.  It took me a while to learn how to react to students who are defiant or engage in back-talk.  Fred Smart’s advice has worked consistently for me. It’s the one article I wish I would’ve read when I started teaching. I still read it on a yearly basis to remind myself of how I should be handling difficult behaviors.

12. Utilize a Text-Message Reminder Service to Communicate with Students and Parents

Right now I use Remind101 to communicate with students and parents. The tool is not as important as the service. What the service allows me to do is to broadcast updates and reminders to students and parents. Students can subscribe with a cell phone or an e-mail address. I use it frequently to remind groups about upcoming deadlines and due dates. I also use it to send links to students. Some teachers like to use Facebook, Twitter, Edmodo etc. for the same purpose. I’ve found that none of these sites are as effective as a tool that allows you to send an instant update to a student’s phone. Students have their phones on them at all times and are constantly checking them during their free time. You can’t say the same about Facebook, Twitter or Edmodo.

13. Design a Good Class Website

The world will view your classroom through your website. If you put some extra time into creating a good website, it can save you a lot of work in the long run. Students can access resources outside of class through the site. Parents can keep up-to-date on class activities without having to flood you with emails. A class website that contains digital copies of everything that has been shared in class takes away an excuse from students who forget work at school. The website also allows you to share lessons with your colleagues and serve as a backup in case you ever accidentally delete your files or lose the memory on your computer. Weebly andGoogle Sites seem to be popular platforms and easy-to-use for most educators.

14. Join Twitter

You can find TONS of good teaching resources on Twitter.  Many social studies teachers across the country are using the platform to share some of their best lessons and resources on a daily basis. Among the social studies community, a large group of teachers are using the hashtag #sschat to share their best finds each day. Since I’ve joined Twitter, and begun to communicate with other teachers, I’ve probably added 20 quality bookmarks/week to my library of useful resources.

15. Participate in Twitter Chats

On a weekly basis, the social studies community on Twitter selects a weekly topic to discuss and share resources about. On any given week, teachers might be sharing resources on the American Revolution, the Arab Spring, campaigns and elections, etc. Bookmark the #sschat Ning page to keep up-to-date on their upcoming chats. It would also be wise to use a Twitter client like TweetDeck or TweetChat to follow the chats. Sometimes you can get flooded with information in a short amount of time.

16. Build a Personal Learning Network Online

I consider my Personal Learning Network (PLN) to be my “lifeline.”  It’s where I go when I need to re-energize. It’s whom I turn to when I need some feedback on a lesson idea. It’s who I steal all of my good ideas from.  You can assemble one by reading teacher blogs, responding to blog posts, asking questions to teachers in other twitter chats, or just stealing from my list of Minnesota social studies teacherson Twitter.

17. Go to Conferences

In Minnesota, there are a plethora of opportunities for social studies teachers who are seeking professional development. Go to the MCSS conference in the spring. This is a great place to network with the leaders in the social studies community in the state. Take part in a MAGE summer workshop, or their fall GeoFest. Sign up for anMCEE summer institute or their summer conference. A lot of these workshops offer free grad-credits. MNCHE and Learning Law and Democracy also offer some great workshops for history and civics teachers. Sign-up for at least one conference a year and one summer workshop.

18. Present at Conferences

Once you’ve attended a conference, and gotten an idea about what makes a quality conference presentation, sign-up to present at a conference. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too young or don’t have enough experience. Every teacher has at least one awesome lesson plan that’s worth sharing. This is your chance to share it with the other professionals and also build a name for yourself.

19. Find a competition for your students to enter

There are many ways to take student work and give it an audience beyond the classroom. If student’s realize that their work will be seen by members of the community, typically they will work harder and the rigor of the activity will increase. If you teach history, register your students for History Day. If you teach Geography, register them for the Geography BeeModel UN or World Savvy. If you teach Civics, sign them up for Mock TrialProject Citizen or Kids Voting. The competitions are not only motivating for students, they also motivate teachers to step up their game in the classroom.

20. Laugh With Your Students. Every Day.

Laughing with your students is the best thing you can do to avoid having classroom management problems. Don’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself in front of your students. They will appreciate your passion and dedication. Greet students when they walk in the door. Get to know a few things about their interests and hobbies. Have casual conversations with them on a routine basis. And by God, make them smile and laugh regularly. Your students will thank you for it and it will also make the teaching profession much more enjoyable.

For the veterans who are reading this, I’m sure that I left some good advice off of the list. What would you add to the list?

Investigating Japanese Internment


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When I first started teaching 20th century US history, I struggled to find an engaging way to teach the topic of Japanese Internment.  I enjoy teaching controversial topics in American History and I like to give students an opportunity to take a look at an event from multiple perspectives.  I recently developed a historical-inquiry lesson that allowed students to investigate the causes and justification of Japanese Internment.  The goal of the inquiry is to situate students in the historical context of 1942, and allow them to uncover the startling realities of the time.  As students analyze the selection of sources, three distinct discoveries tend to emerge:

  • A vast amount of racism and animosity directed at Japanese-Americans unleashed itself after the attack on Pearl Harbor
  • A profound fear of an impending attack from the Japanese on the Pacific Coast of the United States existed in early 1942
  • With the possibility of Japanese relocation, an increased desire to acquire Japanese property manifested itself on the West Coast.

This lesson utilizes some shockingly racist primary sources from 1941 and 1942.  I think it is important to expose these sources to high school students.  They need to understand some of the emotions and fears that drove President Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 9066.  The sources also tend to surprise students and add to the sense of perplexity surrounding the investigation.

Within the sources themselves, I try to emphasize a few main points of analysis:

  • Pay close attention to the logic that John DeWitt uses in his message to Henry Stimson (Document E in the Lesson Plan).  He implies that because a massive Japanese spy network hasn’t been uncovered yet, it is further proof that there is probably a spy network in place and an impending attack is likely.  If I extended this logic into my own classroom, it would look something like this: Because I haven’t caught Student X cheating yet, it is further proof that they are likely engaging in cheating.
  • The stories that John Hersey uncovered in his New York Times article are heartbreaking (Document G in the Lesson Plan).  As the Japanese were given a deadline for relocation, and not allowed to retain ownership of their property, a vast amount of swindling occurred.  One woman was forced to sell a hotel for $300.  Another Japanese family could only obtain $25 for their vehicle.  Stories like this help to explain the decision to issue reparation payments for survivors of Japanese Internment in 1988.
  • If you have time in class, and you think your students are mature enough to handle the source, play the song, “We’re Gonna Have to Slap the Dirty Little Jap” (Document C in the Lesson Plan). Ask students to analyze the tone, emotions and intentions of the song.

There are many different routes history educators can take to extend the learning and continue the investigation of Japanese Internment.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Play the song, Kenji by Fort Minor and discuss the legacy of Interment within the Japanese American community today.
  • Display these broadsides in the classroom, and help students make comparisons between the treatment of Japanese Americans in 1941-1942 and the treatment of Muslim-Americans after 9/11.
  • Contact your nearest Japanese-American organization or council to see if there are any survivors of Internment in your local area that would be willing to speak to your classes. If you do not live near any survivors, harness the power of the internet and utilize Skype to introduce your students to the survivors of this event.

Lesson Resources:

Teaching the War of 1812 (From a Canadian Point of View)


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The War of 1812 has been called “the Rodney Dangerfield of wars,” in other words, it doesn’t get any respect. In the realm of American History, it is easily glossed over and does not receive much attention in most textbooks. College Humor lampooned our limited collective knowledge of this event with a spoof preview for a film about the War of 1812:

We are currently celebrating the bicentennial of the War, and yet, outside of PBS’s new 1812 documentary, there has been a lack of resources and literature released this year to help history instructors teach this complex topic.

Several years ago, I wanted to revitalize my approach to teaching the War of 1812. I went on a hunt for engaging and unique resources that could help students develop an enduring knowledge about our “Second War for Independence.” I was lucky to stumble upon Kyle Ward’s AWESOME book, History Lessons. In History Lessons, Ward managed to collect, compile, edit and translate a multitude of international textbooks and sort them into manageable chapters organized around selected topics. The book is a must-have for social studies educators. In some of my favorite sections of the book, Ward showcases the North Korean perspective on the causes of the Korean War, the Philippine take on the Philippine-American War, and a Canadian account of the War of 1812. As I read the Canadian account, I knew it would be a great source to put in the hands of students.

Lesson Plan:
When I teach this lesson, I frame it around a central investigative question: “How do American and Canadian accounts of the War of 1812 differ?” We begin the investigation by analyzing our textbook, David Kennedy’s “The American Pageant.” I ask students to consider the following questions when they read the book:
– According to the text, what are the causes of the War of 1812?
– What terms or adjectives does the author use to describe the various groups who participated in the war (ex. Americans, Canadians, British, Native Americans)?
– Are there any heroes in the War of 1812? Any villains?
– Were there any atrocities committed during the war?
– Who were the winners and losers in the War of 1812?

In most American textbooks, British impressment of sailors, British restriction of American trade and British support of Native Americans on the frontier are usually cited as the main causes in the War of 1812. Andrew Jackson and Commodore Perry emerge as heroes and the British soldiers involved in the destruction of Washington, D.C. make for menacing villains. A majority of American textbooks usually downplay the terms of the Treaty of Ghent and end their narrative with Jackson’s victory at New Orleans and the subsequent rise of nationalism, which make the war seem like a last-minute victory for the United States.
After students have an opportunity to share their analysis of the American textbook, we transition into studying the Canadian textbook. We use the same set of questions to deconstruct the Canadian account. A few key differences usually emerge as students encounter a new point of view:

  • The Americans are described as the aggressors and invaders.
  • The Canadians are the clear victors – they successfully defended their country against the American invaders.
  • Isaac Brock and Laura Secord are Canadian heroes
  • Washington, D.C. was only destroyed as retaliation after the Americans destroyed York (present day Toronto).

I like to wrap up the lesson in a humorous way, by having students compare two songs about the War of 1812: an American song (Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans”) and a Canadian song (the Arrogant Worms’ “War of 1812”). The songs re-emphasize a lot of the main points in the textbooks and also extend the lesson into modern times in a unique way. Students could use the same set of questions to critically analyze the videos.


The big idea that I try to drive home with this lesson is that students need to read all sources with a critical eye. They need to understand that their textbook is only one interpretation. Reading international accounts of events, can provide us with a much broader understanding of a topic.

PBS Video Clip of the Canadian perspective of the War of 1812
PDF copy of Canadian textbook account of the War of 1812 taken from A History of the Canadian Peoples by J.M. Bumsted
Handout and analysis questions used to compare American and Canadian interpretations of the event

Top 10 Resources for Teaching the Election


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One of the main reasons I became a Social Studies teacher was my deep interest in politics. Election season is one of my favorite times of the year to be a teacher. I enjoy trying to ignite a passion in students and help generate interest in the elections. Here is a list of my favorite resources that I use to drum up interest in the elections (in no particular order):

NYTimes 2013 Budget Visualization
I refuse to discuss politics with people until they study this visualization. It is incredibly eye opening. The first thing that will jump out at the viewer is the overwhelming cost of Medicare and Social Security. See how long it takes you to find NASA and PBS’s budget allotments. Pretty small in comparison aren’t they? Neil Degrasse Tyson drove this point home when he wrote my favorite tweet during the first presidential debate:

Neil Degrasse Tyson Tweet

Apparently, this comment was re-tweeted nearly 50,000 times. Students and citizens need to have a basic understanding of the fiscal issues that are dominating this election. This website accomplishes that task visually and in an easy-to-understand format.

It’s Party Time
One of the most challenging things to explain to students, without stepping on any toes, is the difference between the two major parties in our political system. Thankfully, the fine folks at Information is Beautiful developed a visualization that helps break down the two major sides of the political spectrum. I have found it effective to pair the visualization with a lesson plan I adapted from the Kids Voting curriculum. I have been able to use this lesson with junior high students to help them understand the major differences between the two major political parties. While the visualization is a little overwhelming at first glance, it does an amazing job of contrasting the two parties in a nice, easy to read, one-page format.

Presidential Debate RubricJudging the Presidential Debates
The presidential debates provide an excellent opportunity for students to consider a number of lessons relating to presidential politics: the major issues of the election, logical fallacies, use of evidence, media literacy etc. Thankfully, PBS NewsHour developed a great lesson activity for the Presidential Debates. The lesson utilizes a rubric/ballot developed by the Forensic League that guides students as they watch the debate. The ballot asks viewers to assess the evidence, delivery, reasoning and a number of other debate skills used by each candidate. After the debate, students use a worksheet to analyze the media coverage of the debates. If you plan on discussing the debates in your classroom, this lesson does a superb job of setting up a framework for a class discussion. In addition, it helps students develop their media literacy skills and generates interest in the election process.

AIGA Get Out the Vote Posters
I enjoy decorating my room, door and surrounding hallway with Get-Out-The-Vote posters and materials during the election season. Thanks to the American Institute of Graphic Arts, teachers can select from 100s of posters that are colorful, humorous, engaging and best of all-free. The institute hosts a poster and video design contest every four years to coincide with the election. The AIGA then posts the nonpartisan posters and videos to “help inspire the American public to participate in the electoral process and vote in the 2012 election.” The posters can easily be printed and displayed in their classrooms. In fact, the AIGA makes all the posters available as PDFs and encourages you to post them throughout your community. These images usually generate a lot of ‘buzz’ when I hang them up and get students and coworkers talking and thinking about the election. Here’s my favorite poster this year: Monkeys Want the Right to Vote.

Project Vote Smart
Need help determining which candidate best aligns with your political beliefs? Project VoteSmart saves the day with an interactive website called “Vote Easy.” The interactive website allows users to respond to a number of questions regarding major election issues, and then subsequently rank the importance of each issue. Candidates are then ranked based on the level of similarity they have to your opinions. Some students may be surprised that a candidate they thought they liked does not share many of their opinions and beliefs. The website also allows users to determine which House and Senate candidates best align with their political opinions. On a related note, provides a nice election quiz that allows you to see which presidential candidate best meets your interestes. However, it does not contain any information about U.S. Senate or House candidates. If you run a mock election at your school, or participate in the Kids Voting program, Project VoteSmart will help students become informed participants in the electoral process.

Living Room Candidate
The Museum of the Moving Image released one of the most amazing resources for social studies teachers several years ago: The Living Room Candidate. The website featured an organized archive of all of the major presidential advertisements that have aired in the Television Era. The website continues to be shared by hundreds of teachers on Twitter and countless Social Studies blogs. Its user-friendly design allows teachers and students to dive into a sea of resources. In a way, the aesthetics of the site almost allow a student to experience the wonders of time travel. I wish more museums would create online websites like this. The curated videos, by their very nature, are short, engaging and sometimes humorous. The museum has developed a handful of lesson plans that will guide students as they track the evolution of political advertisements and develop critical media literacy and analysis skills. At a time when we are becoming inundated with negative advertising, sometimes these old gems provide a comedic relief to counter the present political climate. My favorite way to use the website is to develop a playlist of advertisements and then pair it with a lesson plan from the Kids Voting curriculum, entitled “Selling the Candidates.” The lesson allows students to investigate a number of advertisements and search for the “techniques of persuasion” and “logical fallacies” that each advertisement is using. When students can evaluate the claims being made and identify the techniques being used in the advertisements, it helps them build a baloney detection kit that will serve them well as they become critical consumers of media.
Last year, several educators on Twitter shared some hilarious political advertisement-spoofs that were developed by the Annenberg Center and posted on the website The mock-TV ads targeted Lincoln in the 1864 election and were focusing on the question: Could Lincoln Be Elected Today? My favorite ad from this series is titled “Honestly Abe.” If you use the election as a moment to teach about the patters of deception that are used in most advertising, this website will serve as a great resource. I think the Lincoln ads could function as an engaging introduction to the Selling the Candidates Lesson Plan and the Living Room Candidate website. These resources help students add several more tools to their baloney detection kit, which might be the most important set of skills that we can help students assemble while they are enrolled in our Social Studies courses.

The Electoral College (Explained by in Plain English)
As long as there has been presidential elections, there has been confusion (and controversy) surrounding the Electoral College system. It is inevitable that the students in your classroom will be perplexed with this complex topic. This video, produced by Common Craft, helps simplify the Electoral College, which should clear up some of the confusion surrounding Presidential elections. The folks who produce the Common Craft videos (a.k.a. “In Plain English” videos) developed an easy to understand video using their signature paper cut-outs and hand drawings. If you’re looking for a video that is a bit more quirky and humorous, check out “How the Electoral College Works.” It may be too fast paced for younger viewers, but it does provide an excellent description of the complexities of the Presidential election.

Obamacare Explained
Since President Obama is placing the legacy of his first term on the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), this legislation has received a large spotlight throughout this election season. In searching for resources that could help explain this 1,000 page piece of legislation to teenagers, I had difficulties finding lesson plans that were engaging and informative. Luckily, the Kaiser Foundation produced a video that explains the health care reform law and the impact it will have at the local level. I’ve yet to find a better video, article or visualization that describes Obamacare as well as this resource. As an added bonus, the video utilizes cartoons that assist in simplifying this complex topic and also help deliver a bit of humor. Enjoy!
I love Sandra Day O’Connor. Has there ever been another political figure in history who has done more to promote Civic Education in his or her retirement? Justice O’Connor made several important insights a few years back. Insight#1: Civic Education is declining in the United States. Insight #2: Teenagers are addicted to video games. Insight #3: If someone created highly engaging video games that focused on civic concepts, students will learn to appreciate and enjoy Civic Education more. That ‘someone’ turned out to be iCivics, a company that has developed and promoted a plethora of online games that help students learn about the Constitution, Budgeting, Foreign Policy, Separation of Powers, the 3 Branches of Government and the Election Process. One of their first games, “Do I Have a Right”, continues to be my favorite game to play with students. It allows students to manage a law office and learn about the ways that constitutional law impacts our every-day lives. In terms of gearing up for the election, check out “Win the White House”, “Cast Your Vote” and “Executive Command”. Each game could assist in generating excitement and enthusiasm about the election in your classroom.

Teaching the Causes of the American Revolution (as a parent/child fight)


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A few years ago, I was reading two books at the same time, Gordon Wood’s The Radicalism of the American Revolution and Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick. Both books were fascinating to read and offered insights that helped me improve my skills as an educator. In Made to Stick, the Heath brothers emphasized the importance of using metaphors and analogies to help people remember complex topics. This was not a revolutionary idea at the time, but it still made me reflect on how I structure activities in my social studies classes. Gordon Wood’s history of the American Revolution opened my eyes to many different interpretations of the past. Dr. Wood pointed out that many of the arguments between the colonists and their British counterparts were compared to a parent-child relationship.  For example, British officials would tell the colonists that they should respect the monarchy just like a child should respect their parents. As I read both books, I thought there was a good opportunity to create a fun and engaging lesson that would help students make connections to the causes of the American Revolution.

I begin the lesson by projecting the Causes of the American Revolution presentation on an interactive whiteboard. Students are then broken up into response groups of 3-4 people. One person in each group is designated as the spokesperson for the group. That role can rotate throughout the game to make sure that each person in the group shares the responsibility of being the group spokesperson.

The Analogies:
Students are then presented with a series of dilemmas in which they are asked to develop a response as a group. The first dilemma that students are confronted with appears simple and ordinary. After I read the dilemma to the class, I give the class 1-2 minutes to discuss and develop a response as a group. I then allow each group to share their responses. This method is repeated as the class proceeds through the remaining dilemmas. Each dilemma gets a little bit more ridiculous than the previous. What the students experience is an increasing amount of agitation and disgust with the fictional parents in the scenarios (just like the colonists would with their mother country).

Making Connections:
After the groups respond to each of the scenarios, I reveal to the class that each scenario serves as an analogy for a specific event that pushed the colonies closer to declaring independence. I distribute a handout that helps students scaffold their understanding and search for the analogies/connections that were hidden in the parent-child disputes. The handout can be completed as homework, in response groups or reviewed together as a class.

Typically, I like to use this lesson at the beginning of an American Revolution unit. It allows me to reference the analogies throughout the rest of the unit and helps students strengthen their historical memory and chronological thinking skills.  I’ve found that students really enjoy this activity.  From my point of view, any day that is filled with laughs and an investigation of history is a great day.

Causes of the American Revolution Presentation
Parent-Child Analogies Handout

6 Unique Colonial History Teaching Resources

I’m in the early stages of the first unit in AP US History, which focuses on Colonial History and the interactions between Native Americans and Europeans.  I have found many helpful resources for teaching the Colonial Era over the years.  These are my favorites (in no particular order):

Columbian Exchange & the Medieval Times Menu Lesson Part 1 & Part 2

This activity serves as a great introduction to the Columbian Exchange.  Students are presented with a menu from the Medieval Times and asked to figure out which items should not be on the menu (i.e. determine which items would not have been available to Europeans prior to the Columbian Exchange)

Struggle for the Continent Simulation

David Ghere was a master crafstman of historical simulations, he published a large number of his simulations in the OAH Magazine of History and on his website. In this simulation, students short-term and long-term benefits and benefits and difficulties that resulted from the alliances between Native Americans and Europeans.

John White Paintings of Native Americans

Charles Mann mentions in the book 1491, that John White was very impressed with the nutrition and organization of the Native American tribes that he encountered along the North Carolina coast in the 1580s.  Students can investigate these paintings with a guided inquiry question, “Based on these paintings, what did John White think of the Native Americans he encountered?”


Jamestown Online Adventure & Resource Packet

I’ve yet to meet a student who doesn’t enjoy games.  The Jamestown Online Adventure allows students to learn about the major agricultural, diplomatic and security decisions that the first Jamestown settlers had to make.  This decision-based game can easily be projected on a SMARTBoard and played as a class or students could play the game in a computer lab.

What caused the Jamestown Starving Time? Historical Scene Investigation

The H.S.I.’s designed by the College of William and Mary provide a useful framework for students to approach history as a detective.  This investigation provides carefully selected and edited sources that guide students through the hardships that early settlers faced at Jamestown.

Spatial Analysis of British, Spanish and Dutch Shipping Routes

This website provides great infographics that get their point across in a very short amount of time.  These images help students understand the geographical context of colonial history.

That covers most of my favorites.  Please share yours in the comments.

What Do Batman and Hernando De Soto Have in Common?


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Tomorrow, my AP US History students will engage in their first work as young historians.  They will be analyzing the historiography and changing interpretations of the infamous conquistador: Hernando de Soto.  This lesson was inspired by a Teaching American History grant trip to Washington, D.C. several summers ago, in which our cohort had the opportunity to tour the U.S. Capitol building.

As we entered the rotunda and gazed at the larger-than-life portraits, I was drawn to the painting entitled “Discovery of the Mississippi by De Soto” by William H. Powell.  I was in the process of analyzing the painting when I noticed a strange sign off to the side that said, “This Painting Does Not Verify History.”  Although all of the paintings that appear in the rotunda attempt to romanticize historical events, this was the only painting of the group that had a qualifying sign situated next to it.  Obviously, the sign set off a firestorm of questions and sent me off on a historical pursuit.

What I discovered is that the story of De Soto’s expedition has changed drastically over time.  I wanted my students to participate in the same historical adventure that I went on so I designed a historical inquiry lesson in which students review a selection of secondary textbook accounts of the De Soto expedition.

Importance of Historiography
Using historiography as a teaching tool fosters the development of students’ ability to conduct historical analysis and research.  Compiling a chronological selection of textbook accounts over the past two centuries can help students understand how written history evolved over time.  History textbooks represent our collective memory and are among the most widely read versions of history. As students compare textbooks from different time periods, they can begin to see the elements of our collective memory over time. Perspectives become more apparent, stories evolve, and some events fade and lose their significance.

Anticipatory Set
I begin the lesson by projecting a chronological image set of Batman and asking students, “How has Batman changed over time?”  Students usually note that Batman seems to have become more muscular, edgier, darker etc.  I then ask the class “Why has Batman changed?”  Typically, students will note that Batman is a reflection of society.  We like our superheroes to be more muscular, cutting edge and compelling than we did a half century ago.  I then transition by projecting the Powell painting of De Soto and setting the scene of the lesson.  I give the class a brief background about the painting, tell them about the sign, and provide students with the main inquiry question that will launch our investigation: “How has the story of Hernando de Soto’s expedition changed over time?”

Lesson Procedure
I typically divide the class into five groups and give each group one account to read.  After students have read their account, they answer some brief questions:

  • When do you think the account was written?
  • What does the account tell us about De Soto? What adjectives does the author use to describe the type of person De Soto was?
  • How does this account compare to the rotunda painting? Does it “verify” it?

Groups then report out to the entire class and I reveal the actual dates of each account. We chart how the story has changed over time, revealing that Hernando de Soto was once viewed as a chivalrous hero who stood up to incredible odds and made significant discoveries.  Today, De Soto receives criticism for his failed mission and brutal encounters with Native Americans and is overshadowed by the stories of Columbus, Pizarro and Cortés.

Big Ideas
One of the main points that I want to drive home is that textbooks, especially the American Pageant book that the AP students will be reading, are merely a representation of our current “collective memory.”  They are secondary sources and need to be critically analyzed and questioned as they are read. Stories tend to change over time and adapt to fit the current mood of a society.  This investigation promotes the notion that the history textbook is not the source of all knowledge, but rather just one link in a long chain of perspectives and interpretations.

Another main point that I try to drive home is that European colonization and exploration was not always successful.  De Soto had assembled the largest colonization force the New World had ever seen in 1839.  He landed in Florida with 600 well armed men, 200 horses, as well as an odd assortment of priests, pigs and greyhounds (used to run down slaves).  We tend to read the stories of Pizarro, Columbus and Cortés and marvel at the fact that a small group of Europeans with superior weapons and diseases wiped out vast civilizations of Native Americans.  The story of De Soto reminds us that many times, Native Americans fought back and destroyed European conquistadors.  Had disease not taken it’s toll on the Native American societies of North and South America, European settlement of the New World would have been nearly impossible.

The lesson provides a nice segway into our unit on exploration and colonization and also allows the students to critique their textbook from the start of class.  It allows young learners to take on the role of a historian and reach an enlarged understanding of a topic by critically investigating a sequence of sources.


In Defense of Social Studies…


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As I begin the 2012-2013 school year, I pause to take a moment and reflect on the purpose and value of my profession.

If you’ve visited with a social studies teacher recently, you have probably heard that our discipline has been relegated to the sideline over the course of the past decade.  Most educators will agree that the demands of No Child Left Behind forced schools to narrow the curriculum to focus on the “tested” subjects of Math, Reading and Science.  Arne Duncan echoed the concerns of many Social Studies educators when he said, “to marginalize social studies for the sake of reading and math is not only misguided, it is educational neglect. Educators and policymakers need to recognize that social studies is a core subject, critical to sustaining an informed democracy.”  While NCLB and the policies of the Department of Education have indeed been a thorn in the side of many social studies teachers, they are simply a symptom of a much larger problem that continues to corrode the value of our discipline.

The Underlying Problem

Ken Robinson, of TED Talk fame, described the underlying problem in a lecture he delivered to the Royal Society of the Arts in June of 2008.

“We have grown up in a system of public education that is dominated by the conception of economic utility.  This is implicit in the structure of school curriculum.  There is in every school a hierarchy of subjects. Why is it that Math and Science are deemed more important than Arts and Drama?  There is an economic judgement that is made in the structure of school curriculum.  So, effectively, our school curricula is based on two sorts of subject; useful ones and useless ones.”

We err when we think that the essential purpose of a public school is economic in nature (i.e. to prepare students to join the workforce).  This approach is flawed and outdated.  It may have served us well in the 19th and 20th centuries as our economy operated on an industrial model.  Establishing a hierarchy of disciplines and a sorting of subjects into “useful” and “useless” was modeled on the interests and served the purposes of industrialism.  However, as we enter a time period of exponential change, it is a lost cause to make accurate predictions about the future workplace and professional opportunities awaiting today’s learners.  How can we prepare students for a 21st century workplace when we can’t predict what the economy will look like at the end of next week?  As the U.S. Department of Labor has reported, today’s learner will have 10-14 jobs by the time they are 38 years old. In short, the “economic utility” model of public education needs to be called what it actually is = futile.

The Importance of Civic Education

It seems that in the wake of No Child Left Behind, our society has forgotten that our task as educators was always civic in nature. We are not in the business of preparing workers, we are in the business of preparing citizens who will enter a changing world.  It is imperative and prudent that we recognize and promote this approach.  As Ken Robinson has stated, “…there are unprecedented circumstances existing in today’s world.  An unprecedented population is putting an unprecedented drain on the earth’s resources and an unprecedented demand for innovation.”

The problems of tomorrow (climate change, immigration, health care, the economy, etc.) will indeed require innovative and creative thinking.  If we are to embrace the exponential change occurring in our society and prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet, then civic education must become a major part of the solution and obtain the respect it deserves.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has recognized the importance of civic education.  In their “Framework for 21st Century Learning” they have identified the core subjects that promote readiness for a changing world: Language Arts, World Languages, Arts, Mathematics, Economics, Science, Geography, History, Government and Civics.  Within this framework, the Social Studies play a central role in promoting global awareness, economic literacy, civic literacy and environmental literacy; all themes of 21st century learning.

The chief enemy of global awareness, civic literacy and many of the other 21st century skills is narcissism.  At it’s core, the social studies has always been designed to be the antidote to narcissism.  Each subject within the discipline asks students to look beyond themselves and consider a variety of perspectives.  In Geography, we stress that we are not alone on this Earth.  Our choices and decisions have huge ramifications on the other 7 billion people sharing this planet with us.  In history, we emphasize that a man without history is like a tree without roots.  As Elie Wiesel said, “learning history forces students to accept the postulate that life did not begin at our birth.  Others have been here before us, and we walk in their footsteps.  The books we have read were composed by fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples.  We are the sum total of their experiences and quests.”

The Changing Nature of Social Studies

For too long, the Social Studies discipline was plagued by a perceived pedagogy that focused solely on memorization and factual recall (see any episode of Jaywalking, Jerry Seinfeld’s appearance on SNL or Ben Stein’s history lesson in Ferris Bueler’s Day Off). Despite these antiquated approaches to instruction, the Social Studies discipline has undergone radical transformations over the past generation.  More and more educators are beginning to ditch the old pedagogies that dominated the teaching of social studies.

As much as Jeb Bush might like it be, history is much more than a series of facts to be memorized.  The Stanford History Education Group and the College Board have led the way in transforming history education into a discipline that concentrates on historical thinking skills (sourcing, contextualizing, corroborating and using evidence to support an argument).  If current trends continue, more information will be produced this year than in the previous 5,000 years.  It has been estimated that the amount of digital information in the world will increase 44x between now and 2020. In the “age of information” the ability to analyze evidence, sources and arguments may be one of the most important 21st century skills.

Geography alliances throughout the country have pushed for a reconceptualization of their subject in recent years.  The days of students doing nothing more than coloring maps and regurgitating information on map tests are slowly becoming extinct. Take a look at the AP Human Geography curriculum to see that more emphasis has been placed on the study of population patterns, agricultural and industrial trends, land use models and GIS technology.  Right now, many states do not require a stand-alone geography course at the 9-12 level.  In the post-9/11 world, global awareness and cultural literacy have never been more important.

One need look no further than our dismal electoral participation rates and the current economic crisis to realize the importance and relevance of Economics and Government/Civics.  Thomas Jefferson may have hit the nail on the head when he said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Is There Data to Support These Assertions?

I realize that most of the argument I have advanced so far is supported by evidence that is broad or anecdotal in nature and relies on the use of “glittering generalities.”  Let me transition and attempt to make an argument for the centrality of Social Studies that appeals to the readers who are more influenced by scientific research and hard evidence/data.

In 2002, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln released a pessimistic report that said that people do not really yearn for more meaningful involvement in governance and that a vast majority of Americans purposely avoid political participation.  Their research uncovered a damaging paradox of our culture: while it may seem that we like conflict and controversy based upon our obsession with reality television and competitive sports, we mostly dislike contentious political and governmental disputes.  One solution proposed by the researchers was to revamp public education to place more emphasis on democratic participation and a reasoned discussion of controversial public issues.  Patricia Avery, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, has proven that this approach can have a significant impact on civic engagement.

More recently, in 2010, the research firm CIRCLE attempted to determine why there was such a difference in the civic health of Miami, FL (the least civically engaged city in the country) and Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN (the most civically engaged city in the country). What they found in their “Tale of Two Cities Report” was that individuals in the lowest income bracket in the Twin Cities were more likely to volunteer, attend public meetings, work with neighbors, participate in politics outside of elections and participate in associations than people in the wealthiest tier in Miami. An individual with a high school education in Minneapolis-St. Paul was about as likely to be engaged as an individual with a college education in Miami.  In taking a look at the differentiating factors that contribute to the culture of civic empowerment, researchers mentioned that one of the key factors was that “Education in Minnesota appears to be more ‘civic.’ Schools in the Twin Cities do a better job teaching civic knowledge and connecting other civic learning experiences in communities.”  In other words, when a community promotes and values civic education, it increases civic empowerment and quality of life.

So then, how do we best educate our children to take their place in the changing world?  If we continue to focus on economic utility and preparing students for the world of work, we miss out on a higher calling and a more meaningful approach to education.  Let us embrace the Humanities and Liberal Arts and return them to their rightful place, at the center of public education.