New Things To Try For the New Year

I hope you all had a restful and relaxing break. We are back on the grind for the 2nd Semester. In this edition, I want to share some websites offering free resources for your personal use. While these may not be social studies content only, you will certainly be able to utilize them for your classes. A couple of these have been shared previously, but always worth sharing. Some of these will require the use of students to utilize their technology. Instead of fighting against the machine, let’s figure out how to utilize the machine. So, consider this your Web Tools 2.0 Showdown! (cue some music)

  1. Block Posters – Ever wanted to create a HUGE poster, or maybe a civil rights timeline, but do not want to pay the exorbitant cost to do so? Well, upload a JPEG file to this site and it will blow up the picture for you. By tiling the printer pages, you can create a poster the size of a wall or window. No scissors needed. Tape, laminate, whatever you want to do…have fun being creative! Imagine taking an image from the history museum or National Archives and creating a massive display on a wall in the hallway or a classroom.
  2. Rewordify – Rewordify takes complex texts and rewords them in a more user friendly language. Some documents like Federalist #10 and #51 have already been reworded and are available for download. Text can be copied from a source, pasted into their text generator and “reworded” instantly.  Teachers can also create vocabulary activities via this website as well. Shared with a group at Gateway STEM High recently.
  3. Data USA – Need data to back up your research or prove a point? Here it is. Look up poverty statistics, salary info, size of population, job growth, etc.
  4. EdPuzzle – Take any YouTube video (Crash Course, anyone?) and insert questions into the video. Students can respond to the questions, with their answers sent to you. They cannot skip ahead in  the video, unless they answer the question. Imagine linking this to your webpage, or “assigning as homework.”
  5. FlipGrid — Flipgrid is the leading video discussion platform used by millions of PreK to PhD educators, students, families, and organizations. Create a Grid (that’s your classroom or group), add Topics to spark the discussion, and your community builds a dialogue as they share short video responses. Super simple. Super powerful. I recently shared this with a teacher at Compton-Drew and he participated in my “grid.” If you would like to give it a try, have your laptop ready and camera unblocked. Click hereà to participate in the grid I created. I would love to hear your answers. Click the large plus sign labelled “Moderated.” You will record a short video with your answer (multiple takes are allowed) and then upload. As moderator, I can review and add the videos. You can even leave feedback for the person who creates a video as well.

While some of you may be intimidated or resistant to some of these tools, please try something new every month we are in school:

Comfort Zone


Finding What You Are Looking For

As a kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, U2 was the band that carried me through some of the greatest challenges I was facing at the time. I wore out my tapes of The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, as I played them over and over. The first time I was able to see the band live was in June, 1997, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City and later the same year in St. Louis at the TWA Dome. Seeing them play their hits (and a couple misses) made me realize that as a band, they continued to grow and evolve as the years carried on. While not always a fan of some of the later albums (No Line On The Horizon and Pop come to mind), they push the boundaries of their craft. As an educator, shouldn’t we do the same thing?

I have written in the past on the need to evolve, but this year has been a leap of faith for me. I was able to work collaboratively with our teachers to create a new way of doing professional development in our district. Voice and choice are the new norms. Teacher ownership wins over sit and get. Collaboration over isolation. Push what is possible, instead of telling me what is impossible. I am finding the things in what I was looking for…or am I?

Free yourself to be yourself
If only you could you see yourself
If only you could
Free yourself to be yourself
If only you could see yourself
If only you could

-Lights of Home, U2

There is always the desire to build and improve. Looking at the educational landscape within our district and the landscape elsewhere, there is much work to be done. I believe we have the capacity to address these changes, but it requires folks in power to make the necessary decisions to carry out change. If the culture of the school, or building does not allow for risk taking or collaboration, a change is desperately needed. For me, I am seeking out those opportunities to keep our focus on improvement and building teacher capacity. When our teachers feel supported and have a sense of efficacy, we will see huge improvements in our schools. When we work on developing relationships…Seeing our teachers as humans with human experiences and our students as something more than data points, we are able to start finding the very things we are looking for.

I was on the outside when you said
You needed me
I was looking at myself
I was blind, I could not see.

I Will Follow, U2

I am excited for what is ahead of me and the challenges I will be facing. More important, I am excited to continue my journey of growth and improvement. Not only self-improvement, but improvement of others and systems. Have a wonderful New Years!

It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away

Beautiful Day, U2


Future-Driven Recommendations from 1939…Seriously? Yes!

Yesterday, I posted a link to a report generated by the St. Louis Public Schools in 1942 examining the role of civics education in promoting democracy. While some of the ideas suggested would not be much of a surprise to many, there are some rather radical ideas, which would not survive the hyper-partisan nature of today’s political realm. Ideas like tolerance, “responsibility for the socially handicapped,” and conservation of resources would largely be derided as being leftist. At the same time, there was also a need for connection family values, individual participation in society, and a push for individual enterprise. Those are ideas largely promoted by conservatives. So what gives? Why have we evolved so far to the opposite corners of politics and society? Many answers can be offered.

In 1939, the St. Louis Public Schools Curriculum and Instruction Department issued a report to the community and to schools throughout the United States to outline what the future of education should look like. Ten recommendations were made early in the document to push the future of learning. Looking at these ideas almost 80 years later is really interesting to me, because we are saying some of the same things today! Listed below are the ten suggestions made by the committee to achieve a future driven school system (Bold text was made for emphasis by me):

  1.  The public schools must in truth be not only the nutrient of democracy but also the instrument through which the promises of democracy are made real in the lives of all the people.
  2. The curriculum of these schools must include experiences of highest potentiality for the good life, constantly conditioned by choices at every step and level of life that capitalize upon the heritage of mankind in the ongoing process toward a better life.
  3. The schools must not only prepare the individual to live each succeeding stage of life more successfully but must also so educate him that the here and now of life is lived as richly as possible. An estate of childhood has an integrity just as distinct as that of adult life, and no stage of life should be unduly emphasized or neglected in the educational program.
  4. While facts, knowledge, and skills are and always will be essential in the education of children, they do not represent the major purposes for which the schools are maintained. It is only as the schools inculcate worthy attitudes and ideals, develop powers of critical analysis, initiative, and resourcefulness, and encourage habits of conduct that are socially desirable that they adequately serve our society.
  5. The highest teaching is really counseling and guidance, and the ultimate objectives of education are effective citizenship and good character. Either must be positive, not passive, in nature and pointed toward active participation in a society of neighbors.
  6.  No school system is sufficient unto itself. As in St. Louis, there must be everywhere a vigorous, sometimes militant, lay demand for and support of good schools. No matter how devoted the professional staff of the schools may be, they alone can not make a great school system. No schools ever rise for long above the level of the people who maintain them. It is equally true that school systems tend to reflect in the long run the quality and statesmanship of their boards of education.
  7. The organization of a school system may either free or stifle the initiative and constructive genius of an otherwise great school staff such as is found in St. Louis. Divided administration may be the cloak that hides responsibility and prevents an efficient attack on the many-sided problems of the schools.
  8. Tradition has its values but often is the greatest foe of progress. Flexibility and adaptability must be preserved in the midst of the necessity for continuity. It is tragic to find an educational program divided against itself; informal at one level, formal at another; emphasizing the development of the child as paramount at one level and the sanctity of subject matter at another.
  9. The exigencies of existing conditions may condition school finance and support at a particular time, but the long-term considerations must never be forgotten. Enthusiasm for the next step must never blind us to the long view. The destiny of any city, and of the nation itself, is intimately related to the public schools.
  10. Finally, if the schools are to be the means through which we learn to live free, democratic lives, these schools themselves must be centers of democracy.

“St. Louis must look forward to a program for the future. With a splendid tradition of concern for the curriculum and instruction, the end product of all educational provisions, the city can do no less than face the full challenge of new and expanding needs. A general education, dedicated to the preservation and improvement of democratic life in all its aspects and complexities, is indicated—a general education reaching from the nursery school through the junior college. This program, oriented to actual problems which the people of St. Louis and the nation face, must be continuous and unified with no major breaks or hurdles.

All youth, whatever their abilities may be, must find opportunities in this program to develop social understanding and sensitivity, to cultivate individual interests and aptitudes, and to make for themselves places of respectability and responsibility in the school community. In building the program, the school must become more and more a civic center, coordinating the various educative agencies of the community in a program of community education. The school must become increasingly an agency through which the adults and children of the community organize, plan, and carry forward attacks upon actual problems of living. ” 

How interesting is it that before we have ideas like action civics, Project Lead the Way, growth mindset, the innovator’s mindset, and personalized learning…they appear right here.

I would love to hear your thoughts about these ideas from 1939. Are they attainable? If not, why? Are they “the fixes we need” in the year 2017 and beyond?

The Teaching of Citizenship in Our American Democracy (1942) #SLPSLearns #ActionCivics

I came across this link while looking up some resources on the St. Louis Public Schools. I a struck by the tone of this publication considering that it is 75 years old. I wonder how the community would receive this if it were to be released this day in age? What do you think? Also, the more things change, the more they stay the same when it comes to action civics.

Social Studies Update: NCSS Edition

Greetings Social Studies Teachers and Friends of Social Studies!
I returned last night from 5 days in San Francisco attending the National Social Studies Supervisors Association meetings and National Council for Social Studies Conference. As usual, there is an overwhelming amount of information to share and update on, so I will focus in on some trends I was able to see. Kudos to the team from Yeatman-Liddell who presented alongside me (we presented against Stanford History Educators Group, so I missed their session). Lots of good feedback and networks developed from this experience. Next year, the conference will be in Chicago, and I hope some of you will join me in the trek up I-55 to experience all this event has to offer.
  1. Literacy in Social Studies:  No matter who I talked to from well to do districts, to large urban districts, literacy in the social studies is such a huge focus for everyone. So much attention is being spent on Tier 2 vocabulary development. At the same time, finding resources that are student friendly, or lexiled by reading levels is also important. Several resources and strategies were presented to us. One resource I was not familiar with was the Digital Public Library of America, which has free primary source sets available for teachers, along with teaching guides. Pay resources to help with reading and contextualizing resources would include Teacher Created Materials and One World Education. Gilder Lehrman also has some resources and online training to help in this area.
  2. Source Analysis:  Taking an image or resource and guiding the students to engage in contextualization is really important. Get students to place themselves in images and gain a sensory experience from what they may see, hear, feel, smell, etc. The National Archives have document analysis worksheets for varying grade levels and resources available for download. Also, the work presented to you by Dr. Monte-Sano in October was also profiled at NCSS. The Bookmark method, along with her other resources are being utilized with great effect. The group from the University of Michigan will return in February.
  3. Inquiry Design Model: Be sure to join in order to participate in this process. This model focuses on Questions for study, tasks to complete as a means of exploring the question, and sources to find information to answer the question. This is a method of students developing arguments and eventually engaging in action. Their IDM Generator and pre-planned IDMs are a great resource to utilize.
  4. Action Civics: Much of the conference was focused the concept of “action civics.” Do our students have the opportunity to engage in the action of being citizens in our schools or community? Are there issues or concerns where we can get our students involved in the process of promoting change? I see this happening at some of our schools, but not all. Considering the social studies standards we are implementing, action civics and application of knowledge is a very important part of this process. When we look at next generation social studies assessments, our students need to move away from rote memorization to application of knowledge.
  5. Articles:  I also wanted to attach a couple articles for some personalized PD. These highlight and encapsulate many of the sessions and ideas I was hearing at NCSS. Going to a conference of this magnitude can be very overwhelming with the amount of content being shared (over 500 sessions of varying degrees) and the amount of people attending (over 4,000 educators). Following #ncss17 on Twitter will allow you to see some of the thoughts and resources available, even if you did not attend.
If there is something I did not cover in this and you would like more information, please email me and I will try to help you.

A Quick Message to My Teachers

The last few weeks have been filled with a lot of struggles and chaos for many of us and our students. Seemingly, there is a never ending stream of news which just keeps punching at us in a variety of ways. The hurricanes in the Gulf and Caribbean, the protests happening locally, and the tragedy in Las Vegas. Just as we struggle with our feelings and emotions surrounding these events, as some of us have been directly impacted by them, our students are also experiencing that confusion in their own lives.

Chapter 17 of Kids Deserve It! focuses on the need for strong relationships with our students This is THE key to success in the classroom, not test scores. Now, I am not suggesting that you be their “friend,” but I am suggesting to forge authentic relationships. Smile at them and with them. Ask for their opinions. Listen to them. Celebrate small successes. Believe in them. Give fist bumps or dabs. Be present for them when they need it. Tell them that they are appreciated. Think about the quiet kid who is distant and hard to reach. Think about ways in which you can improve your relationships with your students. Start with empathy and patience.

I love seeing the relationships some of you are in the process of building. Keep going, as those relationships keep us sane in a world which sometimes lacks any kind of reason. I appreciate you and thank you!


Reflections On Civics in Action

tina fey quote.jpg

The past couple of weeks have been filled with images and thoughts which are devastating. A week and a half ago, the first images of Hurricane Irma damaging St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands reached my computer screen. About 95% of an island, I have spent a lot of time visiting the last five years, has been destroyed. My family and I are unable to find friends of ours who live and work on St. John or St. Thomas. All of this came on the heels of seeing the devastation of Hurricane Harvey a week prior.

Last Friday, residents of of St. Louis started their morning off with an ominous cloud hanging over their head and that was the decision of the judge in the Stockley Case. At 9:30am, I was at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School looking in on my social studies teachers when the verdict reached social media and finally reached the students. Many sat stunned. Others were in tears, as they see injustice in the decision (I will reserve my personal opinions in this case). Just as teachers did in August and November of 2014, they confronted another uprising.

cnn protest
Photo by Jeff Roberson, Associated Press

Teachers and administrators started performing triage on hurting students, who themselves had been affected by negative encounters with the police. Some students wanted to walk out as opportunists to miss class, but the vast majority of students wanted to organize their protest and become united in a cause. They did so. After spending time honing their message and identifying the leaders and having the full support of the administration and superintendent, the students started their protest. Lining both sides of Kingshighway, a very busy thoroughfare, students chanted, marched, and solicited support for their understanding of social justice. They protested for over an hour. Cleaned up the area in which they protested and went back in the building to debrief. How awesome is that?

Photo by Glenn Barnes

So much of the change which can take place within our society happens when we empower our young men and women to become agents of change. When I attended Central VPA from 1991-1995, we were not allowed to speak out on the injustices we saw at the time. We were silenced.

I am so very proud of the teachers, students, and administration for taking a bold stance…even when it is unpopular among many others.

We need to help our students find their voice and be agents of change. For far too long, we have marginalized this voice of optimism and of hope…for a better tomorrow. The actions of these students may not always be quantifiable in a test score right now; it will be quantifiable in their likelihood of voting, their likelihood of participating in community organizations, and their likelihood of joining organizations they feel oppressed by right now. These change agents will reform systems from within, so long as they hold true to their values and understand their role as a citizen in this city, state, and country.