Teaching Social Studies = A Balancing Act

I am recycling again! I first posted this blog last October, but as I am preparing for a week of social studies professional development, I find that the ideas are a constant theme when we are working with the Social Studies Framework. Let the balancing act begin!

I have been doing far too much thinking this week, and by Jove it’s got to stop! I have been working on a presentation for the CNY Council for the Social Studies Fall Conference and it has led me to cogitate on the idea of the balance of content and skill that is at the heart of the NYS Social Studies Framework Continue reading

Teaching Social Studies: The Time Is Now

Teaching social studies is often about bringing the past to life for our students. But, for a moment, let’s think about current events and how we might use what is going on right now to help students learn about the past. One of the issues when teaching social studies to young people is how to help them see the relevance of the content. What does history of (mostly) dead people have to do with our students? How can the present inform us and our students about the past? How can we help them see the connectedness of now and then? After all, “today’s news is tomorrow’s history” (Passanisi 2016). And what we see as history was current events to the inhabitants of the past. Continue reading

Teaching Social Studies: Facts ≠ History

I am recycling my very first blog (with some revisions) from October of 2012 as I find the ideas are still relevant as we consider the continuing changes in the teaching and learning of social studies in New York State. In two years we will see the new Regents in Global History. This year’s eight graders will be the first to take the new test. Their learning and the learning of all students must be substantively different, not only for the test, but to meet the increasing demands on citizens in the 21st century.

My 7th grade Social Studies teacher was the estimable Mr. Weckel. Mr. Weckel’s job was to teach American History to a group of less-than-motivated 12 and 13 year olds, but his mission was to make his passion for history come alive in our minds and hearts. He yelled, sang, told stupid jokes, wore costumes, ranted, and put on one-man skits. He intimidated us, entertained us, scared us one minute and made us laugh the next. He was also the advisor of the High School History club, of which I was President for two years, in large part to help plan and participate in the club’s trips to Boston and Philadelphia. I remember Mr. Weckel, walking the Freedom Trail through the streets of Boston with a scruffy group of high school students, carrying a rather large American flag and singing I’m a Yankee Doddle Dandy at the top of his lungs! Continue reading

Teaching Social Studies = Finding History Everywhere!

To tell you the truth, the past couple of weeks have been less than historically oriented for me. I have been doing income taxes for our household and those of a couple of my children. I have been writing curriculum for some Career and Technical Education programs (think welding, culinary arts and automotive technology) and I have been trying to keep up with teaching my undergraduate writing class at SUNY Cortland. Also in the midst of those activities I was helping move the OCM BOCES office (not so much my stuff because, well, I’m retired!!!), attending assorted Doctor’s appointments for me and family members, making plans for my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday party, cleaning the house for the arrival of #2 son and girlfriend for said birthday party, and oh yes, trying not to have a stroke while mostly not watching the SU basketball teams compete in their respective Final Fours. Sheesh!! What time is there for thinking about history?? Wait a minute…let’s find some history in my mish mash of activities: Continue reading

Teaching Social Studies = Do Do That (Historical Thinking) Voodoo You Do So Well*

I recently had the opportunity to spend a day learning from Dr. Sam Wineburg from Stanford University and his work with historical thinking and the Reading Like a Historian curriculum materials from the Stanford History Education Group. I was first introduced to his research and these materials when I began as Project Director for the Teaching American History Grant. We used his book, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (Wineburg 2001) as an introduction to the idea that understanding history is more than just knowing “stuff” (as my youngest son so eloquently labeled it). Historical thinking involves…well, involvement! It means involving ourselves and our students in the type of thinking that historians routinely do around primary and secondary sources; involving ourselves and our students in questioning and writing and debating and sharing information and basing their interpretations on evidence from the sources; and involving ourselves and our students in the messy work of understanding history which leads to the messy but critical work of being a citizen. Continue reading

Teaching Social Studies = Overcoming Barriers, Part 4

We have arrived at the fourth and final installment in a series of four about the challenges that students have with using primary sources for historical inquiry as presented in the Jeffery Nokes’ article “Recognizing and Addressing the Barriers to Adolescents’ ‘Reading Like Historians’” (Nokes 2011). After a review of the research on historical thinking in the classroom, Nokes identifies four barriers to student success and presents some ideas for what teachers can do about it in the classroom. Nokes says that analyzing historical documents taxes students’ cognitive resources beyond their bounds; students have limited historical background knowledge and misapply the background knowledge they have; and students tend to hold unsophisticated views of the world. Our final barrier to successful historical thinking is that students have a false sense of what it means to study history. Continue reading

Teaching Social Studies = Overcoming Barriers, Part 3

Welcome to the new year! This blog is the third installment in a series of four about the challenges that students have with using primary sources for historical inquiry as presented in the Jeffery Nokes’ article “Recognizing and Addressing the Barriers to Adolescents’ ‘Reading Like Historians’” (Nokes 2011). Nokes has reviewed the research on historical thinking in the classroom and has identified four barriers to student success with historical inquiry. For each barrier he presents some ideas for what we can do about it in the classroom. In last month’s blog I discussed the issue of students lack of background knowledge and their tendency toward “presentism” – applying today’s values and ways of thinking to the past that prevent them from successfully analyzing historical documents. This month we’ll explore the issue that students often have unsophisticated world views that pose barriers toward their being able to think historically. Continue reading