Thursday, October 30, 2014

Using Learning Targets and Backwards Design in Planning (Colorado, 4thgrade)

Every person goes through their own planning process. This is how I went through my planning process for the 4th grade Colorado unit. In this process, I use backwards design to write Learning Targets and inquiry questions.  I do this so my attention stays focused on student thinking rather than information. (Here are the final Learning Targets that you see me develop within this blog post.)

I began by creating a large poster that included the social studies disciplines that are in this unit.

I used the Unit Outline, which is available in CCAP Stage 3, to create a broad outline for the entire unit. With each "chunk" of learning, I added the social studies disciplines that I think we would elevate. This helps me to keep focus on skill and conceptual goals.

I created a list of the Big Ideas and Organizing Concepts in the unit. I can find these on Stage 1. This is just another way to stay focused on concepts within the unit. I might end up creating an anchor chart that includes these and our inquiry questions.  That way, our anchor chart stays focused on concepts. In the future, I'll be writing Learning Targets that are focused on skills and processes that students will learn and apply in their classroom work.

Some "chunks" of the unit need to broken down into smaller sections. This is helpful in planning the entire unit.

I start to add days to my unit plan. Days are general to start and I know that this may change as I go deeper into the planning process.

I use Stage 1 and focus on the section with skills and processes. I stay focused on this section because it helps me to think about the skills and processes in the unit. Historically, social studies has been about information. I know that 21st century learners must focus on how to use information and sources, and the "Students will be able to..." section provides that guidance. I also know that this helps me to understand rigor within the unit, and I also start to sense what type of modeling I will need so students can be successful with our Learning Targets.

Last, I want to elevate the conceptual goals. To do this, I use Essential Questions and redesign them so they are connected to the facts and skills that have been highlighted in the Learning Targets. I write a few questions that we can use as part of classroom conversations.

Here are my Learning Targets. I decided what a final Learning Target would be, and then I asked myself, "What additional Learning Targets can I write that will help students be successful with their final Learning Target?" Notice how I've established the number of days to accomplish the goals. In addition, notice how I've created different Learning Targets that feel like "the right steps" to be successful. 

My first Learning Targets focus on describing the location of Colorado in relation to other places.

My second Learning Targets focus on using geographic vocabulary to describe Colorado's physical regions.

My third Learning Target is related to comparing regions.

My inquiry questions are open-ended with broad answers. In addition, I've included a question that starts to point in the direction we are going for the unit.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Specialization - Economic Change Over Time AND Economic Systems

Specialization can be used with different concepts. Students can use specialization to understand the historical aspect of how economics has changed over time. Students can also look at specialization through the purely-economic lens.

5th grade - Early American History
When students are engaged in studies of early American History, a common conceptual goal involves economics. The ways people participate in the economic community has changed over time, especially as it relates to specialization. Early communities had wig makers, brick makers, and other different specialized ways of participating in the economic community. View the following videos and ask students, "How does specialization in the colonial era compare the specialization today?"

6th grade - Economic Systems
When student are engaged in studies of the Western Hemisphere, they are frequently asked to describe different characteristics of economic systems. Specialization is something that some economic systems include, and others do not. View the following videos and ask, "What might specialization look like in different economies of today?"

The Bike Maker (specializing to create a good)

Made by Hand / Teaser - The Bike Maker from Made by Hand on Vimeo.

The Beekeeper (specializing to provide goods)

Made by Hand / No 3 The Beekeeper from Made by Hand on Vimeo.

I love the video "The Knife Maker" (specializing to provide a good) - This IS NOT recommended for students when using sound. The knife maker uses foul language a few times in the video, but his craft is amazing. I suggest turning off the volume and ask students to observe the process of this craft.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Nelson Mandela - Understanding Actions of Individuals and Civic Ideals

      As students are engaged with units of study related to the U.S. Constitution, they certainly explore the concept of citizenship and explore the topic of civic ideals. While you explore this concept, you can also extend student thinking to support students as writers. You might look at the civics portion like this (writing is included at the end of the lesson):
  • Social Studies Discipline: Civics
  • Concept: Citizenship
    • Understand: Students will understand that an individual's actions communicate their conviction to civic ideals.
    • Essential Question: How do actions reveal someone's conviction to civic ideals?
      • Why is this a transferrable concept? Everyone takes ownership of their vision of citizenship and everyone develops their own understanding of what civic ideals look like within their lives. In our day to day actions, we see evidence of what people in society believe about civic ideals. Sometimes we agree with those actions, sometimes we don't. The ways people apply civic ideals might look different across time, place, or culture.
    • Know: Students will know civic ideals (including freedom, rule of law, equality, civility, cooperation, respect, responsibility, and civic participation)
    • Skill: Students will be able to relate and describe how group/individual actions are connected to an individual's/group's belief about civic ideals.
In this learning activity, students will engage with a multiple resources. The video shows Maya Angelou sharing a poem about Nelson Mandela. The video includes specific images and specific phrases from a poem that students might use to support the goals for this lesson.
Source One - Video: His Day is Done - Maya Angelou's Tribute Poem for Nelson Mandela

Source 2 - The Day is Done (poem)

Source 3 - 17 Inspiring Facts About Nelson Mandela (from The New Yorker)

Student task:
As writers - Use source 1 and 2 to understand how video and language are used to communicate the impact of a citizen on society.
As citizens - Use details from all sources to describe how Nelson Mandela's actions and beliefs reveal his conviction to civic ideals and society.

As citizens - To show you have transferred this idea, create a list of inspiring facts about someone you admire (possibly yourself). Identify how this individual's actions are related to his/her beliefs about civic ideals.
As writers - Write a poem to effectively communicate the impact of "someone you admire" on society.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Using Essential Questions with Intentionality AND Purpose

When visiting classrooms, teachers are regularly using visual reminders (posters, anchor charts, pulling up digital charts) of the big ideas and essential questions that frame the work within different chunks of a unit. Yet, "merely posting the essential questions and occasionally reminding kids of it is pointless: the aim is to use the question to frame specific activities, to provide perspective, " and to focus on the conceptual ideas that are prioritized for the unit. Most important, essential questions bring the critical thinking and reasoning of students to the forefront of inquiry. After all, essential questions are designed for inquiry...and daily classroom experiences should be designed so students skillfully develop new knowledge and evidence to answer questions with reasonable ideas.

This can be a huge leap, especially in social studies, because of traditions that regularly take over a teacher's approach to social studies instruction.  Sadly, social studies still seems to driven by reading non-fiction text and completing activities that provide a break from learning more facts and masses of information. In contrast, students should be:

    • taking time to apply critical thinking skills to analyze and gather the big ideas from multiple sources (charts, graphs, images, maps, primary sources, secondary sources, and visual media),
    • asking additional questions due to interaction with sources (even if those questions are not answered),
    • using newly learned ideas to engage in discipline-specific critical thinking and reasoning (Look at what students should be able to do. This is discipline-specific thinking/work and allows students to engage in the thinking practices and skills of historians, geographers, economists, and engaged/informed citizens), and
    • using newly learned ideas to connect with the big ideas and essential questions (essential questions are designed with students as the audience, and they're designed so students uncover conceptual understandings)
"At every turn, in other words, the essential question looms large in the unit. Students are not only encouraged to keep pondering them" over the course of many days, "but they take notes on the question and routinely remind one another that the essential question is the focus." As a point of self-reflection, ask yourself:
  1. Is the teacher the only one who keeps referring to the essential question? Or, do students continually refer to the essential question, indicating that they know it's a tool central to their learning?
  2. Does the teacher primarily use an essential question so students can point out "answers"? Or, does the teacher use an essential question so students can use what they've learned and also pose additional ideas beyond what they are learning? (Students owning the question is central to a guided release model.)
  3. Is the essential question central to assessment?
  4. Is there a plan whereby the question goes from the teacher's control to the students' control?
I'm going to steal from Grant Wiggins' blog post, and use his Four-Phase Process for Implementing Essential Questions. (For more insights, check out his book Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Students Understanding.) As you read this chart, notice how inquiry with essential questions is supported with design of the unit. Because social studies units frequently contain a mix of complex concepts and skills, consider how you might organize a unit into chunks. Each chunk can address an essential question (or possibly a few related essential questions). To answer that question, students engage with sources and process their learning by using discipline-specific thinking skills AND the essential question(s) that are aligned to conceptual understandings. 

Four-Phase Process for Implementing Essential Questions
(Access a blank version of this template to use in planning)

Finally, as you reflect on essential questions that you choose to drive different chunks of a unit, consider the components of a GOOD essential question (from Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins):
  • "A GOOD essential question:
    • is thought-provoking and intellectually engaging, meant to spark discussion and debate.
    • calls for higher-order thinking, such as analysis, inference, evaluation, and prediction. It cannot be effectively answered by recall alone.
    • points towards important, transferable ideas within (and sometimes across disciplines).
    • raises additional questions and sparks further inquiry.
    • requires support and justification, not just an answer.
    • recurs over time (i.e. the question can and should be re-visited again and again)."
Questions that meet all or most of these criteria qualify as 'essential.' These are questions that are not answerable with finality in a single lesson or brief sentence - and that's the point. Their aim is to stimulate thought, to provoke inquiry, and to spark more questions, including thoughtful student questions, not just pat answers. They are provocative and generative. By tackling such questions, learners are engaged in 'uncovering' the depth and richness of a topic that might otherwise be obscured by simply 'covering' it." 

** I want to note that significant facets of this post (identified within quotes) come from a post by Grant Wiggins, "On genuine vs bogus inquiry - using EQs properly."

How Might I Assess If Students Understand "Culture"?

     In various grades, students examine culture. It might be...the culture of an individual or family...the culture of a state, region or nation...the culture of indigenous peoples. When students examine culture, they look at the pieces that make up the whole.

Over time, students begin to understand that unity and diversity across cultures can be identified when looking at different elements of culture, such as:
  • Social Aspects of Culture (major beliefs and values, holidays and celebrations, religion, art, language, education, food, games/sports)
  • Economic Aspects of Culture (economic organization, interdependence and specialization)
  • Political Aspects of Culture (governmental organization, laws and policies, mechanisms to foster cooperation and to deal with conflict)
For social studies teachers, assessing a student's understanding of culture is very difficult. Yet, demonstrating understanding of culture provides a number of pathways to empower students and incorporate student creativity. When I asked fellow social studies teachers about the different ways they assess culture, these were some of their ideas:
  1. Students create a museum exhibit with artifacts. When you visit a museum, artifacts are used to represent the culture. With any artifact, there's an explanation about the artifact and why it's important to a culture. Students could select artifacts that represent different elements of culture. Students can explain the artifact's connection the culture while also identifying why the artifact is a strong example within a particular element of culture. Museum exhibits can be created by small groups of students and placed on display. Students can also use different digital tools to gather a digital museum exhibit and create a video with voice-over to be docents of the exhibit.
  2. How about a survival guide? When we must "step-in" to new and different cultures, we must figure out ways of assimilating so we can fit-in and survive. What are the cultural norms that are necessary to blend in, assimilate, and acculturate? 
  3. Create a video report complete with photos, artifacts, music, etc. It provides a creative opportunity for students to share their understanding. 
  4. Create alternate lines of culture.  We might study a particular culture and then ask, "What if our culture included this aspect of another culture? How would this impact us? What if this event would have happened in our culture, how would that have impacted our culture of today?"
  5. Within a culture, life is seen differently by its members. Culture is different for a young boy or young girl.  Culture is seen differently by a rich or poor person, man or woman, leader or citizen.  Students might create diary entries or design short skits that elevate the perspective of different members within a culture. Students can be required to identify the different elements of culture that are being addressed within the diary entry or skit. This might also be accomplished by students creating documentaries that involve someone interviewing different members of a culture.
  6. Add any of your ideas in the comments section.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Change - A Concept That Connects Science and Social Studies (and everything else in the world)

     A critical component of learning involves helping students to think conceptually. When we can provide opportunities for students to apply the same concepts across disciplines, we provide a pathway to deeper conceptual learning in ALL contents involved.

Let me provide an example:
     In 3rd grade, students in my school district have just finished a science unit called Change: Life Cycles. Students start October with a social studies unit titled The Big City. In this unit, students examine change over time in the Denver Metro area. Consider how we might incorporate a classroom experience that connects students to the deeper concept of change. Here is what this might look like and sound like:
Public domain image (from

TEACHER: "Students, in our last science unit, we learned about changes in plants and animals. All plants and animals change and we use the term life cycle to describe the series of changes organisms go through as they grow and develop. Can you share the changes that take place for a plant or an animal?"

STUDENTS: Students share their understanding of change from Change: Life Cycles.

TEACHER: "We are going to keep giving some examples of change.  Let's think about ourselves as readers, writers, and mathematicians. Can you tell me how you, as students, will change as a reader from Kindergarten to 6th grade? Can you tell me how you will change as a writer from Kindergarten to 6th grade? Can you tell me how you will change as a mathematician from Kindergarten to 6th grade?"

STUDENTS: Students share this understanding of change as it applies to them as readers, writers, and mathematicians.  Teachers might consider listing these on a simple timeline that shows the PAST and the FUTURE.

TEACHER: "Students, we are going to start a social studies unit where we look at change in the city where we live. I want you to put yourselves into the shoes of your grandparents when they were your age. That was probably a long time ago. Now, I want you to imagine what they would say if they could tell you how our city has changed over time.  You might use these two sentence starters to help you describe how our city has changed over time.  A long time ago....   But today,.... " Model what this thinking and writing looks like.

STUDENTS: Students take some time to write down some examples. (BEST PRACTICE ALERT) Since we know students learn with the use of nonlinguistic representations, you might show students how to create a past-picture and present-picture to illustrate one of their statements.  Encourage students to talk with each other and find out what other ideas their peers plan to share. When finished, students present their statements and illustrations.

TEACHER: Consider showing this brief video (also seen below) to help students sense some ways that Denver has changed over time. The video includes WHY changes have taken place.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Flat Stanley Throughout Colorado with Incoming 4th Graders

     Schools have many traditions, and one of my favorites is the documentation of Flat Stanley's travels. Recently, I was on Twitter and noticed a series of posts for #preserveCOstanley. It got me thinking...

Students exiting 3rd grade, preparing to start 4th grade know that the coming year will be significantly focused on state studies. I asked myself, "How might we use social media to help students SEE the sites, famous landmarks, monuments, government buildings, and physical geography of the state?"
Flat Stanley at Bent's Fort      

What if every student colored a Flat Stanley on the last day of 3rd grade and then took pictures with Flat Stanley during summer travels in the state? Simply use your state's abbreviation and Stanley as a hashtag, and post the pictures to Twitter.

Colorado - #COStanley
New Mexico - #NMStanley
California - #CAStanley

You get the picture! Go here for any Flat Stanley materials you might want.

Since all state studies have some similar components to student learning, here are some suggested places to take pictures.

  1. Physical Geography - Take a picture of Flat Stanley with major aspects of physical geography in the background.  In Colorado, we have beautiful locations throughout the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, and the plateaus. Sometimes it's difficult for students to understand physical regions and physical geography unless they have a picture.
  2. Significant People, Cultures, and Events - Take a picture of Flat Stanley somewhere that might be connected to significant people, cultures, or events. In Colorado, why not take a picture at Mesa Verde to help others see where early Native Cultures lived. As you tour a Gold Mine, take a picture of Flat Stanley with a minecart. When you walk through Denver, take a picture near monuments and statues that were created to honor the state's past. Someone will have relatives in Eastern Colorado...take a picture so students can know what life is like on a ranch. 
  3. Government Buildings and People - If you visit the state capital or the Denver Mint, take a picture! If you happen to get inside and see people debating issues within the state legislature, capture the moment. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Interdependence in the Economic Community

Understanding interdependence is a foundational idea to economics. As adults, we are somewhat comfortable talking about interdependence, but we might find it difficult to show.  

As part of third grade unit in our school district, students engage in learning where they explore how members of the economic community are interdependent.  Through embracing a creative approach based on the guided release of responsibility, one teacher managed to create an experience where students were able to understand and then demonstrate a rich understanding of interdependence.

"In the end, I want students to show their understanding of interdependence using a map. The map will include arrows and written ideas to show how different members of the economic community might need another."  To make this assessment successful, the teacher asked, "How will I provide experiences that will enable students to do this type of assessment?"

First, students learned who and what was in the economic community (producers/consumers, goods/services, government/services provided through taxes).  Once this foundation was established, the teacher scaffolded learning to talk about how members of the economic community depend on each other. "We spent a few days talking about businesses depending on each other... & then added in the government... & then households."  These conversations were perfect scaffolds to help students move their thinking towards interdependence

Next, the teacher demonstrated how they might drew a map of the community. It was a perfect visual representation, something that we know kids need as part of their learning.  She described how she was including businesses that offered goods and services, things that would be paid for by taxes, and households.  When her community was drawn, it was time to model how she would show her thinking on the map. Modeling the thinking was massive because it demonstrated to students that there was not one way to do the assessment.  Modeling the thinking empowered students to demonstrate the thinking on their own.  The teacher drew arrows between different items on the map and wrote phrases to describe how money was moving throughout the community.  

Once this modeling was complete, "I then had kids draw maps of an economic community (I gave them a few items which had to be on their maps) and they drew their community.  Then, they added arrows to show money going back & forth." When she saw the work of her students, the teacher was THRILLED! "Pretty cool! Today as a final assessment I gave them the two big essential questions - How are households, businesses & government connected? Why do they need each other?  The kids used their maps to help describe and answer these questions."  In the end, she said, "Hopefully maps will help others think about different ways for kids to demonstrate their thinking!"  

Take a gander at the student assessments...collaboration, creativity and critical-thinking at its best!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Connecting the "Structure and Function of Government" with Current Issues

From the moment students enter classrooms, they engage with civics.  A significant concept that students develop over time involves understanding the structure and function of government.  Generally, this learning exposes students to the notion that 1) leaders exist within different types of communities and that 2) processes are established to support positive change through helping leaders - and citizens - exchange ideas.

To make this learning relevant for students, we must invite students to examine issues that different communities are dealing with.  Through the examination of issues, students have the opportunity to see how different branches of government work in real life.  This relevancy deepens student understanding of the structure and function of government.  Learning about issues and how communities identify potential solutions to issues allows students to transfer and apply their learning about the structure and function of government. Consider what this might look like at different grade levels and how a common vision across grade levels allows students to connect, deepen, and build on their understanding in their schooling experience.

  • 1st grade - Students focus on leaders in the classroom and school. 
  • 2nd grade - Students focus on the classroom, school, and local community.
    • What roles provide leadership and guidance within schools and classrooms? (Principal, classroom teachers, educational assistants)
    • In what ways do parents and students share their ideas and assist in the management of schools and classrooms? (parents and students are able to have discussions with the teacher or principal when they might feel that rules and laws have been disciplined inappropriately)
    • What are some examples of issues that a school or classroom must solve? How do people work together to solve issues? (students - and parents - work with the teacher to solve issues such as too much talking, inappropriate behavior at recess, disrespect of peers, ...)
  • 3rd grade - Students focus on local government (city and county).
    • What is the structure and function of local government? (Executive - Mayor, Legislative - local City Councils, Judicial - Local Courts)
    • What issues are being debated within our local government? (Consider looking for issues within community newspapers.  Colorado teachers can find their local community newspapers here. Teachers from other states can use the same link and look at the top for a link to your state's community newspapers. In addition, state's have groups that support regional mayors.  In the Denver Metro area, the Metro Mayors Caucus is focusing on these issues. )
    • As a community identifies potential solutions to issues, how might each branch of government become involved? (Students have the opportunity to transfer and apply their knowledge of each branch's role and how checks and balances keep any one branch from having too much power.)
  • 4th grade - Students focus on state government (often through units that focus on the state).
    • What is the structure and function of state government? (Executive - Governor, Legislative - Colorado General Assembly, Judicial - State Supreme Court)
    • What issues are being debated within our state government? (Consider looking at your state's paper to see what issues exist.  Colorado teachers can look at the Denver Post: Legislature section.)
    • As the state identifies potential solutions to issues, how might each branch of government become involved? (Students have the opportunity to transfer and apply their knowledge of each branch's role and how checks and balances keep any one branch from having too much power.)

    • 5th grade - Students focus on federal government (often through studies of the U.S. Constitution).
      • What is the structure and function of federal government? (Executive - President, Legislate - House and Senate, Judicial - Supreme Court)
      • What issues are being debated within our federal government? (Issues within the federal government.)
      • As the nation identifies potential solutions to issues, how might each branch of government become involved? (Students have the opportunity to transfer and apply their knowledge of each branch's role and how checks and balances keep any one branch from having too much power.)
    • 6th and 7th grade - Students begin to look at global citizenship and the influence of nations. For some students, they are exposed to global governing with groups such as the United Nations. In 6th and 7th grades, students examine the Western Hemisphere and the Eastern Hemisphere.
      • What is the structure and function of the United Nations? (Structure of the UN)
      • What global issues are being debated by the United Nations?
      • As the United Nations identifies potential solutions to issues, how do the governments of different nations and global citizens become involved?

    Thursday, March 6, 2014

    U.S. Regional Studies (aka Please Abandon Traditional State Reports)

    Sometimes it's difficult to abandon traditions. For ages, elementary students have engaged in research reports about states. While teachers might feel satisfied with the classroom buzz of busy students finding a wealth of facts, there comes a time when we must ask ourselves, "Does this experience lead to deeper understanding of conceptual ideas? Does this experience lead students to engage in the critical thinking processes of a social scientist?" If we are honest with ourselves, the answer is a definitive NO.

    What is a region? How might I organize the states into regions? 
    To engage students in deeper understanding of our nation, we must begin by thinking about regions of the United States.  As a concept, region designates an area (of no specific size) that is part of a larger whole (the United States) which has smaller units within it. Regions differ largely on what we are talking about. While there are ways to regionally organize the nation based on climate, cultural ethnicity, well-being,.... we might consider a traditional organization of our nation into regions. Each region includes a particular set of states and those states have been included within the region based on geographic, economic, historic, and cultural trends/patterns.
    • West Region (WA, OR, CA, NV, ID, MT, WY, UT, CO) and AK, HI
    • Southwest Region (AZ, NM, TX, OK)
    • Midwest Region (ND, SD, NE, MN, IA, MO, WI, IL, IN, OH, MI)
    • Northeast Region (MD, DE, NJ, PA, CT, RI, MA, NV, VT, NH, ME)
    • Southeast Region (KY, VA, WV, NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, MS, TN)

    What will students learn about regions? 
    State reports have been justified for a long time because students find out lots of facts about states.  But, our goal is to support conceptual understanding of our nation.  Ask yourself, "How does finding facts about a state help you to understand our nation?"  It doesn't.

    Consider this - students frequently engage in lengthy, complex studies of their home state prior to learning about the United States.  In Colorado, students investigate some significant concepts, such as:
    • What regions might we identify in Colorado based on physical geography? What traits define these regions?
    • Who has come to Colorado over time? Why?
    • How is migration and population in Colorado connected to events in the United States?
    • How has migration and population development influenced the cultural diversity of the state? How is today's diverse population connected to the past?
    • How has the geography of Colorado influenced the ways people live over time and place?
    • How has the geography of Colorado influenced economics over time and place?
    • What is the structure and function of state government?
    • What issues are being addressed by the state government? What are potential solutions?
    In a regional study of the United States, students have the opportunity to expand horizons by connecting their state to a region.  In our case, Colorado becomes connected to the West region.  When students take a deeper look at the region, they begin to see patterns emerge.  For example, people migrated to various parts of the West for gold, not just Colorado.  People migrate to the West for its physical features and climate. Cultural diversity in the West has some patterns due to historic events.  

    With an understanding of a region's trends and patterns, students have the opportunity to compare and contrast these trends and patterns with other regions.  In doing so, students develop deeper understanding of our nation.  
    • If we divide the nation into these regions, what characteristics might be used to describe the physical geography of each region? (How do those characteristics compare to Colorado and the West?)
    • Who has come to __________ region over time? Why? (How does this compare with who and why people migrated to Colorado and the West region over time?)
    • How is migration and population in __________ region connected to events in the United States? (How does this compare with Colorado and the West?)
    • How has migration and population development influenced the cultural diversity of the______ region? How is today's diverse population in the _______ region connected to the past?
    • How has the geography of the _______ region influenced the ways people live over time and place? (How does this compare with the ways people have lived over time and place in Colorado and the West?)
    • How has the geography of the __________ region influenced economics over time and place? (How does this compare with the influence of geography on economics over time and place in Colorado and the West?)
    • What issues are being addressed by governments within the __________ region? (How do the issues in this region compare to the issues in Colorado and the West?)

    What resources might I use? What case studies might students examine to develop regional understanding of our nation?

    What about memorizing states and capitols? 
    To be honest, cultural traditions are strong and many families in our communities still want this type of learning.  So...let's consider our purpose.  When we hear news about different states in the nation, we want students to have a general sense of where those states are located.  As adults, we hear about news in the nation and often connect that news with the region where a state is located.  If this is how we operate as thinking adults, how might we design learning that aligns with how we think? I think it's perfectly appropriate to establish a goal where students can identify the states within each region.  As for capitols, the reason we know capitols is to know where a state's government is located.  How about an alternative?  What if we identified the significant cities within a region so students become familiar with the cultural and economic centers for each region?  It comes down to this..."What type of learning will help students have a strong knowledge base and deeper understanding of our nation's regions?"

    Tuesday, March 4, 2014

    Adding Artifact Analysis: Moving Beyond the Research Reports for First Americans Cultural Regions

    In First American units throughout the nation, students learn about the many different cultural regions. To bring in a conceptual lens, teachers engage students in conversations with the question, "How does where you live impact how you live?" (Without these conversations, students merely engage in research reports...fact-finding missions...questions to fill-in the answers on worksheet packets.) By engaging students in this type of conceptual question, the research about different cultural regions has a deeper purpose.  By engaging students in this type of conceptual question, students develop understanding of an idea that is transferrable by time and place.

    In the 21st century, we look towards the understanding of concepts AND we are looking to elevate MUCH MORE critical thinking and reasoning.  For this reason, I encourage teachers to engage students in the critical thinking practices of a historian.  Move beyond the reports...deepen learning and student thinking through inviting students to analyze artifacts.
    From the National Museum of the American Indian
    When students analyze artifacts, they are engaging with the actual pieces of history.  When students analyze artifacts, they are engaged in the critical thinking and reasoning of historians.  When students analyze artifacts, they are connecting the content of their research reports and deepening their understanding of culture.  (There's a reason museums share artifacts with people, and not research reports.)  When students analyze artifacts after having a base of content knowledge, they might try to answer the following questions:

    1. What do you think this artifact is? 
    2. How do you think think this artifact may have been used by the __________ culture?
    3. What questions might you ask? What are you wondering?
    4. Art museums choose artifacts to help you understand cultures that live in different times and places.  What do you think this artifact tells you about the ___________ culture?

    Sources for Native American Cultural Artifacts
    • National Museum of the American Indian - Teachers can use this search tool to find artifacts by cultural region.  This is a massive collection. 
    • Infinity of Nations: Culture Quest - This highly interactive site allows students to examine different cultural artifacts from many of the North American Native American cultural regions.  Regions included are Northwest Coast, California, Southwest, Eastern Woodlands, Arctic and Great Plains. 

    Spotlight on Critical Thinking: Using Photographs to Understand Native American and Euro-American Interactions

         Many students throughout the nation learn about Native Americans in 3rd grade.  Part of this learning involves learning about interactions that have taken place over time between Native Americans and Euro-Americans.  From a conceptual lens, this means that students might use a variety of sources to identify the nature of those interactions, and when interactions indicate elements of cooperation and/or conflict.  Embedded within history units from Kindergarten to 12th grades, students will examine interactions that take place in different times, different places, and among different cultures.

    This lesson uses historical sources (images of Native Americans) and provides opportunities for students to analyze photographic images.  In this situation, analysis involves 1) identifying what you notice within the photographs, 2) asking questions and identifying things that you wonder about, and 3) making inferences about the interactions based on information/evidence acquired through analysis.

    Essential Question: What do photographs reveal about interactions that have taken place between Native Americans and Euro-Americans over time?

    Native Americans: Legislation (photo set)
    Native Americans: Warriors and Battles (photo set)
    Native American: Tribes and Cultures (photo set)

    Learning Activity/Process: 
    This lesson is based on critical thinking processes.  The spotlight of this lesson is on the process a historian uses to analyze sources. While the content is important, students acquire content knowledge through engaging in the critical analysis of photographs. Therefore, teachers must consider how students will document their thinking.  This might initially happen as a whole class so students see a model of how a historian documents critical thinking about a source.  Next, students might engage in this analysis in small groups.  Last, the teacher might assess student mastery of this skill by asking a student to engage in this thinking and documentation independently.

    1. The class will choose a set of images to analyze first.  Images (above in the sources section) can be analyzed collectively as a group or one at a time.  Notice how each link connects to a set of images based on a general topic for Native Americans. 
    2. The class will view the images and engage in processes based on the following questions:
      1. What do you notice in the images?
      2. What clues do you notice in the images related to interactions between Native Americans and Euro-Americans?
      3. What clues do you notice about when or where these interactions take place? (Essentially, are they all from long ago or do some of them seem more recent?)
      4. What clues are revealed within the captions to each photo?
      5. As you look at each photo, what questions or wonderings do you have?
      6. Now that you've identified what you notice and the questions you might have, what inferences or conclusions might you draw from the photos related to interactions between Native Americans and Euro-Americans?
    3. Repeat this process with each set of photos. 
    4. Teachers are encouraged to be thoughtful around when students need the opportunity to pause and make meaning of their learning.  Open-ended questions to guide this type of conversation might be, "After analyzing the photos, what are you beginning to understand now that you may not have understood before? How are the photos helping you to have a better sense of interactions that have taken place over time between Native Americans and Euro-Americans?"

    Friday, February 28, 2014

    Learning from the Past: Creating Relevance When Studying Influences of our U.S. Constitutional Government

    Students investigate how previous ideas and experiences influenced the foundational ideas within our U.S. Constitution.  If we simply jump into this learning, it's easy for students to lose interest.  They lose interest because it feels like a bunch of information.  It's information that's not relevant to young citizens.

    As educators, we seek ways to make learning transferrable and relevant.  With this in mind, maybe we should approach the learning through creating relevance.  What if we began an this investigation about our Constitution with these questions (surely students can create something to demonstrate their understanding around these questions): 

    How are you or others influenced by the past?
    What other things are influenced by the past?

    Today, I am who I am because of my parents, friends, family, and past experiences.  People and experiences left shaped who I am today.

    Today, musicians write and create music because of the musicians who have left a mark on their soul.  Some were influenced by The Beatles and Eric Clapton, others were influenced by Madonna, and others were influenced by the Beastie Boys.  The words and songs of today were influenced by previous musicians.

    Today, architects design and construct homes and buildings based on the designs of previous architects.  While their designs are new, their designs contain "fingerprints" from previous architects.

    Everyone and everything is influenced by the past.  When we recognize this transferrable idea, then maybe students will finder greater relevance when learning about the influences of our U.S. Constitutional government.  
    To engage students with this learning, we might create relevance first.  After all, hopefully we have learned that a key facet for learning involves...RELEVANCE.

    Tuesday, February 25, 2014

    Letters from Poland :A Primary Source Lesson on Push/Pull Factors During the Ellis Island Era

    As students learn about regions of the United States, they learn about migration.  In every region of the United States, population developed due to migration.  The question we might ask is, "What influenced migration to regions of the United States over time?"

    In the Northeastern United States, a significant population boom took place through Ellis Island because of push/pull patterns associated with migration.  But, why did it happen?  How does a historian discover the reasons behind migration?

    Essential Question:
    What influenced migration to regions of the United States over time?

    Learning Experience:
    1. Students know that historians study primary sources to reveal clues about the past.  In this lesson, students will be given a set of letters between family members in Poland and those who migrated to the United States.
    2.  Students will analyze the letters and look for clues that reveal why people from Poland may have migrated to the United States in the late 1800s. (Teachers may choose a few or several letters for students to analyze.)

    Letters from Poland (Primary Sources)
    Book - Escaping to America: A True Story by Rosalyn Schanzer (can be used to extend learning)

    Guiding Questions: 

    • Critical analysis - When reading these primary source letters...
      • What hints do these letters give about why people may have been pushed away from Poland? 
      • What hints do these letters give about why people may have been pulled to the United States from Poland?
      • How well has America lived up to their expectations? What has been a disappointment? What has turned out better than they expected?
      • Is there such a thing as a "typical" immigrant experience? Why or why not?
    • Comparing the past to the present
      • How has the process of leaving home, traveling to the USA, and settling-in changed for today's immigrants? What parts of the process have stayed the same?
      • What goals, values, and emotions do most immigrants from any time seem to share?
    • Comparing migration patterns in different regions of the United States
      • Why did people migrate to the region where you live? How was this migration pattern in the Northeast influenced by similar or different reasons? 
    This lesson and its sourced were adapted from the Heritage Discovery Center

    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

    Colonial America - A Conceptual Approach to Migration, Movement and Settlement

    One way to look at concept-based instruction involves students using a collection of sources and learning experiences to develop complex understanding of an idea.

    In this example, I have pulled together the sources that we might use to understand migration, movement, and settlement during the earliest stages of European migration to the Western Hemisphere (many call this the colonial era). The tool I've used is ThingLink, a tool that I LOVE for so many reasons.  It allows a user to make interactive images.

    As critical thinkers in my classroom, I want students to analyze a number of different sources. (If you're interested, view my blog post on Developing a Common Process for Analysis.)  This collection includes multiple maps and charts.  In addition, I've included a lesson that I would be teaching and a set of videos that might also inform student understanding.  The questions we are trying to answer are, "Who moved? Where did they go? Why?"

    Historically, teachers have tried to make this a very clean answer - people moved for religious reasons and for economic opportunity.  YUCK! I can imagine someone having me read a few pages of a book and answering a few questions. DOUBLE YUCK!

    When analyzing a variety of sources to answer this question, students have the opportunity to slow down and think critically to develop complex answers. As a teacher, I can open this single link on a SmartBoard and continually return to it each day. (If I'm in a 1:1 classroom, I can share this ThingLink with all students and they have all the resources in one place.)   When students and teachers return to the sources that are being used to learn about a concept, we have the opportunity to revisit our essential questions and elevate the conceptual language of geography and economics (big ideas, organizing concepts).

    Here's the actual link to this ThingLink on Colonial America: Migration, Movement, and Settlement.

    Use of Video in Social Studies: An Active Approach

    Frequently, teachers use video as a source for developing content knowledge. While one goal is connected to the content, another simultaneous goal should be the critical thinking of students.

    To engage students with video, some teachers create a set of guiding questions. Even though this may reveal key ideas with the video, this can also cause students to watch/listen carefully for the answers to questions.  Another approach the encourages students to bring their own thinking to the table involves the teacher utilizing open-ended strategies. In this approach, teachers can facilitate the learning and offer guidance and insight related to quality of student thinking that's applied.  Overall, the goal is to use a resource strategically (in this case, a video) to elevate critical thinking and understanding content.

    National Geographic has a set of videos that capture teachers using classroom strategies that elevate critical thinking and a thoughtful approach to using videos to support student learning.

    The video series, titled Experiencing Film: An Active Approach, shares the following ideas/strategies for engaging students with video:

    • Film Freeze Frame: Observations
    • Film Freeze Frame: Predictions
    • Auditory Perceptions: Sketches
    • Auditory Perceptions: Community Web
    • I Am From: Poem
    • I Am From: I Appreciate My Neighbors Who...
    NOTE: Teachers watching this video series must sign-in to iBoss prior to watching.