Thursday, October 20, 2016

Vision, Culture, & Conversations - #IMMOOC Week 3

I’ve had an amazing few weeks of learning that caused me to put a lot of thought into what school can be. In addition to reading Part II of The Innovator’s Mindset and viewing Episode 3 of the #IMMOOC YouTube Live Sessions, I also attended the Iowa Technology and Education Connection (ITEC) Conference last week. I always enjoy the opportunity to learn from presenters and participants at conferences. I found this year’s conference very inspiring as I attended many different sessions that made me think about how we can innovate to better meet the needs of our students. Presenters like George Couros (@gcouros), Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp), Chad Kafka (@chadkafka), Robert Dillon (@ideaguy42), and more pushed my thinking and helped me dream about the possibilities of education. I was impressed as I learned more about Iowa BIG, a project-based high school built around the ideas of student passion, authentic projects, and connections to the community.
George Couros signed my copy of The Innovator's Mindset at ITEC
Throughout all of these learning opportunities, I kept coming back to the themes of vision and culture. I truly believe that vision and culture go hand in hand. A staff that has a shared vision in which they truly believe, will establish a culture of learning (for educators and students). This reinforces the importance of involving all stakeholders in establishing a vision. Everyone affected by the vision needs to have a say in its creation and should be able to explain how it translates into the classroom and learning.

This simple step of allowing voice (whether in creating a school-wide vision or one for your own classroom) can have a profound effect on the buy-in of all stakeholders. This can be one of the first steps in establishing a collaborative culture of learning. Inclusion of all stakeholders in this process helps to build trust and is the first step toward empowerment of learners. This allows for the development of a culture where learners (whether teachers or students) feel supported in taking risks and feel that their voice matters. Leaders must then continue to develop relationships and allow learners to meet their own needs through the procedures that are in place.

This week's #IMMOOC challenge was to make a meme related to this week's learning
As I read The Innovator’s Mindset, I was struck by the power of conversations. This theme was also prevalent in my sessions at ITEC and as I listened to Kaleb Rashad on the YouTube Live session.  I realize this may seem like common sense, but I kept coming back to the importance of meaningful conversations that involve teachers, students, parents, and community members about what all of us see as the purpose of school. George’s comparison of school vs. learning got me thinking that few people would disagree with his assessment of learning and that many would also not argue about the realities of  school. However, I think many people have not put a lot of thought into the disparity between the characteristics of school and those of learning. This leaves us to discuss how we can narrow the gap between the two. Educational leaders must promote these meaningful discussions that can be impactful for the educational process. Resources such as the characteristics of school vs. learning, the “what if” questions from chapter 7 of The Innovator's Mindset, and documentaries such as Most Likely to Succeed can provide excellent conversation starters to help us push the envelope of innovative educational practices.

Duckworth, Sylvia. "School vs Learning" 10 March 2015. Online Image. Flickr. 18 January 2015. <>
Beginning these conversations promotes a move toward a more unified vision of action that goes beyond a written vision statement. As more voices feel empowered to contribute to this discussion, culture will begin to shift and the focus will truly become about what is best for learners.  I certainly do not believe that discussions alone will create idyllic learning environments, however, I feel that a process that involves everyone in a discussion about schools will help establish a culture that puts learners first. This is essential for innovation in education, as I believe culture is the biggest determinant of success in schools.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Inspired to Innovate - #IMMOOC Week 2

Week two of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC) involves a study of Part I of The Innovator’s Mindset and a YouTube Live session featuring Shawn Clark and Brady Venables from Saluda County Schools in South Carolina (check out their blog, Classroom Confessional). As I read Part I and watched the YouTube Live session featuring Brady, Shawn, George, and Katie, I began dreaming about what school could look like.

I started thinking about how we can create a school system that gets kids excited about learning rather than dreading each day of school. I excitedly considered ways we can change the structure of learning to better meet the needs of our 21st century learners and prepare them for the world they will face, rather than the world our grandparents faced. I began thinking of examples like High Tech High, Iowa BIG, and ideas such as those from the documentary Most Likely to Succeed. Thinking like this gets me excited about the possibilities of education, but the excitement then fades as I consider the realities of our educational system and its place within our larger society.

The pragmatist in me recognizes the realities of our data-driven system that emphasizes test scores in measuring the successfulness of schools and teachers. As George Couros states in The Innovator’s Mindset, “we have taken the most human profession, teaching, and have reduced it to simply letters and numbers.” I see teachers that are struggling to keep up in the current system and thus unlikely to try new ideas. I see administrators pressured by outside voices that want schools to do more and more for students while maintaining our 19th century paradigm of how school should look. I see parents and community members who want what’s best for their kids, but are stuck viewing education through their own experiences and thus view more school (more and longer days) and more homework as more rigorous. Too many people in our society are stuck in the factory model of education that no longer applies to our students. There is no need in today’s world to drill students on facts. I agree that a certain level of factual knowledge is important to be culturally literate and creates a base upon which further learning can build, but the days of school being about learning facts are gone. Our students have a machine in their pocket that can produce more facts, faster than we could’ve conceived during our days in school.

As I dream about the possibilities of education and then crash back to reality, I finally settle somewhere in between. This week’s activities helped me to more fully develop some of the thoughts that have kept me involved with education despite my rollercoaster of emotions. I enjoyed the emphasis on innovating within the box. As I read about this concept, I realized this is something I have done throughout my time in education. I have never been involved in a school that truly went outside the box, yet innovation can take many forms and doesn’t have to involve blowing up the existing structure (even if we would like to do this at times). As we work within the tightly constructed box that is our educational system, we must continually ask the why. I agree with this week’s reading that the why of education is to develop learners and leaders that will create a better present and future. As long as we keep our focus on this goal, we can innovate within the bounds that exist in our educational realities. This means we all need to focus on the creation of a new and better way of reaching the students we serve. We must improve upon existing practices to allow us to meet the needs of our students. Working toward this end will allow us to grow in our profession, our methods, and our own personal learning, while adapting our practices to better meet the needs of those we serve.

Pezibear. "Untitled." 14 December 2014. Online Image. Pixabay. 7 October 2016. <>
Katie Martin reinforced this idea by stating, “It is becoming increasingly clear that we don’t necessarily need to transform the role of teachers, rather create a culture that inspires and empowers teachers to innovate in the pursuit of providing optimal learning experiences for their students.” George uses this quote in The Innovator’s Mindset to reinforce the point that innovation does not require transformation. We must simply change the way we look at things. Innovation can come from invention (creating something new) or iteration (changing something that already exists), but it requires us to open our thinking to new possibilities.

The biggest change that needs to happen is putting students, rather than teachers, at the center of the classroom. For too long we have existed in a teacher-centered model of education, but we want students to do the learning. This brings me to another theme that continually popped up throughout Part I of The Innovator’s Mindset and in this week’s YouTube Live session; empathy. Educators must put themselves in the shoes of their students. Consider what it is like to be a student in your school or your classroom. How would the methods, routine, and culture of the school feel to a student? And, more importantly, how can you improve this?

To create a learner-centered classroom and to promote empathy in our views of school, The Innovator’s Mindset suggests the following critical questions to help us create new and better learning opportunities for our students:
  1. Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom? 
  2. What is best for this student? 
  3. What is this student's passion? 
  4. What are some ways we can create a true learning community? 
  5. How did this work for our students? 
As illustrated above, innovation does not have to involve expensive technology, we don’t have to scrap our existing system and start from scratch, it does not have to be something no one has ever done, we simply need to look at things from a new perspective and apply it to the needs of our students. This is what the innovator’s mindset is all about, a mindset that allows us to look for new ways of working toward our why - developing learners and leaders that will create a better present and future. As long as we are always asking ourselves, what’s best for students, and working to achieve this end (even within limitations that are outside of our control), then we are being innovative.

This seems like a simple proposition, but it will not always be easy. People do not like change, even when they know deep down that it is for the best. Others will question our adaptations of the existing system. Students may even want to go back to the old methods. We have trained students to be “academically compliant.” They often enjoy the simplicity of not having to think too deeply and of there always being a correct answer that can be found from a textbook or a lecture. However, is this what is best for them? If we truly think we are right, then we must stick to our philosophy and not allow a few naysayers to derail our efforts to improve the educational experiences of our students.

Those who promote change and embody the ideas of the innovator’s mindset exhibit the following characteristics as illustrated by Sylvia Duckworth.

Duckworth, Sylvia. "8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset." 10 March 2015. Online Image. Flickr. 5 October 2016. <>
As George states, “When forward-thinking schools encourage today’s learners to become creators and leaders, I believe they, in turn, will create a better world.” So ask yourself every day, how can I improve the learning experience for my students in order to develop learners and leaders that will create a better present and future. By following through with this thinking, you are innovating and making a difference in the lives of our young people.

I want to thank Brady, Sean, Katie, and George for helping to push my thinking while at the same time keeping me grounded. I love the opportunity to dream while recognizing how to adjust these dreams to the current realities of our educational system.

Monday, October 3, 2016

#IMMOOC: Introduction: Moving Minds to the Opportunity Of Change

After a few hectic weeks of work, life with kids, and a move to a new house, I’m finally getting started with The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC). As I blogged about last week, I’ve followed George Couros for a while now and I’ve had his book (The Innovator’s Mindset) on my list of books to read, so I was excited to hear that he and Katie Martin are facilitating a MOOC based on The Innovator’s Mindset.

Teach Like a Pirate - Dave Burgess Speaking. Digital image. 
Teach Like a Pirate: Dave Burgess. Dave Burgess, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.
Each week #IMMOOC will feature a YouTube Live Hangout with a special guest speaker followed by conversation and questions with George and Katie. As I play catch up with #IMMOOC, I watched the recording of the first week’s YouTube Live session featuring Dave Burgess (@burgessdave). I first learned of Dave Burgess in 2009 when I attended a session he facilitated at the NCSS Conference. “Outrageous Teaching: U.S. History Edition” was unlike any conference session I had ever attended. Dave entered the room dressed in pirate regalia and proceeded to teach/entertain the audience with magic, props (including a woman’s bra - #tlap fans will recognize this as the taboo or mystery bag hook), and audience involvement. Dave’s energy and passion were infectious and very inspiring. I left this session feeling like I had to find a way to increase the engagement of my students. I became even more intrigued a few years later when I learned that Dave was publishing a book, Teach Like a Pirate, and he was developing his own consulting and publishing company. Dave’s company has gone on to publish excellent educational books, such as The Innovator’s Mindset.

Dave’s portion of this week’s YouTube Live Hangout focused on doing whatever it takes to engage and teach kids. As educators we need to embrace our purpose as life changers who raise human potential. To achieve this end, we must be willing to think outside the box to engage students and create buzz for learning (and perhaps be innovative, hmm . . . does this relate to The Innovator’s Mindset??). Listening to Dave is inspiring and his energy is infectious, but as strange as it sounds, messages like Dave’s and George’s can be disheartening. We, as educators, listen to and read these amazing messages, then go back to our schools and see change perceived as an obstacle rather than an opportunity. Dave addressed this reality and offered reassurances that change does not happen all at once and cannot be a top-down directive, but rather must be a grass-roots initiative that starts with a few committed individuals. I loved Dave’s analogy that effective change is like a snowball, you must start small and as momentum gains, it will grow. This is a great message; we need to focus on those who want change and ignore the negativity from others. This builds a base of support for trying new things and as others see the effectiveness of these ideas, momentum will grow and the push for change will gain energy. Dave closed his portion of the Hangout by encouraging educators to share their journey. He stated that we have a moral imperative to let others know how we are engaging in innovative practices. This helps the snowball gain momentum and can help educators all around the world.

George and Katie followed Dave with a fast-paced discussion of topics related to the Introduction of The Innovator’s Mindset. Much of the conversation focused on adjusting our educational practices to the current realities of the “real world” that schools so often use to try and justify outdated methods. The “real world” involves skills and achievement over aptitude and includes learning environments that are comfortable and collaborative (picture Starbucks), rather than a factory model of teacher-centered learning. We need to teach students to value learning rather than jumping through hoops to achieve a grade. This also means that we need to not only acknowledge, but incorporate “real world” tools such as Google, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

As I watched this Hangout and read the Introduction to The Innovator’s Mindset, I was continually struck with some of the same ideas. Change can open up a whole new world for us and our students, but change is difficult. Many of my thoughts on this topic can be illustrated by the “Be More Dog” video from O2 that was referenced in the Introduction of The Innovator’s Mindset. Sometimes we fall into the trap of teaching like teachers have always taught, but by making the decision to try something different we can open up a new world of possibilities. Although this sounds good, it is not such an easy proposition. This involves changing our paradigm of school and maybe even of what we consider innovative.

If we continue to view the purpose of school as the acquisition of knowledge, then change will not occur. We must ask ourselves what do we care about in schools? This question determines the course we take as educators. I loved the phrase in The Innovator’s Mindset that we need to inspire students to be better people because of their experiences in school. This is what I see as the purpose of education! This can take many different forms, but it ultimately comes back to always doing what is best for kids, even if it does not look like our experiences in school (which it shouldn’t, the world has changed, so should school). In order to make education relevant to our students we must embrace change and the opportunities that are available in today’s connected world. Find a way to inspire your students and to spark their curiosity for learning, wondering, exploring, and becoming leaders. As George states, “If students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.”

Hogan, Aaron (@aaron_hogan). "'If students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.' #InnovatorsMindset via @gcouros." 12 January 2016. Tweet.

We must also consider that innovation is incremental. We do not have to scrap everything and start anew. Most educators are innovating on a daily basis, they just don’t view it that way. Every time you try something new to reach a student, you are innovating. Every time you try to connect students to a new resource, you are innovating. Now we all need to build on our existing innovations and keep pushing ourselves one step further and move from your point A to your point B. Start small by taking one or two measured risks in your classroom and build from there.

With this thought, I want to encourage teachers everywhere to be more dog. Don’t act the way teachers always have, do what you think is best, be adventurous, embrace change, and open up a new world for yourself and your students. As you seek the bone to motivate your students, connect with other dogs and spread your ideas, not just for adjacent possible, but for adjacent powerful! Start the snowball rolling!

Monday, September 26, 2016

I’m a MOOCing with #IMMOOC

Campbell, Heather (seriousgiggles). "Have you read The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros? . . . " Instagram, 4 June 2016,

“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.” This simple sentence can have profound effects if taken to heart. Humans often fear change. We like the comfortable and the predictable, but if we are willing to embrace change and view it as an opportunity rather than an obstacle, then we can promote positive change that will benefit ourselves, our students, our schools, and our entire society.

As our world continues to change and evolve, we as educators must adapt. Our students are raised in a connected world with access to previously inconceivable amounts of information. In this reality, the acquisition of knowledge is no longer as important as the ability to process this information, to apply it to new and different situations, and to discern not only what is reliable, but also what is applicable. For many educators this requires a paradigm shift. Many of us attended schools where increasing factual knowledge was one of the primary goals. However, if we approach our students’ education with this goal, we have failed them.

 The Innovator's Mindset Book Cover. Digital image. The Principal of Change
George Couros, 25 Oct. 2015. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. 
This is one of the tenants of George Couros’ recent book The Innovator’s Mindset. I have followed George on Twitter (@gcouros) for a while now, which was one reason I wanted to hear him speak at ISTE in the summer of 2015 (my reflection of this conference includes many references to George). I agree with many things George says and The Innovator’s Mindset has been on my list of books to read for a while now. For all of these reasons, I was excited when I recently learned that George and Katie Martin (@KatieMTLC) are facilitating a MOOC based around The Innovator’s Mindset. I recently took part in my first MOOC and I’m excited to be a part of The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC) to learn from George, Katie, and all of the other participants.

I’ve been in the process of moving recently, so I’m a little late getting started with #IMMOOC, but I’m excited to get started and to learn about promoting a mindset that not only allows for, but embraces change.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

BFG (Building Familiarity with Gilded) -- Lesson Ideas for the Gilded Age

Dahl, Roald, and Quentin Blake. The BFG. Digital image. The BFG. Wikipedia, 26 Oct. 2008. Web. 7 Sept. 2016.
Sometimes it’s interesting where our ideas come from. Recently, while reading Roald Dahl’s The BFG with my kids, we came across the term gilded. As we stopped to discuss this word and ensure everyone understood it’s meaning, the history teacher in me took over and I immediately began thinking of the Gilded Age and of ways to explain this period to students.

When introducing this era, I often start with the term gilded. This leads us into a discussion of why a term meaning covered in gold, or having an appearance that conceals something of little value, is used to describe a historical era. This often leads to some great predictions from students and gets them thinking about the time period we are going to study.

I have always felt it is important for students to understand that the Gilded Age was a time of change in the United States and that this change benefitted some at the expense of others. My approach to achieving this instructional goal varied over the years. Several times I had students create Animoto videos as a response to an essential question related to this era in history (This project was very similar to the activity I wrote about in Picture Perfect – Creating Animoto Videos to Illustrate Life During the Great Depression).

Riis, Jacob A. How the Other Half Lives. Digital image. How the Other Half Lives. Wikipedia, 19 Aug. 2007. Web. 7 Sept. 2016.
The Gilded Age also provides a great opportunity to work on image analysis. There are a number of excellent images from the Gilded Age for students to analyze. I enjoy using images and excerpts from Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives. Riis’ photographs take us into the lives of many ordinary people in the late 19th century and really drive home the inequity of the era for students.

This is also a great era to work on analysis of political cartoons. I love using Thomas Nast’s cartoons to help illustrate key issues of the Gilded Age (Nast’s works are available through many different sources, including the Library of Congress). These cartoons are not only telling about the era, but they also provide an opportunity for students to practice analyzing political cartoons. There are many different effective approaches to teaching students how to analyze political cartoons; I often discuss the persuasive techniques common to political cartoons and use the Primary Source Analysis Tool for political cartoons from the Library of Congress. Through this process I want to stress to students that they need to look for symbols in the cartoon, see what action is taking place in the cartoon, examine any text (speech/thought bubbles, captions, labels, etc.), and then determine the message and/or opinion put forth in the cartoon.

As I was explaining the term gilded to my kids recently, I thought of another instructional strategy that allows students to demonstrate understanding of the changes and inequities of this era in history. I think it would be a great activity to have students illustrate how the term gilded represents this time period. Students could create drawings showing wealth and perceived progress covering up the exploitation and problems within American society. This allows students to demonstrate their understanding of the United States’ struggles with growth and the conflicts between wealth vs. poverty, urban vs. rural, industrial vs. artisan, reform vs. corruption, etc. Drawings are an excellent way to assess student understanding of key concepts.

I have used student illustrates to gauge understanding in the past, but I guess I had never thought of applying it to this topic. I like the idea of asking students to draw. This allows them to express their creativity and gives students who are better at expressing themselves in this way an opportunity to demonstrate understanding.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Back it Up -- Rethinking Back to School Lessons

The beginning of a new school year is exciting, but it can be a tough time for everyone. Students, teachers, parents, and many other people must adjust to new routines, new social situations, new expectations, new learning, and a general upheaval in daily life. I think most of us feel a certain level of anxiety as we adjust to these changes, but there are things educators can do to ease the transition back to school.

September - Back to Work - Back to School - Back to BOOKS. 1940. Work Projects Administration Poster Collection (Library of Congress), Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. In September - Back to Work - Back to School - Back to BOOKS. Accessed August 25, 2016. 

We’ve all heard the importance of establishing rules and routines early in the year. Teacher prep programs often stress this and some of us were even given the advice to not smile until Thanksgiving. I understand the thinking behind these philosophies (well, maybe not the one about not smiling). It is difficult to regain control of a classroom once it’s lost and one of the biggest fears of new and veteran teachers alike is losing control of their classroom. This thinking leads many teachers to feel they have to immediately establish rules, expectations, and most importantly discipline in order to maintain an effective learning environment and to become a master of classroom management.

Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of this is establishing a very unwelcoming atmosphere for students. For many students, the beginning of the year is filled with “Do this” and “Don’t do that,” all while sitting still and listening for extended periods of time. I am not trying to downplay the importance of rules and expectations, but we need to put ourselves in the shoes of our students. How many students—already nervous, unsure, and anxious about the transition from summer to a new school year—go through an eight period day and feel like they are being threatened and intimidated eight times? The first day of school tends to be the same in most classes. Students come in, find a predetermined seating chart (usually alphabetical), go through roll call (possibly enduring eight different mispronunciations of their name), listen to rules, go through the syllabus, and maybe—if there’s time—some sort of ice breaker or “what I did this summer” activity. Imagine how we, as adults, would react to this. If we had to endure someone seemingly trying to establish an authoritarian environment where we appear to have no voice while talking at us for 40-60 minutes before releasing us to another individual who does the same thing, then most of us would not go back for day two.

Smith, Jessie Willcox. Back to School Again. C. 1928. Louisa Du Pont Copeland Memorial Fund, Delaware Art Museum. In Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies. Accessed August 25, 2016. 

As if this doesn’t already establish an uninviting environment, compare it to a student’s summer experiences and it’s no wonder many kids dread back-to-school time. I understand that not everyone has this experience at school and that summer can be a difficult time for many children, but we, as educators, need to be more conscious of how we welcome students into our classes. I often try to relate school experiences to what I see, or hope to see, for my own children. Looking back over the last few weeks of summer, my kids did a lot and learned a lot. We went to the State Fair where they learned about animals; experienced history in a one-room schoolhouse; walked through a trapper’s rendezvous and other historic demonstrations/displays; and explored exhibits and projects created by youth from around the state. We spent time at the lake swimming, canoeing, fishing, hiking, riding bikes, and learning to kayak and paddleboard. They created a cardboard puppet theater, puppets, and scripts for several performances. They built cardboard arcade games (inspired by Caine’s Arcade). And began working to earn badges on I know not all students have these types of experiences in summer, but many kids experience an amount of self-direction and freedom that results in a type of learning that is very different from school. Many of these kids are excited, nervous, and hopeful as they head back to school, but they are greeted with the experiences I described above and then asked to read the textbook and told how much homework they will have this year.

So, what can we as educators do about this? We still need to establish rules, procedures, and routines. We want students to know what we will study, how our class will be structured, and what our expectations are for them. I am certainly no expert and I definitely do not have all of the answers, but I think it is important that we recognize we do not have to do all of these things the first day. I think it is important that we establish a welcoming environment that helps ease student anxiety and provides an introduction to the year. I have experimented with different ways to open the school year, some of which I liked better than others, but I tried to make a point of allowing students to be involved (as opposed to passively listening to me go over rules, etc.), getting them moving (we can’t expect them to sit quietly in every class after moving on their own terms over the summer), providing a brief introduction of myself and my class, and helping them to get to know each other. Sometimes I included a brief intro to my expectations, but I often found that it worked better to teach expectations and procedures as situations arose over the first few weeks as opposed to laying out a long list of rules the first day.

Recently I’ve run across a few different articles that reinforce my beliefs about the beginning of school and/or offer advice to establish a welcoming environment. George Couros posted 10 Easy Ways To Create an Amazing #ClassroomCulture This Year. These are tips that can be used throughout the year to make a difference in classroom environments. As George says, “Every year we should strive to make it the best year students have, and if we all did this, school would only progressively get better for our students.” Although What If High School Were More Like Kindergarten? does not focus directly on the beginning of the year, it does include ideas that impact classroom culture and it reinforces my thoughts that we need to allow everyone, regardless of age, the chance to be a kid once in a while. Along these same lines, I was alarmed, although not overly surprised, when I recently ran across The Decline of Play and Rise in Children's Mental Disorders. As I was going through the final editing of this post, I came across an article from The Atlantic that describes common back-to-school procedures in Finland. The ideas discussed in How Finland Starts the School Year are very similar to many of the thoughts I've discussed in this post and this article is definitely worth a read. Lastly, I saw a tweet this morning from Nathan Wear, High School Principal in Solon, Iowa, that illustrates students' feelings about school. I love the idea of asking students what they want and responses from students at Solon High School seem to reaffirm many of my thoughts about how we should be approaching school.

There is no one right answer for how to begin the school year. Everyone’s unique situation and personality dictates how they can effectively welcome students to class. I’ve included a brief description of some of the different activities I have tried over the first few days below.
  • Rather than assigning a seating chart, I have students pick the name of a U.S. President out of a hat. Students then read a brief (< 1 page) summary of the president focusing on things that are significant or unique about this President as a person or about their time in office. Students must then find the desk with a statement taped to it that describes the president they read about (I tape these on the desks before class starts). Each student then introduces himself or herself and tells the class one interesting thing about the president they read about. This provides us with a seating chart (that’s not alphabetical), gets students moving, introduces topics we will study, and allows students to introduce themselves to the class in a non-threatening manner.
  • Who Am I? -- Introducing the Teacher through Primary Sources. This activity provides students a chance to work together and get to know me while introducing primary sources. It also helps us get to know each other as students determine what sources describe them.
  • I have used excerpts from Stupid History: Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness, and Mythconceptions Throughout the Ages by Leland Gregory as a way to get students interested in history. Students can also share summaries of these stories with small groups or the whole class as a way to introduce themselves.
  • I have used parts of TCI’s Getting Started and Getting to Know Each Other lesson. This helps introduce classroom expectations while allowing students to work together and analyze images.
  • We’ve compared The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka to the traditional tale of The Three Little Pigs as a way to illustrate the importance of perspective and multiple points of view. I use this to introduce the idea that as we read a number of primary and secondary sources throughout the year it is important to keep in mind that different people may interpret the same event in different ways. It can be valuable for historians to look at these differences, but it is important to recognize that a single interpretation of the past is not always as valuable as examining multiple interpretations. This provides a fun activity that allows students to interact with each other and to think about children’s stories.
  • I’ve used variations of the What is History and Why Do We Study It? lesson plan, particularly the portion on quotations. This helps establish some rationale for why it is important to study history while allowing students to develop their own thoughts on the topic. I like to have students do this in small groups so they get used to working with each other.
  • Students describe their expectations for the year on Padlet. This provides student voice and allows us to discuss what students hope my class will be like.
  • I have also used several versions of “Find Someone Who . . .” sheets or bingo sheets (get a bingo by finding someone who . . .) as a way to get students moving and getting to know each other.

I think the most important things we can do are to have fun with our students and to always keep in mind what is best for them. I know we all intend to do this, but as we begin planning for everything we need to fit in and how we can make things run smoothly, sometimes we veer a little off course. So we all need to make a conscious effort to put the best interests of students first all year long.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Finding Your Way - Using Google Maps in the Classroom

By Arambar (Own work (sculpture and photo)) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Last month I had the privilege of presenting at the Best Practices in Social Studies Institute. I really enjoyed this opportunity to work with social studies educators from all over the state of Iowa and to learn from presenters and participants. Although I'm no longer in the classroom, I still view myself as a social studies teacher at heart, so its always nice when I get the chance to work within this subject area.

The institute offers two days of free professional development for K-12 social studies teachers. More than 220 Iowa teachers took advantage of this opportunity to further their learning around best practices in social studies instruction. I attended sessions on Teaching 21st Century Skills in Social Studies Classrooms, Student Relevance & Engagement with IPTV Digital Resources, Geography and Literacy Connections, National History Day and Primary Sources, and Population Connection: Hands-On Activities for the People and the Planet. Additionally, there was a review of the state of social studies in Iowa, including a Call to Action and a review of the process and progress of writing new social studies state standards. Closing remarks were delivered by the Iowa Secretary of State, Paul Pate.

I planned to present a session related to technology and mapping in social studies classrooms. After considering that attending teachers may fall anywhere within the K-12 range, may or may not have background with mapping technologies, and that I had a limited amount of time to present, I chose to focus on tools related to Google Maps rather than more in-depth tools like those available through Esri or their ArcGIS platform.

I feel that many educators are aware of Google Maps, but they may not recognize its educational potential. For this reason, I wanted to share some of the tools within and/or powered by Google Maps and ways to effectively integrate these tools into instruction. I spent much of my presentation demonstrating the capabilities and uses of these mapping tools, but I also created the slides below partly to guide my presentation, but also as a reference for teachers to refer to later.

I had to adjust some of my plans and ended up doing more demonstration and less participant use of tools due to spotty Wifi access, but I still felt that my session went very well. Participants were engaged in the content and most seemed to learn something they could apply to their instructional practices.

I was impressed with my experience at the Best Practices in Social Studies Institute. There were a number of valuable sessions and it is always good to get a chance to collaborate with other teachers. I hope to attend this event again in the future and I would encourage social studies educators in the state of Iowa to take advantage of this free learning opportunity.