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Recognizing Holidays in the Upper Grades Classroom

As the Holiday Season approaches, and with Veteran's Day on the doorstep, we are often pressured to take time out in our upper grades classrooms to teach to the event.  While this works well with some historic events, as we can clearly tie them to our curriculum, with others it seems bothersome and time-consuming when we have so much other content to cover.  That leaves the question:

How can we address the Holidays in our Upper Level Classrooms?
My quick suggestion is to incorporate the Holiday into a primary source or document analysis activity.  Have students read about the event, evaluate how the event came about, or review the legislation passed to allow for the Holiday.

For Veteran's Day, analyze the congressional act and President Wilson's commendation of our soldiers for their service in war. The activity addresses the event, pleasing those in your administration who demand you pay homage, while it also allows students to practice skills that are vital in your Social Studies classroom!

Need that analysis activity for Veteran's Day?  Find it HERE!
http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Veterans-Day-Document-Analysis-Activity-Homework-1443782

See other Primary Source Analysis Activities in my TpT Store!

And be sure to Link Over to see my friend's great 'Holiday in the Classroom Idea Blog Posts' starting November 1st!



And, do you want to get a head start on THE Holiday Season?  Take a look at this fun and engaging activity: My Walking Tour Through the Winter Holidays!
 Happy Teaching!

It's A Wrap! Beating the Clock to Wrap-Up Lessons

You start off the lesson with a great attention grabber, your interactive lecture had students engaged and excited, your mini-activity successfully reinforced the key ideas of the lesson, and then...Five minutes left until the bell.  In many classes, teachers give students talk time, a chance to update on their cell phones, or a few moments to get started on that challenging Math homework.

What's wrong with this picture?

How can you make your class look different?

Students adapt to their settings.  If they are given free time, they will expect to always have free time.  However, if they are expected to work to the bell, that's what they will do.  And that last few minutes can be so very valuable to your lessons.

Use the time to wrap-up your lesson in a way your students will remember.  Utilize prompts that will bring the lesson home, and always ask students to examine the significance of the day's lesson, while tying it into their starter (bellringer) responses from the beginning of class.  I called these prompts Left Side Assignments (LSAs) because students entered their response on the left page of their interactive notebook.
Today, many refer to these prompts as Exit Slips or Wrap-up Prompts.  All in all, they are the same - a prompts that helps your students compile the information presented in the class lesson and process the information for better understanding of its relevance in history.

More importantly, the LSA, Wrap-up, or Exit Slip can serve another purpose: It can keep your students engaged in your lesson, and even more importantly, thinking critically about your lesson as the bell rings and they move on toward their next class.

See an example of wrap-up prompts with this FREE Holocaust Prompt SetOr find them included with most of the lessons and activities available in My TpT Store!

Happy Teaching!






United Nations Day: Studying Historic Events with Documents and Images

On October 24th, 1945, the required number of nations ratified the United Nations Charter, including the United States of America, making the UN the international organization for peace.  The charter was encouraged by American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as he urged the powers of the world to unite against aggressor nations like those fought during both World Wars.

Teaching to significance of these types of events can be challenging.  While reading the documents can help students to evaluate their importance, using images and guiding questions can help them to take that basic understanding to the next level.

How can you arrange this type of event analysis in your classroom?

Three easy steps will help you to provide the ideal setting in your classroom for the investigation of a historic event such as the signing and ratification of the United Nations Charter.
  1. Access the original documents to allow students to read through the actual words of the text.  Set up your class into pairs or small groups, and provide copies of the document transcripts so students can highlight passages and write comments along the sides as they read.
  2. Provide images of the document meetings and signing.  Use focused websites for authentic images.  The UN Photo Gallery provides many for the UN Charter.  Encourage students to find as many clues as possible through investigating the images.  Utilize a simple image analysis process:
    • What do you see?
    • What symbols are present in the image?
    • What do/could the symbols represent?
    • What interactions can be seen in the image?
    • Are emotions visible?  What are they?
    • Describe the setting and the overall mood of the image.
    • Are there any clues as to the importance of this event?  Describe.
  3. Use Guiding Questions or a Document Analysis Activity to walk students through the document and images for a clearer understanding of the entire historic event and to evaluate its significance, including the importance of the document on our modern world.
The only thing left to do in implementing this wonderful lesson for any Social Studies course is wrapping it up in the end.  Be sure to discuss the significance of the historic event for your course or current unit and then emphasize its importance on our modern world.  Lesson done!

Happy Teaching!

Seeing the Big Picture: Helping Students Visualize Multiple Perspectives

Teaching from a textbook or singular source can often leave the impression on our students that history is one-sided. After years of this indoctrination to history, our students are blind to the truth about history.  It becomes a battle at the secondary level to teach students that there are always multiple perspectives, and that history is relative.

How can you help students visualize the multiple perspectives in history?
First and foremost, stress to your students from the very start of each lesson that there are many sides to every event.  The Cold War was not controlled completely by the US, nor was it controlled by the U.S.S.R..  Even the two superpowers had quite a bit of help in feeding and fueling the fires between democracy and communism.  And if we cannot clearly define events between world powers, how can we begin to touch the surface of interactions between individuals?

One strategy for teaching multiple perspectives is to utilize as many primary sources as possible in every lesson you teach.  Provide students the first hand accounts, and encourage them to analyze the information to come to their own conclusions about the events in question.

Next, practice perspective posting on every assignment by adding comment bubbles.  Have students add in the conversation between key players.  Discuss their comments, and evaluate the plausibility of the comments based on what is known of the historical events.  An additional step to this activity would be including a 3rd bubble and allowing students to include an outside viewpoint.  Teach them to ask about those who are not seen or heard in history.  (These are great Interactive Notebook wrap-up activities!)
Finally, set up and encourage role playing in your classroom.  Remind students that they will never be able to truly walk in another's shoes, but through reenacting historic events or imagining the thoughts and feelings of individuals of that time period, they can get a better idea of the era.

And when students find themselves unable to find multiple perspectives in history, remind them of the Blind Men and the Elephant.  The poem, told in many different versions (how fitting) helps remind us all that nothing is ever what it seems at first encounter!

Happy Teaching!




Building a Positive School Climate: What's Your Role?

Stepping into the teacher's lounge or workroom can be a risky adventure for some teachers.  It is not always the welcoming atmosphere most picture when they think of working in a school setting, and it can sometimes exude a climate similar to what you would find on Antarctica after all the scientists have gone home for winter.  For new teachers, this can be especially daunting, but what can one do about the negative climate in their school?

How can one teacher make a difference?
Once we put on our teacher caps and step into our classrooms that very first year, we are all leaders.  We are the authority figures in our own classrooms, and we have the skills required to lead others.  Furthermore, when it comes to classroom climates, it is highly likely that most of the teachers (especially the newer ones) in the building want change; they just don't know how to work toward the positive climate they crave.

Be the initiator.  Be the spark for change.  Be the one who speaks up to bring to light the elephant in the room, and stand firm that you )and your co-workers) deserve more.  You deserve a school setting where you feel safe to go to work, teach your students, and leave at the end of the day without having been subject to a cumulative bad mood for eight hours of your day.

Here is a great tool to help you find your way through the muck and to greener pastures:
  • What To Do When Your School's In A Bad Mood is filled with incredible information for remedying that school-wide bad mood.  Distribute this to your administration and your faculty, and encourage a reading club or book study to discuss the strategies suggested.  Even the first chapter can get you an a great start!
Need a more detailed step-by-step approach?  Start off with this Problem Solving Model.  The ideas included may give you the light bulb moment you need to find your own solutions!

Good luck on creating that perfect school climate.  I know it's out there.  :)

Happy Teaching!

Analyzing Legislation: A Political or Social Approach?

In my first few years of teaching, I taught with a U.S. History teacher who believed every law was passed simply because Congress saw it as what should be.  He gave no credit to the social movements that encouraged the legislation, and saw no value in teaching about "social issues" in his classes.  I was appalled!  And as a Social Historian myself, I saw every piece of legislation as the result of social action.

Could we both have been right?  Or were we both wrong?
Now that I am much older, and somewhat wiser, I do see that the creation and passing of legislation has to be both political and social.  Our founding fathers had it right when they decided there should be elected officials that could distinguish between emotional appeal and a true need for change. 

Still, in our modern times, we see legislation passed that is often misunderstood.  It does not seem to adhere to the demands of the populous, and often seems in direct conflict with the wants and needs of the people.  Why is this so?

And then the more important question: 
How can we help our students understand this conundrum in our American legislative system?

We can't!  But what we can teach them is the lesson we all learn as we grow older.  Our government is not always serving in our best interest, often because it is seeking to serve in the best interest of others at the time.  And that's truly the way the founding fathers wanted it to be.   And whether legislation is passed through political measures or at the hands of a social movement, it is still a document worthy of investigation for all.  Through the evaluation of our American documents, we can all become better citizens, and in the end, that legislation will be our foundation.
Do you need quality resources for your classroom?  Take a look at my latest Document Analysis Series on TpT!  They will help you save time while providing your students the tools they need for learning and practicing the analysis process.

And be sure to introduce your students to Our Documents, an incredible website where they can see the actual documents and read the transcripts to better evaluate our American government.

Happy Teaching!


Collaboration in Your Building: Is It Worth It?


 Friends or Acquaintances
Helping your own, while avoiding the trouble

In my college graduate program, I spent a full year in a high school with a high number of teachers eligible for retirement.  Many of these educators had been teaching since the 1970s, and were lost in the new teaching strategies and different students than what they’d been accustomed to the last 30 years.  They were ready to go.

These teachers sat around the workroom and the teacher’s lounge each day and complained.  They moaned and they groaned and they went on and on about the deterioration of education in America.  After my semester of classroom observations and my semester of student teaching (with one of those ready to retirees), I was feeling burnt out myself.  It was just a dreary, dead climate.  It was depressing and simply not a place I wanted to get out of my warm bed to go to each and every morning.

When I finally graduated and headed out to the teaching world, I went looking for brightness.  I wanted to teach at a school with a positive climate and with teachers who still taught.  I wanted to be with positive attitudes and teachers who loved walking into their rooms each day. 

Your colleagues in your school building can really make your life easier.  They will be your allies and your leaders and your followers.  They will be the shoulders for you to cry on when your lesson fails terribly and will be the ones ready to throw the high-fives when your students are blazing through the halls bragging about your latest lesson.  You fellow teachers will be the ones that help you make your teaching days less like work and more like what you want to do your entire life.

At my first teaching job, I came in weeks before classes were to begin to get my classroom ready.  Oh, I had no idea what a task that would be.  I had replaced a retired teacher that had taught in that same classroom for almost 30 years.  It quickly became apparent that he had not moved anything in that time period, and as I went to move a bookshelf to another side of the room, part of the tile on the floor moved with it.  The gum and the melted hard candy was everywhere, and papers bled from every shelf and cabinet.  It was a disaster.

I was almost in tears from the overwhelming mess when a friendly face peeked into my room.  She was standing there in her overalls, her hair pulled back, obviously in the building to do the same as I.  But instead of returning to set up her room, she pushed up her sleeves, introduced herself and came into my room to help.  Before we knew it, the assistant principal was also in the room with an assortment of trash cans and the three of us were trashing 30 years of history and laughing through the whole process.  Those two women gave me hope and inspiration.  The teacher in the overalls became my best friend and we often laughed and cried together in the years we worked there.

Many of the other teachers in my building became good friends, and others remained acquaintances for the time I worked there.  I tended to be choosey about my friends in the building, surrounding myself with the positive teachers, the ones who taught with similar methods to myself and held high expectations for their students, as well.  It gave us more in common and we were able to understand each others’ needs for support when times were rough.

Another thing to remember about teaching is that you never do it alone.  I have not been in a school where I am not part of a team.  At the high school level I worked with my other content area teachers to plan, gather resources, and attend trainings.  We collaborated on our units, working to make sure our students would be prepared despite the schedule or teacher they have in the department.  In middle school, I have worked on teams, collaborating with all content area teachers to integrate all areas together for learning. 

Collaborative teaching is a wonderful thing!  Working with other teachers allows you the opportunity to check and develop your ideas before you ever introduce them in a classroom.  Having a sounding board helps you to hear your ideas and to get suggestions or improvements done before implementation.  Sharing resources is another benefit. 

In my two years of middle school teaching on teams, I have been surrounded by incredible teachers.  We have worked together to make activities and to introduce lessons to help reinforce our content from other classes, and the students have a richer learning environment.  While this does require team planning, it makes the learning so much easier to reinforce.  Here are a few simple examples that teachers can adopt and modify to fit their own teams:

  • Write a math open response question using content from the Social Studies lesson.
  • Building Roman houses in the Social Studies classroom using learned math skills.
  • Reading supplemental books in Language Arts to reinforce the Social Studies content.
  • Creating maps that integrate the Social Studies content with the Science content.
  • Take field trips with activities to foster all academic areas.
  • Team teach to introduce varying perspectives on topics.
  • Require students to keep their own grades on a running basis to reinforce math skills.
  • Teach an entire Social Studies unit within a Language Arts class using primary sources.
  • Collaborate on cumulative assignments so they will earn credit in two or more classes for the completion of one project.

All teachers can be great contributors to your classroom.  Experienced teachers know what works, and new teachers have just been introduced to the latest and greatest methods.  Share what you know with others, and work to make your entire team or school successful.  Use each other to get ideas, tweak ideas, and to implement ideas and your students will be the ones to gain.

Another excerpt from my book, A Lesson Plan for Teachers.

Happy Teaching!