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Student art is a great way to have students show what they know about a social studies concept or history event. Not every student will be a talented artist, but you can design art assignments for the whole class enhancing your class content. In addition, you can make student art one option when doing larger projects. The Mexican American War Art Assignment I introduced an art assignment early in my US History class. When we studied the Mexican American War, I had all students do a visual representation of the events leading to the war. I began by giving them some historical background on the event with the  Mexican American War slideshow.  As students ...
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World history teachers will take connections between past and present wherever we will find them, even if it means citing Rev. Pat Robertson.  The 89-year-old fundamentalist Christian televangelist, normally a firm ally of Donald Trump, said several weeks ago (October 7, 2019) that the American President is in danger of losing the “mandate of heaven” for his abandonment of the Kurds in northern Syria to a Turkish military onslaught.  Robertson’s remarks received wide attention in the press; here’s one link, to a USA Today story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2019/10/07/pat-robertson-trump-losing-mandate-heaven-over-syria-decision/3903941002/ ...
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High school kids love to argue, ask any parent. And if you pick the right topic in class, our students like a good debate. They are passionate about persuading classmates that their opinion is right. We can help them improve their persuasive powers by teaching them the art of argumentative writing with evidence. The Common Core requires our students to: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. When teaching either informational writing or argumentative writing, a good starting point for teachers is to use a formative or pre-assessment to gauge your ...
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Media literacy, the ability to analyze the content and understand the purpose of media, is the modern label for age-old skills often called critical analysis. Other common names for this essential skill include historical primary source analysis and close reading. Seeking answers to key questions before making conclusions or decisions is at the core. Who created the message? What are the views and goals of the creator? Why is the message convincing? What does the creator gain? What do I gain or lose if I believe it? Where can I find more information? Since ancient times, people have shared information. But with the printing press (15 th century), print media ...
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Murals are painted on walls, and they can be a doorway to the past and a window into the present, too. Mural art is big, public, and often controversial. History teachers should have students view, discuss, read and write about these large pieces of art, enhancing their historical understanding in the process.    A case and point is the recent controversy surrounding the mural,  Life of Washington,  painted on the walls of San Francisco’s Washington High School during the 1930’s by Victor Arnautoff. The San Francisco School Board recently voted 4-3 to cover the mural, against the wishes of a variety of San Franciscans.  The New Deal artist’s portrayal ...
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“Air power” in the Revolutionary War?               For a while there, it looked like the big history-related story of the summer was going to be President Donald Trump’s gaffes during his much-trumpeted July 4 th speech on the Washington Mall.  Perhaps inspired by the military jets that he insisted participate in this demonstration of American strength and patriotism, the President declared as he reviewed the achievements of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, that this 18 th century army not only “seized victory from Cornwallis” at Yorktown but that “It took over the airports.”  He continued, in a mash-up of the Revolutionary War and ...
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How would you rate the historical primary source analysis skills of your students? My students often want to characterize a primary source as “true” or “false” or “right” or “wrong.” Or they completely discount the information provided by the source because the author is too “biased.” In some cases, students may completely discard a primary source without carefully considering its context, original purpose, or the information provided in the source. In other words, students want a group of primary sources to fit together perfectly, like a jigsaw puzzle. They assume that each piece of the puzzle will contribute to a complete and whole picture.  If the complete ...
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The election season is heating up. Every four years, social studies teachers have a special opportunity to teach students about our system of government through the lens of presidential elections.  Of course, the actual election of our President won’t be until November of 2020, but this school year will see Presidential debates, caucuses and primaries, a variety of stops on the winding road to the White House. Before I launch into the list of presidential candidates, the differences between Democrats and Republicans, or the nuances of the Electoral College, I like to get students talking about the issues that are important to them. I have done this in the ...
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I appreciate the hard work that goes into compiling and annotating the annual list of social studies trade books for young people, and Social Education provides a valuable service to social studies and language arts teachers, as well as librarians and parents, in publishing this list.  I do not normally comb through every entry, but on the most recent list (in the supplement to the May-June 2019 issue of Social Education ) an outright (and important) error, in one case, and a misleading impression, in another, caught my eye.  Just as we would wish that our students recognize errors on websites and social media, we need to be attuned to inaccuracies in published ...
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  Summer is a time to relax and rejuvenate. I can remember my summers as a teacher. Along with vacation fun, I used a few of my lazy hours in June and July to imagine and plan the courses I was going to teach in the fall.   Yearlong planning involves choices. Imagine you could take a nine-month flight around the world, landing as many times as you’d like. How would you do it? Would you see dozens of places or pick a few favorite spots?   The choices for such a trip are a little like the decisions teachers make when we plan a course for the first time. Many state and national standards suggest each course covers a huge amount ...
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One thing I learned during my 34 years as a teacher is to be explicit in providing reading instruction. Don’t assume secondary students know how to tackle difficult textbooks and non-fiction sources. Choose from a variety of reading strategies, model it, and give students lots of reading practice. Let’s start with the ABC’s, reading strategies for the social studies textbook. We may like them or hate them, but most of us use the textbook. So, help your students meet their new textbook by providing a simple  Scavenger Hunt Lesson , introducing your students to the structure of their book. Then help them tackle reading a textbook chapter with a reading strategy ...
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Perhaps you've heard of the "Notorious RBG" or seen one of the documentaries or the feature film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Well-known historian of US women's history, Jane Sherron De Hart has written a big book (500+ pages) on Ginsburg's life that does a wonderful job of weaving women's history, legal and judicial history, and personal story together in this fascinating book (Knopf, 2018). Chapter titles in Part I describe Justice Ginsburg's early years: Celia's Daughter, Cornell and Marty, Learning the Law on Male Turf, Sailing in "Uncharted Waters," The Making of a Feminist Advocate, and Seizing the Moment. Together, these chapters help ...
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In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, by Alfred W. McCoy. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017.  258 pages. $12.00 paper. In a candid moment, the celebrated historian Richard Hofstadter once acknowledged, “I know it is risky, but I still write history out of my engagement with the present.” A similar purpose can be discerned in the long and prolific career of Alfred W. McCoy, whose scholarly work began in the early 1970s in the jungles of Southeast Asia investigating the CIA’s role in the heroin trade during the Vietnam War.  Over the ensuing decades, McCoy’s work centered on the history of American colonialism ...
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As social science teachers, we like to assign writing, but too often we avoid teaching writing. When we don’t instruct our students in the writing process, we are frequently frustrated by what they turn in to us.  Good writing instruction begins with an honest evaluation of our students’ skills. Our lessons should develop from that assessment. To learn about my sophomore’s writing abilities, I assigned a  formative writing assessment on the rise of democrac y, the unit we had just completed. This informational essay was evaluated, but not graded. Students wrote without any instruction from me. I evaluated their efforts on an  informational writing rubric ...
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            Long-time civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers of America with Cesar Chavez in the 1960s, has shone a spotlight on the recent wave of teacher strikes in her commentary in Time magazine’s April 29, 2019 issue on “The 100 Most Influential People.”  Huerta, who earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and who still appears to be going strong at the age of 89, points to Jay O’Neal and Emily Comer of West Virginia as representatives of the “Inspiring Educators” who in the past year “have left an impact well beyond their classrooms, launching a social-justice movement that was impossible to ignore.”  ...
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I grew up in a household where the great events of the day were regularly discussed at our kitchen table.  I learned the art of conversation and the back and forth of debate at the family meal each evening with my parents. I learned a lot from those kitchen table conversations, and so I’ve tried to make discussion a regular part of my classroom.   In his book,  Academic Conversations , Jeff Zwier explains three essential ingredients for effective classroom discussions. First, academic conversations should be structured. Second, they should include small groups where each student has an opportunity to speak.  Third, in whole class debriefing teachers should ...
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Caption Image courtesy of Associated Press    “Iran is playing with fire--they don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!” -President Donald Trump via Twitter February 3, 2017 The current relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran could justly be characterized as one of tension and distrust. Disputes over rights to develop nuclear weapons, territorial claims, and regional balance of power with U.S. allies Israel and the Saudi Kingdom, have all been recently used to explain why these nations view each other with such antipathy. Aggravated rhetoric has even escalated tensions to include talk ...
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I recently saw a powerful documentary on World War 1.  They Shall Not Grow Old  made me want to come out of retirement from my history classroom, so I could share this stunning film with students. This film will give teachers lots of chances to teach about World War 1, and also to get their students talking about the meaning of war more universally. Teachers would do well to add this powerful new documentary into the mix of posters, poems and photographs, literature and web resources they already use to bring this century old conflict alive. Filmmaker Peter Jackson, of  Lord of the Rings  fame, tells the story of British soldiers ...
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February 2019 I’ve lived in three states in the last eight years (New Jersey, Iowa, Michigan), and will move to my fourth (California) this summer. In many ways, it’s been an interesting sojourn for a lifelong student of American history and culture. Such geographic shifts provide potent reminders of the importance of regional culture and the imprint of federalism on our governmental arrangements, especially pertaining to states' authority over voting.   The elections of 2016 and 2018, in particular, shone a spotlight on two contemporary challenges to democracy in this country--gerrymandering and voter suppression. These baneful practices have long ...
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Nothing is better than a good social studies project. Students get a chance to choose a topic of interest, providing motivation for in-depth learning. They cooperate with classmates, often acquiring new technology skills. Project presentations showcase student talents, enhancing social science content for the entire class in the process. Oral history projects are powerful ways for students to become historians, learning about the past first hand. Students conduct interviews with family or community members. They document history close to home, the stories of parents who have fought in wars, relatives who escaped persecution, and senior citizens who survived ...
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