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Discussion and debate over the Electoral College has long been a mainstay of Civics and Early U.S. History courses.  Why did the framers of the Constitution institute an indirect and even convoluted system of selecting the President, rather than relying on the popular vote?  Does the winner-take-all system within each state protect the rights of states within our federal system, or does it distort elections by encouraging candidates to focus on the so-called swing states?  Does it give too much power to small states such as Wyoming and Vermont, whose electoral votes are out of proportion to their population, or too much power to large states, such as California ...
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Social justice and anti-racist education are finally having their moment. As a teacher of color, I’m proud and excited that my colleagues, districts, and local officials are ready to acknowledge the need for diverse studies that reflect the students we teach. At the same time, I hope that our anti-racist social studies teaching paints a full picture of those we hope to teach about, one that does not shy away from the vast history of oppression, but one that also depicts joy and culture as well.  A lot of the anti-racist teaching discourse focuses on shedding light on the severity of oppression inflicted upon communities of color as a side of the American ...
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July 17 th our country lost a living legend. John Lewis began his quest for civil rights as a teenager. He was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. A famous 1965 photograph shows Alabama state police swinging a club at Lewis’ head while he demonstrated for African American voting rights in Selma. Unbowed, he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1986 serving 17 terms. He became known as the “conscience of the Congress”. An Alabama State Trooper swings his club at John Lewis' head during the civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on May 7, 1965. (Newscom/Everett Collection) The lessons ...
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One of the benchmarks in the revised 2017 NCSS guidelines for accreditation of teacher education programs is that candidates demonstrate “civic engagement.”  Just as we expect social studies education to foster civic engagement among our secondary school students, our future social studies teachers should model such activities as well, according to NCSS.  Zachary Tayler, who was in my Teaching Social Studies Methods course in Fall 2017 and then did his student teaching in Spring 2018, was in the first cohort of secondary social studies education students at Shippensburg University for which the civic engagement project was a requirement.  I am pleased to report ...
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The landscape of the social studies classroom will be different this fall. Our students will have witnessed, and in some cases participated in, the outpouring of protests against police brutality prompted by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers. And as Confederate statues fall and we debate military base names, no doubt our discussions will go beyond the issue of police misconduct to the larger topic of racism in the US. An excellent book, one that can help you and your students navigate this moment, is The Color of Law written by Richard Rothstein in 2017.  The subtitle of the book is A Forgotten History of How Our ...
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It has been jarring to see current images of US farmers dumping milk, destroying crops and animals, while long lines of hungry Americans wait at food banks. For those of us who teach US History, it is sadly reminiscent of the Great Depression when farmers poured out milk and plowed under pigs, while famished Americans stood in breadlines and soup kitchens. “History never repeats itself but it often rhymes,” seems tragically true today.  To give context to what students are seeing in the news today, have students explore these historical parallels with a variety of written and online resources.        Farmers Dumping Milk During the Great Depression ...
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The coronavirus health crisis has sent the US economy reeling. To help high school students make sense of the headlines this May, economics teachers can provide online instruction with several websites that track unemployment rates and the gross domestic product. In addition, students at home can play two online macroeconomic games, simulating difficult monetary and fiscal policy decisions faced by our government leaders. Economists now predict a rapid increase in unemployment as large sectors of the economy shut down. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) contains both current and historical information on unemployment and inflation rates . Teachers can ...
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Schools around the country are closed in response to the novel coronavirus. It is a tough and uncertain situation for students, their parents, and teachers, too. In California, we don’t know if schools will reopen this school year. Many districts are asking teachers to continue to provide instruction to students through various types of online learning. Social studies teachers are scrambling to find web resources and downloadable lessons for their students to access at home. I’ve posted my favorite social studies/history web resources on my A Veteran Teacher’s Lessons website .  In addition, I’ve shared my lesson handouts and materials that can be downloaded ...
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As teachers, we use lots of informal methods to find out what our students know and don’t know. During the year, a quick scan of a homework assignment, a quiz, or a student’s confused look tells us when students need more instruction or practice. When I started teaching I made tests at the end of a unit. After several years in the classroom, I realized it was much better to make an assessment before designing a teaching unit. Creating the unit test first meant I had identified key content knowledge and skills for the unit, ensuring I would make a thoughtful sequence of lessons with the final test in mind.  To my way of thinking, well-designed multiple-choice ...
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All of us have favorite books. I am guessing yours include beautifully written memoirs and histories; perhaps during your younger days a novel with a historical setting inspired your interest in the past.  We need to give our students the insights and exhilaration that comes from reading powerfully written books, both non-fiction and historical fiction.  A well-chosen non-fiction book can help students tackle difficult controversial issues. For example, our students read Sonia Nazario’s book on immigration,   Enrique’s Journey . Nazario is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who chronicles the journey of a 12 year Honduran boy to the US in search of his ...
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            As social studies teachers and our students return from what for many has been an unusually long winter break, they might get re-energized about the significance of our subject by studying two recent interventions by historians in issues in the public sphere.  The first concerns civic engagement at its most important level: the impeachment of President Donald Trump by the House of Representatives in December 2019.  The second – a letter criticizing certain interpretations presented in the August 18, 2019 special issue of the New York Times Magazine on the 400 th anniversary of the introduction of enslaved Africans into the English colony at Jamestown ...
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Oakland native Fred Korematsu defied Executive Order 9066, which called for the incarceration of Japanese Americans on the West Coast during WW II.   January 30 th is Fred Korematsu Day in California. Korematsu became a national civil rights hero for his refusal to go to the US government’s incarceration camps for Japanese Americans during World War II. The end of this month is a chance for social studies teachers to tell his story to students. Fred Korematsu stood up against the injustice of Japanese American internment. An online biography by the Korematsu Institute explains, “After he was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s order, ...
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  As teachers, we utilize many resources to teach about history. Occasionally, a Hollywood box office movie comes along to help us in our job. I believe Harriet is one of these films. The movie will help students grasp the facts of American slavery, the biographical specifics of Tubman’s life, and significance of the Underground Railroad. Harriet is a PG-13 biopic of the Underground Railroad’s most famous conductor, Harriet Tubman (1822-1913). The movie, written by Gregory Allen Howard, directed by Kasi Lemmons and starring Cynthia Erivo, begins on a Maryland plantation in 1849. The slave owner has decided to sell off several slaves to pay debts, ...
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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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