by Helen Beyne
More than 3,000 social studies colleagues gathered in our nation’s capital to share their ideas, research, and expertise at the world’s largest and most comprehensive social studies conference. The texts featured at the booths as well as the topics discussed at the sessions reflected the curriculum changes that have occurred over the past few years: the curriculum is now much more customized, standards have changed the way social studies is taught, and social studies instruction is more relevant now because it is more driven by current topics.
At the conference, it was evident that there is a growing consensus—social studies should take the lead in teaching the critical inquiry-related skill questioning. Education experts encouraged teachers to move away from traditional, lecture-based instruction towards instruction that emphasizes such skills as analyzing primary source documents and writing evaluatively. Many speakers urged educators to adjust their existing lessons by integrating social studies with literacy and by using document based questions.
Document based questions encourage students of history to act like detectives. Students must evaluate primary sources and secondary texts, draw on background knowledge, ask questions, and use evidence to draw conclusions. By analyzing historical sources and evidence, making historical connections, and crafting a historical analysis, students learn historical content and simultaneously develop the higher-level thinking skills emphasized by the CCSS.
One main takeaway from NCSS was the focus on the importance of inquiry-based learning. Another was the importance of civic learning. The message was clear—if we want students to become educated, responsible, and informed citizens, we must expose them to balanced knowledge, instill democratic values in them, and cultivate the qualities that will enable them to understand our society and become active participants in it. Educators stressed that high-quality civic learning should engage students by making the curriculum more relevant to real life and incorporate human rights education.
One way to ramp up civic learning is by teaching important documents, such as the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and demonstrating their relevance in current events. For age-appropriate resources on current and historical international issues, be sure to check out The Choices Program, which offers free videos, handouts, and lesson plans that connect students to headlines in the news. These resources can be used in conjunction with the United for Human Rights Online Education app, which allows educators to easily access human rights curriculum. Students can use these resources to explore, debate, and evaluate challenging topics, such as Immigration, ISIS, and Genocide.
We look forward to seeing how teachers use the ideas and practices they learned at NCSS to promote social understanding and civic efficacy in the classroom. See you next year in San Francisco!
by Tom Klonoski
Like it or not, standardized test scores are the primary way of measuring U.S. school performance. With much at stake for both teachers and students, teachers should try to give the kids in their classrooms every possible advantage to help them succeed on the tests.
Most districts gear their curricula toward skills related to the content of tests. In addition to covering content, teachers can give students an edge by including a unit on test-taking strategies, preferably close to the month of the test. Here are some key strategies to give your students a boost.
Before the Test
Get familiar with the test form and question types.
Try to find a practice test on the website of the test publisher. Administer it to your class under a time control. This will help students become familiar with both the structure of the test and a timed format. Afterwards, discuss the test, focusing on any directions the students found confusing. If the publisher does not provide a practice test, use a search engine to see if anyone else has created one. The goal is to get students familiar with question types and how to answer them.
Encourage students to arrive at school on testing day feeling rested and energetic
A healthy mind and body is essential for good test performance. Tell students to get plenty of rest the night before a test. Also encourage them to eat a good breakfast. Tell them to make time for breakfast at school if they aren’t able to get a complete one at home.
Get your students in a good frame of mind immediately before the test.
One of the biggest issues on testing day is nervousness that affects performance. In the days before the test, lead your class in breathing exercises focused on relaxation. Long, deep breaths are the key. When students have become comfortable with this routine, they will be able to use it to their advantage just before the test and even during it. On testing day, make sure you allow time for a bathroom break in the half hour before the test. Just before passing out the test, lead the class in unison to say, “We got this,” or any other statement of affirmation that you think appropriate.
During the Test
Work with your students on these during-test strategies in the weeks leading up to the test.
Read the directions carefully
Following directions is especially important on writing tests. Often a student will begin writing about a prompt and become involved with the flow and organization of the writing. This can result in the writer’s focus wandering away from the topic of the prompt and focusing on the wrong content. Encourage students to create a plan before they start writing. The plan can consist of either a basic outline or graphic organizer. The content of the plan should consist of key points and support. Underlining key words and phrases in the prompt may help them with this task.
Review the answer sheet during and after the test
If the test involves filling in ovals on a test form, students must be careful not to accidentally skip questions and fill in ovals in the wrong rows. Get them in the habit of checking their answer sheet every five questions to make sure they are on the right row. For example, they would check after question 5, after question 10, and so on. They can also check the clock at those times to make sure they are working at an appropriate pace.
Don’t get bogged down on difficult questions
Every test contains items that take longer to complete than other items. Tell students that if they are having trouble with an item, they should just skip it and come back to it at the end of the test. Emphasize that if they do skip an item, they must also skip the corresponding row on their answer sheet. Remind students that even partial answers can receive points on short-response or extended-response items.
One additional advantage of all of these strategies is that mastering them will give students confidence about the test, which can also contribute to an improved performance. Finally, help students to keep a good perspective about the test. They should be satisfied with trying their best; if things don’t turn out well, there will be other opportunities down the road.
The History of The Presidency
A limited edition ebook for today’s tech-savvy student
Contemporary classrooms ought to represent contemporary students—students born of the New Media Age. In the past, students learned dense subjects like science, history, and math from standard textbooks. Today, publishers are creating interactive, educational resources that compliment traditional textbooks and grab students’ interest to encourage learning.
Together the Associated Press and Green Light Learning Tools have created The Presidency (pre-election), a multimedia overview of the U.S. presidency, that does just that—connects students to the content to encourage learning. In an innovative approach to marrying news coverage and curriculum, students can not only read about the executive branch and presidents but also directly hear the words and see video of the presidents as they learn about them. The Presidency (pre-election) features award-winning photos and video culled from AP’s rich historical archive, and it pairs them with clear, succinct, age-level appropriate explanations.
Students have information available at the touch of their fingertips—literally! With the swipe of a finger students can access videos, presidential debates, interactive timelines of the U.S. presidency, quizzes, and slideshows.
The ebook is primarily for students in grades 4–8, but is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the presidency. It also includes a glossary of academic terms and their definitions and three chapters—The Executive Branch, Electing a President, and Election 2016.
The Presidency (pre-election) is available for download on iTunes for $5.99, and is compatible with Android devices, the iPad 2 or later, and the iPad Mini.
Stay connected with Green Light Learning Tools via Twitter and/or Facebook for news about the release of The Presidency (post-election), an updated edition that includes the outcome of the 2016 election as well as the new president’s inauguration speech.
by Elizabeth Liberatore
A presidential debate is like a job interview. It is the final opportunity for a candidate to distinguish him or herself from the competition to earn the majority of votes. After two fiery debates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have one more showdown before the public heads to the polls and the Electoral College fills the position of president.
Presidential debates are significant in both the political landscape and classroom. As a learning tool, presidential debates aid in comprehension about the American government and democracy. Additionally, classroom debates enhance students’ critical thinking and public speaking.
With the debates between Trump and Clinton in full swing, there is no better time than the present to teach students about the debates and host debates in the classroom. Here are some ways to put past and present debates at the forefront of a lesson:
Designate different sections of a debate to small groups. The groups should be silent ethnographers, and take detailed notes on the content of the each candidate’s answers and the style of his or her performance. What is his or her tone of voice? What mannerisms are present? Does either candidate’s inflection change during the debate? Does this signify anything? Students should also identify the main idea of the argument and fact-check the information presented to ensure that it is sound. After students have completed their research, ask them to present their findings to the class.
Reference past debates
Watch the Debates is an archive of every presidential debate since 1960. The site allows students to easily navigate through more than five decades of election issues. Microsoft Pulse, an audience response tool, allows students to agree or disagree with the candidates’ responses and lets students compare their responses to those of other viewers. Watch The Debates is ideal for social studies teachers as it allows students to not only evaluate presidential debates but also understand the nation’s most serious issues. Students can use this site in conjunction with Google Newspapers to compare and contrast past election issues that dominated the headlines.
Create a classroom Twitter account
The first Trump-Clinton presidential debate was the most streamed debate ever. Twitter and Facebook’s live video feature allows audiences worldwide to watch the debates on their computers, tablets, and smartphones. The feature also allows viewers to participate in live conversation. In preparation for the final debate on Oct. 19, create a classroom Twitter account or Facebook page where students can interact with one another during the debate. Students should evaluate candidates’ answers, pose questions to their peers, and compare and contrast the first two debates to the third. Do the debates reveal what each candidate stands for? Are candidates being consistent? Are the candidates’ responses thoughtful? Were any of the candidates’ responses surprising?
Another fantastic resource that both social studies and English teachers can benefit from is Join the Debates. Join the Debates gives teachers curriculum for free so that their students can have civil conversations in the classroom about the issues in the campaign cycle. Classroom debates enable students to become engaged listeners, collaborators, expand their vocabulary with domain-specific words, practice the art of persuasion, and become more proficient in public speech. Students learn all of this while also learning how important presidential debates or ‘interviews’ are in every election.
by Tom Klonoski
The debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump occur at a critical time during the 2016 presidential campaign. With opinion polls showing a close race, the debates have the potential to swing the race in the favor of a single candidate.
Debates have not always been important factors in presidential general elections. They became significant only after the arrival of television in U.S. households in the mid-1900s. Prior to that, newspaper stories on campaign speeches played a much more important role.
The first presidential debate during a general election campaign occurred in 1960. Most people listening in on radio felt that Vice President Richard Nixon, a skilled debater, had triumphed. But those watching on television felt that Senator John F. Kennedy was the victor. Democrat Kennedy appeared calm and poised, whereas Republican Nixon appeared sweaty and nervous. It didn’t help Nixon that he applied his own makeup before the debate.
Another campaign in which debates played an important role in the public’s perceptions of the candidates occurred in 1976. In the second debate that year, President Gerald Ford, running against former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, declared that the Soviet Union had “no domination of Eastern Europe” at a time when the USSR had military control throughout the region and dominated Eastern European governments. Ford, a Republican, had meant that the spirit of the Eastern European people would never be dominated by the Soviets, but he did not make this clear. Carter pounced on the apparent error and was deemed to have won the debate. He surged ahead in the polls and was able to hold off late gains by Ford to win the election.
In 2000, presidential debates swung the general election campaign in the Republicans’ favor. Going into the first of three debates, Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat, had an 8 percent lead in the polls over former Texas Governor George Bush. But in the debates Gore came off as condescending while Bush appeared more likable. After the last debate, Gore’s lead had disintegrated and the campaign ended with one of the closest elections in U.S. history, with Bush winning in a controversial manner.
Although the outcome of the first Clinton-Trump debate was widely portrayed as a Clinton victory, this result alone is unlikely to determine the election. There are still two debates to come, and unexpected developments in domestic and international affairs could also play a key role in separating the candidates in the minds of undecided voters. Only a major error in the debates would be likely to be an important factor in the election results on November 8th.
Students struggling with punctuation? Tired of suggesting corrections for comma splices? Is it time to brush up on writing conventions before a big essay assignment?
Check out this brief video: in two and a half minutes, we can quell your students’ fears about correct semicolon usage.
Watch on YouTube: How to use a semicolon
LESSONS FOR TODAY’S DIGITAL CLASSROOM
Contemporary classrooms need to engage students with digital tools—such as tablets and Chromebooks—and digital curricula. That was the intent behind Reading Dailies, a new digital curriculum designed to be delivered through tablets and computers. A teacher need only paste the lesson link into an assignment, and students can access a complete week of lessons that break down one of the Common Core reading standards and that include high-quality, complex, literary texts.
Reading Dailies, for grades 3–5, build students’ reading skills through weekly lessons that break down the skills students need to understand fiction and informational texts.
This supplemental reading program includes a Teacher’s Guide, 19 units, and 19 Checkpoint Assessments. Each unit and Checkpoint Assessment is available as an interactive HTML5 lesson or as a downloadable PDF, and each unit includes 3, 4, or 5 lessons designed to be completed in a single week. Each lesson takes about one day and requires students to read and reread a literary passage and write about it. A checkpoint at the end of each week assess students’ understanding of the main strategy, giving teachers the summative data they need to assess whether students have mastered the composite skills folded into one of the Common Core standards.
Reading Dailies offers students and teachers several features that make the program easy to use and convenient while still being rigorous.
Skills show the smaller skills needed to master the overall strategy
Academic vocabulary is introduced at the beginning of the week and reinforced throughout the week
Quality literature can be found in each lesson to acquaint students with literary use of language and the vocabulary used in authentic texts
Focused responses provide students with scaffolding needed to delve into the text and understand it
- Start the week by introducing the unit and key concepts. Then allow about one day to complete each lesson.
- Some students on their own may be able to complete a unit in less time, but the one day, one lesson pace allows time for students to work in small groups to discuss the passages and respond to them. Talking about the passages in small groups will benefit all learners and help them enrich their understanding of the passages.
- Small groups will also support struggling readers and English Language Learners.
- Throughout the week, encourage use of the academic vocabulary in the lesson in small-and whole-group settings.
To preview a G3 unit for free, visit http://store.greenlightlearningtools.com/product/rd301/
To preview a G4 unit for free, visit http://store.greenlightlearningtools.com/product/rd41/
To preview a G5 unit for free, visit http://store.greenlightlearningtools.com/product/rd501/
Helen Beyne has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.
by Elizabeth Liberatore
Plan to turn complexity into comprehension
Reading, like any activity, requires plenty of practice to perfect. You cannot expect piano students to master a technically demanding score by Chopin or Beethoven unless it is practiced in bite-size portions. Reading is no different. Only when students are routinely exposed to quality literature with embedded skills that reinforce standards can students raise their literacy and comprehension skills.
“Unpack” Literature Standards in the Classroom
But how do you make a reading lesson equal parts attainable and rigorous for your students? You “unpack it.” Reading standards today are big and complex, embedded with at least three or four smaller skills. Students need to “make inferences” while also “explaining what the text says explicitly” and referring “to details and examples in a text.” Any one of those subskills warrants a lesson unto itself.
Small, bite-size skills help introduce your students to academic vocabulary, high frequency words, and other proficiencies needed to master the larger standard. Once students learn the subskills within a standard—such as reading and rereading, annotating unfamiliar and/or repetitive words, locating literary devices, and so forth—they will approach the larger standard with confidence. Assessments of each subskill within a standard allow you to better gauge students’ trouble spots in mastering the overall standard.
Make It Approachable Without Compromising Rigor
How often should students be practicing their reading? According to Dick Allington, author of What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-based Programs, students ought to read 300 minutes every week. That’s a lot. Constant distractions like entertainment on devices such as computers or iPads and students entering and exiting the classroom can make it difficult to allot that much time to reading without shortchanging other subjects. Even when 15–30 minutes of reading is spent in after-school programs or as homework, the suggested 300 minutes per week will be met only if students practice a daily reading routine in the classroom. That is, students need to read daily and practice mastering the skills they need to unravel today’s complex reading and literature standards.
Planning is teaching—teach a plan! Pack two ingredients into each week: clear, explicit instruction of key reading skills and sufficient reading of engaging, complex texts across all subjects. Take time to unpack the reading literature and informational text standards and work through them methodically. Then challenge students with complex texts on which they can practice the subskills they need to master. As long as your weekly reading routine has a consistent structure that students can easily digest, you can be assured that their comprehension and literacy skills will improve with every lesson they complete.
by Emily Levison
Teachers face the daily challenge of making their lessons accessible to all types of learners. Virtual tours are an incredible tool to reach a wide variety of learning needs, spark your student’s interest, and bring the field trip into the classroom. With applications like Google Earth, we can view anywhere in the world at the click of a button. Virtual tours, however, take you inside or give a full and expansive view of iconic monuments, landscapes, or artifacts.
Here are a few great virtual tours to use in your classroom:
- Mount St. Helens
This virtual tour puts you at the top of Mount St. Helens and gives you a full 360-degree view. Help your students discover the way the landscape has changed by comparing images from 2003, 2006, 2011, and 2016. Explore many other iconic places at Fullscreen 360.
- U.S. Supreme Court Building
Let’s explore the U.S. Supreme Court – not just the exterior of the building but the inside and outside of each room. What better way to learn about Supreme Court cases than to put the students right there? Imagine teaching about key Supreme Court cases, like Brown v. Board of Education, and allowing your students to see the inside of the courtroom and imagine what it was like to be there.
- Rare Book Room
Unlike other virtual tours that focus on exotic locales, the Rare Book Room allows visitors to digitally view the pages of almost four hundred books from some of the greatest libraries all over the world. Students can closely examine original copies of books from authors like William Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Galileo, and Copernicus. Whether you are teaching social studies, science, language arts or mathematics this is a worthwhile resource to use with your students.
- Sistine Chapel
I have never had the privilege to travel to Vatican City, let alone the miraculous Sistine Chapel. This virtual tour makes you feel like you are right there, painting the ceiling with Michelangelo. Spin 360 degrees, zoom in and out and even enjoy the complimentary music from the Westminster Abbey Choir as you browse around this pristine work of art, just don’t forget to bring your students with you!
by Mary Kate Dempsey
Fun and informative websites and videos can improve even the most reluctant student’s understanding of science. Here are five of our favorite science resources to use in the classroom.
The Periodic Table of Comic Books
Show students who question the relevance of learning the periodic table this website. Click any element to see an array of retro comic book pages that mention or connect to that element. Sure, it can be cheesy, but even elements like molybdenum have been mentioned in comic books. Who knew?
Hank Green, Michael Aranda, and Olivia Gordon strive to make science fun on their YouTube channel, SciShow. Their videos explain things from animal behavior to oceans to why babies smell good. The videos range from 3 to 10 minutes, and are a great supplement to classroom discussions.
Veritasium is another YouTube channel that makes science engaging. The videos cover topics from energy to animals. The channel features several playlists, including overturning misconceptions, experiments, and catchy, memory-aiding songs. It is wonderful when students question the real world applications of science class.
This wildlife teaching resource for ages 5–18 contains professional photographs of animals accompanied by detailed descriptions, most of which are authenticated by scientists and researchers. Students can filter by species, conservation status, or location. The website also has fun games, activities, and quizzes. Check out the Educate tab for lesson plans and worksheets.
Sumanas, Inc. is an educational publisher with the goal to make science easier to understand. Their website features short animations appropriate for high school students on topics such as mitosis, the moon’s phases, and synaptic transmission. The section “Science in Focus” animates scientific current events, such as antibiotic resistance.