Tag Archives: social studies

The National Council for the Social Studies Conference

by Helen Beyne

Lincoln MemorialMore 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historical sources and evidence, making historical connections, and crafting a historical analysis, students learn historical content and simultaneously develop the higher-level thinking skills emphasized by the CCSS.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!

The Presidency (pre-election) ebook now available!

The History of The Presidency

A limited edition ebook for today’s tech-savvy student

ap-preelection-presidency-cover-092116Contemporary 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.

Coming Soon!

ap-postelection-presidency-cover-092116Stay 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.


Bring Presidential Debate into the Classroom

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:

Political ethnographers

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?

Classroom debates

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.


A Brief History of the Evolution of the Presidential Debate

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.

Youtube feature on Nixon-Kennedy 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.

Photograph from 2000 presidential debate

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.

Photograph from 2016 presidential debate (image from www.wbur.org)

How to Use Maps in Any Classroom

by Jonathan Laxamana

map making tools

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Using maps in the classroom once meant occasionally fussing with a hanging world map or too-small spinning globe (that usually collected dust) just to point out the location of a little-known country or quickly trace the progression of a military campaign in history class. Today, however, there are a number of web-based and desktop map-making tools available to help teachers use maps more creatively as visual tools—and outside of the history classroom.

For All Teachers

Google Maps offers a familiar and relatively easy interface for creating simple maps with markers, information, and routes. There are also features that allow users to import data, upload images and videos, and measure the distance between two points, which makes it a great tool for creating interactive activities about many topics.

For Science and History Teachers

National Geographic MapMaker Interactive allows users to layer maps from their collection. The collection provides data for a number of topics—from giant panda populations to mobile service subscriptions. This tool’s simple interface makes it an excellent tool for comparing, contrasting, and synthesizing information.

For History and English Teachers

History Pin is a tool that combines locations, images, and text to create a historical narrative. Here, users can either learn about the history of a particular location, group, or event—via tours and collections—or create one of their own. This tool is great for project-based learning, as it requires students to use their researching and writing skills.

Mixsee is similar to History Pin. It allows users to craft a narrative about a particular location. Students can attach images, videos, music, and descriptions to a place on a map, and these locations can be grouped together to create a guide. This tool is also great for project-based learning, especially short-term projects.

For Ambitious Math, Science, and History Teachers

CartoDB is a tool that maps data. Users upload data (via Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) or input data that will be depicted on a map. Using the interface is a bit challenging, and even high school students will need some assistance using this tool; however, the software is simple enough for a teacher to create step-by-step instructions for generating a map for a particular project. With this tool, students can create colorful images that help them easily understand or explain the results of a math, science, or history project.

Tableau Public is similar to CartoDB, but the interface is a bit more challenging because it can present imported data in a number of ways—as maps, graphs, charts, tables, etc. Users choose how they want the information to be presented and drag and drop the data they want to use. The software does most of the work, but the user can modify the presentation.

Creating a simple map with this tool is relatively easy with a well-organized spreadsheet; however, there are many options for customizing the presentation that can make using the software challenging. For a simple, clear project, this tool can help your students create stunning data maps.

These are just a few of the many tools available for making maps. Many of them use Google Maps in some way, but their interface, features, and focus vary greatly. When you’re deciding which tool to use, think carefully about which tool’s features are best aligned with the project you want to use it for, and consider how challenging it will be for your students to use the tool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJonathan Laxamana is Technology Manager of Green Light Professional Development. He has more than ten years of experience in producing educational software products, video, web-based content, and mobile apps. He writes about new hardware and software, troubleshooting tips, and everything iPad. 

What Does Collaborative Learning Really Mean?

by Helen Beyne

Collaborative learning is working together to create deeper, better understanding.

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We know that students need to develop twenty-first century thinking skills and metacognitive skills. A great way to build self-awareness and metacognitive skills is to use, explain, and justify critical thinking with peers, then transfer that ability to internal processes.

What is collaborative learning? It’s probably already taking place in your classroom! Do you have two or more learners, at different stages of mastery, working together? You’re most of the way there. Learners who are struggling will benefit from observing and working with students who are further along. Students with a better grasp of the content will find that accurately assessing someone else’s level of understanding, and beginning the dialogue from that point, is a big step toward mastery. All members of a group will find that open dialogue can lead to important new insights and understanding of material.

Another key trait of collaborative learning is a learner-driven and -modified dynamic. This means that students are aware of the give-and-take within the group and adjust interactions as time goes on. The process of modifying the group’s interactions helps learners become‑and stay‑productively accountable to themselves as well as to others. Working collaboratively allows students to take on leadership roles, practice teamwork, and resolve conflict effectively.

An additional defining trait of collaborative learning is the common goal. Groups of learners must have an explicit goal that they are working toward together. Although this method is very process-driven, it will not succeed without some structure and a known endpoint.

Lastly, there is one thing that is generally absent from collaborative learning: you. The teacher, in this context, takes a hands-off, facilitator role instead of being the center of attention. As the teacher, you create a safe space for the teams to stretch, grow, and take risks without intervening at every stage.

Why is collaborative learning important to your class? Collaboration helps learners develop and mature their sense of responsibility as well as boost their sense of self-worth. It feels good to contribute to a meaningful task, and it feels good to have your contribution valued by your team! Working with peers provides authentic practice and real-time feedback on metacognitive processes such as clarifying, questioning, predicting, and summarizing.

In addition, students become responsible for their own learning through questioning, refocusing, and responding to one another. The process stretches learners and lends itself best to DOK (Depth of Knowledge) level 3 and 4 activities.

Have a success story to share? Want to chat about how collaborative learning and classroom technology are better together? Leave us a comment, or find us on Facebook and Twitter!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She 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.

Teaching Resources for the Crisis in the Crimea

guest post by Tom Klonoski

Crimea lesson plans

image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

On March 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law several bills that completed Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The annexation is vigorously opposed by Ukraine, the country from which Crimea was taken, as well as by many Western nations. Some of these nations have implemented economic sanctions against Russia, and Russia has replied in kind.

The result is one of the most significant international conflicts this decade. Because of the major impact the situation will have on U.S. foreign policy and the world economy, among other things, it is well worth teachers’ efforts to create a lesson plan for use in the final weeks of the school year.


The Crimea conflict has deep historical roots, which include the Crimean War of 1853-1856. Russia went to war with the Ottoman Empire purportedly to protect Orthodox Christians from oppression by their Turkish Muslim rulers. Britain and France joined the war on the side of the Ottomans after early Russian victories. A successful siege of a Russian garrison at Sevastopol led to a peace treaty in which Russia agreed to move its warships out of the Black Sea. The Crimean War was also notable for Florence Nightingale’s improvements in field hospitals and for Lord Tennyson’s commemorative poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

After the Russian Revolution, Crimea became part of the Russian Federative Socialist Republic. It was occupied by Nazi Germany during part of World War II. After Crimea was recaptured by the Soviet Union, Premier Nikita Khrushchev made it part of Ukraine in 1954. Khrushchev was a native of Ukraine and wished to make a gesture marking the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s absorption into Russia in 1654.

The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in the independence of Ukraine and a severing of ties between Crimea and Russia. Tensions ensued due to Crimea’s having a majority of ethnic Russians in its population. In addition to the minority population of Ukrainians, there is also a sizable population of Tatars, a Muslim ethnic group.

Crimea’s naval base makes it of key military importance in the Black Sea and surrounding region. As Russia recovered after its economic collapse in the 1990s, it slowly began to reassert its influence in surrounding countries that were former Soviet republics. Ukraine’s large ethnic Russian population made it fertile ground for Vladimir Putin to forcefully restore Russian involvement. When Ukrainians rose up against pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych and formed a new government, Putin declared the government to be illegitimate. Pro-Russian militias, perhaps including some masked Russian troops, took control of Crimea. A referendum was held and it was announced that 96 percent of the Crimean voters favored leaving Ukraine and joining Russia. Russian annexation followed, shortly after the entry of large numbers of Russian troops.


Philadelphia middle school teacher Diane Laufenberg, in a blog post, identified these excellent resources for background on the crisis in the Crimea:

Historical perspective from National Public Radio

• In-depth look at ethnic tensions by National Geographic in 2011


• Have students create a map of the Crimean Peninsula, showing its location relative to Russia and Ukraine. One possible resource is from the New York Times.

• Have small groups discuss ways of settling the dispute in Crimea. Ask them to prepare for discussion by reading recent news articles and taking notes.

• Present the class with materials detailing the economic sanctions that Western nations have put in place against Russia. Ask students if they think the sanctions will be effective in stopping Soviet expansion. Encourage to suggest additional measures that could be taken and to provide support for their views. Visit this site for details about sanctions.

Tom Klonoski is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development.

5 Ways of Looking at Presidents’ Day

by Helen Beyne

George Washington President's Day

image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that the holiday often referred to as Presidents’ Day is officially designated Washington’s Birthday? No matter what you call it, the date offers us an opportunity to recognize the contributions and accomplishments of the forty-four presidents to date. It’s also a chance to look at the important role that the American presidency has played in the development of our national character.

This holiday is a chance to help students deepen their engagement with civics and history in a meaningful way. Learning about the leaders of our country can go beyond memorizing dates and names. The key concepts that we highlight on President’s Day—our history, our government, and our leaders—have rich, complex narratives of their own, and there are many great online tools you can access to help your students better understand the legacies of our country’s most important leaders.

The following short list of resources is a starting point. Use these to encourage students to write biographies, author and star in short plays, examine and compare primary sources, put together timelines, or do any other kind of project that suits your classroom! These resources, which include primary and secondary sources, can be a great way to begin a fuller discussion with your students about our country and our history by examining the most revered and most challenging position in our government.

  1. Help your students investigate the history of the holiday at the National Archives. Check out the article about George Washington’s Birthday in the Featured Documents section. Students can view and download images of original documents relevant to Washington and the origin of President’s Day.
  2. The Smithsonian’s “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden” offers a wealth of information about the position and the individuals who have served as the leader of our nation. It includes a variety of student activities, and provides lesson plans for grades 4–6, 7–9, and 10–12.
  3. Green Light Learning Tools’s interactive eBook The Presidency (Android available at Amazon and iOS through the iTunes store) offers an overview of our country’s government, the president’s powers, and the election process. It also provides a close examination of the 2012 election. Built in collaboration with the AP, this tablet-optimized eBook includes videos, charts, graphs, maps, timelines, and quizzes that help students better understand the intricacies of getting elected and serving as the country’s leader. There is also a similar, but simpler IWB lesson available through SMART Exchange.
  4. University of Virginia’s Miller Center hosts the Presidential Classroom, a site where you can access presidential documents, oral histories, images, transcripts, audio recordings, and videos. The audio recordings should be reviewed for appropriateness before sharing with your students.
  5. PBS’s American Experience includes a documentary series on the presidents of the United States, several of which—including those on FDR, Nixon, and Clinton—can be streamed online.

Do you have a favorite site, document, or lesson plan that you teach on Presidents’ Day? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She 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.

Online Resources for the Winter Olympics

by Tom Klonoski

Winter Olympics poster

A vintage Winter Olympics poster | image courtesy Library of Congress

The Olympic ideal of building a better world through sports can serve as the basis for a unit that hits many social studies standards, including those dealing with multiculturalism and international cooperation.

The 2014 Winter Olympics, which begin February 7th, will be held in Sochi in the southwestern Russia. The city lies along the Black Sea and is near the Caucasus Mountains. Skiing and some other alpine events will be held in the resort town of Krasnaya Polyana.

You can make a unit on the Winter Olympics more engaging by incorporating online content, perhaps by using an interactive whiteboard or tablet computers. Here are some websites that provide useful background and other content on the XXII Winter Games. Have students use them to create graphs and charts of medal winners, track Sochi temperatures, map the Torch relay, create posters about their favorite events, or compare and contrast the Ancient and Modern Olympics. As always, preview the sites, articles, and videos to make sure they are appropriate for your students.

General Sites

Elementary Students

  • Sochi MascotsShow students pictures and videos (in Russian, with English subtitles) of the Sochi mascots. Have them use one of the mascots as a character in a story or draw a picture of a mascot they would choose if the Olympics were held in their city or state.
  • Easy Snow and Ice ExperimentsUse a video of a skating or skiing event to make students curious about the science of snow and ice. Then try one or more of these simple and quick experiments about observing ice, making frost or snow, melting ice cubes, and more.
  • Measurement OlympicsAdapt this flexible program to give your students opportunities to make measurement predictions and practice using a variety of measurement tools, such as stop watches, rulers, and measuring cups. Begin by discussing how important the measurement of time and distance is in many of the Winter Olympics events. Help students understand how close many Olympic races are by listening to and discussing the Olympic Musical together.  

Middle School Students

  • Decimal Olympics GameThis free download from Teachers pay Teachers includes materials for a fun and educational review of decimals as teams of students “compete” in several events.
  • Country ReportAsk pairs of students to select a country with athletes competing in Sochi. Have them use print and digital sources to create a written or oral presentation about the country. Elements might include a summary of its history; facts about its climate, geography, and culture; a picture of its flag; a map; and a chart or table indicating the number of Winter Olympic medals its team has won over the years.
  • Sochi SportsThis lesson (one of several developed by the Australian Olympic Education Committee) focuses on the various sports in the Winter Olympics. Have groups of students choose a sport to research and create a multimedia presentation to share their findings with the class.

High School Students

  • Science of the Winter OlympicsThe National Science Foundation and NBC Learn produced these 16 short videos to explain the physics, biomechanics, physiology, and mathematical principles behind particular Olympic events.
  • The Olympics as a Model for Creating Genius?Encourage students to discuss or write about the ideas in this provocative short video produced by the PBS Idea Channel about society’s ability to develop intellectual and athletic talents. 

Want more ideas and resources for Olympics-related lessons, activities, and free printables? Check out these sites: TeachersFirst, Scholastic News Winter Olympics, TeacherVision Olympic Games, Winter Olympic Printables,  NEA Resources for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Activity Village Winter Olympics, and EducationWorld’s Gold Medal Olympics Activities.

How do you plan to discuss the Olympics with your students?

Tom Klonoski is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development.