Wednesday, August 25, 2010

American Institutions Teachers attend We The People Summer Seminar in Montpelier Va.

The Center for Civic Education provides teachers with professionally made free materials to teach about the United States government to all grade levels K -12. According to their website, " The primary goal of We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution is to promote civic competence and responsibility among the nation’s elementary and secondary students." This past summer three American Institutions teachers from our school attended their summer institute at Montpelier, Virginia. The three teachers had the educational experience of their life learning about the teaching of the American Political System. One of the teachers had this to say about their experience:

"In preparation for the Summer Institute participates were asked to read Unit I of We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution along with several primary source documents related to the creation of the American Constitution.
The four day seminar consisted of an in depth study of the political, legal and ethical circumstances surrounding the creation of the Constitution. The seminar’s overall goal was to empower teachers to help students, “develop competency in using the founding documents to organize and interpret information, analyze public issues, and evaluate public policy decisions.” The seminar also centered on helping students incorporate a mock Congressional Hearing in the classroom. In the mock Congressional Hearing students are placed in heterogeneous groups and asked to prepare a two-minute opening statement in response to a Constitutional based question (ex. What were the philosophical and historical foundations of the American political system?). After the opening statement, groups are then asked follow-up questions from a panel of judges. By going through this process students are forced to critically analyze the Constitution and apply the principles to current day issues.
There were a number of highlights to the seminar including interacting with Constitutional Scholar Dr. John J. Patrick. Dr. Patrick, who has authored several books on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In addition, participants to the seminar were able to tour James Madison’s estate at Montpelier, observe an active archeological dig and network with teachers from around the nation about the most effective ways to teach about the Constitution. At the end of the seminar the participants were able to experience a mock Congressional Hearing. "
You can learn more about the We the People program at the following links:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Welcome back DCE social studies teachers! Our department goals for 20010-11 will focus again on instruction and assessment of student learning as well as literacy. Two new initiatives added to literacy are an emphasis on direct instruction of vocabulary and the use of DBQ (Document Based Question) writing.

Social Studies Department Goals


  1. Literacy (Reading, Writing, & Oral Speaking skills, e.g. discussion, oral presentation, etc.)
    • Pre, During, and Post Reading Strategies (Buehl’s Interactive Reading Strategies)
    • Argumentative Discussion (Socratic Dialog, Socratic circles, Debate formats, rotating 2X2’s, etc.)
    • Writing – Expository essay format (Thesis, Org. Parts, Specific Details-elaboration) Reflective Writing – journals. - Improve writing experiences for students through the use of model papers, common assessment rubrics, APPARTS, GSPRITE, and other strategies that will enhance expository writing.
    • - Implement the Thinking Like a Historian framework at all grade levels (Cause and Effect, Change and Continuity, Turning Points, Using the Past and Through Their Eyes)

    • *Vocabulary direct instruction – each grade level 6-12 will identify key vocabulary that they take responsibility for teaching. (300-400 terms)
    • *DBQ writing project – teachers will attend a workshop on the DBQ project and implement document based essays to improve student thinking and writing in the social studies classroom.
  1. Assessment in the social studies classroom

· Common assessment (unit tests, semester exams – summative testing)

· Formative assessment (Assessment for Learning – checking daily for understanding)

· Social Studies teachers will use assessment to monitor student

· Create power sheets for units to help focus on the key understandings in each unit, rather than the mini

The effect of assessment for learning (formative assessment) on student achievement is from 4-5 times greater than the effect of reduced class-size (Ehrenberg, Brewer, Gamoran, and Willams, 2001) While all students show achievement gains with formative assessment, the largest gains accrue to the lowest achievers. (Stiggens, 2006)

  1. Authentic Instruction in the Social Studies Classroom

· Promote hands on authentic tasks in all social studies classrooms

· Promote Rome Days, History Day, Oral History, Archeological Digs, Psychology experiments, 2008 election, Service-Learning, etc.

  1. Technology in the social studies classroom.

· Use technology to make social studies more interactive and engaging for students.

· Teachers may use the following: Smart boards, LCD projectors, ELMOS, laptops, Computer-assisted Instruction (remote clickers), etc.

· Strategies utilizing technology include: blogging, pod-casting, wikis, interactive gaming, United Video Streaming, webquests, etc.

· Use of technology for formative assessment, e.g., moddle, clicker system, department powerpoint, etc.

· * Level Three Technology learning means that students become communicators, collaborators and creators using technology as a means to complete a product that is shared with a wider audience.

* New department initiatives for 2010-11

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The D. C. Everest Oral History Program

The nationally recognized D.C. Everest oral history project received the American Historical Associations Albert Beveridge K-12 Teaching Award in 2010. To learn more about setting up your own oral history program check out our powerpoint at Oral History Program. This 8-12 grade student project has completed  oral history books over the past 12 years. See their website.

Using Understanding by Design in the Social Studies Classroom

Most educators are familiar with Wiggin's and McTighe's Understanding by Design. Defined by Wiggins and McTighe, Understanding by Design is a "framework for designing curriculum units, performance assessments, and instruction that lead your students to deep understanding of the content you teach." Teachers at our school identify the key enduring understandings that need to be taught and formulate essential questions to guide learning. Our social staff received a refresher training this past year using this powerpoint designed by social studies and English staff. Find it at UBD in Social Studies.

Argumentative Literacy in the Social Studies Classroom

After reading Mike Schmoker's book Results Now, it became clear to me that not only should the social studies classroom be filled with reading and writing, but also discussion, argument and deliberation! In chapter six Schmoker tells us that high school classrooms are nearly void of
discussion and argumentation! He says the following "discussion is indeed an essential part of a university education. But not, alas, of K–12 education. As the Learning 24/7 study makes clear, there was evidence of “academic dialog and discussion” in only 0.5 percent of the 1,500 classes they observed (Learning 24/7, 2005).
In Mike Schmoker's book Results NOW, he talks at length about argumentative literacy in Chapter 6.
In this chapter he talks about reading methods, discussion and writing, the three components of argumentative literacy. The part most often missing in Junior and Senior High classrooms is argumentative discussion. In our social studies classrooms we have experimented with Socratic Dialog, particularly with Socratic circles ( see Socratic Circles by Matt Copeland -  ) and other discussion models. In our history classes we use Socratic dialog because students are taught to bring clarification and problem solving to the discussion rather than worrying about winning that occurs in a debate format. ( see Socratic Dialog handout - ) Keeping an open mind and pursuing answers to good provocative Socratic questions leads to increased involvement and deeper thinking by students.
the first method that we promote is the Socratic circle format. Students are expected to come into the discussion with either annotated notes on the reading ( see) or notes on the agenda ( sample agenda) . Often times agendas are student created and distributed to class members 1-2 days prior to the discussion. At the start of the discussion, the class is divided at random( some teachers predetermine the groups with student personalities in mind) into two discussion groups. One half of the class will sit on the floor and will be the group discussing for the first 20 minutes of class while the 2ND group hovers over them in their desks watching and filling out an observation/participation form (see sample). Before the discussion actually begins, students pair up so that they can fill out the first box in the observation form regarding preparation. They show each other their annotated notes, agenda notes, etc. During the discussion itself, the students in the outer circle are collecting data on participation, use of discussion skills, and overall evaluate the discussion.
The teacher can either sit in a desk in the outer circle or walk around the circle. The teacher may interject to move the discussion forward, however I do assign a student leader to move the students through the agenda. Teachers tend to dominate the discussion, so it is best to stay out of it.
After 20 minutes, the groups switch positions, that way all students are involved in the discussion. A new student leader takes over at the midway point of the agenda. You may want the outer circle to spend 2-3 minutes analysing the inner groups overall discussion prior to the switch. The final 5 minutes of class, I usually make overall comments and do some debriefing of the Big Ideas or I do some type of formative assessment. ( The group discussion process can be evaluated on such criteria as group sensitivity, continuity of discussion, use of transitions, question relevance, and so on.)
Our social studies department 6-12 has begun implementing a variety of discussion formats that include socratic circles, retellings, 2 x 2 debates, deliberations, and others. Check out the department powerpoint titled Argumentative Literacy.

Thinking Like a Historian

Our social studies department has adopted the Thinking Like a Historian inquiry categories to improve student thinking in its history classes. Doug Buehl, reading consultant out of Madison WI., informed our department that when students read history text they need to think like historians and when they read science text or math text they should think like scientists or mathematicians. With this in mind, the Wisconsin Historical Society in conjunction with UW- Whitewater education professors, created 5 inquiry categories which are always in the minds of readers of history. They are cause and effect, change and continuity, turning points, using the past, and through their eyes. The teachers added a 6th category called differing perspectives. Inquiry questions have been created for each of the 6 categories that go through the students mind as they read. The department created a powerpoint explaining Thinking Like a Historian. It can be found at Thinking Like a Historian

Formative Assessment in the Social Studies Classroom

Research shows that the most effective way to improve student achievement is to do formative assessment for learning on a daily basis. Our social studies department examined the attributes of formative assessment and discussed and shared how checking for understanding during each and every lesson can really improve student learning. The department identified these attributes in the following powerpoint that can be found at DCE Formative Assessment. The department then brainstormed 55 different formative assessment strategies that will work in your social studies classroom. This powerpoint on the different strategies can also be found at Social Studies Formative Assessment.