Trivial Pursuits?

For the past month, my students and I have been in some heated Trivia Crack competitions.  On numerous occasions, they’ve told me how much the stuff we talk about in Social Studies class comes up in the game and it got me thinking…

How much of the content I teach is trivial?  Does it have value and relevance to the futures of my students?

Have you ever felt this way?  Covering our state standards or Common Core can often become our main focus…and the passion and beauty of history get lost in our pursuit of minutiae.  Trivia.  That word has become a source of pride on game nights with friends, watching Jeopardy with family…and is often mistaken for intelligence.  What are we teaching our students?  Why are we teaching them about the Battle of Hastings, the capitals of Asian countries, the definition of GDP?

Don’t get me wrong; I’d argue that knowing each of those things mentioned above can be worthwhile and history teachers have an obligation to explain the value of the subject matter, but there are things worth more.  The people we hope our students will become typically doesn’t address any of those things.  Developing cultural intelligence doesn’t require you to memorize the capital of Mongolia….  Do our classrooms reflect that?

Leave the Googleable (Is that a word?) facts in the past and lets dig into skill development that will assist our students in becoming productive citizens of the globalized world.



Do you DBQ? (Middle School Edition)

DBQ’s…besides being a super cool acronym (Peace Corps forced me to love acronyms otherwise you can’t follow a conversation…), Document Based Questions are one of my favorite things to use in the classroom.

Background Information:  I was an AP World History teacher that recently took a job teaching 7th grade Social Studies in my hometown.  WOW!  Going from AP to grade 7 S.S. has been a culture shock, but it’s also allowed me to set high expectations for my middle schoolers in hopes that one day they’ll have the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills to perform at the AP level.  You’re probably thinking that not every student is an Advanced Placement student, and you’re right.  My high-ability license helps me identify and target gifted students, but I’ve found that ALL students have a gift.  DBQ’s have allowed me to discover some of these gifts, and ALL students can excel at a DBQ-type activity if it’s presented in the correct way.

Using DBQ’s:  Social Studies literacy is very important to me.  I believe all Social Studies teachers are also reading and writing teachers…but at the same time, 7th grade students are not the target audience of many primary source documents or inquiry-based lesson plans.  [This is changing thanks to some amazing teachers dedicating themselves to middle school students!]  Many lessons from SHEG for instance are meant for higher reading levels.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE SHEG!  But the readings are too advanced for most of my students.

As a result, I’ve found ways to engage my students in DBQ activities and empower them to construct content knowledge in their own ways.

    1. Reading Like a Historian
  4. Interdisciplinary Adventure
    1. Social Studies
    2. Science
    3. Language Arts
    4. Math

If you don’t DBQ, I hope you’ll consider giving this challenge a chance!

Thinking Like Historians – Murder Mystery style

I received a request via Twitter (thanks @KiplingEric) to detail my Day 2 activity for the beginning of the school year.  The first week for my 7th graders is dedicated to procedures and building our minds to THINK LIKE HISTORIANS.  I love using SHEG’s curriculum for Reading Like a Historian (and their push towards revolutionizing assessment), and putting their corroboration, contextualization, sourcing, etc. techniques into practice has been both fun and educational!  

A special thanks goes to Peter Pappas for inspiring my murder mystery with his First Day of School plans to jumpstart student thinking.

When students entered the classroom we discussed shows like Law & Order, CSI, NCIS…and how several different careers utilize the skills that historians also use regularly.  

 Screenshot 2014-08-12 21.12.24

This gave value to the lesson and was a great way for me to get the kids to really buy-in to what we’re going to be doing all year long.  After the hook, each student was given a clue for the murder mystery!  I used one of Mr. Pappas’ mysteries as a template to guide me in writing my own.  The students all recommended making it into a performance next time/year…have a chalk outline and use people in school or the community to participate!  I’m all for it!  

I’ve had some success with this in 7th grade Social Studies and World History in the past.  I like creating Law&Order style challenge-based learning projects to practice our Historical Methods.  In our Google world, content is important but the skills our Social Studies classes help kids develop are of paramount importance if we want them to be productive citizens of the world!  

The Teacher I Want To Be…

Ladies & Gentlemen,

With the coming of Spring, FINALLY, I’ve decided to finally begin my teacher blog.  It’s been a goal of mine for a while, but I just haven’t had the courage to share my musings, successes, and failures… My little sister has begun a blog regarding my niece’s hearing loss which has inspired me to take a risk of my own!

To provide you all with a little background on me — I have returned to my hometown after attending the University of Southern Indiana (’07 History & Secondary Ed.) and then serving as a Peace Corps volunteer (TEFL) in Romania.  I never intended to become a teacher when I began college, but now being an educator is all I can ever imagine doing!  I have worked to become the type of teacher I would respect in the classroom.  From becoming more worldly to gain firsthand experience of my curriculum, to working with the Stanford History Education Group, to becoming Level 1 certified for Teaching w/ Primary Sources through the Library of Congress, to completing my high ability license…I want to build a global classroom that serves as a launching pad for my students to achieve their dreams.  I currently teach World History, AP World History, and 7th grade Social Studies in a rural 1:1 school district; I also coach golf, serve on the high ability committee, and serve as a member of the PLC committee.  My district, administration, and colleagues challenge me to become better everyday, and I’m grateful to be working in a progressive school district focused on being a leader in the state of Indiana.  Image

I’ll never stop learning.  I love reading many of your blogs, participating in #sschat #wrldchat #edtech etc, and conversing with you at conferences…hopefully I can repay your kindness and somehow inspire you in the future.  And the journey begins…

Next Post: How I Came To Be Known As “The Ulmanac”


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