Welcome Back to School

As most of you probably know, my position in Spring Branch has changed a bit. I now work with folks in grades 3 to 5 in the content area of language arts and social studies. Maureen Ucles will work with teachers in grades kindergarten through second.

I will still post to this site. I also invite you to go to the following site: letstryreading.wordpress.com That is where I posted the newsletter that students helped to write this summer: Branching Out. It is full of articles written by students and educators. Feel free to go there and share with your students.

I would like to post student writing there throughout the year. We can do it in a newsletter format or as individual pieces. Let me know if you are interested in sharing your student’s work on that site.

As we begin this school year, we are focused on building relationships with our students. src=”https://elementarysocialstudies.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/cartoon-on-too-much-curriculum.jpg” alt=”cartoon on too much curriculum” width=”251″ height=”200″ class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-51″ />

downloadhey-little-ant-hoose-tilley. Great reading and writing goes beautifully with that concept.
book speak

These are all great ways to begin the year. Have a great week.

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Good Conversation

It was wonderful to have a conversation about social studies with the teachers who represent their grade level at each of their schools. I heard some wonderful ideas. There are two that I would love to share. I wonder how folks feel about these? Please feel free to offer ideas here or send me an email.
1. Do we want a day-by-day framework? This would simply be a list of lessons to teach one after the other. Teachers who were new to the grade level could use this framework to better understand what to do first, second, third, etc. I would not want to force anyone to use it, but I want to help folks to more easily teach social studies. What do you think?
2. Second grade has asked that I put a folder on Sweden so that we could store lesson ideas there. I don’t want the curriculum to be too loaded down with lessons. It would become too difficult to manage very quickly. If we have the separate folder for each grade level, then teachers would have a place to share their ideas and a place to wander around in searching for new ideas. I am putting it up for second grade. Is anyone else interested?

It is very nice to hear about all of the wonderful things that the teachers in Spring Branch are doing to offer interesting instruction in social studies. Please feel free to share any ideas that you have.

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Learning from Our Mistakes

Grant Wiggins wrote in a recent blog “…it is not the teaching that causes learning but the attempts by the learner to learn that causes learning….” He went on to write, “the first attempt may not be successful,” indicating that learning my not occur immediately, but it is through subsequent or extended attempts that learning may occur. There are few things that learners can do well with a single attempt, but in school we tend to judge students based on single attempts. We teach the topic/concept and move on. The student who did not learn the concept through the initial instruction may be re-taught, tutored, failed, labeled, or even ignored. There are some times where the lack of learning may not have even been noticed. No one benefits from a teach-and-then-move-on philosophy.
Many teachers feel the pressure to move through the curriculum at a set pace: keep up with the quad sheet, the road map, the framework. But we don’t want that quad sheet to have a strangle hold on our instruction causing learning to cease or to be sporadic. Teachers of elementary social studies have neither a district assessment nor a state assessment to restrain them from quality instruction. So let’s take the time to give our students deep learning experiences that offer multiple and varied opportunities to learn the concepts we teach.
In actuality we are given six years to develop the language and thinking around all aspects of social studies—geography, economics, citizenship, history and government. We have the time to build a depth of learning and thinking in our students that will bleed over into their learning and thinking in math, in science and in language arts. Actually, social studies is prevalent in art and music as well. We don’t need to keep our students trapped at the knowledge level of learning memorizing facts and vocabulary while doing very little thinking or interacting with the facts and vocabulary. Instead, we can give our students opportunities to experience various aspects of social studies so that they may play with ideas in new ways, so that they have opportunities to think about and use the concepts that they are studying, and most importantly, so that they can connect those concepts to learning throughout the school day and throughout their own lives.
How do we make our instruction more than teacher talk, cut and paste construction paper, or fill-in-the-blank worksheets?
1. Invite in speakers—government officials or their aides, Spring Branch police officers, veterans from different wars, historians, etc. People want to speak with your students. They want to share their experiences. Take a survey of the families of your students—their work, their experiences, their interests and all add to our students’ learning. My father spoke to my class as a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. It was interesting to hear them compared. He worked in missiles {military}, so he brought in rockets and explained how they worked and shop them off. My grandmother spoke to my class about living through the Great Depression. They loved it; I loved it. Don’t forget Skype. We are no longer limited to those who live around us; the world is open to us. You could Skype with a senator’s aide or an historian who is an expert in our area of study.
2. Virtual Field Trips—we could watch the Senate in session, http://www.senate.gov/floor/
Native Americans in Texas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-w2uf3JnAl8 {Texas Parks and Wildlife video} http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4noWkREmVs {a more informal video to extend the Parks and Wildlife video.
Early colonies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRQulztY1Kk
Video a school board meeting and share the role of government with your students.
3. pen pals: http://www.epals.com/ connect with folks in Texas, in the United States and around the world. This site allows teachers and their students to connect with other students. You could chat with folks in different regions of Texas as you study regions or folks in England as you study the establishment of America. There is no limit to the discussions that could occur. My fourth grade students shared letters with a ninth grade group of students. It gave both groups extensive opportunities to write and share ideas. The ninth grade students would chat about the topics that we were addressing in class. It was one of the most beneficial instructional tools I ever used.
4. multi-genre essay: this adds writing across genres to a social studies topic. For those of you who have never tried this, it is based on Tom Romano’s work—he has some information online. We will offer a staff development on this before winter break.

These are just a few ideas. The great learning for the teachers occurs when others share their ideas for delving deeply into the concepts in social studies. Send your thoughts to me or simply respond on this blog.
Enjoy your third week of school.

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Knee Deep in Curriculum

Image  I have been spending a considerable  amount of time getting the teacher-created curriculum together to go on the district dashboard.  Reading each grade level that has been constructed by different teachers, I realize that we don’t have a common understanding of what curriculum is.  Why do we have it?  How should it help us plan?  How much detail does it need to be helpful?  How will teachers use it?  What do they need or even want from this document?  So as we begin the roll out of this new document, it is even more important that we share our ideas, our concerns, our successes and our failures.  These documents are simply the beginning of a conversation.  We all need everyone to step in and try the curriculum.  Then, everyone needs to share feedback so that we can adjust and continue to grow in our thinking about the curriculum.

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Every Day Is History

Driving to school yesterday morning, I heard the news report about the explosion of the fertilizer plant just outside of Waco in West, Texas. That story took my mind rushing back to the incident with the Branch Davidians in Waco and then forward to the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City 18 years ago today. While I hoped that this most recent incident was not connected to the previous incidents or to the bombing in Boston, I also flashed to the notion that this moment is in fact history. I know that isn’t a new idea for most of you, but the true understanding of it surprised me. My knowledge of history allows my mind to think about this currently developing historical incident in ways that I could not think if I did not possess the other historical knowledge.
While speaking with some middle school students last week about a poem that referenced the Vietnam War, I recognized the need for historical knowledge to understand the literature. My knowledge came from participation in the history, but their knowledge must come from learning opportunities that need to be as interesting as the original event. Without the historical knowledge, we are limited in our thinking, in our understanding, in our decision making.
As educators we open minds to possibilities, not to one right bubbled-in answer. History is one of the frames on which we can place our thinking. It is not to be ignored because the governor, the legislature, or TEA chooses not to force our students into the bubbling box of mass testing. Instead, our social studies classrooms exist to enrich the minds of our students so that the students can put into perspective the events that quickly become history.
How might we develop an understanding of history in our students whether they are 5 or 11? Wouldn’t it be interesting to build a personal history book or a classroom history book? Even a school version and a city or state version could prove to be interesting. Either or all would help our students to develop an understanding of connectedness. The possibilities in our elementary social studies classrooms are limitless. Help us to see your vision by sharing your ideas.
Our curriculum writers are working diligently to build documents that will help all of our teachers to enrich the thinking of their students. We hope to share some pieces with you by the middle of May. We look forward to hearing from everyone about the strengths and weaknesses of the documents so that in August we are ready to open the doors to all possibilities.

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The links below are not working, so I will work on fixing this.  I even tried to delete the post, but I couldn’t get that to happen either.  I am certain that some of you can read my mind right now.

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It occurred to me that I have been collecting electronic resources for social studies but haven’t really done much with them.  I collect them on a symbaloo.  I am adding the links to the symbaloo below.  Please use the resources.  If you have some that would enhance my collection, please share.

Social studies: http://www.symbaloo.com/shared/AAAABqxh9EgAA42ACpAxTg==

teaching: http://www.symbaloo.com/shared/AAAABqxjN1wAA42ACpAxhw==

reading: http://www.symbaloo.com/shared/AAAABqxkQ9YAA42ACpAxmw==

technology: http://www.symbaloo.com/shared/AAAABqxk1LwAA42ACpAxow==

geography: http://www.symbaloo.com/shared/AAAABqxpiwQAA42ACpGdOw==

teaching like an historian: http://www.symbaloo.com/shared/AAAABqxpiwQAA42ACpGdOw==

American history: http://www.symbaloo.com/shared/AAAABqxrSpUAA42ACpJPtA==

History resources: http://www.symbaloo.com/shared/AAAABqxsas4AA42ACpaoaA==

Other schools: http://www.symbaloo.com/shared/AAAABqxtJtMAA42ACpenXA==


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Because elementary social studies is a non-tested subject, teachers tend to set it aside when they need more time for tested subjects. But social studies is the place to practice the reading and writing of expository texts,; therefore, it is the perfect thing to teach to raise those reading scores on both the state assessment and DRA 2.
But many of the teachers are concerned that they don’t have the necessary materials to make social studies a viable place for the teaching of reading and writing. They, rightfully, want to go beyond the textbook, especially since ours is at least 12 year old.
I was lucky enough to visit social studies classrooms in one of our best elementary schools {thank you Housman teachers} and found several great suggestions.
Most of our elementary schools have extensive leveled libraries. Our new schools have rooms build to house the books. Some of them have rooms within the grade-level pod. Some have large rooms in the library. Teachers tell me they don’t have time to go there to find the social studies related reading materials. I understand that. The books are very thin, so the spines cannot be read. They are ordered by level, not topic. Teachers would have to work to find appropriate reading materials for that social studies unit—they same is true for science. How might we order the libraries so that teachers might more easily find the appropriate reading materials?
1. Could the coach organize the social studies books from the leveled libraries into groups that fit the topics for each appropriate grade level? True, books would fit in many different places, but this might get more books into students’ hands rather than collecting dust on a shelf.
2. Could the library be organized into fiction and nonfiction with the nonfiction section being sorted into social studies, science, and other? The would still require that teacher to work through the books, but it would limit the search.
3. Could there be a tool {even an inventory page} that lists the titles of the books in the leveled library? I know that would be a pain for someone to do, but at this point many books sit on shelves without readers. And when I ask teachers what they need, they respond “appropriate books to use for each unit.”
Many of our teachers are using great weekly publications that address topics appropriate for our social studies curriculum. There are a couple of problem with depending on the weekly publications: the topics don’t always fit what we need at the time, and they frequently are not published in Spanish.
The solution is a project that I am currently working on. I would like for us to build an online {web site, iTunes U, iBook Author, ISSUU, etc.} resource where students and teachers could access the resources necessary for the units we develop. This, too, is quite time consuming. But once it is created, it is easily accessed. We build it; we edit it; we translate it. It would meet our needs perfectly. We have the technology and the folks who can help us use the technology. I just need teachers who are happy to work on this project. This could be the perfect resource.

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Teaching Them Like They Are Learning to Open Their Lockers

We have been back in school for just over a week.  I have heard the following from several teachers: “This has been a really good start for the year.”  That is especially true for me.  I was able to begin my year by teaching sixth grade social studies.  Actually for several days I taught “how to open the combination lock on your locker.”  I am now very good at it.  And actually so are the sixth graders.  They were more anxious about opening their lockers than they were about getting from class to class.  But after a few days of demonstrations, trying, getting help, trying, asking someone else, trying and trying and trying, they have it.

They had a practical need for learning how to open their lockers and the necessary help to meet their goals.  Some students learned the first day; they happily helped their peers.  A few students were still learning to open their lockers yesterday morning, but they still asked for help and received it.  One student came up to me yesterday morning and said, “Mrs. Fanning, I opened my locker three times in a row yesterday.  Good Hungh!” Excellent.   He and I, along with other teachers, worked on developing his understanding of the process until he was successful.

The same is true for what we teach in our classrooms.  Students will struggle to learn when they see the need for learning it, the relevance to their own lives. That is one of  the wonderful things about teaching social studies–what we teach has practical application to our students’ lives.  Even with GPS we all need to know how to read a map.  We need to understand the past and its connection to our lives today.  We need to know more about being a citizen than saluting a flag.  We need to know what it meant to be a citizen in the 1700s, the 1800s and today.  What has changed? Why?  What does citizenship mean in other countries?  Why are our cultures so different? Is it based on where we live: Rocky Mountains versus the Atchafalaya River Basin? We don’t need to memorize a pile of facts; rather, we need to help our students think through social studies, building a depth of understanding that will enhance their success in life as well as their success in middle and high school.

I know that some of you doubt what you teach carries on, but I remember my third grade social studies class.  I still remember the book and my favorite chapter–“Living in the Future.”  There was a picture of a house with a helicopter in the driveway.  I couldn’t wait.  What we teach builds the base for all future learning.

I know that many of you are doing very creative things.  I want to feature them here.  I want to visit your classrooms, so please invite me.  I want you to also develop an international audience.  If you have not been to ed.ted.com, please do so.  There isn’t much there yet, but this is our opportunity to share what we do the best–teach.  I hope that we will be able to download your lessons so that we can use them in the future.

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Expanding the Possibilities

On this July 5th history is on the forefront of my mind.

First I spent the 4th with my family, and two of my sons teach high school history: world geography, world history, and economics.  Some of our conversation turns around teaching, testing, and history.  Jason is reading The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grand.  This is a story of explorers who claimed to have found this massive collection of communities (4 communities with about 5000 citizens each) and those who went to find the lost city.  Interestingly contemporary explorers have used Google Earth to discover what they think is this elaborate lost city.   Jason is intrigued by the stories that create history and is excited by the discovery of each new story.

Michael is reading Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Christenson, Johnson and Horn.  This is a book that argues for innovation in teaching and against the traditional factory model where the teacher holds all the information and determines the same learning plan for every student in the class.  His question to me: “Mom, this author argues that we must individualize our teaching to meet the needs of each student.  How can we possibly do that?”  He has more than a hundred students, but I believe it can be done.

Both Jason and Mike understand their own learning needs and work regularly to fill those needs.  Shouldn’t we offer a similar learning experience for our students?  Rather than having the teacher identify each fact that must be learned, couldn’t we offer learning opportunities so that our students will have a voice in how and what they learn?

In our elementary classrooms meeting the individual needs of our students is possible and technology is certainly a wonderful tool to use to achieve that goal.

At the end of my day yesterday, I checked email (I know, a very bad habit) and found a message from Robye Snyder, principal at Meadow Wood, that offered this web site as a possible resource for elementary social studies: http://classroom.jc-schools.net/SS-units/process.htm  I have not investigated all parts of the site, so you will want to thoroughly investigate before students use it freely.  It does have advertisements, but I found some great things on the site.  It has images of primary sources that are very interesting.  It also has virtual field trips; I went to the Eiffel Tower.  I stood at the top of the tower and moved around the city 360 degrees.  I then clicked on different monuments and buildings to find information on those facilities.  While this isn’t the same as standing in line for 4 hours to ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower, it is an opportunity to see some of what that trip might be like.  It is also a way to identify possible areas for research.  There are many trips to take on this site–check out the 5th grade materials.

I believe we can offer individual learning opportunities for our students and technology allows us to move towards that.  We can give them experiences and stories that will spark their investigative imaginations.   They can use Google Earth to discover areas of the world that they may not have visited yet.

The expectation is not that on August 27, 2012, we change everything we do.  The expectations is that we move forward one student-choice at a time, one web site at a time, one new application at a time–one new opportunity to think about a social studies concept at a time.

Dr. Klusman and Dr. Blaine have given each of the Leads time next year to become more involved in the teaching of our content.  So I will have the opportunity to come to campuses and visit classrooms as well as meet with teachers.   Like our students, teachers learn at different rates and in different ways.  In addition, the art of teaching allows for great variety in teaching styles and strategies so that our students find learning success.  Through observation and discussion we will enhance all of our learning opportunities.   We can all grow based on the learning that is occurring in classrooms around the district.  I look forward to your invitations to come visit.

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