Friday, December 23, 2011

EdCamp Social Studies: From Joke to Reality

Over the past year I've met some pretty innovative, productive and inspiring educators who invigorate and motivate me every day. During that time I've created some excellent lessons and used new tools that have helped my students and me learn better. Some of these teachers I now refer to as my colleagues and we are a collaborative team and at times we push each other to just be better. We have formed a core group who run SSChat on Twitter and maintain a social studies ning SSChat Ning website. Our group was characterized by Dan Callahan as "kind of intense" and we have lived up to that label time and time again.

One of these occasions was the night of our NCSS presentation proposal deadline. Different teams of us were putting the finishing touches on our proposals. I was in the process of submitting a proposal on using video in the classroom that Becky Ellis, Greg Kulowiec and I had brainstormed when another member, Jamie Josephson, encouraged us to quickly put together a proposal on SSChat and social media. Not only was it an exhilirating experience that resulted in a proposal in two and a half hours but it was accepted and we presented it at a national conference. You see, they are a very inspiring and motivating group where the challenges have only just begun.

Sometime in May of this year during our Monday night sschat someone (Brad Campbell...cough, cough) jokingly said that they would love to see us do an EdCamp based on just social studies. Edcamp up to now are "unconferences" for all teachers and grade levels. Well, the jokes went around and someone laughed and said they had a friend in Las Vegas who could hook us up with a facility and the jokes kept coming. No one took it very seriously except a few of us who wondered if we could pull it off. Then during our anniversary chat one of the topics asked what you wish for sschat in the future. Again a few people mentioned an Edcamp social studies. Except this time we took it seriously.

After SSChat Monday evening some of us stuck around and threw around the idea of an Edcamp for social studies. By the next day we were already in the planning stages. Within a month we had our conference EdCampSS put together with a Keynote Speaker in Kenneth C. Davis, a date: March 24th, 2012, and a location: Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Wow, what a rush the month of August was. We sent over 800 emails back and forth during the month. Yes, we are #kindaintense!

Our team is incredible and I owe them so much for making this event happen. Thank you to my colleagues:
Angela Cunningham, Becky Ellis, Greg Kulowiec, Heather Kilgallon, Jamie Josephson, Rachel Labossiere, Shawn McCusker and Susie Nestico(s)

So, now is the time for you to join us for what will prove to be the best experience for collaboration, professional development and friendship. Visit our website EdCampSS, register, and grab our badge for your own website. Oh, and don't forget to spread the word as well as join us in March.

The Art of Storytelling

When was the last time you were told a great story? Do you remember being captivated by the visual imagery conjured up? Was there ever a time when you couldn't wait for another tale to be told by that one person be it your grandfather or quite possibly a teacher? If not, you've missed out. It seems the art of storytelling is declining and it's a shame. Think about it, there was a time when that's all people had.

Before writing people told stories as a means of passing oral tradition as well as entertaining everyone. In ancient Greece there were traveling bards who would command vast audiences at times and would tell tales that would enthrall the crowd. Some of those great tales like "The Illiad and The Odyssey would later be written down by the likes of Homer.

In some parts of the world today storytelling is still an important piece of culture. Some peoples rely on the oral tradition to establish norms, mores or folkways for their society. In every part of the world storytelling is important for the transference of ideas and socialization. Let's face it, everyone likes a good story. 

Those of us who have the task of teaching to the generation of today must be master story tellers if we intend to capture our audience. Weaving in the hidden history of an event or person requires knowledge beyond the textbook. Personally, my favorite reads are ones that include the back stories of history. For example, "America's Hidden History" by Kenneth C. Davis is an excellent source for some of the stories in U.S. History. Other great sources are biographies. I loved "Founding Brothers" by Joseph Ellis, "Cleopatra" by Stacy Schiff, "Augustus" by Anthony Everitt, "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris and many others. They all have great stories you can share with your students. 

Knowing the stories is one thing but you must be able to entertain with them as well. Doing a Ben Stein interpretation will certainly not do. Get animated! Have fun with it and get into character. Stories are what you make them. So go out and read some interesting history and share it with your students. They will thank you for it. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Making Current Events Projects with Animoto and Wordle

If you're like me, bringing current global, national and local events into the classroom is always a high priority. The problem lies in how to make that happen while keeping it student-centered and of interest to them. When I first started teaching I would require my students to write summaries and/or make a poster board of their news story and present it to the class. Those days are long gone as students and teachers now have access to so many more tools to enhance and engage current events. This past year I was working with another teacher, Rachelle Lamoureaux, and together we created a different way for students to connect with what is happening in the world around them. Below are the student instructions to a project you can use in your classroom. Students can present them to the class or post them to a class wiki. I did both. 

Welcome to my latest tech integration project. Everyday important and not so important events happen around the world and some elicit excellent class discussions. Some of the questions and responses from you have been very powerful and thought provoking to say the least. In preparing for class, I have researched or have received links to a variety of amazing resources that can be used as a source and/or starting point to continue the learning and collaboration. As a result, I think that we must capitalize on these resources while combining Web 2.0 tools to create "The Week in 30 seconds" project.


The goal of the project is investigate and analyze online news reports, images and videos to inspire you to build a list of reaction words, use those words to create a Wordle, and finally to make a 30 second Animoto video that represents and reflects their synthesis of the events in Northern Africa, Middle East or other parts of the world.

  • Student task #1: Analyze a minimum of 5 of the 10 sites I have provided which all relate to the most current events happening in Northern Africa, the Middle East or other parts of the world
  • Student task #2: Synthesize the information from various sites to build a list of words that describe your observations, feelings and reactions to these events. Your list should reflect what YOU have learned and YOUR feelings. There is no incorrect reaction or adjective! Try to write as many "reaction" words as you can for EACH site you investigate. Keep track of the reaction words as well as site they correspond with. You may use the same reaction word as many times as you wish. A minimum of 15 reaction words are required.
  • Student task #3: Create a Wordle of your reaction words at Wordle Type the set of your reaction words for each site you investigate into the wordle text box. Click on "Create." Name your wordle so that it is connected with YOU. Once you have created your Wordle, take a screen shot (shift+command+4) of it to be used as an image for your 30 second Animoto video. You can also save your Wordle to the public gallery and then save the image to your desktop or take a screen shot from there.

  • Student Task #4: Choose from the following list of sites to investigate. As you read through the information and look at images make a list of reaction words and/or phrases that describe what you are learning. Be creative and list words of how you feel about what's going on.
2. CNN

  • Student task #5: While you are investigating the sites above, find images that reflect the list of reaction words. Copy and save the images to your desktop. Go to Sign up for your free account. You will need to verify your account via the email address you used to sign up with. Once you have verified your account you can begin creating your Animoto video using the images you have saved on your desktop. Your Animoto video will allow you to upload between 10 and 13 images. Keep in mind that you will also use your Wordle image twice in the Animoto video.

In "create" mode, you can chose from the free templates provided. Next you will upload the images that you saved on your desktop.

Step 1: pics & vids - upload the images that you saved on your desktop.


Step 2: Music. Select a track from the list of songs provided. Animoto allows you the option to listen to the track before you chose it. The track you select should convey the reactions words and images you chose for your Wordle and Animoto video.

Step 3: Finalize your Animoto video. This step will process, rendor and finalize your video. Depending on the song track, and images used....this may take some time.

If you would like your students to produce longer videos on Animoto, you can sign up for an Education account and have each student register through a phony email address you provide them. Instructions are on the Animoto site. I did this and had some students producing two to three minute videos that were creative and outstanding.  

Have fun with this project and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Moving Beyond 140

Technology and the Internet have brought an infinite amount of changes to the way we teach not to mention changes to our society. Luckily I am not one to sit still and let the world change while I watch. Therefore, I have always believed using technology is something to be embraced as a means to an end in the classroom and in my personal life. Part of my tech journey fortunately included the discovery of Twitter as a tool for Professional Development, resource sharing, peer engagement and collaboration. 

Many people, educators included, engage each other with vast amounts of, shall I say trivial dialogue albeit entertaining at times. An even greater number of educators share resource links that get saved into Delicious or Diigo for future reference when and if they might need or remember the resource link. Some like myself apply what we learn from these resources and it directly improves our profession. Twitter is an outstanding format for developing professional relationships that are rewarding and fruitful for a lot of educators including myself. The tools and ideas are endless and worthy in and of themselves. The problem lies in the usefulness of the relationships if they never move beyond 140 characters. Of course that presupposes a willingness to make those relationships useful.

Twitter provides a vehicle for connection but it is up to us to enhance those relationships and move them into something more permanent and useful. I envy my PLN that have gone to conferences like ISTE and have met face to face. So far I have met two PLN members and it was a rewarding experience. This year at NCSS I will finally get a chance to meet the most valuable members of my PLN, the SSChat crew. I encourage everyone to seek out your PLN beyond the 140 characters.

This year the core group of us @gregkulowiec, @becky_ellis_, @Dontworryteach(Jamie), @ShawnMcCusker and @kyteacher(Angela) have done some amazing things beyond Twitter. We have shared a GDoc on a number of occasions to plan for SSChat as well as write proposals for the NCSS conference in December. In May we started the SSChat Ning and have seen it grow for Social Studies teachers everywhere. We are currently planning more exciting things to come for our group. 

If you haven't done so, take the next step. Plan to meet people, work on a project together, Skype with each other's classrooms, go to conferences or engage in any other medium that enhances your professional and personal relationships beyond 140.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Gift of Teaching Gifted Students

The classroom is an interesting place to say the least. As teachers we are solely responsible for setting up and setting the tone for learning every day. Many of us are fortunate enough to teach a variety of subjects to a diverse group of students but not all of us have a gifted class. When I first starting teaching (um, 18 years ago) I had 35 gifted students in a social studies class and it was an eye opening and exhilarating experience. Starting my career like that really got my attention.

You know that time when you just started your first teaching job and you have a million ideas to use in your classroom? Soon some of those ideas do not turn out like you planned and you end up switching to plan B more than you expected. But then there is one class in which everything you try turns out better than expected. Why? Was it your approach? Enthusiasm? Did you reflect long enough to realize it was the chemistry of the class? For me those 35 gifted students had amazing chemistry. I quickly realized I could do anything with them as long as I included them in the learning process.

Here I am 18 years later and again have a group of students who are amazing and gifted. They are my AP World History students and they have energy and a passion for learning and life. I feed off their energy and try to meet their needs on a daily basis. The challenge is in diversifying their needs enough which will fuel their learning and keep them focused. Yes, despite them being gifted they have a variety of strengths and weaknesses that provide quite a challenge every day. The one factor they all have in common is that they "get it". They understand the value of education and are motivated to come away with a deeper knowledge of the subject not just the grade. Although there are a few who see the grade as all important, most understand the need to learn and grow as individuals. So, when I ask for their input on projects, assignments, etc. they provided great feedback that will steer their learning in the direction that best suits them.

As I look forward to next year, I want to use the experiences from this class to design, create and implement a learning environment that will allow all students to learn and grow. Therein lies the challenge. I'm confident with the feedback I receive this school year from my gifted students that I will be better prepared to meet the needs of next years classes.
I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

We Are Not Alone! Connecting in a Digital World.

Do you remember the first staff meeting you ever attended? Did you look around the room and wonder who you might be able to work with in the coming weeks, months or years? I remember and can still feel the sense of apprehension I had about whether or not I would have an opportunity to collaborate.  As my first year progressed I found it easy to collaborate with a couple of teachers in subject areas other than mine but for the most part I was alone, on my own when it came to learning, growing and developing into the teacher I wanted to be.

Most of my early opportunities for collaboration were found in workshops and conferences. There I would meet great like minded people to share ideas and resources but once it was over and we all went home, the collaboration stopped.  Even in one of my more recent professional development activities with the TAH grant I was limited when it came to long lasting sustainable collaboration with colleagues. I'd have to say I was a little disappointed with the lack of contact with colleagues in my field. Well, at least until I happened upon Twitter by accident.

You see a couple of years ago my wife was curious about this thing called Twitter. I had heard about it but never gave it a second thought. Then one day she started an account so she could poke around on it and see what it was all about. The only problem or as it turns out fortunate problem for me was that she had actually signed me up. I decided to keep it open and slowly began following fellow educators. Soon I was gathering resources and discussing educational issues on a daily basis. Finally I was chatting with teachers in my field and last July, Greg Kulowiec and I thought it might be a good idea to start our own Twitter chat for social studies. We created the hashtag #sschat and have been steadily growing our following. Since that time my professional development is focused on the resources, links and people I follow on twitter. The amount of learning and collaboration is filling a void in my professional and to some degree personal life. (Later post I'm sure)

People I have never met are now the best resource I have ever had in my 20 years in education. I am at the point where I am collaborating on projects, presentations and documents with people I don't even know! Yet I think I know some of my colleagues on twitter better than the ones in my building. And soon I will get a chance to meet with a few of these wonderful people at a conference later this year. It will be like we have known each other for years. 

The reality of the digital age is that there are no boundaries to how you learn, share and grow as a person or educator. The only rule is that you have to jump in and explore. I am thankful that this medium has afforded me and many of my Twitterverse colleagues the opportunities that we never had before.