Friday, March 31, 2017

How to Start Teaching with Objects in Only 5 Minutes**

Method #1

1. Make a copy of the "Object Story" template, available here.

2. Go to the Smithsonian Learning Lab online. 

3. Search for a topic you cover.

4. Choose an interesting object.

5. Copy and paste it inside the frame on the "Object Story" template.

6. Use as a bell-ringer, exit ticket, or in-class writing prompt.*

*I have students analyze with a quick 5W+H strategy.  Who, What, Where, When, and Why the object was created? How did the object either reflect or shape people during the time period?

Method #2

1. Print off the "Primary Source Analysis Tool" from the Library of Congress.

2. Locate the Library of Congress' "Digital Collections" page.

3. Search for a topic you cover.

4. Choose a collection to browse what objects are available.

5. Select and object and have students analyze it using the graphic organizer from the LoC.

**I realize browsing objects will take more than five minutes, but hopefully you see how easy it is to get started on creating an object-based classroom.

Monday, March 27, 2017

What I Learned by Vlogging an Entire Week

After years of false starts, I began blogging in earnest this calendar year.  My district was on Spring Break last week and I challenged myself to blog and vlog for seven days.  Because I've been inspired by the #GoOpen movement and have become passionate about sharing work with other educators to improve the impact of our discipline, I decided to blog and vlog about my classroom and activities and resources that have been successful throughout the year.  

During what I called, #OERWeek, I shared a variety of resources for use in anyone's classroom.  On Twitter, I connected with some like-minded educators, was encouraged and challenged, and had opportunity to reflect on my practice.

Here are five big takeaways from my blogging and vlogging experience:

1. It took a lot of work (and a little embarrassment) 

I watch vlogs on YouTube and some are polished and even cinematic while others capture life in the moment.  I tried going for somewhere in between and it took forever.  Most of my vlogs are around 8-10 minutes, but it took me between 1-2 hours for each.  Figuring on the low end, that's roughly 7 hours to produce 56 minutes of footage.  I can't imagine the time/devotion it takes for a more cinematic entry.

Vlogging was also uncomfortable.  I was raised before the shift in "selfie culture" and it's strange to me to film myself, edit what I say, and share it with the world...opening myself up to people I've never met.  That being said...

2. It forced me to reflect on my practice

If you ever want to test the meddle of your curriculum and/or approach to teaching, record yourself talking about it, listen to yourself repeatedly for an hour while editing, and then share it with other educators.  I learned about holes in my curriculum I didn't realize were there.  I discovered areas I need to improve in, not just my curriculum, but in my practice and relationships.  I also found the places my approach to teaching works and starting thinking of ways to focus on those places.  

3. It connected me to people I wouldn't encounter otherwise

Twitter is, hands down, the best professional development out there.  I have restructured entire units based on Twitter chats and have been given access to places I can't just take off and visit and research that improves my curriculum.  However, Twitter connections are limited and there are people I would never connect with by the traditional Twitter algorithms.  By hashtagging my blog posts during #OERweek, I met educators I didn't follow who shared my posts, which got viewed by their followers, which got retweeted to their followers, and on.  

4. It put me in the shoes of my students (for just a minute)

Everyday we ask students to get uncomfortable.  We expect them to try things they may not excel at in areas they might not like or may struggle with.  Blogging everyday and, especially, vlogging got me uncomfortable.  I tried something new and had mixed success.  How often do students feel this way?  Are we even aware of how they feel as they reach outside familiar territory?  The experience of #OERweek is one I will try to remember as I push students to venture into strange and unfamiliar educational experiences.

5. It encouraged new ideas

I started drafts of eight new blog posts while writing/recording posts for #OERweek.  I developed an idea for a weekly series of vlogs I'd like to do on material culture for use in classrooms.  I also connected with a couple of local sites to discuss how to incorporate local history in the classroom and online through blogging and social media.  It's difficult to start and can be embarrassing or even intimidating, but it's paid off for me.  I encourage you to take a risk and see what comes of it.

Below are the vlogs for each day of #OERWeek 2017.  I would love to hear from you if you plan on using or have used any of the resources mentioned in the vlogs in your own classroom.  Also, please use the hashtags #OERWeek, #OER, and/or #GoOpen if you share out resources from your own classes or want to connect.

Day 1: Teaching Students to Do History
Day 2: Age of Exploration HyperDocs
Day 3: English Colonization App Smashing
Day 4: Working Backwards in History to Save Jamestown
Day 5: Planning a Revolutionary Dinner Party
Day 6: Student Engineering-Cahokian Flood Prevention
Day 7: Student Innovation and Inventing for Our First President

Thanks for following along and, hopefully, the journey's just beginning.

Friday, March 24, 2017

#OER Week! Day 7: TED Talks and Innovation in the Classroom

Welcome to the final day of #OERWeek!

This week has been our Spring Break and I challenged myself to vlog each day, sharing resources from my classroom with anyone interested.  I've learned a lot and have been inspired to continue blogging my classroom.  After I get settled in to fourth quarter, I'll be sharing a post on what I learned by vlogging and blogging an entire week.  Until then, here's the vlog for Day 7 of #OERWeek.

This vlog is all about student innovation, one of the most important movements in education today.  I took Sir Ken Robinson's argument that schools kill creativity as a challenge and have tried turning students into curators and producers of historical content, instead of passive receptors.  

Day 7 Resources

Thank you all for joining me this week.  I hope you found inspiration for your classrooms and that you'll stay connected by subscribing to my YouTube channel, here at the blog, Live American History, and on Twitter @theshoe_cms.  

Stay hungry, learn and share, and keep education weird,

Thursday, March 23, 2017

#OER Week! Day 6: Engineering a Flood Prevention System for Cahokia

The STEM teacher and I created a new course called "History Lab!" this year for 7th graders.  In History Lab! we attempt to teach history through the STEM fields:


Our course is organized around competencies decided upon at the beginning of the year.  Every standard contains activities and student products that meet multiple competencies.  One of the competencies for History Lab! this year is Engineering.  

During this unit, students take charge of their own learning after being tasked with a historical problem: "How can we prevent flooding from destroying the Cahokian civilization?"

In today's vlog, I discuss how this activity looks in my room and how you can incorporate STEM challenges with little to no money or technology.

I hope you'll check in again tomorrow, our last day of #OERWeek, where we'll be talking student innovation and creating farm implements for George Washington.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

#OER Week! Day 5: Planning a Revolutionary Dinner Party

The “Revolutionary Dinner Party” is an activity I created to assess students on motivations behind championing independence or remaining loyal in the years before the American Revolution.  Students analyze primary sources in a lesson plan from UMBC and then create a seating arrangement for those guests, carefully explaining their rationale for where everyone is seated.  Next year, I would like to extend this activity by actually simulating the dinner party with food, conversation, and all.

Day 5 Resources

Tomorrow I'll share a way to bring STEM into the classroom for little to no money while covering PreColumbian America.

Until then,

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

#OER Week! Day 4: Working Backwards in History to Save Jamestown

Several years ago, I read an article online about a history professor who taught his class in reverse.  His American History to 1877 seminar ended with Reconstruction.  But, unlike most courses that run chronologically from PreColumbian America to Reconstruction, he started with the result and worked through the web of actions that led to that point in time.

It was a fascinating read and an intellectually pleasing daydream, but I didn't see it as even remotely possible in a middle or high school classroom.  Over the last year, however I've started toying with the idea and trying to figure out the mechanics of a course orientation like that.  Like a responsible adult, and completely out of character for me, I didn't dive into the deep end, opting instead to dip a toe in the pool of possibility.  I thought I might try reorienting just one unit.  I chose Jamestown.

I love teaching Jamestown but, despite my best efforts, we always get stuck in the Starving Time.  Students love the rotten bits of history (as do I, to be completely honest) and that's all they remember about England's first successful, sustained colony in America...oh, and Pocahontas.

This year, acknowledging defeat, I started with the winter of 1609-1610 and the skull of "Jane" and challenged students to figure out why seemingly well-adjusted individuals turned to the cannibalism of a 14 year old girl.  They then had to propose solutions to save "Jane" and the other settlers in Virginia.

Day 4 Resources

Bring your bib tomorrow because I'm throwing a Revolutionary dinner party!
Stay hungry, 

Monday, March 20, 2017

#OER Week! Day 3: English Colonization App Smashing

Day 3 of #OER Week is all about assessment.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think it's part of the DNA of history teachers to veer towards multiple-choice and short-answer tests.  It's how I was tested in middle and high school history and in college, in both undergrad and grad work.  It's also how I assessed student understanding the first few years of teaching.

And now?

I hate multiple-choice and short-answer tests.  

I hate writing them, watching students freak out about them, and grading them.  I also hate that 50% of the time, students can tell me about the topic verbally or through their own creation, but not in written form.  

So, like Hyperdocs (check them out in the post from Day 2), I also heard about app smashing on Twitter.  I go into more detail in today's vlog, but, in a sentence: "App smashing is when students combine the unique functions of apps to create a product demonstrating understanding".  App smashes are fun to make and to take.  They also make it plain concerning student understanding and where it breaks down.

Day 3 Resources

I've just started playing with this concept over the last few months and am looking for ways to improve them for my students.  Does anyone else use app smashes in their classroom?  How can we differentiate the product and provide remediation or extension?  


Sunday, March 19, 2017

#OER Week! Day 2: Age of Exploration HyperDocs

Thanks for checking out Day 2 of #OER Week.

If you watched the vlog from yesterday, you know that one of my major goals is to train students to become historians themselves and not just Jeopardy champions.  I'm a proponent of learning through immersion and I pour a significant amount of primary source analysis, debate, and critical thinking activities into students' brain tanks.

I'm always looking for ways to engage and challenge my students without them revolting.   So, when I discovered Hyperdocs last year, (and all the hype they were getting), I was immediately interested and began investigating how I could use them with my students.

Day 2 Resources

Check back for tomorrow's post, in which I'll share an engaging way to assess students called App Smashing.

See you tomorrow,

#OER Week! Day 1: Teaching Students to DO History

Welcome to #OER Week!

I'm excited to share resources that have helped make my classroom more engaging this year.  Throughout the week, I'll be sharing a variety of activities from my curriculum-early American history-complete with lesson plans and materials ready for use or for adaptation and links to companion resources online.  Although I teach history, and what I share reflects that, I hope teachers from other disciplines will find something useful for their classrooms as well.  I also hope to connect with other like-minded educators to share best practices and learn what's working in their districts.

For day 1 of #OER Week, I want to start at the beginning with a quick look at how I train students to do the work of history, rather than just memorize facts.

Day 1 Resources

How do you approach teaching students the purpose of history?

Tomorrow, I'll share my new favorite replacement for worksheets and paper-based assignments.
Until then,

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

#OER Week: Sharing my Class One Resource at a Time

I've really been inspired by the #GoOpen #OER movement and have started sharing some resources online through this blog and the Live American History OER site.  I also have a bad habit of starting things I don't finis...

To try and combat this character flaw, I'm challenging myself to a week of resource sharing I'm calling: "#OER Week".  Beginning Sunday, March 19 and ending Saturday, March 25, I'll share out one (or two) resources a day I've used in my classroom this year.  Anyone interested is welcome to use those resources as is or to remix them for their own use.

I invite anyone to join me in this endeavour by sharing out using the hashtag, #oerweek.  

Let's see what happens,

Monday, March 13, 2017

Outbreak! Teaching Yellow Fever and a Zombie Apocalypse in the Classroom

Part of our 7th grade American history curriculum includes the examination of the three colonial regions, New England, Middle, and Southern.  This year in History Lab!, we satisfied the standard by focusing on one particular element/event/invention/etc. of each region.  In New England, we analyzed the First Great Awakening and how puritanism shaped the region's culture.  In the Southern colonies, we investigated life on a tobacco plantation and how the region's trade connection to England impacted the direction of the colonies within the region.  In the Middle region, however, we steered away from grain and focused on a defining event in 1793 Philadelphia, a Yellow Fever outbreak.

We chose to investigate the outbreak of Yellow Fever for three reasons:

1. We could create an interdisciplinary unit with ELA by utilizing the book, Fever, 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson
2. Two of the major elements we decided to explore in History Lab! this year are virology and epidemiology.
3. Yellow Fever lends itself to zombie comparisons.

Now, I'm not normally a fan of shtick within education, but I am a fan of movie monsters and of connecting with kids on a level they understand.  The Walking Dead fans were ecstatic, let me tell you.

How can I seriously make a connection between the fever in 1793 Philly and zombies?

Let's break it down:


  • Discoloration of the skin
  • Blood around the mouth
  • Disorientation
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Usually holed up in groups
  • Blood-borne transmission 

Yellow Fever Victim
  • Discoloration of the skin (jaundice)
  • Blood around the mouth
  • Disorientation
  • Cold, clammy skin with fever
  • Usually confined together in crowded wards
  • Blood-borne transmission (mosquitoes)

How did we approach the unit?
I worked with our ELA teacher to create a rubric for a research paper over the colonial regions, which students completed during ELA.  It was graded for mechanics as well as historical content.  Upon completion, she began Fever, 1793 with the students and based much of her direction on free resources found online (here, here, and here).

For the history component of History Lab!, students analyzed a variety of primary sources to get an idea of what Philadelphia was like in the 1790's by viewing a presentation online with accompanying questions.  They then investigated treatments prescribed by Benjamin Rush through an engaging lesson plan from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  We explored treatments and success rates, proposing and testing hypotheses of the cause of Yellow Fever throughout our investigation.  Finally, we looked at outbreaks of Yellow Fever in the 19th and 20th centuries and answered accompanying questions.

The STEM component of History Lab! kicked off with my co-teacher giving students high-fives as they entered the room.  They then had to high-five several other people.  What they didn't know was the teacher had a transmittable chemical on her hand that was only visible under UV light.  She used this as a way to show how disease can spread and help pinpoint who carried the disease to who.  The kids then built on that knowledge by testing their new detective skills on a Zombie outbreak at a fair.  We brought in Dr. John Snow's mapping of cholera in London to test them one more time.

This was the first time History Lab! partnered with another class, but it won't be the last.  There were a lot of moving parts and it took an open mind, but it was rewarding.  We have big plans for next year and plan on expanding the unit beyond History Lab! and ELA to include science, FACS, math, and art.

I would be happy to share more information about our little experiment with anyone interested and I want to encourage you to take a chance.

Think of a unit you currently teach that could cross disciplines, find a teacher in your building willing to join you, and build something that will allow the staff and students to dig deeper into an issue, topic, or event.  
Keep education weird,

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Why I'm Giving Away My Classroom: PART 2

This is the second of two posts about the #GoOpen movement.  The first post provided some background of OER and why I'm smitten with them (click here to read part 1).  In this post, I will provide some key resources for those wanting to get started in their classroom, building, or district.

I spent one day this week attending the RCET conference at Missouri State University.  As always, I enjoyed hearing what other educators are doing in their classrooms and my colleague and I presented on our class, History Lab!  One of my favorite, and freakishly pertinent, hashtags made several appearances at the RCET conference: #GoOpen.  How exciting to hear other educators talking about the ability to access free, high-quality resources and encouraging teachers to share their best work as well!

Where Can I Find Information about OER?
Unfortunately, there is no single repository of Open Education Resources online.  This will require some digital footwork at the onset.  Fortunately, there is no single repository of Open Education Resources online.  The #GoOpen movement expands as more institutions, classrooms, and districts open their archives, curriculum guides, and resources to educators.  I'm finding out that the growing #GoOpen web is already massive and it's easy to get stuck in a few familiar places, but I am also always finding new resources through my PLN.

Ready to get started?

First of all, Twitter has been one of the greatest resources for connecting to others in the OER world.  Load #OER and #GoOpen into Tweetdeck or your platform of choice and hold on!  Trust me.

Edutopia has assembled a "Resource Roundup" for OER with primers divided by knowledge level and content area.

The #GoOpen initiative from the Department of Education is not only informative, but includes a "Launch Guide" detailing a step-by-step program to begin a #GoOpen initiative in your building and/or district.

The OER Commons is a searchable database of collected OER resources from institutions across the country.

My state of Missouri is drawing largely from the Illinois Open Education Resources initiative (iOER) as #GoOpenMissouri gets off the ground.  Like the OER Commons, iOER is also searchable by grade level, subject area, standard, and more.

Speaking of Missouri, the Liberty school district in Liberty, Missouri has been a huge help in providing a model for OER implementation within a district by sharing their course standards k-12 and specific course content for several courses.

Amazon is currently beta testing Amazon Inspire, which will "put the best and most trusted digital resources at teachers’ fingertips, saving them valuable time that can be devoted to what they do best and enjoy most — teaching.” according to Amazon's general manager of K-12 Education, Rohit Agarwal.

Where are Some Good Resources for my History Classroom?
I've created a site (Live American History OER) where I'll be sharing my entire curriculum for 7th and 8th grade American History as I move forward with #GoOpen.

I've been loving the ability to curate my own collections from the Smithsonian on the Smithsonian Learning Lab.

The Google Cultural Institute is another opportunity to access world class collections of art and ephemera for use in the classrooms of multiple disciplines.

I haven't used a textbook for years and my administrators have been okay with it.  However, some districts have separation anxiety and insist that those overpriced, overstuffed doorstops* are used (*in my opinion). With OER, textbook-huggers can rejoice in a variety of free textbook options, including: Openstax, Boundless, and my favorite, The American Yawp, which includes its own primary source reader.

Edsitement from the NEH is a treasure trove of lesson plans and accompanying materials for different disciplines.

We've Only Just Begun...
#GoOpen is a journey and I'm just talking my first steps.  There is so much going on out there in the OER world and I've provided only an elementary overview  I hope it's enough, though, to encourage you to start sharing your best work with other educators and bringing others' best work into your classroom.  We'll all make mistakes and get sidelined but, as the inspirational internet quote generator says: 

Glad to be starting the #GoOpen journey and happy to have you along for the ride.

Let's connect on Twitter: @theshoe_CMS

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Why I'm Giving Away My Classroom. #GoOpen #Don'tBeGollum

This is the first of two posts about the #GoOpen movement.  This post provides some background of OER and why I'm smitten with them.  In part two, I will provide some key resources for those wanting to get started in their classroom, building, or district.

Okay, so I realize that the closer we get to summer, the more the title of this post might resonate with many teachers, but I promise I'm not planning on abandoning my 7th graders in a parking lot with a sign saying "Free to a good home"!

I wanted to take the opportunity to explain why I love the OER movement and why I'm giving my best assignments, projects, slideshows, and primary and secondary source resources to anyone interested...for free.

Why am I sharing what I've worked so hard on to create and assemble?  Because it's the 21st century, because I care about giving students the best education I can, because people more talented than me are doing it, because I want to expand my PLN, because I hope you will share your best resources with me...should I continue?  If we truly see student success as our goal, we've got to help each other out and stop hiding our best work in a file cabinet or forcing other teachers to buy it online.  We're in this together.  #Don'tBeGollum.

What is the Open Movement? #GoOpen
Haven't heard of OER?  Well, OER stands for Open Educational Resources, which are educational materials that are free to use. Open sources are distributed by individuals and organizations that choose to share their work with few, if any, limitations on use and reuse under Creative Commons or GNU licenses.  Instead of being limited to costly, often outdated, textbooks and pricey text-based supplies and digital subscriptions, the open movement encourages the use of OER collected from a variety of digital sources and curated for the best possible benefit in your personal classroom.

In the fields of social studies and history we've been spoiled with a rich collection of primary sources available from some outstanding institutions and organizations, many of which offer lesson plans and question sets for a large number of sources they share.  The best part?  It's all free!  No books to buy, no subscriptions, no trial offers, and no relying solely on the textbooks in our rooms.  Now, I know that online sources are nothing new and that in itself is far from amazing.  What is amazing is the change the variety and frequency of these online sources is making in our classrooms.  We are seeing a shift in teaching as educators begin to view themselves more as curators of information rather than the sole holders of knowledge.  These education-curators, I believe, are the ones able to ride the lightning of the mass of information online and make it work for themselves and their students.

Why do I support the Open Movement?
The open movement in education has benefited my students and myself, both as an educator and learner.  I went into debt to go to a great university where I received an outstanding education. However, because my university was privately-funded and served less students than many state colleges, many departments did not contain the number of faculty serving larger schools.  I supplemented courses not offered by seeking out reading lists, course syllabi, and lectures from other schools across the country that made their resources available online.  I graduated as the MOOC craze began to spread and tried out a few in areas I would never have taken when I was paying tuition for a history degree (physics, criminal psychology, Shakespeare).

A quick internet search yields hundreds of statistics about the increasing unavailability of a college education to today's kids because of the sheer cost.  Part of the attraction of MOOC's is the possibility of providing a free, quality education.  Although the MOOC model has been criticized in the world of higher education and, I agree, it's far from perfect, but the idea is incredible: take the best resources available from a variety of places and combine them to benefit as many students as possible.  What a great idea for elementary and secondary education.

So, in appreciation of those individuals and institutions that have shared their knowledge and collections willingly, and in the spirit of reciprocation, I am making my classroom accessible to anyone interested.

I'm currently creating an online hub for the resources I create, borrow, and alter to fit my curriculum (American History from the Pre-Columbian Americas to the first presidency).  My curriculum is always a work in progress and I acknowledge the debt I owe to institutions like the Library of Congress, the Digital Public Library of America, SHEG, and Gilder Lehrman for providing awesome resources.  I do hope that interested teachers will borrow, modify, and use materials I have created and accumulated to supplement their instruction.  I also hope I can encourage teachers to share their resources as well.

Glad to be starting the #GoOpen journey and happy to have you along for the ride.

Let's connect on Twitter: @theshoe_CMS

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Students Creating for Students: The Walking Tour of Revolutionary Boston Project

I was fortunate enough to create a new course for this year called "History Lab!".  Our STEM teacher and I pitched the idea to our principal and she loved it.  We wanted to experiment with combining the STEM fields and the humanities to teach American history.  History Lab! was offered this year as a kind of honor's course, which required students to fill our an application and obtain teacher recommendations.  Below is a presentation we've given at a couple of conferences about our approach and a little about what the students do.

"History Lab!" History with STEM at the Core MOREnet Conference 2016 from mshomakerteach

This post, however, is about a project our History Lab! kids just finished that we call "The Walking Tour of Revolutionary Boston".  All of my students are currently covering the causes that led to the American Revolution; History Lab! and my general American history classes.  One of my big goals this year is to train students to do the work of history instead of just memorizing facts and I wanted my History Lab! kids to get down and dirty with Boston in the years before the American Revolution.

So, rather than just analyzing primary sources, taking some notes, and tackling some DBQ's (all of which we did), I asked the students to create an activity that would teach their peers about revolutionary Boston.  I left the format open and asked them what they would like to do.  One option that came up was QR codes, so we talked it out until we had a plan.  They would take the other 7th graders on a tour of Boston through pictures, videos, primary sources, interviews, etc. facilitated by QR codes.

I typed up this Google doc to provide some basic guidelines, but most of what was included and how it was presented was left up to my History Lab! students.
The kids loved the idea of creating something for their peers and put a lot of work into the final product.  One of the conditions surrounding the creation of this product was a fast deadline: three days.  History Lab! researched their assigned topic, located primary and secondary sources in a variety of formats, made QR codes, and edited it all together into one massive Google doc that I printed, divided into sections, and hung up around the school.

                                          The planning phase

Students also created a couple of questions to accompany each topic and help their peers help make sense of what they were seeing.  They even put them together in a handy guidebook.

                                                           The guidebook cover

I asked the hours that "took the tour" what they liked and disliked about the activity.  They said they liked: the variety of sources, interesting topics and mostly interesting information, the questions (one student said she liked that she actually had to think to get the answer), and the opportunity to move around.  They disliked: the number of QR codes, the fact that two QR codes took them to the same place, one QR code didn't work, and some complained about all the answers to one part of the tour being on one source.

Overall, History Lab! got high praise and created a pretty good assignment.  We reviewed today and the other classes referenced things they learned on the walking tour.  I told the them they would get to design something for History Lab! and they've already begun plotting.

I have a list of things to change if I do this again, but am proud of my History Lab! kids for what they accomplished.  This is an easy way to incorporate place into the classroom, as well as encourage students.  If you would like anymore information about the project, including assignment sheets, handouts, and sources, please comment below and I would glad to share what I have with you.

Until next time,