Thursday, November 19, 2009

New York State Archives - Throughout the Ages

Last weekend, I attended and presented at the National Council for the Social Studies Annual Meeting in Atlanta, GA. I was more than impressed with the variety of sessions I attended and the generous vendors at the exhibition hall. (Those conference freebies are always great.) One of the true highlights of the conference was a session that introduced teachers to the resources available at the New York State Archive. The educational materials available at this site are amazing, and--as the presenter shared during the session--the result of the archives being part of the state's department of education (a rarity in the US). The point is that the site's resources are some of the more accessible ones I have seen for teachers.

A great resource on the New York State Archive site is Throughout the Ages. Here, the user can select sources (arranged by topic for US and New York history) from the document index and create a printable worksheet with contextual information, questions, and state standards, to name a few.

Many of the sources already have questions (indicated with an asterisks next to the title) and links to state standards provided; however, the user can adapt these in any way by simply clicking on the section (e.g., "Questions" or "Standards").

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Free GIS with Google Earth

Recently, I've been learning how to use GIS software, namely ArcGIS, to figure out more ways to include these tools in my methods courses. I agree with the literature that--in terms of pubic school curricula--this powerful tool takes Geography beyond the typical states and capitals ditty most of us experienced in grade school. ArcGIS is amazing (including its K-12 equivalent, My World GIS), and many people are doing great projects in schools with these projects. The GIS Storms Sewers Unit is a good example (see image below).

Yet, I wanted a free online tool that was more accessible to teachers and students. I was thrilled to come across gCensus today. It is powered by Google Earth (which I finally downloaded today, too) and it is exactly what I wanted.

Simply put, gCensus allows you to use 2000 Census data to construct maps. Google Maps allows you to include/overlay various features such as locations of schools, highways, businesses, and the like. To get started, just click (as indicated) on the "please click here" link on the gCensus homepage. Then select a state, county, and the data you want mapped. Below is a simple map that depicts the concentration of African Americans in Cook County, IL.

Map created in Google Earth with gCensus

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The First Thanksgiving

October is nearing its end, and soon jack-0'-lanterns will give way to images of cornucopias, pilgrims, and Wampanoags (or the more common misrepresentation of Indians with feathers and tipis). In the 1990s, publications such as James Loewen's book, Lies My Teacher Told Me--and its revealing chapter, "The Truth About the First Thanksgiving"--raised the consciousness of many teachers who wanted to teach an alternative perspective to the usual narrative about the pilgrim's journey to a "Brave New World." But what kind of content is appropriate in an elementary or middle school classroom? Loewen speaks of grave robbing, cannibalism, disease, and the hijacking theory.

Colonist perspective from

Wampanoag perspective from

Is this they way we want students, adorned in black hats or feathers made of construction paper, to portray the beloved pilgrims and Wampanoags in a third-grade Thanksgiving play? This question is the kind of initial resistance many elementary teachers in my methods courses have when responding to Loewen's criticisms and similar curricula (e.g., Rethinking Schools). Fortunately, historical sites such as Plimoth Plantation are pushing the alternative perspectives approach and (even better) are giving students the opportunity to examine the evidence. Since few students outside of the New England area get the opportunity to visit the historic site, Plimoth Plantation has created an excellent online learning module that lets students sift through facts and myths to re-envision the history of the First Thanksgiving. Activities such as the "Path to 1621" let the user examine how the Wampanoag and the settlers viewed similar events quite differently. More importantly, in the section, "The Evidence," students get to examine the only source that mentions (and vaguely, at best) the First Thanksgiving.

Online learning module from

An important question students should ask is, "Why do we recognize the 1620 settlement of Plimoth as the site for the First Thanksgiving?" It is because it was the first non-Native settlement in the present-day United States? (In 1526, enslaved Africans abandoned by their Spanish captors attempted a settlement in what is now South Carolina.) Is it because it is the first settlement established for religious freedom? (Spanish Jews settled what is now New Mexico in the late 1500s). Is it because it was the first English Colony? (English entrepreneurs settled Jamestown in 1607.) Or does it have more to do with what happened in 1863? (See Loewen, 2007, Lies My Teacher Told Me, pp. 71 & 90.)

An important message from "Past" and "History" are NOT synonyms

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lessons, lessons, lessons

What could become a wasted Google search

A Google search for "Social Studies" and "Lesson Plans" will result in roughly 1 million hits or sites. There's a lot to sift through, and a lot of it can be...well, less than desirable. Fortunately, a lot of the professional organizations devoted to social studies education (and a few for-profits and not-for-profits) can help reduce the time it would take to sift through a lot of rubbish. Here are a few highlights:

Geography - National Geographic Xpeditions
Psychology - Social Psychology Teaching Resources
Economics - National Council for Economics Education Lesson Plans
Political Science - Center for Civic Education Sample Lessons
Political Science - Center for Civic Education Constitution Lessons

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Teaching with Political Cartoons

Political cartoons show up a lot in social studies curricula, including textbooks, worksheets, and now standardized state and national exams. In these cases, students are asked to analyze the cartoon's content or the cartoonist's point of view. In classroom instruction, teachers might try to "diversify" their instruction and have students create their own cartoon related to a historical or current event. The following sources provide some guidance for one way to include political cartoons as an authentic and legitimate part of any social studies teacher's instruction.

As a way to teach critical thinking, the Center for Media Literacy has built a curriculum around five key questions. All of these queries apply to analyzing any source--an advertisement, a newspaper article, or a political cartoon--but an important question is #2, "What creative techniques are used to catch my attention?" To further conceptualize this analysis, the Library of Congress has created a web-based activity, "No Laughing Matter," to help students evaluate cartoons with five basic concepts: Labeling, Irony, Analogy, Exaggeration, and Irony. I point out these concepts because they provide a helpful framework students can apply to any cartoon (or written source, for that matter). For example, "How does this cartoonist use irony to illustrate her point of view?"

Created at Toondoo (click image to enlarge it)

Finally, students need not be a professional artist to create stunning political cartoons. A free online tool, Toondoo Maker, on the Toondoo site allows them to select from hundreds of images to construct their own visual commentary on a historical or current event. Teachers can then require their students to describe how they used irony or analogy to make a visual argument. I've uploaded an example I recently created on the topic of immigration.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Constitution Day is September 17th

Constitution Day is September 17. Here are a few resources that may be of interest. First, the Center for Civic Education is offering several PK-12 Constitution lessons. (All are free pdf downloads.)

There are also a number of other free sample lesson plans for civics education from the Center for Civic Education. A general search for sample lessons will give you several options. Here are some of the highlights from this search:

Another resource for working directly with the pivotal U.S. government document is the Semantic Constitution. This site allows you to sort information in the Constitution by article and topic (e.g., debt, religion, veto).

Finally, a multimedia approach for instruction is available at the Choices site. Here, for example, students can see videos of interviews with scholars Gordon Wood and Michael Vorenberg as they discuss issues related to the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution. In one excerpt, Gordon Wood answers the question, "How was the American Revolution more radical than the founders had intended?"

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Economics Concepts and Lesson Plan Ideas

Economics is an often overlooked, yet equally important, discipline in the social sciences. Here are a few helpful links for resources. First, this site provides a nice overview of Economics Concepts, including definitions. Secondly, the Council for Economics Education provides several helpful resources, including a list of lesson plans arranged (or retrievable) by grade level, economics concept, and national economics standard. At last count, the website boasts a total 648 lessons available for your perusal. Finally, The Mint has a lot of helpful online activities to illustrate basic economics concepts.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kate Brigham on Media Literacy

Here, the learner can manipulate the size, color, and "wash"
(in this case red) for the image used to accompany a news article.

Above is the original photograph that accompanied
the article titled, "Why Do They Hate Us?"

It's interesting how the focus for the same "Hate" article is
altered with the selection of another photograph.

An old colleague, Kate Brigham, created this fantastic interactive website for her thesis project concerning media literacy. A great way to teach how advertisers, photographers, and general media editors use creative techniques to sway opinions or catch your attention is to let students manipulate sources. Several activities on Kate's site allow for this exploration. The learner can see firsthand how zoom, color, font size, and image selection, to name a few, present a point of view. These somewhat subtle techniques often go unnoticed but are key to critically evaluating any type of source, text or image.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

See the World via Worldmapper

Land Area via Worldmapper

Extinct Species via Worldmapper

Worldmapper is a great site to help students visualize basic statistical data about the world. Go to the "Map Categories" section to find the various types of maps available, including categories such as Goods, Movement, Poverty, and Death, to name few. For example, under Disasters, you'll find maps that depict the proportion of the population killed by extreme temperatures compared to those killed by drought. Or look under Destruction for extinct species. For "lighter" topics, compare the world poplation of 1500 to 1960. There are myriad opportunities for exploration here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Popular Science Magazine Archives




Google books is amazing. A good example of a resource they have digitized (and made available for free!!!) is Popular Science Magazine. Although it may not be a common source in the social studies classroom, the topics covered in this magazine could provide the perfect opportunity to collaborate with teachers in the life, earth, and physical sciences. Users can browse issues from the 1870s to the present. Each issue is filled with technology that was cutting edge "back in the day" (e.g., check out what's new with televisions in September 1967). Also, the advertisements are very telling of the time, past and present. One suggestion for an activity is having students explore how different amenities evolved (and, in some cases, went extinct). Take agricultural practices, as an example. Or even better, have students explore contemporary topics such as energy use and production. They might be surprised to see that a cover from the 1920s (December 1923) that presents the potential for wind powering our cities. Furthermore, a more fuel efficient car isn't that new after all (February 1981).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

URLs for Creating Art, Comic Strips, Newsletters...

Here are a few of my favorite free programs for creating digital cartoon strips, collages, and other images.

Collage Maker I (Collage)
Collage Maker II (Collage)
Creating a Still Life (Still Lifes)
ToonDoo (Comic Strips)
Letter Pop (Newsletters)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Historical Thinking Matters

One of the best free Websites available that adequately scaffolds students' evaluation, corroboration, and synthesis of multiple conflicting sources (yes, the full package of historical thinking) is Sam Wineburg's recent digital project, Historical Thinking Matters. Thus far, the four units include: Spanish American War, Scopes (Monkey) Trial, Social Security, and Rosa Parks/Montgomery Bus Boycott.

I often use this site in my methods courses to give students a sense of how essential/critical questions, graphic organizers, questioning strategies with heuristics (e.g., sourcing), think aloud models, highlighting critical features, and multiple representations can help learners engage in the rigorous task of historical thinking. Be sure to check out the Teacher Materials section for printable resources such as graphic organizers. (This link is an example of the resouces available for the Spanish American War exercise. The links that follow are also for the Spanish American War unit.) Also under the Teacher Materials section is a tab for sources, which include full, modified, and Spanish text to increase the accessibility of the written sources for diverse learning needs. Finally, be sure to check out different interpretations of each topic in the resouces tab under the Teaching Matierals section.