Tuesday, December 13, 2016

From Town Hall to Brand New Law (Or Not)

 Are you ready to engage in debate in your classroom? Check out this presentation from the 2016 Georgia Council of the Social Studies Conference.

Active Citizen: Make It So!

This lesson is about how to engage students by modeling a town hall debate using current controversial topics and character roles. Debates can be used to facilitate topic learning in the classroom. Students both debate and plan strategy to bring a successful initiative to the ballot. The conclusion of the debate will require students to reflect and vote via secret ballot as to the best argument presented.

Engagement: Researching Government & the People

As part of the research process, students will evaluate sources and use evidence to craft arguments that reflect democratic principles.  Students will develop questions and plan inquiries for their debate opponents. Students will evaluate public policies in terms of outcomes and consequences to prepare position statements. To craft adequate statements, students will analyze the impact of civic virtues, democratic principles, and rights. The debate will require students to examine historical, contemporary, and emerging views of changing societies, promoting the common good, and protecting rights. At the finish of debates, students will communicate their conclusions and encourage informed action.

Debate Questions:
  • What is the historical process or foundation used for/against this topic?
  • What rights or responsibilities does this topic address in today’s society or evolution of the American democracy?
  • How does this topic engage citizens into a larger understanding of society and/or history?
  • How do citizens decide to accept or change their position on this topic?
  • How can this topic allow individuals to make choices to amend or change their position?

The Great Debate
  •  Each side gets a 2 minute opening statement
  • One person speaks for 3 minutes and then is questioned by BOTH people from the opposing side for a total of 4 minutes.  During this time the one person who spoke is “on their own” to defend what they said while being questioned by the two who oppose them.
  • Then one person from the other side speaks for 3 minutes and is questioned for 4 minutes.  This continues with the 2nd person from the first team speaking for 3 minutes and then being questioned for 4 minutes and finally the 2nd person from the final team speaking for 3 minutes and being questioned for 4 minutes.
  • After each side gives their closing statement a vote is taken from the class.
  • Vote via secret ballot on which side presented the best argument & answered the arguments of the opposing side.

Engagement Examples: Government and the People
  • Twitter Town Hall @ THE WHITE HOUSE  Petition the White House
  • Big Block of Cheese Day
A photo posted by Histocrats (@histocrats) on

Resources for Current Information

Electronic Debate in Class -Media Options for the Classroom
  • Google Classroom (comments enabled)   
  • Padlet
    Edmodo (comments enabled)    
  • TodaysMeet
  • Poll Everywhere    

Sunday, November 20, 2016

APUSH Hand Turkeys

Are you looking for a simple review lesson as the holiday approaches? Try the APUSH Hand Turkey task. It is written for an AP US History class but could be easily modified for other grade levels.
A photo posted by @histocrats on

An APUSH Hand Turkey

November is time for APUSH Hand turkeys.
Task: You will create TWO Hand Turkeys that review and highlight the periods that you have studied thus far:

Period 1: 1491-1607. ...
Period 2: 1607-1754. ...
Period 3: 1754-1800. ...
Period 4: 1800-1848. ...

Turkey 1
1.   Draw a turkey on 8 ½ X 11 unlined paper of any color.
2.   Decorate each of the five digits as one of the periods above.  Be creative.  Think themes, important events, and ideas, etc.
3.   The palm is open for decorating in any subject or theme of American History up to 1877.

Turkey 2
1.   Draw a turkey on 8 ½ X 11 unlined paper of any color.
2.   Choose, in your opinion, the person in American history from 1491-1877 who is the biggest turkey in history.
3.   Find a picture of that person’s head to become the head of your turkey (thumb).
4.   Decorate the turkey to show who that person was and why he/she is the biggest turkey of the age.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

In a Pickle

By Jeff Burns

Pickling is one of the oldest methods used by humans to preserve foods, dating back 4,000 years. Practically any vegetable can be pickled using vinegar and spices, and has been in one culture or another.  Pickle lovers have their own favorite vegetables and preparations, kosher, dill, bread and butter, sweet, hot, just to name a few.

One of my personal favorites stems from my own childhood memories.  Every summer, my Aunt Juanita would make her sweet pickles.  When they were ready, she would visit and bring us a jar or two or call to let us know, and I would my bike to her house to pick them up. My family frequently got together with friends and family during the year for fish frys, barbecues, oyster roasts, and the like, and Aunt Juanita’s pickles were always a great accompaniment.  My mother tried her own version from time to time, and they were good, but we all know some things that just don’t taste the same when somebody else makes them.

Aunt Juanita passed away a couple of years ago, and, for a few years before, she suffered from dementia, so it’s been quite a while since she made pickles.  However, I am very fortunate that , years before becoming ill, she wrote the recipe down for me.  It’s a simple recipe, and an old one.  My cousin told me that Aunt Juanita got it from her Appalachian in-laws years and years ago.  She always called them 7 day pickles or sweet pickles, and I’ve found similar recipes online called Amish pickles or 7 day pickles, so I’m not really sure of the origin. I make the pickles nearly every summer, and if I say so myself, they’re pretty good and extremely close to my memories of hers. The handwritten recipe is also a treasure, since I don’t have much of anything in the way of handwriting from my parents, grandparents, and other relatives.

I put the cucumbers in a big pot, and the actual process only takes a few minutes each morning. (It does require a huge amount sugar, however.) With this batch I added a couple of squash and onions as well.  I have also added jalapenos in some batches to make a sweet and hot variety too.

We’ve also pickled some beans, radishes, and zucchinis this summer.

Like pickles? Find a recipe and give it a try.  This is about more than making pickles though.  Think about the great recipes within your own family.  Seek them out and learn them now from the family members who make them, before it’s too late.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Fun Resources for Teaching about the Cold War

By Nina Kendall

Are you looking for new resources to teaching about the Cold War? Are you excited about the chance to delve into the rich foreign policy of the 20th century? Here are a few fun resources you can use to teach about the Cold War.

The Atomic Bulletin was first published in 1945 after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaski. It was founded by a group of former Manhattan Project physicists. The Doomsday Clock is the symbolic clock whose time reflect how close humans are to final destruction. This group maintains and updates the Doomsday Clock. This website has a great timeline that correlates the changes in the Doomsday Clock to historic events.

Historic Film Clips
On School TV, Historian Ben Walsh uses archival footage to explore the hysteria of McCarthyism and the challenges of the Cuban Missile Crisis. From the testimony of the accused to interviews with Senator McCarthy,  this footage supports the exploration of this hysteria.
Songs for the Classroom
Songs from the Atomic Platter are also great  for exploring the social side of the Cold War. In Agnes the Teenage Russian Spy, the challenge of Cold War  relations is shared in terms any student can relate to when the teen experiences betrayal by a spy.  In Advice to Joe, Roy Acuff captures the national debate with pithy words. Mr. Betts produces songs to use with students in the classroom. His video America's Foreign Policy Review is a great review that students will enjoy. The History Tunes song The Cold War has a succinct set of lyrics you can use in a variety of ways.

Great Cartoons
The Opper Project is a great source for 20th Century cartoons. There collections of cartoons are useful both online and offline.  This collection is really well suited for online activities as many of the cartoons are displayed with zoom options making online viewing easier.

Fun Activities
The Dot Game is a fun way to engage students in conversations about the hysteria of McCarthyism. Check out this blog for more about the Dot Game.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Review Fun: It’s in the Cards

By Jeff Burns

When the time comes each year to review for AP tests, end of course tests, and final exams, I, like many teachers, try to find as many varied ways of reviewing content as I can.  This year, I put together a couple of quick review card games which fit the bill.  They covered content.  Students were engaged and got competitive about it, and they enjoyed it. 

There are directions floating around for making your own version (or having students make versions) of Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity for history, but this is even simpler.  All you do is make or use pre-existing powerpoint presentations or flash cards.  For AP US History, I used one covering the major events of each president’s term, and a review powerpoint  of some 250 important concepts and events, both of which were created and shared by other teachers or their students.  You might also use powerpoints covering art movements, literature, or any topic you wish. The key is to make sure the slides have a visual and brief information points on them.

I then printed the powerpoints on cardstock, six slides per page, enough for several decks.  Then comes the hard part:  cutting.  If at all possible, use a paper cutter and do a few sheets at a time.  You can see from my cards that I could have taken more time.

My students sat in small groups, and I gave each group a deck of cards.  It becomes a grouping and matching game.  You can ask them to use the cards to complete several tasks and circulate to supervise and review their work.  Even if you don’t, they will make it competitive by trying to finish correctly first.

With the presidents deck, I did these things:
1.       Arrange in chronological order by presidency
2.      Group by party
3.      Which presidents’ terms were marked by war?
4.      Which presidents are known for specific domestic or foreign policy programs?,
5.      Select the three most effective, least effective, worst, best presidents, etc.

With the events/concepts deck, I asked them to pull out 5 or 10 cards that dealt with each of the following:
1.       Immigration
2.      Migration
3.      Labor
4.      Big Business/Industrialization
5.      Civil Rights
6.      Reform
7.      Economic Policy, etc.  You can use any subject or any theme you can think of.

Playing with the cards really made them think quickly and review things they’ve learned all year, and it forced them to make connections and to reflect on change and continuity over time.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

Connecting the Dots

By Jeff Burns 

It’s that time of year again.  I’ve reached the Cold War, and when it’s time to talk about the Red Scare and McCarthyism of the 1950s, it may as well be hundreds of years ago for my students, so every year I use the Dot Game to create a feeling of paranoia.

I first learned about the Dot Game from a History Alive! Training session, and as far as I know, credit goes to the Teachers Curriculum Institute for creating it.  The Dot Game works great for the Red Scare, but it also would work in a unit on the Salem Witch Trials or any period of doubt and suspicion.

The game is easy and 2-3 rounds can be played in 10-15 minutes.  First, you need a set of cards.  I cut index cards in half.  Most of the cards are left blank on both sides, but on some of the cards, make a dot on one side.  (I use C for commie.)  For a set of 30 cards (I make a few more cards than the number of students in my class.), I might include as many as 10 commies.

The night before, I send out a Remind text to students saying “Trust no one.”  (Caution:  Times have changed.  The next day, students said, “Oh, we thought your wife cheated on you or you were warning us about something happening at school.”)  Give each student a card with explicit directions to look at but not to share or show what’s on their card to anyone.  Then explain:  Most of you are good, decent Americans.  However, there are a few dirty, stinking commies amongst you bent on destroying mom, baseball, apple pie, and everything else about the American way of life.  Your job is to form the largest group possible without a communist. You can’t show your card at any time when making groups.

There are two ways to win:  1) the largest group with no communist infiltrator wins and 2) any communist who has successfully infiltrated a group and is the only one in the group is a winner.  I’ve had winning groups of 1 person and as large as 12 people.

Give them 2-3 minutes each round.  At the end of each round, have groups reveal their identity one at a time, starting from the smallest sized groups.  Vary the number of communist cards you give out during each round. On the second or third round, I will interrupt and say things like, “We’ve just confirmed there are at least 3 commies among you…… We’ve now confirmed there at least 5 commies out there…etc.”

After the rounds, debrief.  Ask
  1. How did you feel during the rounds?
  2. How did you know whom to trust?
  3. How did it feel to have your trust betrayed?
  4. How did it feel to be accused but innocent?
  5. Who was the best deceiver?
  6. Who was the worst deceiver?
  7. What were the stakes at risk for losing this game?  (very low level) Now think about nationally in the 1950s.  What were the stakes then?  Can you see how paranoia multiplied and why it affected people so much and why McCarthy was so powerful for a while?
The game really creates a great conversation and makes a real connection, plus it’s fun and involves movement.  My classes always ask to play again and again.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Using an Assembly Line as a Hook to Introduce Industrialization

By Jeff Burns

For several years, I’ve been introducing the industrialization of the Gilded Age with an assembly line simulation that’s a lot of fun for students and always leads to a great discussion. I got the inspiration from somewhere, of course, but I’m not sure where, maybe a History Alive (TCI, Teacher’s Curriculum Institute) activity, but I’ve adapted to my classroom and my personal demeanor.  You see, I’m not an overly effusive person; I’m pretty stoic, dour, emotionless – take your pick.  Students lovingly liken me to internet sensation Grumpy Cat. (If only I could channel my personality into tens of millions of dollars like Grumpy Cat.)

This topic usually falls immediately following Thanksgiving for me, so I begin class by spinning an elaborate tale. I tell the class that I had an epiphany over break. I finally figured out the vehicle that will make me a millionaire and allow me to quit teaching.  It’s the toy sensation that will change the world.  Children around the world will go into frenzy for it. I even have a Shark Tank appearance coming up next week to get backers.  I’m sharing it with the class because I need some help creating some initial inventory, and they can help me.

I use these slides to make my pitch.  (The clumsy cheesiness is part of the charm.)

The Burnsie bears a remarkable resemblance to myself.  You can make it anything you want, just some simple drawing or folded object.

For the next step, I use rows of five desks each, markers, and lots of paper cut into fourths.  I use scratch paper, extra one-sided copies saved up all year.  Give every student a marker and 4 o 5 paper squares.  Tell them you’re testing them to see who can get in on the ground floor of this money-making opportunity by producing a burnsie inventory. Their instructions are to draw as many burnsies as possible in 15-20 seconds. When time is up, have them count their completed burnsies and examine a few to compare their consistence, with each other and with the original.  Invariably, this first effort is not going to be successful.  I make  big deal about how many more have to be produced and how they have to be consistent.  No matter where they are in the world, children have to wake up to find a consistent, high-quality, handcrafted burnsie under their tree.  How do we achieve that?  Students offer suggestions like, more workers, using photocopiers, stamps, or stencils.  No, I say, that defeats the purpose of hand-crafted, made-in-America quality.  Someone will suggest an assembly line. OK, How does that work? The student explains, and we give it a shot.  I pit rows against each other.  Usually to save paper  at this point, I reduce the pool of workers to two rows pitted against each other and have volunteers staff the rows, while the rest of the class watches. However, you could have more rows competing.  Then each student in the row is assigned a part to draw:  head, face, body, arms, legs.  They have to draw their parts and pass it to the person behind.  For this round, I usually give them 45-60 seconds.  When time is called, we count and talk about consistency and quality (usually better).

Now, that’s better, but not quite good enough, how do we make more,  faster?  They offer various suggestions.  Maybe the boss (me) can offer positive incentives or negative disincentives for example.  We discuss various options.  Someone will then suggest (maybe following my lead) turning the desks side by side to facilitate the passing.  They may even switch positions or participants or make other suggestions that you may want to implement.  We then do 1 or 2 rounds of 45-60 seconds each, and the production is always better.

Finally, we debrief.  How did you feel during this simulation?  Participants will say they felt stressed, anxious, etc. What would it feel like to do real assembly line work today?  What are the physical and mental effects of such work?  Now put yourself in a factory in 1890 or so.  What other factors and effect would be involved.  We usually have a great discussion about working conditions.

The finishing touch is to show the classic candy factory scene from I Love Lucy.  It’s available on Youtube, even in new colorized form if you don’t want to shock the students too much.  While some students will have never seen it before (Sadder still, some students may not have a clue who Lucy or what I Love Lucy is.) but most of them will have seen Drake and Josh do almost exactly the same scene, and they are amazed that it was done fifty years earlier by someone else.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Why I am Okay with Games in the Classroom

By Nina Kendall

I am not a true gamer. Do I like games? Yes. Do I play games? Yes.  However there are times when both board games and computer games are more frustrating than fun for me.  Despite this frustration I support the use of games in the classroom. Games have great features that promote student learning.

-Games offer feedback and practice.
Students learn very quickly in a game if they have made the wrong or right move. This feedback gives students a chance ti to reflect and correct their thinking. We know that trying again is important. We know making mistakes is part of learning. A game offers the opportunity to try, fail, and triumph.

-Games offer chances for collaboration and conversation.
If you utter the words group projects to students, you will here some groans. Yet say the word game and they are ready to work together. Even better as they work together students are having unprompted conversations about the topic. The best spontaneous conversations among students about the unit of study have come from games.

-Games provide goals.
You have a goal for each lesson you plan.  However what seems like a clear goal t o you may not be discernible to students. This issue is reduced by the possible outcomes of a game.

-Games are fun and engaging.
With loads of testing and value added observations, it is easy to forget that learning can be fun and engaging. Games help put the fun back in the classroom for students and teachers.

Take time to play a game in your classroom even if you are not a gamer. The risk is worth the reward.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Creating Classroom Games: Bingo

You can customize simple content games for the classroom to help students review and reinforce knowledge. It just takes a little creativity. Follow the steps to create your own content bingo.

Establish a list of terms (people, places, things) students need to know.
For this effort, my list includes: Samuel Gompers, Jane Addams, Theodore Roosevelt, Sitting Bull, NAACP, Jacob Riis, Upton Sinclair, Ida Tarbell, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller.

Establish a list of descriptors for your terms. You should include at least two descriptors for each term. The descriptors can apply to more than one term.
Example- “Muckraker” describes Upton Sinclair, Jacob Riis, and Ida Tarbell.
The descriptor for my set are below.

American Federation of Labor, Ghost Dance , The Jungle, Conservation, Reservations, US Steel, Hull House, Wounded Knee, Captain of Industry, National Parks, How the Other Half Lives, Vertical Integration, Progressive, Civil Rights, Standard Oil, Meat Packing, Homestead Strike, Horizontal Integration, Robber Baron, Meat Inspection Act, The History of Standard Oil

 Ensure that students have organized what they have learned about the terms. Students could use a simple chart to organize what they have studied.
People and Groups of the Gilded Age
Samuel Gompers

Jane Addams

Theodore Roosevelt

Sitting Bull


Jacob Riis

Upton Sinclair

Ida Tarbell

Andrew Carnegie

John D. Rockefeller

Students will use the list of terms to customize their bingo boards.  I used the simple board below. Students started by writing a name of a person or group from the set above.

    Once students have customized their boards. You only have to explain the rules and begin game play.

   We played using the rules below in class.
·         The goal of the game was to get three correctly complete three boxes in a row.
·         You can make a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row.
·         A square is complete when the term is matched with two correct descriptors.
·         The term and descriptors must match in both historical accuracy and historical interpretation.
·         Once a row is completed the player yells “bingo.”
·         The squares must be verified before a winner can be declared.

To select descriptors during game play, I used the spinner from classtools.net that can be customized with a simple typed list. The spinner was projected on the board and the chosen word simply popped up.

This was a simple way to add a game to my class. It got students talking about the topic and provided a form of review they were attentive to as they played to win.

How do you add games to your class?