It’s Not About Social Studies

This might be the shortest post I have ever written.

Recently, I was reading through the staff shout outs that students wrote to me during Teacher Appreciation Week…..

These statements affirmed my belief…..It’s not about Social Studies. I’ve accepted the fact that, through time, students might forget most of what I teach. In the end, they will never forget how they felt in my class. Make time to check in with students. Share their successes and help them learn from their mistakes.

A Current Unit Reflection – Survivor Renaissance

I started a new unit I have never done before – Survivor Renaissance – inspired by Michael Matera. The unit has students studying and learning about the Renaissance, Reformation, and Exploration. In Ohio, the standards covered are this:

  1. The decline of feudalism, the rise of nation-states and the Renaissance in Europe introduced revolutionary ideas, leading to cultural, scientific,
    and social changes
  2. The Reformation introduced changes in religion including the emergence of Protestant faiths and a decline in the political power and social influence of the Roman Catholic Church.
  3. European economic and cultural influence dramatically increased through explorations, conquests, and colonization

This unit is still ongoing, but I wanted to reflect on the work completed so far. I broke up this unit into 3 missions.

Mission 1 – Meet and Greet

Mission 1 has students getting into teams and choosing their Renaissance Influencer from a unique group. Each team had their own list of Renaissance influencers to choose from to ensure that the same person wouldn’t be picked twice. Examples of people included: Galileo, Petrarch, Johannes Gutenberg, or Leonardo DaVinci. Students spent 2 days researching, and becoming experts, about their chosen Renaissance person. They used some cornell notes found here. During the Research process I had students keep their Renaissance person a secret because they were going to design a slide for our Great American Race Competition.

Mission 1 – The Great American Race

After the research was completed, students made slides about their chosen Renaissance Influencers. They featured characteristics of the person’s early life, what they were famous for (artwork, voyages, inventions), and some random facts. I emphasized not putting the Renaissance person’s name on the slide because we were going to have a competition. My next step was compiling students created slides into a Google slide deck. I created a “copy” link and pasted it into a Google Form. Students opened the shared form, created a copy of the Great American Race slide deck and submitted their answers. An example can be found here. After the Great American Race, I averaged the amount of correct answers per team to determine the winner.

I like the Great American Race because students assume it’s easy. They always say, “We have to Google answers? That all?” However, students quickly learn that Googling answers can be an art. They have to choose the correct key words when searching. This lesson also teaches students to design slides with quality information. When I made the slide decks for each class, I included every slide no matter how great or bad the information. It created nice discussions of designing slides with good, credible information for others.

Mission 2 – Diving into the Renaissance, Reformation and Exploration

What changes occurred with arts and science during the Renaissance? Why did Martin Luther, and others, challenge the Catholic Church? Why did European countries begin exploring? I brought teams back together and shared 3 different Iron Chef slides designed around these questions. One team had Renaissance, one team had Reformation, and another team took on Exploration.

In one class period, teams worked together to design slides to teach others about these topics. Each slide included a link to a short reading and I gave success criteria for a good presentation. Here is that success criteria: 4-5 important facts, 2-3 relevant images, and the secret ingredient question answered. Here are some examples here:

Renaissance Arts and Sciences



Up to this point, I was using past tense because we completed the Iron Chefs. However, this next step I haven’t had a chance to get to because I had to leave school early. The next step in this process is having students create a presentation video with Flipgrid over their information. They will record their screens and tesch other classmates. I will hand out Frayer models students so they can watch other presentation videos and collect information. The final step in the process will be a Quizizz with student created questions.

Since I had to skip a day and skip the Flipgrid, I had students create a Sketch and Tell about their slides. Here is why I like this idea…..

  1. I could read their Sketch and Tell explanations while I was out and look for any misunderstandings.
  2. I could provide quick feedback.
  3. A lot of the students wrote their sketch and tell explanations in a way they could read and record for their Flipgrid.
  4. The Sketch and Tell is something the students are familiar with.
  5. The Sketch and Tell provided a way that students didn’t have a gap in learning before making their presentations.

Here are some Sketch and Tell examples:

Next steps (literally typing and thinking out loud):

As this unit progresses, I need to build in some review competitions to keep up the gamification and team aspect of the Survivor Renaissance format. I also need to plan out how to set up the tribal council to vote off Renaissance people.

  1. Maybe have students vote on the best sketch and tell.
  2. Turn the Quizizz paired with the Iron chef into a competition – highest team average wins.
  3. Lego or Playdoh build competition.
  4. Review game competition – mystery boxes, Gimkit paired with apples to apples, tower builder review game.
  5. Empathy Maps – do before tribal council?
  6. Alphabet Battle
  7. Sudoku Learning to show relationships between people, concepts, etc…
  8. Linking logs to show relationships between concepts

More to come……

Eduprotocol Smashing Through a Unit

Today concluded a unit which was entirely made up of Eduprotocols. My unit question was compelling ended – Which led most to the expansion of Islam – innovation, trade, or conflict? This is my reflection on smashing several Eduprotocols together.

Lesson 1 – Origins of Islam

The unit began with an introduction to Islam. Last year, after switching to remote learning, the students missed out on Islam. Before the students could answer the compelling question, they needed to know some basics of the Islamic faith. To do this lesson I started with a fast and curious with Quizizz, and the students bombed the quiz. Next, I had them skim an article and create a word cloud of unknown words using Mentimeter (found here). The students chose 3 words to Frayer and we created a definition, listed 3-4 examples, and created examples and non-examples (found here). Having the students skim an article and Frayer 3 words allowed them to build some background knowledge on Islam. Now the students were ready for the Cyber Sandwich and reading. Students shared a Cyber Sandwich with each other, read the Origins of Islam article for 10 minutes, took notes, discussed their notes, and summarized their notes (found here). We concluded this unit with the same fast and curious Quizizz and students raised the class average from 48% to 92% over a 2 day period.

Lesson 2 – Innovations

The lesson on innovation attempted to answer this question – Why would new innovations help advance Islamic culture? This lesson took place with 3 days of remote learning. The first lesson was a brief Edpuzzle video about the expansion of Islam through the medieval world. The 2nd day of remote learning involved a Cyber Sandwich combined with a Sketch and Tell (found here). Students chose an innovation from the Golden Age of Islam and took notes. Then students took their information to create a Sketch and Tell instead of writing a summary. When students returned from school, I had them create Flipgrid videos talking about their Sketch and Tell innovations. I gave students Frayer models, on paper, so they could watch Flipgrid videos created by their classmates and take down 3-4 facts they learned about 4 innovations. Finally, they used their Frayer model notes to make infographics about muslim innovations (found here). With remote learning days built in, this lesson covered 5 days (3 remote, 2 in class).

Lesson 3 – Trade

The third lesson in the unit asked the question – What effect did trade routes and travel have on the spread of Islam? I continued using the fast and curious protocol using Quizizz. I kept the same questions from the previous Quizizz, but added new questions about innovation and trade. Students then completed a Cyber Sandwich with a 10 minute read, 5 minute discuss, and 10 minute summary (found here). When the Cyber Sandwich concluded, we took the fast and curious protocol again and raised out class average from 62% to 92%. The next day I followed up the Cyber Sandwich on Islamic trading with a lesson i found from Kevin Roughton called Conversion Factor. This lesson involved taking students on a walking tour through the Islamic Empire. It paired nicely with the Cyber Sandwich on trade. A video of that lesson is found here along with the Google Slides (found here). This lesson covered 2 days.

Lesson 4 – Conflict

The last lesson of the unit had students consider this question – How did conflict advance Islam? I continued with the fast and curious Quizizz and added more questions about conflict. In this particular lesson I wanted to help the students through the writing process so they could successfully create a paragraph with a claim, evidence, and reasoning. I had students work as a group with a Mini Report. They read an article, categorized and typed facts, and summarized their information on the expansion of Islam through Conquests. The next day, we started with a fast and curious Quizizz and went right into a Thin Slide. I used the Thin Slide so students could practice writing a claim. They designed a slide with 1 picture, 1 word, and wrote a claim for the compelling question (Which led most to the expansion of Islam – innovation, trade, or conflict?) in the speaker notes. After 10 minutes, I cycled through the slides and students read their claims word for word. I gave feedback afterwards. Following the Thin Slide, I had students work on an Iron Chef. The Iron Chef slides were collaborative and students designed a slide where they wrote a claim, wrote 2 pieces of text evidence, wrote reasons why the evidence supported the claim, and constructed a paragraph. The Iron Chef slides provided a way for students to give each other feedback. The next day, I began class with the same fast and curious Quizizz. We followed the Quizizz with a Nacho Paragraph. I wrote an awful paragraph – the claim was bad, evidence was vague, and the reasoning was nonexistent. I typed this paragraph on a Google Slide, added it to Pear Deck, and had the students rewrite my paragraph to make it better. Pear Deck made it awesome to give feedback in real time. The Nacho Paragraph was the most powerful Eduprotocol in the entire lesson. The feedback, modeling, and me thinking out loud as I read really resonated with the students. I had students revise their paragraphs on the Iron Chef based on the feedback from the Nacho Paragraph protocol. This lesson took 3 days. Here is a Wakelet collection of this entire lesson.

Final Lesson – Annotated Map

The final lesson was an Annotated Map. I have a strong dislike of premade maps, so I like students to hand draw maps, label them, and annotate the maps with historical research. In this case, the students were going to draw their maps, and write their Iron Chef paragraphs next to their maps. I like this strategy for helping students see the connections between Geography and History. I also had students take the fast and curious Quizizz again – class averages were above 90%! Below are some final products from this unit…..

Success Criteria

I like to post success criteria on Google Classroom for assignments. Most of the Eduprotocols I grade on a 4 point scale. Here’s how I do it (Grading a struggle of mine because I want a focus on learning, not grades. Furthermore, what determines a point total for assignments? I’ve yet to figure it out.)…….

Cyber Sandwich (4 pts):

  • 2-3 important facts from each subheading (or a total of 5 or more notes).
  • The summary paragraph should be 4 or more sentences.


I don’t grade this, but I do circulate the room and check for 3-4 examples and a definition written in the students’ own words.

Number Mania Infographic (4 pts):

  • 4 or more innovations identified.
  • A picture, icons, or GIF showing the innovation.
  • A description for each innovation.
  • A title.

Sketch and Tell (4 pts):

  • The sketch uses Google Shapes or Auto Draw.
  • 2 or more colors used.
  • The tell side successfully answers the question with 3-4 sentences.

Iron Chef (4 pts):

  • A claim was written without using a pronoun and answered the comelling question.
  • 2 valid pieces of evidence from past lessons were used and supported the claim.
  • The reasoning fully explained how the evidence supported the claim.
  • The picture added to the slide related to the claim.

Fast and Curious Quizizz:

  • I will record the score the students get the first time on Quizizz. I exclude this grade from the averages, but I do this to show them where they started.
  • I will record the final Fast and Curious score for a grade to show the students their improvement from day 1 to the end of the lesson.
  • The Quizizz was 16 questions and counted as 16 pts.

The Annotated Map and Final Paragraph (8 pts):

  • The maps I checked for neatness, were continent, countries, cities, oceans labeled correctly and drawn in the proper locations.
  • The paragraphs were graded:
    • to see if the claim avoided use of a pronoun and answered the compelling question.
    • 2 pieces of evidence supported the claim.
    • The reasoning provided more information about the evidence.
    • A concluding sentence.

A Lesson Reflection

I had a week before Spring Break started and my next unit was Westward Expansion. It never fails – one week before a long break with a new unit. I like to use these weeks to try something new. In this instance, I’m reflecting on a student driven unit on westward expansion.

The Design

The end goal for my unit came down to these expectations for learning:

  1. Explain how westward expansion contributed to economic, agricultural and industrial development.
  2. Analyze debates over sectional issues, war with Mexico and the displacement of American Indians in relationship to westward expansion.
  3. Describe how the United States added to its territory through treaties and purchases.

I was looking to see that the groups of students created their own questions related to these expectations. In order for the students to create questions, I started with an 8pARTS Eduprotocol. I created a shared slide deck (click here to access) and students analyzed the painting American Progress by John Gast. Instead of using the classic I See – I Think – I Wonder, I like to use 8pARTS to get students observing and writing creatively. I like to use 8pARTS as a way to get students asking questions they can refer back to during a unit. In this instance, I had the students create 5 questions in the speaker notes.

The next step in the lesson was having students pair up and use a jamboard to share their questions about Westward Expansion. Students collaborated and discussed questions as I gave feedback on good compelling questions.We discussed opened ended questions vs. closed questions. The key phrase that clicked with students in creating a good compelling question was me telling them, “A good compelling question can be answered with research now, but maybe you could change your answer 5, 10, or 20 years from now.” Here is an example of a JamBoard we used to collborate:

Students worked in groups and I had them create a compelling question to start researching. Students then created individual supporting questions for further research. I shared a created Cornell Notes slide to help them (click here for access). As students researched, I gave feedback on compelling questions and supporting questions. Two things that disappointed me were the vague notes and vague summaries on the Cornell Notes. As a result, I used 1 day to do a Cybersandwich.

During the Cybersandwich, I had ever group choose 1 source related to their topic. Everyone in the group read the source for 10 minutes and took 5-6 important fats. They discussed the notes for 5 minutes. Finally they wrote a summary using their notes. I felt it was good to do this to get them back on the same page and to use a familiar lesson in class.

At the end of the lesson, I gave the students 3 options for project choices:

  1. Create a Graffiti Page – click here
  2. Create a Comic Book – click here
  3. Create a Newscast – click here

These are some of the project creations – most students chose the Graffiti Page or the Newscast:

The Good

I was really impressed with the project creations and the information included in them. The students did a nice job with research. I wanted to keep this project simple. Simple meaning – ask a compelling question, discuss supporting questions, and research for a few days. The simplicity of this lesson helped students create awesome projects.

Another item that helped students throughout this process was the simple, effective Thin Slide. Each day, the last 10 minutes of class, students designed a Thin Slide (1 picture, 1 word) about what they learned that day. After a 3 minute slide design, students do a 10 second presentation from their seats about their slide. This definitely helped students reflect, process, and use metacognition throughout this lesson.

The Bad

If there is one thing I would change about this lesson it would be a source review. Overall, an area I need to improve in is helping students chose appropriate resources for research. There is so much crap on the Internet and it’s hard to sift through. How can I help students navigate this process and become critical of sources?

Most of the topics the students chose were about people that went west. This is fine, but nothing was addressed about purchases, treaties, and wars. As a result, I started a new lesson on these topics making an annotated map (more on annotated maps here).

Overall I was really happy with this lesson. The use of Eduprotocols is always a win and the frameworks are so versatile and creative. The project choices were different and creative. Student engagement was consistent each day as they drove this lesson.

Positive Creates

Long before I got into education I thought I wanted to teach tennis. Planning, creating, and teaching lessons to ages 3 to 80 years young. Every ability level in between. Working 7 days a week, and as we used to say ‘Whoopin it up‘ for every class, taking to heart the words of a mentor of mine, “Keep it at 1/4 instructor and 3/4 entertainer.”

With everything in this life, things happen for a reason. I decided 6-7 days a week, 40+ hours on court wasn’t going to last. The ‘Whoopin it up’ wasn’t effective anymore. I just lost interest and decided if I’m not at my best then I’m going to try my hand at something else.

Fast forward 13 years to now – my daughter decided she wanted to try tennis. I decided not to push my tennis onto my daughter unless it was her choice. Now I’m viewing lessons from a completely different perspective – the parent perspective. This is what my new found perspective is affirming for me on a tennis court or in a classroom……

Find the positives and share them anyway and anywhere you can. A positive comment goes a long way. All Lennon could talk about was how well she did weaving between cones doing a footwork drill because her coach yelled, “Holy moly incredible footwork!” Lennon wants to play tennis everywhere we go. When I mention, “One more ball,” Lennon responds, “Then we can pick them all up and do it again?” Those positive comments and enthusiastic coaches created this love of tennis within a 4 year old.

In this life whether you’re coaching tennis or teaching in a classroom and you feel like it’s not enough – from my new found tennis parent perspective, it is enough. Stay positive. Share some joy. Smile. Whoop it up.

Small Changes

I never knew how to put this thought into words until I read this stupid joke:

Why did the chicken join the séance? To get to the other side.

Someone took the classic “chicken crossing the road” joke, which may have been funny hundreds of years ago, changed a couple of words, and made it funny again. Instead of trying to come up with an entirely new joke, not thinking of a joke, getting frustrated and giving up – all it took was a couple of words. Rethinking lessons can be this way too.

My approach to lesson planning is looking for the one thing I can change. How can I take a stale lesson, something not relevant or fun, change one thing and make it better? How can I keep the integrity and focus of the lesson? These are those things I look for:

Is there a lecture that I can do differently?

Is there a video I can replace?

Can I change the formative assessments along the way?

Can I get students creating and collaborating together?

Can I make a small part of lesson interactive?

Can I rearrange the original contents into a competition?

What does all of this look like? Take my Magna Carta lesson for example….

The lesson used to involve an introductory video, a mini lecture, a quiz, and a student created blog post as a summative assessment to fit with our Middle Ages Quest unit. The blog posts from this quest were always the worst – because students couldn’t quite connect this concept of the Magna Carta to their created character. (If you don’t know about the Middle Ages Quest Unit – click here)

I took a step back, zeroed in on that mini-lecture and changed it to a Cybersandwich (click here for a copy). Instantly, my lesson was changed. I started with a quiz, which they bombed, but allowed me to give feedback and address some keywords. Then students did a quick read for 10 minutes and took their own notes. Next, they discussed the Magna Carta with a partner for 5 minutes and compared notes. To finish the Cybersandwich they summarized the Magna Carta in first person point-of-view and created their blog post. Finally class was ended with the same quiz they took at the beginning. Class averages went from 62% to 92%, 56% to 83%. Confidence was built, and students had fun, from a couple of small changes.

A Random Reflection

This is my reflection and collection of thoughts on the past year…..This past year it’s been everything I could do to keep my head above water. Every day brought a new challenge with remote learning, not remote learning, being a dad, tennis – but through it all, it was a learning experience. These are my takeaways from the past year:

It’s Just School

When the school year finishes, most students will probably forget the things I taught them. I’ve come to terms with that reality. But one thing will always hold true – they will never forget how I made them feel throughout the year. Yes, it’s easy for me to say, “It’s just school,” when I don’t have a state test for Social Studies. However, I had a state test, I would still the same thing. I don’t care if we get through all the units this year. It’s just school. I cut out a unit on America’s role in early world affairs. It’s just school. It’s important for me to ask every student, by name, everyday, how they are doing and to give them a chance to share. I don’t care if it takes up 5-10 minutes of class. It’s just school.

In 505, I try to see each student as unique with their own set of strengths. One question that helps me with students – How can I give every student a chance to be successful? Everyone in this life deserves a chance to have fun and be successful with something and if my class is that one chance then I’m happy with that. With each assignment, each lesson, each unit, I try to provide choice so students can use their strengths, find success, and have fun. This, to me, are the things students will remember the most from my class. After all, it’s just Social Studies.

Try Some New Things

In the last year, I have cared less about sports and focused more on learning new things. Most of my questions this past year have started with, “How,” or “Why,” and led me down great paths…..

How can I make better food? – This past year I have learned how to cook better food. Having restaurants closed down has driven me to figure out how to cook better food. Here are things I have perfected in the last year:

If anyone needs a recipe let me know……

  1. PF Changs Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps
  2. Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joes
  3. 2 Bean Vegan Vegetable Chili
  4. Vegan Skyline Chili
  5. Pan Fried Fish Tacos
  6. Homemade Pizza
  7. Bread (Honey Wheat and Brioche)
  8. Pancakes
  9. Impossible Meat Bolognese Sauce

Why does the world seem so angry? How can history help me understand this? – I turned to podcasts this year to help me understand the world. Understanding history help us all understand that these problems aren’t new. Everything has a history, and I wanted to know more. I thought I knew a lot, but I quickly realized, and fully admitted that I didn’t know much. As a result, I found a great NPR podcast called Throughline which connects history to today. A great podcast that ranges in topics from electricity to racial injustice to elections. A new episode is released every Thursday.

How can I make my class more engaging for students? – Everyday I’m committed to making class more engaging for students. I’m learning some new questioning strategies to use in class. I’m using some new technology to help relate social studies to today’s mainstream world. Eduprotocols is a major part of 505, but I’m learning how to better stack the frameworks and combine them with new lessons to make class engaging.

I Learned Who People Truly Are

2020 sucked. Social media made it suck even worse. Between protests and the election, the posts of disinformation from both sides was staggering. It really opened my eyes and made me truly see who people were. People I thought I knew. Family members. Everyone made me scratch my head and shake my head in disbelief. In a time of so much confusion and anger, most people seemed to add fuel to the fire. They double downed on their opinions. As for me, I took the opportunity to ask why and apply history to understand situations. I feel better because of it. I feel more educated because of it. I deleted Facebook because of it.

Factual Knowledge is Critical

In a way this is part 2 of my reflection on my current book entitled, “Why Don’t Students Like School?” by Daniel Willingham. Chapter 2 discusses how we can teach students the skills they need to critically think. It’s no surprise, factual knowledge, or background knowledge, in our working memory helps aid our ability to critically think. These are my takeaways from the chapter:

Chunking is Important:

Read this list of words, cover it up and try to remember as many as you can:

If you tried to remember this, chances are you weren’t that successful. These letters looked jumbled and have no meaning. Now read this list of words and try to remember as much as you can:

Chance are you were more successful remembering more letters with this list. You could remember these because the letters were chunked into meaningful acronyms you have a working memory of. The kicker is the two lists contain the same exact letters. The chunking of letters can help us with reading comprehension. You can chunk ideas A,B,C,D,E as you are reading and relate them together to make meaning. But, that’s a lot for most. Comprehension would be super simple if one could take comprehend A through E as a singular idea. What helps with chunking ideas and comprehension? Background knowledge.

Factual Knowledge is Important

One might think I have a lot of students that come into my 8th grade US History class with tons of factual (background) knowledge of our nation’s history. Wrong. The emphasis in elementary schools is on reading, math and science. Reflecting on past years, I assumed the students had enough knowledge. I was wrong. Giving students background knowledge is essential to leading to more critical thinking and application. I am guilty of trying to rush to the critical thinking/application part of our learning journey.

The information in this chapter related to my learning from another book entitled, “Visual Learning Strategies for Social Studies,” by John Hattie. In this book, Hattie stresses the importance of surface level learning. Too often, teachers don’t spend enough time in this level. I’m guilty! From my own experience, I try to get away from surface level learning because it’s too boring or it’s not “rigorous” enough. However, these are myths and surface level learning is vital for factual knowledge to allow for critical thinking. The more surface level learning the better.

Ideas for Surface Level Learning and Factual Knowledge

This is one of the reasons I love Eduprotocols – students gain repetition with technology and can focus on obtaining factual knowledge. Plus, Eduprotocols provide creative, fun ways to learn factual knowledge at the surface learning level. Here are some examples:

The idea behind these protocols is simple – lesson frames that can be used week to week, that incorporate the 4 C’s, that are student centered, and provide a 5th C for students – consistency. As a history teacher, here are some of my favorite Eduprotocols:

Cyber Sandwich – I love the Cyber-sandwich for student collaboration, communication, creation and critical thinking as students compare/contrast 2 ideas or topics. A Google slidedeck is created and shared with students. The slidedeck should contain everything the students need: links to resources, questions, etc.  Students have 10-15 minutes to read and collect information. After time is called, they share and compare/contrast their topics. This year I have used this for: Athens/Sparta, European Exploration, Colonial Regions, the French and Indian War, and Federalists/Anti-Federalists – click here. After the students collect information, discuss and share, I like to have them create infographics, maps, or storyboards.

Mini-Report – the mini-report is great for student communication, creating, and critical thinking. Students are provided with a topic, 2 sources, and they collect facts in an organizer. After 15-20 minutes, they review the facts and construct 2-3 paragraphs about their given topic. It’s a must to provide meaningful feedback as students are collecting facts. I try to focus them on collecting useful and important facts. After the paragraphs are written, I like to have students use their information to create a storyboard, Flipgrid, or a Lego creation. Click here for my example.

Sketch and Tell – I love the Sketch and Tell Eduprotocol for student collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. Students can show their thinking in a variety of creative ways. I pose a question, provide a source, have students sketch their answer, and they tell about what they created. I added some variations on the Sketch and Tell having students build with Legos, PlayDoh, Oreos, or Gummy Bears. Click here for my example.

I run these protocols on a weekly basis in my classroom. It’s a great way to ease planning and give students repetition with technology and content so they can gain the necessary knowledge to critically think. Using these protocols on a weekly basis also allows me to focus on, and show growth with writing and presentations. I encourage anyone reading this to get the book, Eduprotocols, written by Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo and try them out in your classroom.

Rewording Questions

I’m not writing this post as an expert. Rather, it’s from my own thoughts and reflection on the current book I’m reading entitled, “Why Don’t Students Like School?,” by Daniel Willingham. This book is fascinating to me as I love to learn about how people learn. The science behind learning and how t can be applied to the classroom.

When we often think that students are deep in thought with a lesson, chances are……….they’re not. People too often lack the ability to actually think…..really think…….with complex reading, reasoning, or solving problems for 3 reasons. The reasons being: 1) thinking is slow, 2) thinking takes effort, 3) thinking is uncertain. The author posed this problem solving scenario as an example of this:

In an empty room are a candle, some matches, and a box of thumbtacks. The goal is to have the lit candle about five feet off the ground. You’ve tried melting some of the wax on the bottom of the candle and sticking it to the wall, but that wasn’t effective. How can you get the lit candle to be five feet off the ground without you having to hold it there?

I posed the same question to my classes to prove this as well. What I found is students had trouble with solving problem. Most students “thought” about the problem for maybe 30 seconds before giving up. Out of 100 students, 1 of my students got the answer correct after 10 minutes of good, deep thought (no he didn’t Google it). If most students aren’t thinking, what are they doing?

The author suggests they are trying to solve problems with their working memory, or memories of past experiences. When I posed the problem above, most students were using their memories to find a solution. However, the students did not have a memory, or experience, with the problem. Here is my biggest takeaway:

Respect Your Students Cognitive Limits

Most of us begin lessons and/or units with a question. When writing that question, consider the background knowledge your students have. For example, in my unit on the Middle Ages, I used to ask a question, “How did the Magna Carta limit the power of the King?” To me, this question is simple and straightforward. However, to my students, they have never heard of the Magna Carta and have no experience with limited government or limited power. Right away, this question could turn them away, or seem intimidating. As a result, I reworded the question in a way that used language the students had experience with. My reworded question became, “Why did nobles rebel and call for kings to lose power?” My students could define the words: noble, rebel, kings, and could provide examples of losing power. Simple question rewording can make a big difference in helping students understand the Magna Carta.

I looked at data from last year from a Quizizz on the Magna Carta. The highest class averages from the Quizizz after the entire lesson were: 79%, 77%, 65%, and 90%. This year, after going through the same lesson, my class averages were 83%, 92%, 90%, and 92%. Again, I’m not some cognitive scientist or some expert by any stretch of the imagination, but this data suggests that the wording of questions, background knowledge, and working memory play a huge part in students understanding.

Eduprotocols For The Win…..Again

I just opened my blog and realized my last post was written on March 23, 2020. The last year hasn’t provided much inspiration. My focus hasn’t really been on the positive. Rather, my focus has been on surviving and providing the best damn lessons I can day in and day out. One such lesson I created was a quick Peardeck infused lesson on the Whiskey Rebellion.

I’m currently trying to do a thematic unit on how much power the national government should have. We are focusing on the national bank issue, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Sedition Act, and much more. My lesson on the Whiskey Rebellion featured a slidedeck with historical background, a Sketch and Tell, primary source analysis, and a reflection. That lesson can be found here. It was created to be a simple 1-2 day lesson using Pear Deck.

As I arrived at school, I had doubts about my lesson and needed a change. Like most of my lessons, I cast doubt and want something better. Class was starting in 10 minutes and I was committed to changing this lesson. I dug into my Eduprotocols tool bag. This is what makes Eduprotocols so versatile and great.

I ultimately settled on a Fast Curious using Quizizz paired with a Cybersandwich. The Fast and Curious with the Whiskey Rebellion was 8 questions. Students took the quiz to begin class and the class average was 62%. Next I used a 10x10x10 Cybersandwich (Example Here) with a quick read on the Whiskey Rebellion. This part of the lesson involved a 10 minute read with note taking, 10 minute discussion, and a 10 minute summary. I finished the lesson with the same Fast and Curious Quizizz and the results blew me away – A CLASS AVERAGE OF 100%.

Lessons like this make Eduprotocols unbelievable. Planning a lesson 10 minutes before class is not ideal no matter how you slice it. However, it had students working on 2 of Marzano’s nine essential instructional strategies – Identifying similarities and differences and summarizing and note-taking. On top of this, it was effective. Students saw growth. Students gained confidence. 62% to 100% in one class period. Eduprotcols for the win…..once again.