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This Day In History Yearlong Project

Brainy Apples, social studies, history
One difficulty I have faced teaching social studies is figuring out how to help my students connect with events from the past. I want my students to be able to go beyond just reading about historical events. I want them to be able to reflect and think about what it would have been like to have gone through an event, or what it would have been like to have been alive during a given time period. This year I decided to have my students work on a yearlong project, and just because it's "yearlong" doesn't mean it's super time consuming. This project has helped my students stop and think. There is something about realizing some historical event happened, on this very day, that helped my students connect with past events. Not only that, but this project also has helped my students with their research skills, standards we are learning about in class, and perseverance (because it isn't always easy to find an important event that happened on a specific day in a specific region).

Basically this project entails 4 students every day having an assignment due. Wait! It's not that bad! I promise! At the very beginning of the year, I sat down with all of my class rosters (I teach 5 classes). I focused on the following regions because these are the regions we study in the 6th grade: Latin America & the Caribbean, Europe, Canada, and Australia. {I put up "Other" because I knew I would have some students who would make a mistake and not find an event in their assigned region. I wanted to still be able to hang theirs up even if it was not completed correctly. You could also use "Other" if you used tickets or some other incentive in your classroom. A student could earn that incentive by going above and beyond what you ask of them by finding an event in another part of the world in addition to the region he/she was assigned.}

Brainy Apples, history, social studies

I could have also added in more regions, but this was the first year I tried this project, so I wanted to start out slowly (and I only have so much bulletin board space). Then I tallied up all the days that would be in the school year. I included weekends and days we weren't in school from mid-August (because I needed time to explain this project to my students and give them time to start researching) all the way to the next to last week of school. I don't have the exact number because I left it at school (Friday was early release for snow...I was a tad excited to get home!), but I took that total number of days and divided it by the number of students. That's the number of days each student would be responsible for finding events. Each of my students would be assigned about 10 dates each. I wanted each student to find an event for each region, and I wanted to make sure students had a couple weeks in between their assigned dates.

I only assigned dates for first semester, so I could tweak the process if needed for second semester. I made an Excel spreadsheet for each of my classes, with the kiddos down the left and the regions across the top. To assign the dates, I started with the first kid in my first class, and began writing down the dates under the Europe column. When I reached the end of the first class, I went on to the second class. And so forth until I had used all of the dates for first semester. Then I moved onto assigning the dates in first semester for Canada. I used the same process for each region. Here are two of my lists so you can get the idea:


I added a second set of regions because I had dates remaining after I went through all of my classes. Not all of my students have 5 dates. Some have 4. But those students with 4 had 5 dates first semester, and those with 5 only had 4. It works out over the entire year. Even though I wanted a couple of weeks between a student's dates, sometimes it didn't work out that way. But I do give them all of their dates at the beginning of the semester, so they know well in advance to plan. I let them know not to wait until the last minute to research their date. Some dates and regions can be tricky to find an event!

The benefit of having the dates and regions written out this way is that you can easily see who has what, and if students write down the wrong date, you have evidence of the correct date. The easiest way for me to keep track of who turns in their assignments on time is that I made every Friday a due date. So if their date is the following Sunday through Saturday, their date is due the Friday before (on the back of the directions page, I have a chart of all due dates - you can download this from the link at the bottom of this post- students go through and highlight all of their due dates using this chart). This lets me hang up the dates Monday morning before school starts. I like the dates to be up all week so students can read through them during the week. No, not all students turn in their assignments by the due date. So as I go through the submitted assignments, I highlight the date green. If the assignment is missing, I highlight it pink. That way if a student turns it in late, I have a record of it not being submitted on time (I teach advanced, so students missing due dates factor into their grades and placement in an advanced class the following year). It also easily lets me see who I need to speak with Monday regarding their missing assignment. Grading is easy, too, because I use a simple rubric. I have 28 to grade a week (7 days in the week x 4 regions), but I can get them all graded in about 20 minutes. I give a grade for this (according to the points on the directions page), so it's a really easy way for me to collect about 5 grades per semester just from this project. 

Once the students have their dates and regions, they research to find one important event that occurred on that date in that region. Some regions are harder than others. Some dates are harder than others. Students know that if they can't find a historical event, they can use birth dates and death dates, and they know they can look at sports, books, movies, etc. I have gotten some kiddos saying, "I can't find anything!" I do offer a little bit of help, but often times they can't find anything because they have spent 5 minutes looking and gave up. 

I'm not even going to pretend all of my students turn their assignments in on time, which is why the pictures in this post have empty spaces. By Tuesday I usually have all the dates because I remind them on Monday if they haven't already turned it in. 

This assignment has three parts: the event, a visual, and a paragraph. Students turn in the event (with the date) and visual to be hung up, and then they turn in the paragraph which isn't displayed. I wait until the week after I hang them up to grade them because I staple all three pieces to the rubric. I did display the paragraph at first, but then I realized I did not have enough room for them. I also was going to put a header for each day of the week at the top, but decided against it. I just start with the Sunday date and staple from left to right. 

Brainy Apples, history, social studies

So far my students and I are loving this project! It's so cool to hear a student say, "Wow. Today is the day when Germany invaded Poland to start WW2." Just to hear them stop. Just that they S.T.O.P. and reflect on an event. That they THINK about the event. That's what I wanted from all of this. 

If you are interested in giving it a try, you can download all the documents {HERE}. I have included the directions with an editable due date table, headers, and examples to show your students. I hope you give it a try!

XOXO-

Setting Discussion Norms

Setting discussion norms is critical if you want your students leading your class discussions. Regardless of what subject you teach, having students take the lead will result in them taking ownership and responsibility more so than if you are dictating the conversations.

social studies, Brainy Apples, student-led discourse

This is something I start at the beginning of the year, so that as time passes, my students become more comfortable at contributing to our class discussions. You want to lay the foundation for the academic conversations that will take place throughout the year. Usually you will have students who are reluctant to participate, and you will also have students who like to be the center of the discussion and try to take control. It's important to establish norms so that your quieter students won't feel overpowered and your louder students give those quieter students ample opportunity to participate. Students need to learn how to have student-led discourse, where the teacher is an active listener and the students are the leaders.

It is also very important to teach students how to participate in an active discussion, especially when there is not one right answer. You have to deliberately teach students how to debate ideas in a positive manner where they respect and value each other's contributions to the discussion.

I discuss each norm with students and provide an example of each with selected students acting out each norm. I found that having students role play each norm with an acceptable action or response AND an unacceptable action or response helps students get a concrete idea of what is and is not appropriate. After we go over each norm, I post them in a prominent place so students can easily refer to them during the year. Students will use these reminders often, and you want to encourage them to refer to the norms if they aren't being followed.

 I found it's easier to help students learn these norms by introducing two a week. If you choose too many, then students aren't able to focus on each norm and really understand how to follow it. After about a month, you will have introduced all of the norms to students, and you can expect them to follow all of them. Remember to encourage students to review the norms any time they forget one of them.

If you would like the poster set in the photo below, you can click {HERE} or on the photo. It's free! I made a full color set and a black and white set. You can print the black and white set on color paper to save on color ink.
social studies, student-led discourse, Brainy Apples




Easy Ways to Use Primary Sources In the Classroom

I wanted to share with you all something that I have made a goal for myself this year, and that is to incorporate primary sources into each unit I teach. I’m not sure about you, but I found myself shying away from using primary documents because a) I didn’t know where to find quality primary sources, b) I wasn’t sure how to use them in my classroom, and c) I just wasn’t sure if I had time to spend. In the past I did use primary documents, but not as often as I knew I should be.

social studies, Brainy Apples, primary document analysis

Before I get into how I use them and offer some ideas, I want to talk about why we all should be using primary sources in our classrooms. And it just isn’t for social studies teachers! ELA/reading teachers can absolutely use primary sources, too. It’s an easy way for ELA/reading teachers to integrate social studies into their content, and social studies teachers will be integrating ELA/reading as well. (If you are interested in learning more about how to integrate literacy across the curriculum, I have offered and will be offering a FREE webinar called “12 Steps to Implementing Close Reads in AnySubject, grades 1-6” soon. Click {HERE} to view the upcoming dates.)

So, why should we be using primary sources in the classroom?
I think a comment several of my students made sums it up best- “I can touch history!” History is something that can be elusive to our students. It can be abstract. History is events that occurred, and we can read about it and watch videos to help our students better understand. However, history is something that our students can’t touch or feel. We know students learn best when they can manipulate objects or ideas. History occurred in the past, and we can’t take our students there. If we live near a museum then we can certainly go on a field trip, but for those of us who aren’t close to museums or don’t have the funds available, how are we supposed to allow our students the opportunity to get up and close and personal with history? Primary sources are how!

Deepen Understanding
Like I said earlier, I made it a goal of mine this year to incorporate as many primary sources as possible this year because I knew it would help unlock the mysteries of history for my students. I am four months into the school year, and my students this year have a better understanding of the topics we have learned than my students last year because I bring in primary documents multiple times a week. My students are able to piece together what we have talked about in class and what they are analyzing from primary sources to construct new knowledge that they better understand than if we had just read about it and watched a video. They are able to view history from multiple perspectives and compare primary sources that sometimes contradict one another (propaganda) to better understand the complexities of history.

Develop Critical Thinking Skills
Not only do my students understand the topics I teach at a deeper level, they are also learning how to be critical thinkers and analyze sources like a historian would. Oftentimes primary sources lack all of the information needed to fully understand the message or point. Students have to use prior knowledge and analyze multiple sources to be able to fully understand them. Students must move from making observations about the primary sources (explicit facts) to making inferences (implicit facts). Not only this, but students must also be aware of the bias present in propaganda they look at and question the point of view and purpose of the author, especially when they are presented with contradictory primary sources. If you are going to be using Document Based Questioning (DBQ), then it’s REALLY important for students to learn how to analyze primary documents.

Student Engagement
This is probably my favorite reason for using primary sources. My students this year are at an all time high level of engagement, even during those topics that are typically considered boring. I have had several students comment that they used to be bored during social studies, but now they can’t wait for class to begin. I had several students comment that history has come alive for them because they can touch and feel the past. Using primary sources has helped my students make connections with the events of the past in meaningful ways. Many of my students have told me they have went home and continued researching what we discussed in class because they wanted to learn more. There is a difference between reading a second-hand account and a first-hand account, and even if students haven’t learned the technical differences between the two, they know that a first-hand account helps make events seem more real and personal evoking emotions. Primary documents help students feel what it was like to be alive during that particular time period, especially when you use not only paper documents but also music and art.

Where do you get primary sources?
I spent a lot of time this fall researching a variety of sites that offer primary sources, and some site are easier to navigate than others. Some sites seem to have more useful primary sources than others. I love the Library of Congress, DocsTeach, and the Digital Archives; but there are so many more…too many to list. I usually start with these sites, and then I also Google primary sources + the topic I am teaching. Yes, it can be time consuming because you have to weed through a lot of “junk”, but once you find those hidden gems, you can use them year after year. As I find a quality site, I bookmark it as a favorite site so I can easily navigate to it in the future. You can find tons of print documents online to use in the classroom.

If you want to truly bring history into your classroom, then I highly suggest traveling trunks. Sometimes there is a fee, but I have found trunks for free. I live in north Georgia, and Kennesaw State University offers traveling trunks free of charge. The only fee is the return shipping. However, they also offer free in-house programs, so I make sure we are finished with the trunks so the speaker can take the trunks back with him for free. They allow you to keep the trunks and traveling exhibits for three weeks, so I schedule the in-house program at the end of those three weeks. We are able to use multiple trunks, a traveling exhibit, and have an in-house program for free! It took a little bit of time to research, but it is well worth it! The trunk contents are actual items from that time period, so students are able to touch and feel history. The looks on their faces are priceless! We were able to create our own museum using the contents of the trunks and the traveling exhibit. Before we create our own museum, I use my no prep lesson about the Holocaust to provide students with background information they need, so when they do visit our museum and listen to guest speakers, they are able to make those connections.

social studies, Brainy Apples, document analysis

Also in one of the trunks was a CD with music from the time period of the Holocaust. The mood in my classroom while my students were listening was very somber. We know that music can evoke emotions that reading does not. My students were able to make an emotional connection that they had not made during our unit until they listened to the music.

Also, don’t count out other staff members in your school. One of my fellow teacher’s father served in the military during World War 2. He has several artifacts from his dad including his Purple Heart medal, the telegrams his parents received when he was thought to be missing/killed in action and then later found to be “slightly wounded in action”, money used in Nazi Germany, and even a Nazi soldier’s armband that he took off a dead Nazi soldier. A little gross, yes, but my students LOVED it!

social studies, Brainy Apples, document analysis

Another staff member visited Germany during the time of the Berlin Wall, and she was able to bring in an actual East German flag that flew in East Berlin (not quite sure how her mom was able to get it through Checkpoint Charlie) and a piece of the Berlin Wall. As my students were passing around these items, I could see the spark in their eyes and curiosity/interest growing.

In both of the above cases, I also gave my students print primary documents to examine. It was amazing the connections they were making and how engaged they were. I realized that print primary sources are important to use, but so are actual artifacts. Those artifacts are what help students make a connection with the past. Finding actual artifacts is not as easy because you can’t Google and print, but once you find museums that offer these types of services, it’s very easy to reserve for future years. I wrote a blog post about Holocaust resources and trainings that you can obtain for free. Many states have similar commissions/museums that provide very similar services (click {HERE} for Georgia's), and there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum that you should check out for your Holocaust and WW2 units. The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust will even help you schedule a Holocaust survivor to speak with your students. We did this last year and this year, and it is such an incredible opportunity for students to listen to a survivor's story. It's absolutely incredible.

How do you use primary sources?
Once I was able to locate primary sources, I needed to decide how I was going to use them in my classroom. I wanted to use them to enhance our units as well as provide my students with the opportunity to play detective and analyze these sources for new information and to deepen their understanding. I created a document analysis that I give to my students when they are using primary sources. I also created three posters that I hang in my classroom when using primary sources as a reference for my students.

The first document analysis poster walks students through the steps of what to do before reading, during reading, and after reading. My students use this often to keep them on track until they become proficient on their own. The second poster lists out the types of documents students might be given to analyze. It also helps students find their own primary sources when I give them a research project to complete. One of the requirements is that they have to include primary sources.  The third poster lists out unique characteristics of primary sources that students refer to when they are complete the document analysis sheet. Identifying unique characteristics helps students better identify the time period, purpose, bias, and other factors they must analyze.

The document analysis sheet helps students focus on the important aspects of the primary source, whether its print, video, or audio, and guides students to conclusions based on the primary source.

When I first started using primary sources, I knew I had to teach my students how to analyze. We worked through the gradual release model, moving from whole group with me modeling, to whole group with students modeling, to small group with students working together and sharing out, and finally to independently analyzing primary sources. Not all of my students are independent yet, though. Students who were ready to move on, I let move to independence. However, I still have several students who need to work in small groups and listen to other groups’ analysis. I model to my students how to use the steps on the poster I described above, and the poster matches the analysis sheet, so as we move step by step, students are able to complete the analysis sheet.

If you would like this FREE analysis sheet along with the three posters, click {HERE} or the image below (The posters are 8x10, but you can adjust your printer settings to print it out over multiple sheets to enlarge it).

social studies, Brainy Apples, primary source


Back to School Tips for Middle School

When I moved up to middle school from elementary school, I found that my back to school routine changed, too!



I wanted to share some tips that will help you begin to plan for going back to school in the middle grades. In my video I explain some of the areas I address when I begin back to school planning:


Here is a freebie checklist you can use when you begin prepping for back to school!
Middle School back to school tips



Tips for Transition from Elementary School to Middle School

I taught elementary school for 14 years. I knew exactly what I was doing (most of the time). But when I moved up to teaching middle school, I found myself struggling like a brand new teacher. Changing grade levels can really throw you off your teaching game.



Here are some tips that I wanted to share with anyone venturing from elementary school to middle school. I made this checklist so you can remind yourself of some of the important differences between elementary school and middle school to help you make a smooth transition. You can click {HERE} or the image below to download the tips page. (Shout out to Ta-Doodles Illustrations for the clipart and Kimberly Geswein for the fonts!)



I share some of my biggest learning curves in the video below:



Welcome!