The State Pizza

 

Each year students across the United States learn about their states, and the governments that are responsible for managing the laws and safety of their people. Our governing bodies which in almost all states are  bicameral, except one. ( Whats up Nebraska?)  Most of us study government around the first of the year. Many legislatures convene then and are in session just after. This year because of scheduling, we didn’t tackle state government until the end of this year. So, this week I want to share a lesson that I originally snagged from the Washington State Legislature on the process of creating a Bill.  It is called  The Perfect Pizza, and is a wonderful way for students to experience major concepts of government. I pick up the lesson after having gone through the system of checks and balances and discussed creation of Bills and passage into law(School House Rock remains the  BEST way to teach this to students.)

This is how I would teach it:

Today we are going to explore the process for creating a Bill in our state.

Turn and talk to a partner about how you think a Bill becomes a law.

Ok great. Now grab a sticky note and write down one thing involved with Bills becoming a law.

While they do that I write the following on the board:

  • The People
  • Legislator
  • Senate
  • House
  • Debate
  • Negotiation
  • Compromise

Okay. Now place your stickies under the word you feel like it most relates to.

Based on what you have taught this far responses could be:

  • written by a citizen
  • introduced by senator/house member
  • sent to committee
  • never leaves committee
  • amendments are added
  • governor signs
  • governor vetoes
  • debate happens
  • Bill is read
  • Bill is debated
  • Bill is changed

etc…etc…

I then will help students remember the steps by posting them. Fortunately most state legislatures actually post these steps, or even provide graphics.

This is pretty representative of most state’s law making process.

After the review I place the students in small groups. At first they are going to simulate working on writing a law. They have been submitted a basic idea (by many different citizen groups) for a state pizza.   They will work in the group to create a single bill and will have criteria to do so.

Each group gets a summary card with a run down on all the requests from citizens for a state pizza.

a sample card could say:

ingredients requested:

Walla- Walla Onions, Salmon, Lavender oil, apples, strawberries, Geoduck, sausage, 

Crust type:

Thick, thin, hand tossed, gluten-free, whole wheat

Sliced in:

43 slices, 49 slices. In squares, in triangles.

Students are then given one of these handouts.

They are then tasked with, as a group, creating a law that best represents the wishes of the citizens.

In this process your students will argue and debate. I circulate and let them go for a while. Most groups have some trouble getting started and I ask:

Q: When we are in groups, what helps us stay organized and have good conversations?

A: We usually decide group roles including a facilitator.

Me: Exactly!

I let them arrange roles. I suggest they get a recorder, and a reader and they fall into their roles.  The handout provides a template bill that describes the pizza and mimics the language of a Bill.

The kids engage in the civic practices of:

  • discussing and debating ideas that apply to larger groups
  • considering other opinions other than yours
  • Tackling the idea of creating rules or laws that will affect many, even those that do not agree with it.

Take look at this student example

Students also have to come up with a statement with three supporting reasons to share with a mock legislature meeting. 

I have kids create posters to represent their proposed bill. I then let them present to the whole class. From here you can do many things:

  • Allow Bills to be amended.
  • Turn kids loose to try to get together and develop compromises with other groups to create pass their bills.
  • Create blocks to prevent passage of some pizzas.

But I would keep it simple: let the kids do a silent vote on the best pizza. It keeps from the real nastiness of politics being played out in the classroom. Not that you don’t want to teach them that as well, but that’s for another lesson!

This process is not so much mimicking the  exact progress of Bill to law. I am really looking for students just to appreciate the difficult task of being both a citizen and an elected official. It provides a lot of opportunity for discussion and reflection on the overall process. I didn’t even get into the veto process, which in our state, includes line items. But you can adapt it to a host of teaching points.

Happy Teaching!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Some teachers hate teaching Social Studies or why I flunked Math (part 1)

This post is half rant half research article review. This week I set the stage with an epiphany about why some teachers love teaching social studies, while others do not. Next week, will be more serious research and less punk rock.

Image result for sex pistols

Atlantic Journal

I write this blog because I feel like I am a good teacher. I actually feel I am a damn fine teacher, but I’m pretty sure I should keep that to myself. People find overconfidence annoying.

Other things that annoy teachers are things they don’t understand but are expected to teach, or worse yet, maybe they are things they HATE from their personal life that they are forced to, or simply decide not to teach.

I am always cognizant of one of my first experience observing a teacher for my undergrad. Our job was to go in and see the methodologies the teacher employed to teach in our core areas of focus, mine being social studies.

Mrs Petuna told me straight up she didn’t like teaching social studies. She talked about how she did it, but more or less begruguingly. She liked math and science. She also was very good at both.

I was amazed at the ease and dexterity she could employ while instructing her students in both. Her love of the subject and depth of content knowledge allowed her to easily extend the learning of some kids, while supporting others who were struggling. The question I had, was, how could someone so smart and talented not be interested in a subject that is clearly so essential to our students learning? How was she not moved by the stories, the objects, the places, the wars, the struggles for freedom,and the facinating cultures that roam our planet? How could a smart person not like something I ( a futurte damn fine teacher) liked? Simple: she just dosen’t like it.  Or that was how she felt.

It has taken a long time but I think I finally get it. In the past, I myself hated math. I had two math teachers in high school. Neither was as attractive or fun to talk to as the red head who sat behind me. They almost never talked about the Sex Pistols, or how much a jerk Regan was. They were always correcting my behavior and giving me bad grades. I hated math!

Now I don’t know who was Mr. Grant for Mrs. Petuna but I am guessing there was a pretty good reason why her Mrs Nesbit instilled in her, at best an ambivelance for history and social studies, or her own preferences got in the way with her connecting with the subject matter. (See redhead above)

The point is there are many reasons that people don’t connect with a certain subject, grade, or level of education. I have been trying to understand from a research perspective why teachers either don’t like teaching social studies, or what gets in the way of us teaching it well. I will happily say that what I am seeing is that many of the reasons are not maliscious, but sometimes really good people do stupid things. (myself included!)

So next week we will look a little deeper into why people don’t like, feel frightened, or just overwhelmed by how to teach social studies.

Happy Teaching!

What would Lucy Calkins do?

An example anchor chart from our friends in Portland

Are you one of those teachers who asks yourself WWLCD? (What would Lucy Calkins do?) Or are you one of those teachers who feels if Lucy said run out of a burning building, you would run back in? Or are you just afraid she is somewhere in her cloud fortress, knitting, drinking tea, and looking down omnipitantly , silently judging you?

Yeah, me too.

Many of my  co-workers  got to be whisked off  to the Big Apple to get the training right from Mecca. They returned enlightended, inspired, and with a bright new outlook on writing.

By the time I showed up at our school, they figured out this was way too expensive. They hired consultants and forced us to stay two weeks after school ended to learn the curriculum. As a side note this is the worst approach a school can take. It was the end of the year. People had no nerves left. They were raw, and cagey. It was a little bit like uping the torture on a prisioner of war. We sat motionless, taking our training in dutifully, and wondered if all of this was real?

Eventually we were released and as fall came, it was true: we would be teaching like Lucy would do….

And its been good. I had been out of teaching since the mid 2000s.  I started working in fourth grade; a younger age than I was used to. There was so much to learn. I had been teaching middle school, and the developmental differences are deceptively huge . Lucy gave me the tools to talk about writing. I got time limits on what I could say.  I got scripted teaching points, and mentor texts picked out for me. Best of all I could make, (or my school could buy from the massive LC merch machine) nifty gospels called Anchor Charts that summed up what good writers/readers do.

But,  I have more than once been in fear that I have strayed from the path. That I have imposed an idea about a subject and basicaly told my kids what and how to write.  Lucy sayeth:

In a writing workshop, a lot of actual writing happens in the classroom and right then and there, teachers give feedback and kids give each other feedback, too. Revision often begins before a draft is completed. There’s more of an emphasis on teaching in the midst of writing. (Calkins 2016)

I feel I have been doing this for sure.  My kids write after the mini lesson. They sign up on a parking lot. They come see me. I ask what their questions areor concerns are. I take that moment to do some teaching/suggesting.

But sometimes, when deadlines are approaching., when the most appauling thing a child can find about Japaenese Incarceration was “they had to share bathrooms with other famalies,” I lose it a little.

I write all over their papers. I highlight parts of their research for them and ask them to read it aloud, and then explain it for me. I give them sentence starters like” Harvey Milk’s agenda included…” I take them back to their original research even when the due date is tomorrow and find out when and why the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed . 

I have them look at passages and write the main ideas, causes and effects, then ask them to explain it back, often leading them to a point or idea. I think I have done what Lucy wouldn’t do. I worry that the gods on Mount Columbia College may be vengeful!

Mary Ehrenworth, Deputy D of TCPWP , hath  warned not to turn to a path where:

“kids are supposed to be compliant writers, and all they’re doing is flipping through the pages of a text looking for evidence of the teacher’s idea.”

So I worry I have sinned. That I have strayed into old ways of just correcting and not teaching. I see posts like this and run for the shadows in shame!

But  besides craft, sometimes I need kids to learn to learn about what they are writing. I need to teach them about people, places, and events. I need to put in their hands the things that will help them learn indisputable facts, and tell them  GOOD WRITERS WOULD INCLUDE THIS IN THEIR PAPER!

The kid who was missing  the horrors of the incarceration of Japanese Americans figured out on his own that he needed to talk about the bombing of Pearl Harbor first. He also knew he had to talk about American misconceptions about Japanese Americans and Order 9066.

But what his writing lacked was the evidence. He knew the bombing was bad, but he didn’t know he needed to site numbers of ships sunk and deaths associated with the fifteen minute attack.  He listed a few facts about the  conditions in Japanese Icarseration camps, but had to learn that he needed to support it with fining out there were 120,000 people wrongly imprisoned.

I taught him about Fred Karimatsu, discussed seeing his daughter speak and hearing her story about finding out from a textbook in middle school that her father had defied 9066 and taken it to the Supreme Court. I found a bio on his foundation’s website and walked my student through some of the harder bits to tweak out the importance of Fred as a Civil Rights hero.

So, I am left wondering ” Am I not letting my kids grow as writers? Am I screwing up my ten minute mini lessons? Are my metor texts not mentoring enough?”

I may never know the answer to these questions but now Max knows who Fred Karimatzu is.

 

 

 

 

 

Stealing is the best form of teaching

education-a-good-idea-an-array-of-school-40382.jpeg

Teachers steal. We are unapologetic thieves. We are so hungry for the very best things for our students, that we will unabashedly take others ideas, use them, twist them, break them into pieces and parts, and USE USE USE them!

No idea, worksheet, or neumonic is safe. But the good news is there is honor amoung our guild of bandits. We all admitt it and thank our lucky stars that  resources are things we should all share. Most teachers fall over themselves to help others. There is a reason why your average teacher has three hundred free tote bags: because they need everyone of them to stuff with good ideas from other people!

So, recently, when it was time to teach conclusion paragraphs, I did what all good teachers do: I Googled it! At this time we are using Lucy Calkins Writer’s Workshop,  but I just wasn’t feelin’ the current lesson on it, so I did a search and found this wonderful post on the topic,.

I was looking for one of those great anchor charts that would let me bang out the instruction with the kids in ten minutes (per Lucy) and I had many choices. But  I was so happy when I found Two Writting Teachers. This blog has a special mission:

Two Writing Teachers is a cooperative blog that unites a community of teachers through the practice of writing while inspiring and guiding the teaching of a writing workshop approach. It is our hope teachers will create and lead robust writing workshops, which will aid in the development of engaged and literate citizens. 

I got giddy just reading this. Long story short, they provided a perfect post on constructing conclusions for the unit of study I was in. They provided this great anchor:

anchor

So after finding this great resource, all I to do was tweak it a bit.

I left out the chapter preview bit as it didn’t fit our current assignmnet.

Here’s how I would teach it:

“Today I am going to let you see how good writers create conclusion paragraphs”

First they read my example. We are writing about  civil rights in a historical context, so I start with an example that is familiar and part of our mentor texts:

Introduction Paragraph

The story of Rosa Parks is familiar. Rosa became a hero for what seems like a very small action but at the time was a huge risk for an African American person: deciding to refuse giving up her seat to a white person. She took a stand,was sent to jail, and became an inspiration for many people in the civil rights movement.

Now read my conclusion paragraph:

Conclusion.

Rosa Parks was a Civil Rights hero. She took actions that were not easy or always safe for African Americans at this time. She took action that then got her arrested, but she became famous and an inspiration. I have to wonder, if I were her, if I could have been so brave? If that were you, would you be able to stand up to a white person during segregation? I am glad Rosa showed us that one person could make a difference!

I let students answer these questions

How is the conclusion like the introduction? List two specific ways:
Circle a sentence in the introduction and in the conclusion  that say the same thing,  but in a different way.
What was different about the paragraphs? List two examples.

After that I have kids pair up and and complete this activity in like two minutes:

A good way to make a conclusion effective is to connect it to today.

With a partner, write a sentence that would do that for this topic.

Possible example

Movements likie Black Lives matter could have never happened without the brave actions of people like Rosa Parks.

I then review answers, and restate the anchor chart points and release them to compse.  Lucy would say I was wasting time by having them pair and answer and reviewing and she may be right. I’ll bank on letting my kids have time to process and think before  I have them finish the process.

And here is the handout.

Have fun teaching!

 

 

 

The New Blog

pexels-photo-301926.jpegWhen I started teaching I was lucky enough to be at a school where we created and adapted our own curriculum and lesson plans. We based our instruction on thematic units, and from these we built in core content to work with whatever we were teaching. I often taught social studies ( I was certified to teach all subjects at the time. A wacky very weak system cooked up by the Florida DOE) or language arts so I was often teaching content literacy.  But often I struggled with “How am I going to teach this?”

The time was early 2000. Blogs,Teacher Pay Teachers, Pinterest and all those goodies were yet to emerge, so often I was looking in actual books, or sifting through what was available online for the perfect way to share content, engage kids, and meet standards.

I still look on the interwebs for good ideas, but often they are monetized and are usually teasers. How many times have you signed up for something to get the free trial, only to forget you did, and now you are stuck with a monthly bill to Teacher Spot or Lesson Hole, and in the end whatever you pulled down tanked with your students anyway?

So I am going to try and write a blog. I will do my best to share links and content that are free, or when you do have to pay, at least tell you a bit about what you are getting into before you do it. Warning: I teach upper elementary through middle. I focus on language arts and social studies, BUT I also dabble in math and science. It would be great when I am 40 posts in to have guests in other areas contribute, but I just want to be clear that you will get a lot of teaching history, and language but in the end let’s hope formats can cross subject lines.

So I will write posts about (insert topic,standard, content piece) and then tell you how I would teach it. I won’t list standards or connect 21st century butter churning benchmarks, or write objectives, or essential questions or DBQs. At least not on purpose. I don’t want to teach you how to please whatever boss, government, or grade level you are in. I just want to show you what I think is authentic, helps kids learn to think, and share stuff that makes our world a better place.

So if you read any of this and like it. If you want to share some of your knowledge, resources, or want a 5 x 7 glossy of me that I use for local theater productions, just drop me a line.

Happy Teaching!