A Personal Learning Network for Social Studies Educators Herff Jones/Nystrom
Herff Jones | Nystrom has a history over a century long of striving to provide educators with the best content, service and resources. We have discovered a group of Social Studies educators that shares our passion. They provide their expertise and resources through #sschat, an event that takes place each Monday night on Twitter when educators use tweets of up to 140 characters to discuss the pressing issues in Social Studies. These chats are growing in popularity and cover a variety of topics. In addition, many of these educators belong to www.sschat.ning.com , a website devoted to providing more resources.
We recently talked with key members of the #sschat crew to pick their brains on issues that have affected Social Studies throughout the past year and to get their insights on the future. They will be gathering for the first EdCamp Social Studies in 2012. Ron Peck, Becky Ellis, Shawn McCusker, Suzie Nesticos, Jamie Josephson, Heather Kilgallon and Rachel Labossiere weigh in on common core state standards, hands-on programs and more.
Common Core State Standards, Literacy and Social Studies
Research studies show that academic success depends on the ability to read and comprehend across all content areas. Comprehension depends on understanding words in context, the result of systematically developing content-based vocabulary through repeated exposure. Noted education researcher Dr. Robert Marzano found that 54.8% of vocabulary words students need in order to succeed come from Social Studies. Our products support the Common Core State Standards because they acknowledge the importance of Social Studies literacy at all grade levels.
“Common Core offers a unique opportunity for Social Studies. Or better yet, Social Studies offers a unique opportunity for Common Core to flourish. While many may not see it yet, Social Studies may very well be an inflection point for Common Core when more people realize that we can access more literacy skills through Social Studies. That content is much more meaningful and purposeful for students,” observed Suzie Nesticos, a teacher at Mount Carmel Area High School in Pennsylvania.
“For teachers who are connected through #sschat, we will be able to share lessons, common assessments and best practices that apply to the same standard. That is a definite win and shows how Social Studies chat can add value to our profession over time,” said Becky Ellis, instructional coach for the Ogden School District in Ogden, Utah.
While Social Studies provides students with more than half of the vocabulary words students need, Shawn McCusker, teacher at William Fremd High School in Palatine, IL, says that “Social Studies teaches a very different type of literacy than English classes. It is critical and comparative and constantly looking for bias and viewpoint. This is essential in a world dominated by news and media that are teeming with opinions.” Suzie Nesticos adds that “simply knowing how to read and write is not enough anymore as the world is becoming so advanced. We and our students need to better know how to read, write and comprehend and understand bias within a digital context as well.”
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) History Report Card
Earlier this summer the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) published the Nation’s Report Card on History. At all grades, the average U.S. history scores in 2010 were higher than the scores in 1994, and the score for eighth-graders was also higher than in 2006. While these results seem to be heading in the right direction, less than a quarter of students performed at or above the NAEP’s Proficient level. Our educators weigh in on the results and what they think can be done about it.
Suzie Nesticos was especially passionate about this subject. “Given so much focus on standardized testing, little curricular time has been devoted to Social Studies. While the scores aren’t something of which to be proud, they should not have been surprising to most people as [Social Studies] is no longer a curricular focus in many schools. This is precisely the area wherein Common Core can drive Social Studies back to the forefront. When recently ranked among higher-ed and college-level instructors, LA Core ranked higher on the importance scale. Further, they ranked Writing and Reading Informational Text (as opposed to Reading Literature, [a customary] English class) high as well. Using Social Studies–based content as the catalyst for reading and writing will keep school interesting for students.”
Ron Peck explains, “Social Studies is not one subject but many. It covers a vast amount of time and concepts that is impossible to assess in a standardized test. Additionally, much of what Social Studies does at the higher levels is to focus on critical thinking and literacy skills, not dates and names as most would think. Therefore, the way we assess Social Studies needs to change. Make students think critically about an issue and allow them to argue a point of view using evidence. That is a skill that they will take with them the rest of their lives. That is why Social Studies Matters!”
Shawn McCusker says, “ETS has already begun to work on this but the statistical validity of those NAEP tests are pretty iffy. There were so few questions that some students got correct that there was no way to understand what those students DID in fact know . . . [NAEP] should give students some resources to work with and questions that matter—they’ll prove what they DO know.”
Technology in the Classroom
Creating a 21st century classroom continues to be a focus of many districts and schools. Rachel Labossiere, a teacher in British Columbia, believes that technology in the classroom “provides a multitude of mediums for students to engage in learning, to learn, and to show what they have learned. It is empowering our students to take control of their own learning.” Her fellow educators agree.
“Technology is changing our world and how we live. As a result, education must move to mirror those changes and we as teachers must provide the level of technological training and exposure they will need in order to survive and thrive in our society. Students live with technology and it will continue to be a part of who they are and who they will become. Therefore, it must be integrated into everything we do in education. The failure to provide education in the technological world will be fail to our students,” says Ron Peck, a teacher at North Valley High School in Grants Pass, Oregon.
Shawn McCusker believes that “students today are used to being able to interact and do things, not just see them. Modern education needs to be an extension of the world that they live in and allow them to interact not only with each other but with the material we teach and the world we live in. What I love about modern edtech is that it tears down the walls between the world and the classroom. We are less limited in providing them with an authentic experience.”
As a teacher, Becky Ellis looks at it this way: “Technology helps us re-invent lessons that we may have used in the past. It also encourages us to make the connections that are more readily available to us via the Internet. It is what answers the question we as history teachers always hear—why do we have to learn this?”
For more information, download the Herff Jones | Nystrom whitepaper Technology in the Classroom. You can also learn how a curriculum supervisor is including StrataLogica in his 21st century classrooms.
Social Studies Chat (#SSCHAT)
The weekly #sschat stemmed off of another popular twitter chat called #edchat. It was started by Ron Peck and Greg Kulowiec in the summer of 2010 and after the first of the year of 2011, #sschat quickly began to grow in popularity.
Ron Peck explains, “In the summer of 2010 Greg Kulowiec and I had just finished participating in an #edchat and were discussing how, despite being good, it could be improved.” They decided it would be more beneficial if they created a subject specific chat for Social Studies teachers. So, the following Monday they conducted their first chat using the hashtag #sschat. Greg wrote about it on his blog.
During our first chat there were just a handful of people and keeping it going during the summer worked out but then school started. Keeping the chat going was difficult but after a few months Becky Ellis agreed to help out…soon followed by Shawn McCusker. It was decided at the new year that 2011 would be our breakout year. Looks like we were right. We kept promoting and bringing in great people to assist with different parts of the chat. We were able to build a Ning and our audience grew from just a few to over 375 members. This past summer we joined Edutopia and hope to build from there. Our goal as always has been to provide Social Studies teachers with resources and collaboration that will benefit them in their classrooms and ultimately benefit their students. The strength of #sschat is our community feel. We are here primarily to help teachers be better teachers. Simple but awesome!”
EdCamp Social Studies
EdCamp Social Studies is an “unconference” sponsored by similar events being organized around the country. The goal is to bring together educators to discuss Social Studies instruction that works. It’s a day for educators by educators with sessions put on by attendees.
Here is what the organizers have to say:
“Our EdCampSS will be like no other. It is the first subject-specific EdCamp and we are developing it to be bigger and better for Social Studies teachers. The first big difference is that we will have a keynote speaker in Kenneth C. Davis. Additionally, we will have events planned for Friday evening before the EdCamp and on Sunday after the EdCamp in order to make it a full weekend experience.”—Ron Peck
“As in the same way that #sschat has broken a few molds, so too, will EdCampSS. As there has been much praise for the EdCamp model, there has likewise been some criticism. I’ve read arguments offering the notion that this model of professional development offers a lot of ‘sizzle’ with little ‘meat’. I wholeheartedly believe that EdCampSS will offer both elements and I’ve taken on the personal challenge of spending the year in my classroom documenting my own Action Research to back what I want to share with colleagues.”—Suzie Nesticos
“I truly believe that this EdCamp will be something that Social Studies teachers from around the country will not want to miss. This will be an unbelievable event of learning, collaboration, enthusiasm . . . Social Studies will come alive.”—Heather Kilgallon
“An event like EdCamp shows the power of teachers both individually and collectively. It is reflective of teachers identifying their own needs and working to fulfill their professional development, and furthermore is a sign of our commitment to our students.”—Rachel Labossiere
To learn more about EdCampSS, visit www.edcampss.org. Find out why, as Shawn McCusker says, “it will be epic!”
Herff Jones | Nystrom is proud to support the dedicated educators of #sschat and EdCamp Social Studies. We encourage other educators to participate in the Monday night chats in order to build their own personal learning networks. We participate in the chats from our Herff Jones | Nystrom and StrataLogica Twitter accounts.