Early Learners Can Think Critically Too

Hello! I’m Valerie Badica, Operational Support at Thinking Nation. I was excited to take over this week’s blog to be able to share a bit about myself and experience in the education field. Although I have a few years of experience in the role of operations, before this, I was a preschool teacher for six years and received my Masters in Educational Psychology with an emphasis in Early Childhood Development. During my teaching career, I had the privilege of working at a preschool that supported children with their intrinsic motivation to explore, learn, and think critically. This really shaped the way I viewed teaching and helped me to understand that all children are curious about the world around them and inherently want to learn and create. 

I think it’s safe to say that we all learn better when we’re engaged in activities we’re already interested in, right? The same goes for children! That’s because learning seems interesting when we can relate to it. This thought is already found in research as one approach for successful ways to integrate social studies into elementary classrooms– by making content relevant to student’s lives as stated in 2023 CCSSO Guidelines: “Effective Social Studies Integration in Elementary Classrooms.” (Check out our past blog post for more research around elementary social studies).

One of the things I found most rewarding in working with young children was building close relationships with them but most importantly, knowing that I was helping them add social and learning skills to their toolbelt that are required of them by the time they get to elementary school. An example of what these relevant teaching opportunities looked like was when I would help children through conflict resolution if they were fighting over a toy. I never resolved the situation for them by telling them what they needed to do but rather, act as a narrator and state what I noticed and then helped facilitate a solution that was agreed upon by all children involved. This might sound like me simply stating, “It looks like you both want to ride the bike right now but we only have one bike, I wonder what we can do about that?” This helped students think critically and start a conversation about coming to a resolution while learning about perspective and empathy.

Another favorite memory of mine was watching children engage in pretend play. This happened every day at preschool but I especially remember a time where children built an ice cream shop using big wood blocks and later took on different roles such as customer, cashier and even traffic officer. So much learning is happening during this play time; children are engaged physically, socially, cognitively and developing turn-taking, negotiation skills, authority and so much more. Children can relate to this because they are clearly imitating what they see in the social world and by allowing these types of learning experiences to happen in the early years of a child’s life, we allow their curious minds to think critically and continue being curious and harness their love for learning later in life as they move on to grade school and on.

Thinking Nation’s Disciplinary Thinking Skills

Similarly, Thinking Nation’s mission to cultivate critical thinkers goes hand-in-hand with the skills taught as early as preschool age to become thoughtful leaders in society. In fact, one of the reasons why I enjoy working for an organization like Thinking Nation is because I noticed that the disciplinary skills used to empower students and feel confident in their thinking, are similar skills I taught early learners and complement each other.

I’d like to leave you with some good news! Thinking Nation is working to develop a curriculum for young learners in the near future and I’m excited to be a part of something that helps students’ ideas feel important and think critically so that they have a voice wherever they go, at any age.

The National Charter Schools Conference – In BOSTON

Last week, Thinking Nation (Spenser, Liz, and I) flew out to Boston for the annual National Charter Schools Conference. As we’ve noted, this is the 2nd year that we partnered with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools to do a themed student art contest and history exhibit for the conference. Naturally, since the conference took place right up until Independence Day in the city many see as the seed of the Revolution, our theme was easy! Below are some pictures of the little exhibit that attendees were able to take in. 

Overall, the conference was so exciting! The exhibit hall was bustling and we had so many great conversations with such passionate educators. The organizers of the conference, in particular Angela Christophe and Patricia Guidetti, truly put on such a wonderful event. We feel so fortunate to play a small, but personally special, part in it.

While at the conference it was great to meet or see again in person so many leaders in California Charter Schools, where we got our start, and in the civics space. Embodied relationships are so refreshing in the virtual world we often live in. 

The team at our booth!

Of course, what would a conference in Boston be like for Thinking Nation if we didn’t incorporate some mini history field trips? The three of us walked the Freedom Trail, which was really a surreal experience given it being the week of Independence Day. Some highlights for me personally, as it’s been a decade since I’ve been in Boston: 

Spenser standing on the site of the Boston Massacre.

1. Visiting the graves of the victims of the Boston Massacre – I don’t take lightly that Crispus Attucks has a named grave in a colonial Boston cemetery. Boston did not outlaw slavery until 1783, 13 years before Attucks, a African-Indigenous man was killed in front of the Old State House and memorialized in the Granary Burial Ground alongside the other four victims. In the spirit of this note, John Wheatley, who enslaved America’s first Black Author, Phillis Wheatley, is also buried there.

Faneuil Hall

2. Visiting Tremont Temple and Faneuil Hall. While these two sites hold great historical importance, those of you who know me know that I spent a year of my scholarly life with the writings of Frederick Douglass, so re-thinking these sites knowing he, too, visited and spoke at them, was especially exciting.

3. Having dinner at America’s oldest restaurant, Ye Old Union Oyster House. Not only did we eat right next to the “Kennedy Booth,” where JFK ate, but while there, I learned that before it was a restaurant (pre-1826), French King Louis Philippe I taught French to Bostonians there! How cool is that?

4. Seeing the beautiful mosaic representing the site of our nation’s first public school. After all, quality public education is why we were in the city!

The site of the first public school in the U.S.!
Hey Wally!

5. Attending a reception at Fenway. Fenway is one of those Baseball stadiums that borders a spiritual experience so any excuse to be alongside the green monster, and as the picture shows, Wally the Green Monster, is a good one.

Boston, you are a great city. It was a great National Charter Schools Conference!

Happy (Fiscal) New Year!

Happy (Fiscal) New Year! I am Spenser Mix, COO of Thinking Nation. We have grown significantly this past year in many ways. I am taking this moment to reflect on some of our larger accomplishments, none of which would be possible without our dedicated staff. Not only has our team grown in size, but through our shared efforts we have also grown closer.

Sample AI Feedback

AI IS HERE!!! The team pulled together and revolutionized our platform in ways previously thought unimaginable. AI has allowed us to offer our services instantly and with more fidelity. In 2020, when earning my MBA, I spoke with an engineer from Amazon about an idea to automate essay grading through AI. I was told AI should not be used in this capacity because (in their limited opinion) it eliminates the human aspect of education. Four short years later, here we are integrating that original idea. Today we understand that AI has the potential to enhance the human experience for teachers instead of depleting it. These tools are in place to lighten teachers’ workload, not eliminate them. As a former teacher, I understand how grading papers on the weekend drained me as a professional and made me a less effective teacher during the week. Thinking Nation embraces these tools so teachers everywhere can be their best selves in the classroom and spend more time living their teaching passions. This is only the beginning of our AI capabilities. Many more projects are soon underway!

Another large accomplishment for us last year was the company rebrand. After many attempts to curate the perfect depiction of Thinking Nation, the leadership team unanimously adopted this new design. The colors are engaging but not abrasive. The logo is simple yet impactful. What do you see first when looking at our logo? Do you only notice the two comment bubbles forming a “T”? Or does your artistic eye notice the “N” formed through the negative space between the two bubbles? The logo is meant to represent the ongoing civil discourse that is necessary to have an informed and active citizenry. A continued dialogue where opposing views can debate for the betterment of democracy. Needless to say, we love our new logo and its embodiment of our nonprofit mission, to cultivate thinking citizens. 

As a side project to this rebrand, we commissioned the creation of historical thinking icons. These icons are basic, yet thought-provoking. Just like the rest of our rebrand, this careful balance of meaning and impact is perfectly executed through these icons. They are quickly becoming a central part of our curriculum and soon to become iconic in their own right. This year we plan to incorporate these icons into student portfolios providing a visually pleasing and effective way for teachers to demonstrate student mastery of historical thinking skills. AI will become central to the creation and implementation of these portfolios. 

The achievements of 2023 are quickly becoming the foundations for 2024’s goals. The best is yet to come!

The Reagan Institute Summit on Education 2024

What can we collectively do to empower every learner? Dozens of government officials, education leaders, and teachers convened at the Ronald Reagan Institute in Washington, D.C. to think about the best way to answer that question. This past May 23nd marked the 7th annual Reagan Institute Summit on Education, RISE

Zach and Liz at RISE 2024
Zach and Liz at the Reagan Institute Summit on Education

The sheer location of the Reagan Institute, with the White House in sight, presents a sort of urgency to the event. In my job at Thinking Nation, I live in this state of urgency to pursue a better education for our students. Our organization seeks to shift the paradigm of social studies education by equipping teachers to empower their students in disciplinary thinking. We know that when students engage with the past they study, rather than merely remember it, they are empowered to flourish in both civic and economic life. I was anxious to hear how others’ areas of focus overlapped with ours. 

Many of the panels throughout the summit offered provoking ideas and plans of action. However, it was the first panel that I believe set the tone for needed conversations on how we can empower students. Three state leaders in education discussed accountability in schools as they answered the question “Have we reached the low watermark for accountability in schools?” Virginian State Secretary of Education, Aimee Guidera, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools, Carrie Wright, and North Dakota State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kirsten Baesler each offered their state’s approach to cementing high standards and corresponding accountability in their schools.

Wright previously served in this role for the state of Mississippi. During her tenure, the state exponentially increased reading scores as evidenced by 4th graders in the state going from 50th to 21st in the nation on the NAEP reading scores. Now in her home state of Maryland, she offered up key aspects of that success. Data was at the core of it. 

Data has to drive instruction, and teachers need to know how to leverage the data effectively. If they don’t? “Build professional learning,” she noted. Building teacher capacity is critical to empowering students. This clear connection between accountability standards, corresponding data to measure those standards, and teacher capacity to use that data, was echoed by the other two leaders as well.

Guidera acknowledged that we, as the adults, need to hold ourselves accountable to helping students meet high expectations. In fact, Baesler took it further, stating, “There is education malpractice if we don’t believe our students can achieve high expectations.” But, as all three noted, with No Child Left Behind, the high standards were not coupled with building teacher capacity. This key component, professional learning for teachers, is key to the success of an accountability model embodied by high expectations. 

Thinking Nation prioritizes data at the center of all that we do with schools. In fact, we’ve leveraged generative AI to make that data instant and easily digestible by teachers in order to facilitate student growth effectively without overburdening teachers. Discernable data can better equip teachers, align whole departments, increase interdisciplinary collaboration, and most importantly, lead to empowered students. 

To be transparent, as a former middle school history teacher, I questioned the need for data in the classroom. I felt that it just encouraged teachers to teach to a test and weakened the art of teaching. But I was missing the bigger picture. 

Without data, I didn’t have a common language of success to use with my colleagues. As a department head, I struggled to break down the silos of our classroom walls. Collaboration without a shared focus and a way to measure that focus was always well intentioned but difficult to implement. Data has changed that. 

The shared focus exists by rooting social studies in the discipline, rather than the myriad contents contained within. Then, teachers can have a common language to measure success. They can engage in high level conversations about student success by leveraging resulting data from assessments on disciplinary thinking. When built into the accountability models of schools, we’ve found this to be transformative. It gives meaning to the classroom for students and empowers them as thinkers ready to shape the future. 

As the state leaders on the panel noted, we need high expectations in our schools. But building teacher capacity to help students meet those expectations is critical. In many ways, we’ve failed our teachers. We’ve continued to burden them with demands without giving them the tools to meet those demands. I hope that as other leaders and policy makers at RISE reflected on those insights, we can collectively work to enact real and systemic change to give teachers what they need to empower our students. Those students, our communities, and our country deserve it.

Summer Reads for the History Teacher

Grades submitted ✔

Classroom packed✔

End-of-Year Checklist turned in ✔

Now what?

If you are like me, you are hoping to find that elusive balance of relaxation and professional development. After a busy year in the classroom, I always look forward to these weeks to recharge and revitalize some parts of the curriculum that didn’t quite hit the mark last year. 

Both Thinking Nation’s Executive Director, Zach Coté, and I completed our MA in American History through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (HIGHLY RECOMMEND!). Deepening our content knowledge had a massive impact on our ability to create engaging learning experiences and ignite our students’ curiosity toward studying the past. 

That’s why the Thinking Nation Team put together a curated list of our top recommendations for your summer professional development. Use this list to find some reads to get you inspired to take your teaching to the next level!


  • Keeping the Wonder: An Educator’s Guide to Magical, Engaging, and Joyful Learning by Jenna Copper, Ashley Bible, Abby Gross, and Staci Lamb
  • Reading Like a Historian: Teaching Literacy in Middle and High School History Classrooms by Samuel Wineburg
  • We Got This: Equity, Access and the Quest to be Who Our Students Need Us to Be by Cornelius Minor
  • Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12 by Bruce Lesh


  • On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed
  • Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II by Liza Mundy
  • The World: A Family History of Humanity by Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski
  • The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer
  • The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

Historical Fiction

  • We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
  • This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  • The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Four Winds by Kristen Hannah

We hope you find this list of recommendations as valuable as we have. Summer is the perfect time to invest in yourself and your teaching practice. By diving into these impactful books, you’ll not only deepen your own understanding but also bring fresh, engaging content into your classroom next year.

Take this time to relax, recharge, and get reinspired to enter your classroom with newfound knowledge, diverse perspectives, and enthusiasm for studying the past. 

Happy reading and enjoy your well-deserved break!


*For more book recommendations, join me on Instagram and Goodreads where I host The American History Teacher Book Club.

Integrating AI into Thinking Nation: The Journey and Story Behind Our Innovation

Since December, Thinking Nation has embarked on an exciting journey of integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) into our platform for grading essays. This initiative represents a significant step forward in our mission to transform social studies education by providing detailed, instant feedback to students. For more on AI’s role in the mission, check out this EdSurge Podcast with our executive director. This week, we delve into the story behind the process of developing, implementing, and refining our AI integration.

Developing, Training, and Integrating Our AI System

The journey began with the intricate task of building the AI algorithm. Our team of engineers and data scientists worked tirelessly to develop a robust infrastructure capable of assessing complex writing tasks. This involved extensive coding and system design to ensure the AI could accurately evaluate essays based on our rubric standards.

Training the AI with past data was a critical phase in the process. We fed the system thousands of previously graded essays, allowing it to learn from a wide spectrum of writing styles and proficiency levels. This training enabled the AI to recognize various writing patterns and understand and apply the rubrics and argumentation criteria.

Once the AI was adequately trained, we moved on to rigorous testing. This phase involved running numerous simulations to evaluate the AI’s performance and accuracy. We made iterative adjustments based on the results, fine-tuning the algorithm to enhance its reliability. This extensive testing was essential to ensure that the feedback provided by the AI was both precise and meaningful.

After the AI demonstrated consistent and accurate performance, we integrated it into our platform through an API. This integration was designed to be seamless, allowing the AI to interact efficiently with our existing systems. The API ensures that once a student submits their essay, the AI can instantly grade it and provide detailed feedback within seconds.

Even after integration, the work didn’t stop. Continuous fine-tuning is essential to maintain and improve the AI’s performance. Our human graders play a crucial role in this process. They review the AI’s feedback to ensure it aligns with our rubric standards and to identify any potential biases and inaccuracies. This ongoing moderation helps refine the algorithm, ensuring that the AI’s assessments remain accurate and unbiased over time.

Survey Results and Case Study Insights

To evaluate the effectiveness of our AI integration, we conducted surveys and case studies. The results highlighted several key benefits of our AI-powered feedback system:

  1. Understanding the Rubric: 68% of students reported a better understanding of the rubric due to the detailed feedback provided by AI.
  2. Enhancement of Literacy Skills: 70% of students observed significant improvements in their writing skills, attributing this growth to the precise and actionable feedback from AI.
  3. Accuracy of Feedback: AI grading proved to be 77% more accurate than human grading. This increased accuracy is largely due to the elimination of human biases and the consistent application of standardized rubrics across all essays, leading to fairer and more objective assessments.
  4. Comprehensive Feedback: The detailed feedback provided by AI, allows for longer explanations and deeper analyses. This demonstrates promise for enhancing students’ understanding of assignments, offering clearer insights into strengths and areas for improvement.

These findings underscore the transformative impact of integrating AI on student learning and teacher effectiveness (full report here). The instant and detailed feedback provided by AI empowers students to reflect on and improve their writing skills in real-time. This not only enhances their understanding of historical thinking but also boosts their overall academic performance. After all, we want to ensure that we use AI for human flourishing.

As we continue to improve our AI system, we look forward to sharing more updates on this exciting journey and the positive impact it will have on social studies education.

Welcoming our Summer Intern, Elena Quiroz

[Note from Zach: Elena joins us as an intern for the next 8 weeks and we are really excited! I asked her to take over this week’s blog and newsletter to share more about herself, her internship , and her goals. Enjoy!]

My name is Elena, and I’m currently a rising junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was born in New York but moved to Peru when I was five and lived there my whole life until I moved back to the US for college. Growing up in Peru, I was able to see the political and social divide and instability, which motivated me to study Political Science and History. 

I’m currently living in Washington DC and staying here for most of the summer as a part of the Academy for Civic Education and Democracy (ACED) program at the Ronald Reagan Institute. The program focuses on creating the next generation of civic leaders, something which resonates with my passion for civic engagement. The program includes incredible opportunities to network with peers, listen to speakers, and visit organizations all around DC. Alongside this program, I’m thrilled to be interning at Thinking Nation. Coming from Lima, Peru, my journey to this point has been heavily shaped by witnessing firsthand educational disparities and societal divisions and seeing how these can limit opportunities for people across the country. Growing up, it was clear how unequal access to quality education impeded the ability of many to become engaged and involved citizens. My background is the main reason why I am enthusiastic about involving myself in initiatives that create fair learning opportunities for everyone. Thinking Nation’s mission to create critical thinkers aligns perfectly with my strong belief that education can empower individuals and create a powerful impact on society. 

During my internship, I will primarily focus on one of my main projects involving creating comprehensive unit overviews and ensuring Thinking Nation’s resources meet educational standards. This hands-on experience will help me sharpen my research and analytical skills, and help deepen my understanding of curriculum development. 

Choosing to join Thinking Nation was an easy decision for me. The organization’s commitment to empowering students to become thoughtful and active thinkers and citizens aligned perfectly with my values. During my internship, I hope to gain practical experience and tools to address the challenges in education. I’m incredibly excited to make an impact on students’ lives. Whether it’s refining curriculum materials or advocating for educational equity, I am really driven by the idea of helping students reach their full potential. I believe my upbringing in Peru has made me appreciate diversity and the power of education more and I’m excited to talk with colleagues who share the same dedication about creating a social impact. Through this experience, I am eager to learn and contribute to meaningful projects. 

Looking ahead, I see this experience with Thinking Nation and through the Academy for Civic Education and Democracy as a crucial step in both my personal and professional growth. Being able to be involved in projects that have an impact on the real world is something that will help me deepen my understanding of civic engagement and social unity. As I start my journey with Thinking Nation, I am filled with excitement and optimism to learn, grow, and be able to contribute to a mission that aligns with what I’m passionate about.

AI for Human Flourishing

Last week, I read The Atlantic article, “The Big AI Risk Not Enough People Are Seeing: Beware Technology That Makes Us Less Human” by Tyler Austin Harper. His primary case, that AI must be used for human flourishing, is one that I have often made in AI circles the last year. Harper has recently been one of my favorite journalists to read. His cultural commentary consistently verbalizes things I’ve been thinking about in ways I couldn’t have done so effectively. I’m thankful to the Atlantic for prioritizing his writing regularly. 

I want to take today’s post to dissect his claims a bit and also elaborate on how we take those claims seriously at Thinking Nation internally, as well as how we uphold the vision behind those claims in our collaborative work in the civics space. Generative AI has upended life as we know it, and it will only continue to do so. Not all upending is bad, though, so we must take into account how we use it in order to promote human flourishing. What we can’t do, as Harper so helpfully describes, is let it use us to detract from human flourishing.

Harper explores a space that we in the civics and history education space are perhaps not that up to speed in: online dating (disclaimer: I met my wife in HS, so have not had to navigate this space). In a growing “innovation” in that space, AI-run algorithms can weed out all the likely wasted first dates so that you can have the highest chance of relational success from the get go with the person you swiped right for. At its core, it’s a way to make the dating process much more efficient, but Harper points out the dehumanizing qualities that should really be the focus.

Harper marks the 20th century as one empowered by the onslaught of “disabling professions.” These professions took common skills to a community (medicine, schooling, child-rearing) and exported them to professionals. He calls these “disabling professions.” In some cases, such as medicine, this saved lives. But it also weakened human ability to cope with many aspects of life that had been inherent to human life for centuries (education) or even millennia (child-rearing). This “standardization and professionalization of everyday life” disabled normal human life.

In the 21st century, with the help of AI, these disabling professions were replaced by “disabling algorithms,” he argues. The latter being much more ominous for the future of humanity than the former.

He writes,
” Disabling Algorithms as tech companies simultaneously sell us on our existing anxieties and help nurture new ones. At the heart of it all is the kind of AI bait-and-switch peddled by the Bumble CEO. Algorithms are now tooled to help you develop basic life skills that decades ago might have been taken as a given: How to date. How to cook a meal. How to appreciate new music. How to write and reflect.”

Later in the article, he writes of the consequences of these disabling algorithms and how we need to have a clear understanding of our humanity to parse out the good algorithms from the bad. “We can’t take a stand against the infiltration of algorithms into the human estate if we don’t have a well-developed sense of which activities make humans human,” he posits. This is key. 

CivXNow AI Working Group

Back in the fall, I had the opportunity to serve on a working group under CivXNow around the intersection of civic, social cohesion, and AI. My constant push in every meeting was that our conversations around the barriers we should set around AI are all irrelevant if we don’t have a common understanding of what it means to be human. Without first defining the ontological characteristics of humanity, any sort of walls around AI are too flexible, constantly adjusting to the whims of society at any given moment. 

Harper addresses this need succinctly, “Without some minimal agreement as to what those basic human capabilities are—what activities belong to the jurisdiction of our species, not to be usurped by machines—it becomes difficult to pin down why some uses of artificial intelligence delight and excite, while others leave many of us feeling queasy.” If we don’t know what it means to be human, how will we know whether AI contributes to or detracts from human flourishing?

I had the opportunity to author the introduction and conclusion of the CivXNow Report that came out of our working group’s meetings. The report, titled “Unchartered Waters: Education, Democracy, and Social Cohesion in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,” gives some recommendations for how we can work together to ensure AI’s support of humanity, rather than its replacement. You can access some of the resources developed here.

In the introduction, I start with the famous line of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” as it sets a tone of human equality (and therefore some definition of humanity) that AI must must be seen in light of, especially in a civics space. My portion of the introduction ends with this, “As a community, we must be willing to honestly think through the various uses of AI and its implications in order to successfully wield its power without compromising our own humanity.” These discussions are imperative as AI becomes more ubiquitous in our daily lives. Otherwise, we don’t run AI, it runs us.

AI and Thinking Nation

Sample AI feedback on a Student Essay.

At Thinking Nation, we think deeply about how to use AI on our platform. Currently, we use it to grade student work to provide students with instant feedback and teachers with clear data on student growth. Since all of this feedback and data enhances the teaching of history as a discipline and better facilitates students ability to engage with the past, it also enhances their own flourishing. We incentivize this approach to teaching social studies because we know this way empowers students with the agency they need to actively engage with the world around them. There are many uses of AI that we choose not to entertain as it could cloud the difference between human and machine and blurry distinctions are no distinctions at all.

Sample Teacher Data Report from AI-generated grading

I was incredibly encouraged by Tyler Austin Harper’s piece in The Atlantic. He is calling our attention to the intense ramifications of AI that are hidden in the mundane aspects of our lives. This calling attention to is critical as we move forward in the age of AI. I’ll leave a portion of the CivXNow report’s conclusion here as I hope to continue the conversation around AI, human flourishing, and education:

“As leaders in the civics and education spaces, we know that just because something can be done, does not mean it should be. One of the core aspects of being a good citizen is to think about what is best for the community, not just oneself. At the core of that civic aim is really a question of our humanity.

As people, we are inhumane when we detract from human flourishing; we are humane when we contribute to it. These are the terms in which we should think as we consider how to harness the power of AI in a way that centers our own humanity and, conversely, how AI might be used in ways that lessens that humanity.”

Concluding AP Exam Season and Embracing Civic Learning Initiatives

Wrapping up AP Exam Season

Last week marked the end of the AP Exam testing season (unless you have students taking the late test). After piloting our Mock AP Exams last year with a few schools, we were excited to officially launch them for hundreds of students this year.

It was an intense endeavor that included the creation of authentic and aligned full-length practice exams for AP European, United States, and World History, as well as, AP American Politics and Government. Then, utilizing the expertise of our Business Analyst Valentina Carvajal-Bueno, we developed an AI program for immediate grading for teachers and students. Our tech team worked diligently for months to generate robust reports to provide targeted feedback to aid in the preparation for these high-stakes exams.

It was truly a group effort for Thinking Nation and it was exciting to see the strengths of our team members shine as we seek to consistently improve our offerings for teachers and students.

After completing the exams, we asked students and teachers to provide us with some feedback about the process and exams.

Here are a few highlights:

  • 90% said the feedback and scores were helpful in preparing for the AP exam.
  • 100% said the questions were representative of the topics covered in the AP exam.
  • 100% of respondents recommend taking our Mock AP Exam.

With these positive results, we hope to provide even more schools and students with access to our Mock AP Exams in the 2025 testing season. For information about how to make sure your school is set up for next year, please reach out to our Chief Operating Officer Spenser Mix at

Calling all Teachers Advancing Civic Learning!

Thinking Nation is a proud partner of the CivXNow Teachers Advancing Civic Learning (TACL – pronounced “tackle”) project, an effort to build an ongoing movement and advance policy within their schools, their districts, their states, and nation. We encourage educators interested in being part of this peer community to join the TACL effort

As part of this effort, we are joining our partners to implement a quarterly educator training/webinar. Join us on May 28 at 7 p.m. ET (REGISTER HERE) as we hear from Lindsay Sobel, Chief of Policy, Planning, and External Affairs at one of the nation’s leading organizations emphasizing teacher leadership, Teach Plus. Together with CivXNow partners collaborating on the TACL project, we’ll provide you with tools and strategies to make the case for stronger civic learning policies within your school and district, among parents, and with decision-makers at the local, state, and national levels.

Empower yourself to champion #CivicLearning

Join the TACL Policy Primer and learn how to advocate for civic learning initiatives in your school, district, and beyond!

Closing out the School Year

While we know some of you are concluding your school year this week, others still have several weeks left with your students. As always, please reach out if you would like support with any end-of-year assessments. Additionally, if you’re going to the AP US History reading in Kansas City in early June, let’s make sure to connect! I always enjoy meeting people in person from our vibrant virtual community.  


Annie Jenson

Our Platform Got a Refresh!

If you’ve been on our platform in the last couple days, you’ve noticed that we got a platform refresh! As a small nonprofit organization entering a space with many VC-backed edtech companies, it is always exciting when we can streamline the edtech side of things to be more user-friendly and helpful for our teachers and students. It’s always for the mission!

I wanted to take today to highlight some of these new changes for those teachers wondering about the changes. Let’s explore!

First, the teacher portal:

In addition to making the look feel cleaner and more intuitive, there are minor adjustments for teachers. For instance, the Icon Key is now on every page at the bottom, but with the option to minimize it to have more room to view your rosters.

Also simple changes, like the icons matching our brand colors have been updated, too. It’s the little things for this little organization, folks!

Now, if you ever want to unsubmit an assignment that is past the due date, you can. Before, teachers could only unsubmit active assignments, but thanks to your feedback, we’ve realized that sometimes that second chance comes for a student well after the assignment was due (I see you end-of-year make ups!). Hopefully, this will make it easier for the student to demonstrate their growth mindset and raise their scores! So teachers, just hover over any assignment that a student has turned in, and you can unsubmit it on their behalf.

We’ve also made the resources tab a lot easier to navigate! With buttons and more visible drop down menus, we hope it will be easier for you to find that resource you were looking for! Also, stay-tuned, in the next couple months, this tab will go over a 2.0 makeover as we sort the resources by historical/content topic, rather than type of resource. We hope that it will help you see all of the types of resources for each corresponding topic, rather than having to hunt around for them on the platform. Once again, thank you teacher feedback!

Students, too, have a more streamlined experience. On their homepage, the layout is much easier to see, and depending on which sources they want to see, they can simply click the buttons on the top of their screen. If a resource type is in green, it will show up, if it is gray, it won’t be visible. Hopefully this can help students focus on the task they need to first, as well as sort through the assignments as the year goes on and the resources accumulate.

The “Notes” and “Chat” features are more visible and easy to use, too. For both teachers and students, don’t forget that you can annotate or ask questions via chat when working on any assignment on the platform. Notifications for the chat will always show up in the top right corner of your homepage.

As you navigate the platform refresh, you may notice other subtle changes not addressed here, but hopefully they all provide a more user friendly experience. And of course, we’d love to hear more feedback if you have it teachers. Just send a help desk ticket once on your portal and let us know what you want to see!

The National Civic Collaboratory and Building Hope Summit

Last week, I was honored to attend my first National Civic Collaboratory. This summit is put on 3 times a year by Citizen University in order to shift “the current paradigm of individual achievement towards collaboration and shared success.” You know how much I love the language of paradigm shifting! Generously hosted at the Reagan Library by the Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, about 100 civic leaders gathered in Simi Valley, CA to commit to the broader work of strengthening democracy. 

There was such a wide variety of civic-minded organizations there, with representation from presidential foundations, former elected officials, educators, artists, philanthropy, youth-led organizations, and more. As a whole, it was an act of pluralism, where people of diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and visions came together to support one another in civic initiatives. I was both encouraged and inspired. As we at Thinking Nation continue to cultivate thinking citizens by shifting the paradigm of social studies education, I was so energized by the work of so many in the room over the summit’s two days.

Our little Civic Collab sign under the Reagan Library’s beautiful Wisteria (Go smell some, it’s blooming!)

The National Civic Collaboratory is a unique set up. When various organizations share to the group about their own work, the listeners are not asked to provide feedback or advice; rather, they are asked to make commitments of support. In this way, the civic circle grows exponentially. We all can leverage our own resources and networks to further civic’s ultimate aim of preserving and protecting democracy, even if we are not directly involved. This type of pluralism gave me great hope, even as I look at an increasingly polarized populus. I look forward to more of these and getting more involved with the other organizations in the community.

The Building Hope Impact Summit

In the same vein of finding hope wherever you may be, the leadership team at Thinking Nation is excited to head to Miami today for the 3rd annual Building Hope Impact Summit. Our own Spenser Mix and Liz Connolly will be presenting on how we are leveraging AI to empower students, which will surely be an engaging session (I’m looking at you, Spenser, and former 6th grade teacher!).

I’m excited to meet so many changemakers in the education community and learn from their successes (and hopefully share some of ours!). It is bound to be an enriching time. Whereas the National Civic Collaboratory gave me hope about the state of civic initiatives in a fractured democracy, I am excited to identify areas of hope in a fractured education system. Our students deserve it.

Not Too Late for Mock APs!

The last thing I want to put on your radar is our Mock AP exams! It is not too late to get your rosters all set up to give a Mock AP exam to your students on our platform. Our AI instantly grades the student exams, giving students immediate and specific feedback. Both the students and their teachers get detailed data reports that outline exactly what needs to be studies in the final days before the exam. If you are looking for a way to give your students the best shot to be successful on the big exam, this is it! If you want more information, head over here to download the informational flyer or request a meeting to set things up. Also, shout out to History For Humans for detailing the Mock APs on social media!

Final Days of Student Art Contest and a Podcast Interview on AI Updates

First things first before we jump into AI updates. Students and teachers: there are just a few more days to submit artwork or poetry for our annual art contest! The Contest officially closes at 11:59pm on April 1st. And this is not a joke! We are excited to see all the student submissions and showcase the top 20 at the National Charter Schools Conference in Boston at the end of June. You can find the flyer with all the details here and the link directly to the submission form here. Good Luck!

(Note: TEACHERS! There is also a raffle for a $100 Amazon gift card going on. For every student that submits in your class, you get one entry. So encourage those submissions so you can TREAT YOURSELF to a well deserved whatever-you-need!)

AI Updates for Mock AP Exams

Second, as many of you know, Thinking Nation has been hard at work integrating Artificial Intelligence into our platform in order to better shift the paradigm of social studies education. Our AI updates started in December, when we rolled out AI grading of student essays for our Curated Research Papers. This means that teachers and students can get instant feedback and data on the complex disciplinary thinking skills inherent to social studies. With robust, usable data accessible in an instant, we can better structure our classrooms around the discipline we teach, rather than only the content within that discipline.

Moreover, last week, we rolled out our Mock AP Exams that also have AI grading! This means that students can take a full length (in parts) AP Exam for APUSH, AP Gov, AP Euro, or AP World and get instant feedback! We’ve done the intricate work to align every question and rubric component to the Periods/Units, Skills, reasoning processes, Themes, and Stimulus types, too.

A sample snapshot from a teacher report for the DBQ.

So, when students complete the exam, they get a robust data report detailing exactly what they need to study before the big exam in May. It’s not too late to sign up to do this for your students, either! Here is a little flyer that outlines the pricing of the AP Exam. Or, if you want to talk to someone at Thinking Nation about setting this up for your students to do before the big exam, fill out this form and let us know you are interested in Mock AP Exams.

A Sample snapshot of the Teacher Report for the MCQs.

The EdSurge Podcast

Lastly, as the conversation around AI and education continues to boom, I was excited to join Rachel Davison Humphries from the Bill of Rights Institute on this week’s EdSurge podcast. The question at the heart of the podcast interview was “Could AI Give Civics Education a Boost?” We obviously think yes, and we outline how in the interview with host, Jeff Young. Please read the summary of the episode here, or you can download the episode from Apple Podcasts (or any other podcast directory).

Since day one, Thinking Nation has thought strategically about how we can shift the paradigm of social studies education. That goal has never changed, but now, with the introduction of Generative AI, we think we can push systemic change in a way that benefits all classrooms and provides more attainable equity across the country. 

Join us as we continue the mission!

Happy Civic Learning Week!

Today marks day 1 of Civic Learning Week! It has already been a busy one for us. 

The first mark we made on the week came in the form of an Oped I wrote in The Fulcrum that explored the essential nature of social studies skills for cultivating civic dispositions. In a recent oped on the same site, a binary of skills vs. content was established that I don’t think fully captures the goals of the social studies classroom. In today’s blog I responded and outlined just why the skills of our discipline are so essential. Give it a read.

Next, at 9am PT, I joined Dr. Larry Paska of the National Council for Social Studies for a webinar on the state of social studies education. If you’ve been following our blogs recently, you know we’ve hosted a mini podcast series on this topic, where I interviewed various thinkers about the subject. In fact, we released episode 6 of the series on Friday, March 8th. In that interview, I really enjoyed my conversation with Shawn Healy of iCivics. Shawn serves as Senior Director for Policy and Advocacy and he brought a really helpful policy perspective to the conversation. Take a listen!

Back to the webinar with Dr. Paska. We started with a brief interview of Dr. Bill Daggett of the Successful Practices Network. We wanted to hear what an outside perspective had to say about the current state of social studies education and were grateful to Dr. Daggett for sharing his own perspective built on decades of experience in the broader education reform movement. 

From there, Larry and I explored the research from Thinking Nation’s white paper, NCSS’s annual survey, and three studies that specifically looked at the state of social studies education in the elementary classroom. The studies are:

  1. 2020 Fordham Institute Study: “Social Studies Instruction and Reading Comprehension: Evidence from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study”
  2. 2023 Rand Corporation Study: “The Missing Infrastructure for Elementary (K–5) Social Studies Instruction”
  3. 2023 CCSSO Guidelines: “Effective Social Studies Integration in Elementary Classrooms”

It was really helpful to take all the data together and think through its meaning and how we can best move forward as a discipline. There are so many exciting events for Civic Learning Week and it was exciting to kick off the week with NCSS!

Moving on to midday, Larry and I were the primary guest’s for KPBS’s Midday edition. KPBS is San Diego’s public radio station and it was such a treat to speak with host, Jade Hindmon. The recording of the interview should be uploaded as a podcast soon, and I’d encourage you to listen to this more focused (and less data-oriented) conversation around social studies and civic education. I’m grateful to KPBS for prioritizing Civic Learning Week in their programming!

Lastly, tonight, Thinking Nation will take over the #sschat feed on X for 10 or so minutes as part of Civic Learning Week. Follow the hashtag #sschat on the app from 5-6pm PT to engage with several organizations who are trying to think together about how we can make the most of this important week. 

Student Art Contest – Final Days!

It’s of course a busy week, and we hope that for your students it is too! Friday is the last day that students can submit an art piece for our annual art contest! As a reminder, We teamed up with the National Alliance for Charter Schools again this year to host a nationwide student art contest for middle and high school students. (Check out last year’s!)  This year’s National Charter School Conference will be in Boston, MA from June 30-July 3. Since the conference leads right into Independence Day in one of the nation’s most revolutionary cities, we decided to build our theme around the future of American democracy. Students can create a creative work of art that addresses the prompt: What does the future of American Democracy look like?

Submissions for this Student Art Contest for Democracy will be accepted until March 15th and the top 20 will be featured at the National Charter Schools Conference! The top 2 will even win cash prizes! For full details on the contest, check out the contest flyer. Be sure to have your students submit!

Socratic Seminars and Deep Conversation

I had the privilege of attending class in Mr. Martinez’s 8th grade class again last Friday. If you haven’t read about Abraham’s class, I’d encourage you to here or here! He’s such a stellar teacher and I appreciate every opportunity I have to attend his class.

Abraham and I will be presenting together next Saturday at the California Council for Social Studies, where our session is titled “Cultivating Community through Socratic Seminars.” At Thinking Nation, we’ve been quietly building Socratic Seminars for all of our units and Abraham has been generous enough to pilot them and reflect on his experience during our CCSS session. 

On Friday, I walked into his classroom in the middle of a seminar (sorry kids! Also, c’mon meetings…) and was instantly excited by what I walked into. The students had just finished engaging in one of our Curated Research Papers on Slave Resistance and were participating in the Socratic Seminar as the final piece before they wrote their essays. The inquiry question for that unit is “How did enslaved people resist their enslavement and why is this historically significant?” As I listened to the students, I heard them answering complex questions, referring to primary sources, and citing evidence from those sources to defend their answers. In fact, one of my favorite sounds during the 1.5 hours I was there was the 15 pages turning at once when a student spoke up and said something like, “As shown in Document B.” To hear the pages flipping in unity was a joy to historian ears.

A student preparing to engage in the discussion.

While I recorded many insightful moments provided by the young scholars in the room, I’ll share just a couple of them here.

The first example demonstrated a student’s commitment to methodology. Multiple students in the inner seminar circle were bringing up the point that running away was the greatest form of resistance. After hearing this multiple times, one student chimed in, “Wait, I’d like to ask a question. What are you guys referencing when you are saying that running away was the most common way to resist?”

This may not seem like much on the surface, but in this moment, the student wanted to source the claims she was hearing. She followed good historical thinking practice and asked a question of sourcing to the students. This high standard for evaluating claims is the type of disposition our democracy requires (Fortunately, the students were able to point her to the section of their materials that made that claim).

The second came when the students were discussing the significance of runaway slave advertisements. In a seemingly simple observation, a student said, “I’d like to add that running away was so common because they put it in the newspaper and it had its own section.” He went on to expand that it wasn’t just the language of the advertisement that revealed significance, but it was the existence of the ad. To him, the fact that newspapers would dedicate copy space to this regularly demonstrated just how prevalent of an event it was. This was great contextualization at work!

I was so impressed by what I heard in the class that day, and I hope that if you are planning to go to CCSS that you come to our session on socratic seminars or at least stop by the Thinking Nation booth (401) and say hi!

Thinking Historically About Podcast

Today we released episode 5 of our mini podcast series “Thinking Historically About the State of Social Studies Education.” As the other episodes have been for me, this was another great conversation with a insightful leader in the education space. My guest was Dr. Janet Tran, the Director of The Center for Civics, Education, and Opportunity for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. If you read the blog a couple weeks ago, Janet was the mind behind the incredibly thought-provoking roundtable at the Reagan Library. Her deep and layered thinking only further shined in my conversation with her on the podcast. Please listen!

It’s been a busy week but also incredibly fulfilling. If you plan to attend the National Council for History Education’s conference in Cleveland please come say hi on Friday. And for my fellow Californians, I’ll see you Saturday in Garden Grove for CCSS!

AASA, Art, and Thinking Historically About

Last week, the Thinking Nation team exhibited and presented at AASA’s National Conference on Education in San Diego, CA. It was a busy and well attended conference and so nice for the Thinking Nation team to engage with school and district leaders from around the country. Spenser, Liz, and Valentina presented on Valentine’s Day about our AI initiatives and Zach presented the next day about how we can better align social studies departments at districts large and small. To read more about our sessions, check out the press release that went out before the conference.

The Thinking Nation Crew!
Spenser, Valerie, Liz, and Johanna representing Disciplinary Thinking Skills

For me, the best part of the conference was just hanging out with our team. Being a remote-working team, opportunities for us all to hang out in person are not lost on me. I had so much fun catching up with each person at our booth or offsite when we had meals together. I’m really so fortunate to work with the people I do, and last week’s time together only confirmed that.

Student Art Contest

As a reminder, our Student Art Contest is alive and well! As a reminder, We teamed up with the National Alliance for Charter Schools again this year to host a nationwide student art contest for middle and high school students. (Check out last year’s!)  This year’s National Charter School Conference will be in Boston, MA from June 30-July 3. Since the conference leads right into Independence Day in one of the nation’s most revolutionary cities, we decided to build our theme around the future of American democracy. Students can create a creative work of art that addresses the prompt: What does the future of American Democracy look like?

Submissions for this Student Art Contest for Democracy will be accepted until March 15th and the top 20 will be featured at the National Charter Schools Conference! The top 2 will even win cash prizes! For full details on the contest, check out the contest flyer. We can’t wait to see what students come up with!

The Podcast: Thinking Historically About

Lastly, since I didn’t get around to sending anything out last week, I want to make sure I let everyone know about last week’s podcast episode with Dr. Larry Paska, Executive Director of the National Council for Social Studies. I’m excited to have a more extensive conversation with Larry during Civic Learning Week, but if you are looking for a sneak peak of our conversation, check out the episode. If you want to attend the CLW webinar, sign up here!

This week’s episode features Andrea Foggy-Paxton, who I regrettably didn’t know about until we serendipitously sat next to each other at the Reagan Institute’s roundtable a couple of weeks ago. Andrea is Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Education Leaders of Color and Founder of Social Studies Accelerator. She also sits on the iCivics and Los Angeles County Board of Education boards.  I am so inspired by Andrea’s work in Social Studies that I had to have her on the podcast. I hope you all enjoy her insights and benefit from her wisdom in the episode!

Promoting Freedom and Democracy At Home and Abroad – Our Time at the Reagan Library

Quick Podcast Update

As I mentioned last week, we are releasing a new podcast episode every week leading up to Civic Learning Week (March 11-15). Today’s release is an interview with Jessica Ellison, the executive director of the National Council for History Education. Please listen!

Also, I was kindly invited by Dr. Almitra Berry to join her on her podcast, “Educational Emancipation Equity” recently. You can listen to our conversation here. As I tell her, we want to empower students and firmly believe that equipping them to think historically can do just that.

Promoting Freedom and Democracy

In another great opportunity to talk about the importance of social studies education as a means to preserve and protect our constitutional democracy, I facilitated a roundtable discussion at the Reagan Library on Tuesday, February 6 as a part of the celebration of President Reagan’s 113th birthday. 

Former Polish President, Lech Walesa, giving his address.

The public portion of the event began with a speech from former President of Poland and distinguished Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Lech Walesa. He had admirable reflections on the state of democracy and how we can sustain it, reminding us in the crowd: “First, we have to focus on the values that guide us—then we can focus on the laws and the economy.” So often, we miss the forest for the trees. His broad view was a good reminder.

After the address and public ceremony, a group of us joined together for the roundtable, “Promoting Freedom and Democracy at Home and Abroad.” The first roundtable was led by Consuelo Amat, SNF Agora Institute Assistant Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. She led us in a discussion of lessons from abroad about fortying democracy. Her insights to how people resist repressive regimes was incredibly illuminating and I wish her portion was longer!

I was fortunate to lead and facilitate the 2nd half of the roundtable around the topic, “Nurturing Civic Dispositions to Uphold Democratic Institutions and Integrity.” As a premise, I reinforced my case that a good history education is a civic education and called to attention the research findings of our white paper published in Education Week back in November. I then facilitated a discussion on how social studies educators can be at the forefront of this work.

I’m privileged that Ben Katcher, one of my favorite history teachers, was able to join for this discussion. Ben teaches at Valor Academy High School, a partner school of Thinking Nation’s. His practical insights brought the theory to life for those in the room without classroom experience. 

In an increasingly polarized country where more and more citizens are advocating for more authoritarianism, and by default, less democracy, conversations like this are vital for creating action and sustaining our democracy. I’m grateful to Dr. Janet Tran at the Ronald Reagan Institute’s Center for Civics, Education, and Opportunity for prioritizing this space and dialogue.

Spenser, Liz, and Zach hanging out on Air Force One before the roundtable began.

Another new Board Member

Last thing! Each week I want to highlight another new board member (last week’s being Dr. Marco Clark. This week, let’s welcome Paolo DeMaria!

Mr. DeMaria is president and CEO of the National Association of State Boards of Education. Prior to this role, he was the State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Ohio. He focused on literacy outcomes, teacher excellence and leadership, career-technical education, business-education partnerships, and equity in Ohio’s education system. He previously directed the state’s Office of Budget and Management and was chief policy advisor to former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and executive vice chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education. He also spent six years as principal consultant for Education First Consulting. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and economics from Furman University and a Master of Public Administration in public administration leadership and financial management from the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at the Ohio State University.

To hear more about the historical thinking skill DeMaria most resonates with, watch the video interview with Tiana Day below.

A Student Art Contest for Democracy, The Road to Civic Learning Week, and Another Board Member!

Yesterday kicked off the shortest month of the year (but at least it gets an extra day this year!), Black History Month, and the first day of our 2nd Annual Art Contest. We teamed up with the National Alliance for Charter Schools again this year to host a nationwide student art contest for middle and high school students. (Check out last year’s!)  This year’s National Charter School Conference will be in Boston, MA from June 30-July 3. Since the conference leads right into Independence Day in one of the nation’s most revolutionary cities, we decided to build our theme around the future of American democracy. Students can create a creative work of art that addresses the prompt: What does the future of American Democracy look like?

Submissions for this Student Art Contest for Democracy will be accepted until March 15th and the top 20 will be featured at the National Charter Schools Conference! The top 2 will even win cash prizes! For full details on the contest, check out the contest flyer and/or attend our webinar this coming Monday, February 5th at 2:30pm PST. It’s also worth noting that the contest ends on the last day of Civic Learning Week, which Thinking Nation is excited to take part in this year.

The Road to Civic Learning Week

Today, Thinking Nation released the first podcast episode in a mini-series of our regularly monthly podcast: Thinking Historically About. For the six weeks leading up to Civic Learning Week, we are going to publish a podcast conversation with various leaders to talk about the state of social studies education. Civic Learning Week takes place from March 11-15 this year with the aim of “Making civic learning a nationwide priority for a stronger democracy.” On Monday March 11th, I will cohost a lunchtime chat with National Council for Social Studies Executive Director, Lawrence Paska, where we will dive into both the current state of social studies education and how we can best collaboratively move forward. More on that event to come.

In the time leading up to that week, however, we thought it would be helpful to get a pulse from various leaders about how they see things, as well as their interpretations of the findings of our White Paper published in Education Week back in November. We hope to provide opportunities for nationwide collaboration around how we can best identify the ways to support and sustain social studies education in order to preserve and protect our democracy. 

In our 1st episode, we are joined by two museum experts. Elizabeth Grant is the Chief Program Officer for the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, PA. Sarah Jencks is Principal Consultant at Every Museum a Civic Museum. In addition to their decades of museum-focused expertise, Both Liz and Sarah serve on the Board of Directors for the National Council for History Education. Both Liz and Sarah give us a lot to think about in our conversation as we think about how to best move forward as a field. We these episodes spur great conversation and action in your own education communities and that you all participate in Civic Learning Week (and submit for the student art contest for democracy)!

New Board Member Highlight!

Last thing! Each week I want to highlight another new board member (last week’s being Dr. Catherine O’Donnell). This week, let’s welcome Dr. Marco Clark!

As the Founder & CEO of Richard Wright Schools in Washington, D.C., Dr. Clark has been a transformative leader in the global educational space for more than 30 years. Richard Wright Schools prioritize not only academic excellence, but also holistic development, fostering a culture where every student can thrive and be empowered to become life-long learners, leaders, and responsible citizens poised to shape their communities. Dr. Marco Clark is also a noted educator, scholar, and speaker who shares his personal challenges with reading as a youth and his educational reform efforts to fight against literacy and community issues throughout the country. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Clark Atlanta University, a Master of Arts degree in special education from Coppin State University, a Master of Arts degree in education administration from Goucher College, and a Doctor of Education degree from Morgan State University.

As with last week, here is a brief video interview by Tiana Day to get to know him more!

January 2024 Organization Highlights

Today, I want to take some time to highlight some great things going on at Thinking Nation this month. But first, an inside scoop:

A Press Release – Thinking Nation’s Board of Directors

On Monday (1/29), you will see the publication of our first press release. It will highlight the doubling of Thinking Nation’s board of directors. As many of you know, the board of directors of a nonprofit organization is critical to driving growth and sustainability, and we are so fortunate to have such a wealth of knowledge and diversity of expertise on our board in order to help us fulfill our mission to cultivate thinking citizens. At any point, you can head over to our website to learn more about Thinking Nation’s board of directors, but in this space, I am going to highlight one of our board members in each post for the next few weeks.

First up, our resident historian. Dr. Catherine O’Donnell joined our board back in October 2023 and brings such a robust track record of centering historical thinking in her scholarship. We are grateful for her grounding perspective as we seek to shift the paradigm of social studies education toward a specifically discipline-driven, rather than content-focused approach. A bit more about Catherine: 

Professor O’Donnell, currently a distinguished faculty member at Arizona State University, brings a wealth of expertise in history and administration to her role as board member. She has authored several scholarly books and articles, including Elizabeth Seton: American Saint (Cornell University Press, 2018), which received the Distinguished Book Award by the Conference on the History of Women Religious and the Biography Prize from the Catholic Press Association. She is also a member of the Board of the Arizona Council of History Educators. Dr. O’Donnell received a Bachelor of Arts inSpanish and American Studies from Amherst College, a Master of Arts in history from the University of Michigan, and Doctor of Philosophy degree in history from the University of Michigan.

Also, here is a brief interview with Dr. O’Donnell, to get to know her better:

Dr. O’Donnell shares a little bit about what drew her to Thinking Nation

A Day with Indiana Teachers

Moving onto more Thinking Nation happenings, January has been quite the busy month for us. One particular event that I’d like to highlight here is a statewide virtual professional development we hosted for teachers across Indiana. The goal of our time together was to spend time understanding and practicing the ways that we can teach history in order to better align our classrooms across the 6 grade levels of secondary social studies education. It was entitled: “Building Alignment Across Social Studies: Creating a More Unified Social Studies Approach.”

Engaging with a couple dozen Indiana educators for a day and hearing how they could take some of the practices gleaned from the session back to their own schools in order to create robustly aligned social studies departments was definitely a thrill. We are incredibly thankful to Keep Indiana Learning for helping to organize the event. Indiana continues to pave the way in how we can see education as a civic endeavor and it was a joy to be a part in facilitating that goal for educators who care deeply for the students they serve.

I’m excited to share more on the many great events and announcements we have for the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll just say “stay tuned!”

“Thinking Historically About” – Thinking Nation’s Podcast

Back in September, we announced our new podcast, “Thinking Historically About.” Since then, we’ve released one episode a month featuring an interview with a historian. We discuss a particular Curated Research Paper that students engage with in our curriculum. In all of these instances, the interviewed historian consulted on the actual CRP, ensuring that it was aligned to scholarship and appropriately provided opportunities for students to analyze the questions in the same ways that scholars do. For a list of historians who have consulted on our curriculum, head to our website.

Next month, we plan to launch a parallel version to the podcast, where we think historically about the current state of education. We will primarily do this by bringing in key leaders and thinkers to discuss the findings and implications of our recently released white paper, courtesy of Education Week. We hope that our podcast continues to be a place for people to be thinking historically about both past and present issues.

For now, I want to highlight some of the episodes we released in the final months of 2023, and provide a quick summary of our January episode that was released today– an interview with historian John Fea.

In September, we released our inaugural episode with Nadya Williams, a scholar of Ancient Rome and Greece. In that first episode, Dr. Williams contextualized the evolution of citizenship in Ancient Rome for us. Students who engage with our resources are asked to evaluate how citizenship developed over time in Ancient Rome, and Dr. Williams gave us key insights into the types of primary sources that could be helpful to understanding everyday Romans during the age of the Roman Republic.

In October, we interviewed Dr. H. Paul Thompson, Jr.,  a scholar of temperance movements and 19th and 20th century Black American history. Dr. Thompson provoked deep questions around how we would frame our own exploration into how the New Deal impacted Black Americans. In that episode, we talked a little more at length about historical thinking more generally, giving listeners a helpful methodology for exploring the topic at hand. Dr. Thompson also reminded us about how important primary sources are to the historian’s job.

Then, in November, we coupled an additional interview with the release of  Nadya Williams’ first book: Cultural Christians in the Early Church. In this interview, Dr. Williams helps us better understand the similarities and differences with the two most known Greek city-states: Athens and Sparta. As she did in the first interview, Dr. Williams really pushed us to think more broadly and inclusively in our historical analysis. She also reminded us of the importance of sourcing, that is knowing the background information behind a source in order to better evaluate and analyze it.

Our last episode of 2023 was an interview with Pearl Young, a historian of the American South with particular emphasis on women and gender in the 19th century. In that episode, Dr. Young took on the role of both scholar and teacher, thinking strategically about how to best guide students through the Curated Research Paper that asked students to compare the experiences of women on the homefront during the Civil War. Her guidance in the pedagogical, as well as scholarly aspects, will hopefully help future students think more deeply about the subject when they engage with that unit of our curriculum.

Lastly, in our first episode of 2024, released today, we interview John Fea, a historian of Colonial America and the early republic era. Dr. Fea helps us to think historically about the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and how their ideas shaped the founders’ vision for government. Dr. Fea really pushed us to think historically in order to best contextualize that particular time and place in order to best understand what shaped their views, and how their views shaped others.

We are excited to continue our podcast in 2024, and pushing the topics for what we are thinking historically about. I’m looking forward to interviewing others on the state of social studies education and what we can do about it. Stay tuned!

Literary Highlights: 5 Standouts and Notable Mentions of 2023

In the famous words of Julius Caesar, “I came, I saw, I conquered” my New Year’s reading resolution of 2023 of reading two books per week. With a new year approaching, here’s a recap of a few of my favorite reads: 

Note: I’ve chosen to highlight a particularly memorable read from the genres I typically read (history, parenting, memoirs, self-improvement, and fiction).

History- The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote (Elaine F. Weiss)

I may be fitting the “history-nerd” stereotype here, but The Woman’s Hour was a can’t-put-it down thriller for me. Even though I knew the outcome (women got the right to vote), Weiss’s reconstructing of the intense political struggle for suffrage had me on the edge of my seat. It was both a broad overview of the women’s movement and a detailed account of the culminating ratification vote in Tennessee.

Her meticulous research brought to life the complex dynamics between suffragists, anti-suffragists, and politicians. She captivates readers by highlighting the intersectionality within the movement, the complexity of various strategies utilized, and the tireless efforts in the face of opposition. Overall, The Woman’s Hour is an insightful and compelling read about the relentless pursuit of women to attain voting rights that I recommend especially for history teachers looking to improve their coverage of women’s history.

Similar to: Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All (Martha S. Jones)

Runner-Up: Desk 88: Eight Progressive Senators Who Changed America (Sherrod Brown)

Parenting: French Kids Eat Everything (Karen Le Billon)

This year, I’ve enjoyed books that explore Americans raising children abroad or immigrants navigating parenthood in America. I have found the cultural differences in parenting to be fascinating, freeing, and empowering in my parenthood journey. In my all-too-typical struggle to get my toddlers to try new foods and eat anything green, this title grabbed my attention.

I learned from Le Billon’s practical approach and description of the mostly unwritten rules around food in France and enjoyed reading about her faux pas as she navigated French culture as a transplant. When I implemented some of her tips, including Taste Training, and scripts for when I changed our eating habits, I felt more confident in my approach and my kids adapted fairly quickly. Overall, French Kids Eat Everything is an interesting read about how parents in France instill healthy attitudes about and habits around food and is recommended for parents hoping to raise adventurous eaters.

Similar to: Bringing Up Bébe (Pamela Druckerman)

Runner-Up: Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be (Becky Kennedy)

Memoir: Solito (Javier Zamora)

As someone who tries to stay apprised of current events, I attempt to be intentional about inserting humanity back into the onslaught of the difficult and disturbing news cycle. The political debate over American immigration issues is extremely contentious and I find that the data flaunted and antagonistic rhetoric has often left me feeling overwhelmed and numb to the crisis.

 I picked up Solito when my local library did a community book club reading event. Zamora recounts the story of his traumatic migration from El Salvador to the United States. His poetic style of writing drew me in as I learned of the difficulties he faced along the journey. Overall, Solito is an emotional read about a young boy’s attempt to reunite with his parents across the U.S. border and is recommended to those hoping to understand the impact of border crossings on the individuals pursuing a better life.

Similar to: A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape from North Korea (Eunsun Kim)

Runner-Up: Angela Davis: An Autobiography (Angela Davis)

Self-Improvement: How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Katy Milkman)

In the self-help category, I can be a little critical of books that promise quick-fixes or solutions guaranteed to increase productivity and achievements. However, Milkman’s How to Change, provided strategic science-based methods to overcome the obstacles of impulsivity, procrastination, and forgetfulness.

The inclusion of case studies were so memorable that I found myself regularly sharing the information I gleaned with my friends and family. Overall, How to Change would be a great read for those looking to kickstart their new year with habits that will actually stick.

Similar to: Atomic Habits (James Clear)

Runner-Up: The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System- And How to Fix it (Natalie Wexler)

Fiction: The Reading List (Sara Nisha Adams)

I have always enjoyed reading books where the chapters alternate between the perspectives of different characters. In The Reading List, Adams touches on topics of loneliness and community, grief and joy, and friendship that transcends typical boundaries.

A list of books turns up in various places around a London suburb. Readers are injected into the lives of Mukesh, a recent Indian widower, and Aleisha, a part-time teenage librarian, as they navigate many personal and familial struggles. Overall, The Reading List is a unique novel that would be enjoyed by those looking for a heartwarming story about the ways that people can support each other through difficult times.

Similar to: The Sentence (Louise Erdrich)

Runner-Up: Glass Houses (Louise Penny)

If you are like me and are considering setting a New Year’s reading resolution, I hope this roundup of my favorite reads was helpful as you make your reading choices for 2024.

For more book recommendations, check out our Executive Director, Zach Cote’s top 5 books from 2022.