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!

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!”