Keeping the Conversation Going: Thinking Nation’s Chat Feature

On the teacher’s homepage, teachers are notified when students have asked them a question.

Students often have “in the moment” questions about history, historical thinking, and writing during class. Truthfully, we can’t get to them all nor do all of our students feel that they “really” need to ask their question. With Thinking Nation’s chat feature, however, all students can ask their teacher questions during the analysis and writing process. Even if teachers can’t get to the questions immediately, they can sift through student questions on their notifications tab on their own account home page. This way, students can ask their questions when they are top of mind even if the teacher is unavailable to answer them at that moment.

When teachers click the student comment, they can reply. Students will then be notified that the teacher responded.

We want the conversation about historical thinking and writing to have the opportunity to continue even after the bell rings. Our chat feature, embedded in all of our DBQs, allows just this. All students need to do is highlight the text or section of the resource that they have a question about. Next, they type their question, click the “send as chat” option and press “save.” Teachers are notified and can then respond when they are able. Students are also notified when a teacher responds so that an intellectual direct message conversation can ensue.

So, teachers! Make sure your students know that they can do this and be sure to utilize this feature as you continue to empower your students to think historically. Lastly, in light of our last blog. THERE ARE ONLY 10 DAYS LEFT IN OCTOBER. You got this!

Student questions are highlighted in yellow to distinguish them from their regular annotations.

The Dreaded Month: Teaching in October

If you’ve taught more than one semester before, you’ve experienced teaching in October. The honeymoon stage with the students is over. Behavior in the class, if things were not established in incredibly explicit terms, begins to be harder to manage. Students begin feel a little tired and perhaps even a little apathetic toward learning, wishing to be back on summer break. October is hard! Many people know that November 1st of my first year of teaching was my lowest point as an educator. I felt defeated and I quite literally questioned my choice of going into education. I was equally exhausted and perplexed. 

These scenarios and reflections are not uncommon in education. Just talk to a teacher. With that being the case, though, what do we do? How do we set ourselves up for success despite the pitfalls that come in this month? How can we continue to set the foundation for a year of academic growth for our students? 

Unfortunately, I don’t have a 5 point plan for success when teaching in October. I’m not sure one exists. But there are some important things we should consider and reflect on, especially as history teachers.

First, we must remind ourselves of our purpose as teachers. As this blog has emphasized time and again, our job is to teach students how to study the past. Teaching the past is not enough. History is bigger than a timeline. It’s a discipline of study. Creating routines in our classrooms around reading, analyzing, and writing about the past reminds students that they are in our classroom to become better thinkers, not better at recall. Reminding ourselves of this purpose (DAILY!) is critical for cementing our purpose as history teachers.

We also have to reset structures if they need to be reset. Do you see things that irritate you as a teacher but aren’t quite enough to call out? Call them out anyway. Set your behavioral standards in stone. Resetting is hard, but it is better in October than in January. Good, quality, historical thinking cannot happen in classrooms where management takes all of our energy. 

The last thing worth considering, at least in this post, is to set a routine of historical thinking in your room. Make that word have daily resonance with your students. Introduce a new skill each week. Give concrete examples of it and adequate time to practice thinking that way. Have students write something argumentative, even if short, as often as possible. If they aren’t ready to do it on their own, do it with them! Students cannot do what they’ve never seen. Be a model of analysis. Doing heavy lifting for students at this point of the year is ok! Especially if you are giving them the framework to do that lifting on their own later in the year.

Teaching in October is hard. So many things are thrown at teachers. But, reminding ourselves of our purpose daily, resetting structures to create pathways to success, and embedding historical thinking into every lesson are important steps to take to make it a successful year of academic growth.

CONGRATULATIONS CLASS OF 2022

For most of the 12th grade students we served this year, their entire 11th grade year was virtual. That simple fact made this year so special. It was a year to rekindle friendships, play sports again, interact with teachers in person, and so many other benefits to being in person. These students also were able to push their thinking and writing skills in their social studies classes with the Thinking Nation curriculum. To say congratulations class of 2022, we want to recount some fun moments in senior-level classrooms this year.

Early on in the year, seniors in US Government analyzed Enlightenment-era and founding documents in order to determine why America’s founders set up a government based on the separation of powers. Students interrogated the documents in a Socratic Seminar and then wrote essays to argue their point. 

Students in an Economics class explored some of the key foundational writings of Adam Smith in order to determine the extent of his influence on modern economics. Reflecting on his ideas in the context of the 21st century gave students the opportunity to identify his most lasting impacts. In one particular class, students intensively dissected a seven sentence excerpt of The Wealth of Nations over the course of an hour long period. Their questions and the level of detail in their analysis illuminated why inquiry-based history education is so valuable.

In another economic class, students debated various solutions for solving economic inequality in the United States. They explored scholarly research, government graphs and charts, and popular level journalism in order to write evidence based arguments justifying their point of view.

One government class spent a week with our DBQ on Social Media’s role in democracy. After combing through the documents, the class was pretty split in their lively debate: does social media strengthen or weaken democracy?

In an Ethnic Studies class, seniors pored over 150 years of evidence to analyze the environmental injustices experienced by American Indians and how they have cultivated solutions for environmental justice (FREE RESOURCE!). The analysis and detail in their essays showed great depth and nuance for such an important topic. 

As a whole, the seniors who used Thinking Nation this year thought critically, wrote persuasively, and pushed themselves intellectually. In short, they grew. As they move onto life after high school, many of them moving away from home and going to college, we wish them the best! Congratulations class of 2022!

Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15th kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month! To celebrate this month, today’s blog post will focus on some pictures and other magazine clips from El Malcriado, a Chicano labor newspaper from 1964-1976, established by Cesar Chavez. Chavez was a core leader in the United Farm Worker’s Movement of the 60s and 70s that advocated for farmworker rights and fair wages.

In preparing for one of our DBQs on the Delano Grape Strike, we relied heavily on El Malcriado  as it is full of rich documentation of the farmworker’s movement. Here is a brief summary of the strike, excerpted from our DBQ: 

In 1965, after a successful strike in Coachella Valley, Larry Itliong led the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) to Delano to fight for farm worker rights during the grape harvest. Having gained a $1.40/hour wage for farm workers in Coachella, he prepared workers to go on strike in Delano when growers refused to pay more than $1.20/hour. However, while the Filipino workers under Itliong readily joined the strike, Mexican workers were willing to accept $1.20/hour and work in the strikers’ place. 

Recognizing that unless they banded together, no one would win, Itliong approached and convinced Cesar Chavez and his union, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), to join the strike. AWOC strikers began on September 8, 1965 and the NFWA joined the strike on September 16. For the next five years, the strike persisted into a global movement of labor strikes and consumer boycotts to fight for fair wages for farmworkers.

In March 1966, Cesar Chavez led a 300 mile march from Delano to Sacramento to pressure the state to answer farm worker demands. Then, after almost a year of striking together, the two unions merged together as the United Farm Workers (UFW) in August 1966. Chavez, Itliong, and Dolores Huerta were its top leaders.

Below are some clips from the Magazine:

Dolores Huerta holding “HUELGA” sign in issue 21 of El Malcriado. ‘Huelga’ means ‘strike.’
More protesters holding “HUELGA” signs from issue 21 of El Malcriado.
A powerful essay on unity in the strike from issue 23 of El Malcriado.
The cover from issue 26 of El Malcriado.
Scenes of farmworkers from the August 22, 1966 issue of El Malcriado.

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!

Remembering 9/11, Twenty Years Later

Unfortunately, the 21st century was ushered in by a tragic terrorist attack that shook the nation. The last 18 months have felt like its own decade in itself that we can sometimes forget just how much has happened in the 21st century. But as we approach the 20th anniversary of the horrific attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001, we would do good to remember and reflect.

When I was teaching, I would dedicate class every year on 9/11 to just that. Often, especially the last few years, my students were not born yet and so the day fit right in with the many “history lessons” of the school year. But this day was different.

I remember my neighbor knocking on our door at 6:30 am, telling us to turn on our TV. By then, two planes had already struck the World Trade Center and minutes later, a third struck the Pentagon. I was shocked. The remainder of the tragic day played out in real time. I saw the first tower collapse on live television. Then the second. Then I heard about Flight 93. Sorrow filled our hearts and minds that day.

My first year teaching I showed the History Channel’s breakdown of the day alongside my own personal story. The History Channel does a fantastic job explaining the timeline, but at the end of it, I felt something was still missing. The students didn’t feel what I felt.

My second year, I decided to do something different. I showed a clip of that day’s news. Not thinking, I didn’t bother to watch it beforehand. As it played, I sobbed. The news took me back to that morning. I told my students I needed some time. I forgot how much the events of that day affected me.

I had a similar moment earlier this week. I read the Washington Post’s excellent story that highlighted 4 young adults that were still in the womb the day their father’s died in the attacks (The Post’s “9/11 20 years later” thread of articles is moving journalism). Now in college or the military, they grew up their whole lives hearing stories or watching home videos of the dads they never knew. Again, I sobbed. They each lost someone, before they even knew he was theirs. 9/11 took their dads from them. 

As we reflect on 9/11, twenty years later, may we never forget the tragic day. May we remember the lives lost, the families directly impacted, and the country’s trajectory over the last two decades. It’s good for us to remember, even when it’s hard. 

History Curriculums Must Serve Students Not Politics

In his research, Peter Seixas, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, outlined some key observations about history curriculums and teaching historical thinking that will serve as the baseline for today’s blog. Seixas oversaw Canada’s Historical Thinking Project, a federally funded curriculum project that sought to reorient Canada’s history education toward historical thinking. What they produced was illuminating and the United States would do well to focus their attention on something similar. 

Seixas and his colleague, Carla Peck from the University of Alberta, write that history curriculums are often presented in one of three ways: as a way to teach a nation-building narrative, to analyze contemporary events in historical context (social studies), or as a discipline of inquiry focused on historical thinking. Despite these three approaches to history education, the general public usually only associates history education with the first: nation-building.

Image from David Gothard in a Los Angeles Times article on the culture wars.

Our current culture wars are a perfect example. On one hand, many Americans see a waning respect for our country and believe that the history classroom must reinvigorate this respect by telling stories of American greatness. The 1776 Report commissioned by former president Donald Trump is a prime example of this. On the other hand, many other Americans hope to decolonize the history classroom by replacing white settler-dominated narratives with stories of oppressed groups, indigenous nations, and people of color. History from the bottom up as they say. Both of these fit the narrative of nation-building even if they dramatically differ on what type of nation they want to build.

But centering history education into the middle of this debate misses the point of history education. History, as we’ve noted time and again, is not the past, it is the study of the past. So teachers of history should be teaching how to study the past, not just the past. When history education becomes about the narrative it tells, we’ll endlessly debate questions about which story to tell instead of equipping students with the skills of historical thinking. 

Graphic from Canada’s Historical Thinking Project, spearheaded by Peter Seixas.

Thinking Nation’s curriculum rises above this politicization of the history classroom by focusing less on which story to tell and much more on the modes of inquiry inherent to historical thinking. Even though teachers are stopped and asked “Do you teach CRT?” by people who cannot even define the theory itself, we only play to the political game by entering these debates. It becomes about proving our allegiance rather than educating children. As a discipline, we can rise above the partisan narratives by teaching history as a discipline and not a synonym with “the past.” We can equip our students with tangible skills of analysis instead of assuming that our chosen narrative of the past is superior to all others. 

We want to work with schools aren’t looking to adopt curriculums merely to please their chosen political tribe, but who want curriculums built with the students in mind. Schools who want to facilitate real learning, the deep thinking, or paideia that the great scholar Cornel West so often reminds us is the purpose of education.