Community on Strike: The Alliance Between Educators, Families, and Community Members

Seattle Pacific University’s Program Standard 7, Family and Community, stipulates that teachers should seek to collaborate with families and other educational stakeholders in order to promote student learning. My internship this year reminded me that the community is one of these hugely important educational stakeholders, and by forging meaningful partnerships with it, we can better serve the needs of our students and their families.

I realized how important the local community was to my students’ education very early on in my student teaching — before I even began, in fact! My student teaching career kicked off with the Seattle Education Association (SEA) strike over the parameters of an unfair teachers’ contract. During the strike, I forged connections with coworkers, students, community members, and activists alike and learned a great deal about Roosevelt’s educational vision, the fervor of its faculty and staff, and how to initiate and maintain positive relationships with families and community members that would serve me through the rest of the academic year.

While not part of the union myself, I came to Roosevelt for five days decked out in red and holding a “Support SEA” sign to walk with my unionized colleagues. Every day we walked in circles for ten miles. My dog even joined in the collective spirit!


My dog, Willy, photographed with the picket line signs in front of the football field.

Community members came by each day to offer support, supplying snacks and reinforcements, and marching along the block with us. Several spoke to the press as well. My brother-in-law covered the story for Reuters’ News, and interviewed several community members, including an 8-year old boy, following along in the march as he dribbled a soccer ball. See one of his articles here:

I agreed to an interview with KUOW, explaining why I believed the contested labor contract expanded beyond just bread and butter issues and into a comprehensive educational vision for the state itself.


A poster I hung on my wall during the strike

As community member joined our ranks, I took it upon myself to begin conversations with them. Many were parents of Roosevelt students, but some had simply come to support the local school. I asked them about Roosevelt’s place in the community, and they spoke with pride about its reputation for academic achievement. The relationships I forged through these marches served to put me at ease in front of parents soon after at parent-teacher night when I had the opportunity to introduce myself and establish contacts with student families.

When I wrote my first email to all the parents in my class following parent-teacher night, I spoke of my time getting to know parents and community members during the strike and thanked them for making me already feel a part of the school and surrounding community. I told them of my educational background and my hopes for the academic year, establishing positive contact very early. Several responded, commending how involved I already was. These positive interactions would serve me well later in the year when I looked to parent support for behavioral or academic issues that arose.


Teachers on the picket line outside of Roosevelt High School

On the second to last day of the strike, the Washington Education Association (WEA) and its labor choir came to join us. We had advertised to the community through phone calls and flyers that we were looking for more help, and they showed up in droves, singing along with us to the tunes of the labor choir. I have maintained contact with the WEA representatives I met that day. Faculty and community members alike then walked around the school, singing and chanting still. There must have been 800 people that day outside of Roosevelt between the staff from a handful of schools and the community members themselves!


Community members out to support their teachrs


The Seattle Labor Choir leads us in song.

The evening before the strike’s end, I went to a city council meeting to talk about the contested contract and teacher and community concerns about it. The city council meeting was an open forum in which people could come up to speak about the issues at hand. It was thrilling and inspiring to discuss these issues alongside concerned community members and activists.


City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant leading City Hall Meeting.

Once the strike had come to a close, I felt a sense of unity not only with the staff at Roosevelt, but with the community around me. I recognized faculty and student faces the very first day I actually got to walk through Roosevelt’s double doors, and I felt far more comfortable and at ease knowing I had spent a great deal of time with these incredible people already.

To me, this strike was demonstrative of the support for teachers felt throughout the Roosevelt community. Known for its academic excellence, Roosevelt truly inspires a sense of trust and confidence in the community around it. As such, the strike showed me that community members were willing to work with faculty and teachers in order to protect our school’s academic distinction.

I learned too that showing the community and families that we care about the education of their children, and have devoted our lives to it, instills a trust essential to establishing a safe school environment. Teachers, community members, and parents are allies, all working to better our families, community, and world; we are all part and parcel of that village it takes to raise a child.

I know now that I want to get more involved in the teachers’ union so I can work more closely with the local community. Teachers’ unions need community partners and families to support their efforts. To engage in local politics, one has to know local politics, and care about them deeply.

Knowing and recognizing the importance of the alliance between educators, families, and communities is essential to establishing the partnerships needed to make a schoolhouse more than just a schoolhouse, but the bedrock of the community – one committed to communal development and familial involvement. I know I have learned a great deal about this expansive alliance through my internship this year, and through my involvement that very first week in the SEA strike.



Making an Original Newsreel: A Tech-Based Lesson Plan for Internship Placement

This semester in my EDTC 6431 Learning With Technology course I designed a lesson based off of a lesson about 1940s Wartime Newsreels that I had taught in my internship placement. My project expanded on ideas I had already explored with my class and sought ways to include technology in the already fun and effective lesson segment. 

My model lesson segment, which asked students to develop a 5-minute newsreel using the program Digital Storyteller, was designed to get students to think about how the American people got their news during wartime, and to develop news segments on their very own. In the lesson segment I developed, each group was given a press release about a certain homefront subject and expected to piece together a short, 5-minute newsreel set on the U.S. Homefront during World War II, complete with a lead story, a secondary story, a human interest piece, and an advertisement.

In actuality, my students did this exact project but only had to act out their newsreels and bring in visuals to supplement them. Below is my project’s lesson segment, which borrows heavily from the lesson segment I did carry out with my students, but asks that students put together their very own newsreels using historical footage, images, and voiceovers on a digital film-making program (see above for link).

Take a look: 

WWII Homefront Newsreel Project Lesson Plans


Lesson 1 (Monday): World War II Homefront and the Newsreel

Standard AP U.S. History College Board; Key Concept 7.2: Innovations in communications and technology contributed to the growth of mass culture, while significant changes occurred in internal and international migration patterns.

Key Concept 7.3: Participation in a series of global conflicts propelled the United States into a position of international power while renewing domestic debates over the nation’s proper role in the world.

II. World War II and its aftermath intensified ongoing debates about the nation’s role in the world and how best to achieve national security and pursue American interests.

Central Focus (CF) Students compile newsreels to learn about life on the World War II Homefront.
Learning Target


Students can determine the key characteristics of a newsreel in order to help them brainstorm how to develop and make original newsreels of their own in small groups. Students write down LT.




Teacher opens class by reminding students that yesterday we spoke about Pearl Harbor and U.S. entry into WWII.

It’s 1942 now, and teacher asks how it is that U.S. citizens hear about the way. Teacher asks students to list the news sources available to people during wartime.

Teacher writes student ideas on the board.

Teacher is sure to address the possible misconception that people had TV’s in this time. It wasn’t until after the war that they came out. There were, however, movies and movie theaters.

Teacher circles the word “newsreel” on the board. Teacher explains that movie-goers would go to the movies for a nickel or a dime, and before a movie began they would see the news through a newsreel.

Teacher briefly explains the history of the newsreel.

Students call out different news sources.
Practice Activity or


Teacher welcomes students to the “movies,” it’s 1942 and Hitler has just invaded the Soviet Union. Sit back, relax, and watch what our newsreel has to say about this.

Teacher asks that as students watch they take notes about what they notice about the newsreel. What are its characteristics? What stories does it tell? Its style? Tone?

Teacher plays 10-minute newsreel.

Students take notes on the film reel.
Informal Assessment     Teacher asks students to talk to their table partner about different things they noticed from the newsreel.

Teacher writes “Characteristics of a newsreel” on the board.

Teacher asks students to share what they noticed from the newsreel. Teacher writes down the characteristics students determine.

Teacher points out that there was clearly a “lead story” (Germany invading the Soviet Union), a “secondary story” (U.S. military industrial efforts to help Russia), a “human interest story” (at home, there is a nation-wide debutant contest underway), and an “advertisement” (for war bonds).

Teacher instructs that students write lead story, secondary story, human interest story, and advertisement in their notes.

Students talk to their table partner about characteristics of the newsreel.

Students share their ideas with the class.

Students write “lead story, secondary story, human interest story, and advertisement” in their notes.

Practice Activity or


Teacher explains that students will have the opportunity to create their own newsreels using either raw images and footage and voice-overs with a digital program called Digital Storyteller from Primary Access.

Teacher assigns students into four-person groups and hands them one of seven press releases from the Teacher’s Curriculum Institute World War II material guides on one of the following seven topics: Women, Government, GIs, Children, Consumerism, African Americans, Mexican Americans.

Students sit with their assigned group members.
Informal Assessment Teacher tells students to read over the press release together and brainstorm to decide on the topics of their lead story, secondary story, human interest piece, and advertisement.

Teacher tells students to decide who will write each story (about 1-1.5 minutes a piece).

For homework, students will need to write these stories.

Students read over press release together and determine what will be their lead story, secondary story, human interest piece, and advertisement.

Students self-assign in groups which story they will write.

For groups with three or five members, students will be responsible for allocating four stories and five minutes amongst that amount of students.

Closure Assessment of Student Voice Students hand in an Exit Ticket detailing the contents of each story for their newsreel. Students hand in Exit Ticket as they leave the classroom.



Lesson 2 (Tuesday): Researching Stories and Visuals for Newsreels (in computer lab)

Standard AP U.S. History College Board; Key Concept 7.2: Innovations in communications and technology contributed to the growth of mass culture, while significant changes occurred in internal and international migration patterns.

Key Concept 7.3: Participation in a series of global conflicts propelled the United States into a position of international power while renewing domestic debates over the nation’s proper role in the world.

II. World War II and its aftermath intensified ongoing debates about the nation’s role in the world and how best to achieve national security and pursue American interests.

Central Focus (CF) Students compile newsreels to learn about life on the World War II Homefront.
Learning Target


Students can use the program Digital Storyteller and research online databases for historical information and visual and video footage for their newsreels. Students write down LT.




Teacher tells students to find a computer next to their group members and share with their group members the stories they wrote for last night’s homework.

Teacher passes out newsreel project rubric, so students understand the expectations.

Students review their homework, and share with their partners the stories they wrote for the newsreel.

Students read the project rubric.

Practice Activity


Teacher asks all students to visit Digital Storyteller online and scaffolds their online learning by walking them through the steps of the program.

Teacher introduces students to the websites main features, and shows example work from past students who used this program.

In order to use the visual and online features, students will now have the time to work together to research visual aids or do more research to create their own. Teacher warns that while students will have one more work-day in class, students should communicate and work together through Digital Storyteller at home and Google Docs.

Teacher posts a list of historical databases in which students should begin their research on the school’s educational interface: Schoology. Teacher instructs that students begin their research with these online databases, which we have worked with before together in class.  

Students follow teacher’s step-by-step introduction to the program.

Students consult with online databases on Schoology.  

Informal Assessment Teacher tells students to begin playing with the program and looking for visuals. In order to check in, teacher conferences with each group to give them additional direction. Students research and compile footage or conference with the teacher.
Closure Assessment of Student Voice Exit Ticket: Students must decide in moving forward who will be responsible for visuals (2 students), voice-over (1 student), and editing (1 student), and provide a schedule for project completion. They have three more days to finish their project. Digital Storyteller is accessible on any computer, so students can work at these from home or after school. Students hand in Exit Ticket as they leave the classroom.
Students who find one group member is not pulling their weight must speak directly with the teacher over the next few work days to work something out accordingly.Teacher may decide that students do not have to do an advertisement, for instance, or that their video can be up to thirty seconds shorter.  



Lesson 3 (Friday): Newsreel Presentations!

Standard AP U.S. History College Board; Key Concept 7.2: Innovations in communications and technology contributed to the growth of mass culture, while significant changes occurred in internal and international migration patterns.

Key Concept 7.3: Participation in a series of global conflicts propelled the United States into a position of international power while renewing domestic debates over the nation’s proper role in the world.

II. World War II and its aftermath intensified ongoing debates about the nation’s role in the world and how best to achieve national security and pursue American interests.

Central Focus (CF) Students compile newsreels to learn about life on the World War II Homefront.
Learning Target


Students present their newsreels and reflect on the significance of the topics of each newsreel’s impact on the war effort and life on the U.S. home front. Students write down LT.




Teacher invites students to the “movie theater,” as in the days in the 1930s and 40s when moviegoers went to see a film and viewed a series of newsreels before the feature film. Before our feature film, she reminds them, we have a lot to hear about the state of our country at war, and the happenings here and abroad!

Teacher explains that she will call each group individually to load their newsreel.

Teacher passes out a note-taking handout. Teacher explains that as the audience watches the newsreel, they must write down five important things they learn. After each 5-minute newsreel, teacher will give students 1-2 minutes to write a reflection on the significance of the topic of the newsreel and its impact on the war effort and life on the U.S. homefront on their handout.

Informal Assessment Teacher calls up a group to present their newsreel.
Teacher instructs that students take a moment to write a reflection on the significance of what they have just seen on their handouts.(Repeat 7 times)
Students present their digital newsreels.

Students in the audience take notes on five important things.

Students take 1-2 minutes to reflect on the significance of the topics of the newsreel and its impact on the U.S. home front.

Informal Assessment Teacher asks students to talk to their table partner about themes they thought about as they saw these newsreels; what types of stories did we hear? What do they tell us about the war effort and life at home?

Teacher asks students to share their ideas.

Teacher tells students that next week we will be getting into the Cold War.

Teacher asks students how does WWII transform the U.S. in their view? Where is the U.S. once the Cold War begins?

Students talk to table partner about what themes they noticed in the newsreels.

Students share their ideas with the class.

Students share their ideas with the class.

Closure Assessment of Student Voice Teacher tells students to turn in their notes and reflections before they leave class. Students turn in their presentation note handouts for feedback.

Assessment or Postassessment

(Sequence end)

Students will be graded according to the following rubric:

-Newsreel includes a lead story, a secondary story, a human interest piece, and an advertisement (10 points)

-Stories are historically accurate (10 points)

-Visuals are historically relevant, interesting, and engaging (10 points)

-Voice-over sounds well-rehearsed and uses an appropriate tone (10 points)

-Editing is well-done (few awkward pauses, jumps, or blank screens) (10 points)

-Newsreel is entertaining, engaging, and fun (10 points)

-Newsreel is about 5-minutes long (10 points)

Total: 70 points.

Students will submit their newsreels to Lehigh’s Reel American History Project.

Artifacts from the actual lesson: 

Example Press Release (on Government):


Example Student Group Script (with lead story, secondary story, human interest piece, and advertisement):


Example Note-Taking Handout frontside (for day of presentations):


Example Rubric:


Lesson Segment Reflection: 

As said, while I did not have the opportunity to teach this exact tech-based lesson segment, I was able to teach it without the Digital Storytelling program, having the students act out their newsreels for the rest of the class. Instead of creating their own short films, students wrote scripts and provided their own visuals (projecting them as a backdrop) and read out their newsreel stories in a performance presentation for their peers.

My mentor teacher and I did use the same preparation resources I described in this lesson segment, however, like the model press releases (see above for the press release on Government). We also showed students example newsreels and as a class named the characteristics of an effective newsreel. We pointed out to students that each newsreel had a lead story, a secondary story, a human interest piece, and an advertisement — writing each of these on the board and describing their characteristics.

I gave students a half workday in class to read their press releases together and come up with and assign their stories. They also collaborated about visuals, and even music, in class. At home, they all either wrote their own part of the script or added to a group Google Document and turned in their entire script at the end of their presentation (see above for the model script). As students performed their newsreels, I took notes on each of their stories and any particularly interesting things that they did with their performance on the rubric in front of me. I waited until I read their scripts to grade how historically accurate they were (see above for example rubric).

The students had a really great time with this project. Some got very into the voiceovers, copying the intonation of a newsreel commentator closely. Some even dressed up! For one of the newsreels that focused on stories about GIs (based off of the GI press release), one student came dressed in uniform, helmet and all! This same group surprised us when as they advertised the reliable Zippo, they pulled it out for us! The group who presented their newsreel on stories about the Government (script above) accompanied their presentation not only with several visuals but with soft WWII-era music playing in the background as they spoke. It really was a lot of fun!

I knew that the students really learned a lot from conducting and watching those presentations because when I gave the students three questions for a quiz review — with one asking about life on the homefront during WWII — the students insisted we skip that one so we could focus more on the happenings of the war abroad. When I asked if they really felt that comfortable with the material, they all insisted the newsreels were a great help! Overall, they did quite well with all the questions on the quiz about the WWII homefront, which suggests they were playing very close attention during the presentations (thanks, in part, to their Newsreel Notes Handout, see above).

Lesson Segment Revision: 

Overall, students performed very strongly on this presentation. The majority of the groups received an 18 or 19 out of 20 points on their in-person newsreel presentations. While the presentations were a lot of fun, I think the lesson could have only been supplemented and augmented by the use of technology to tell their stories. In the lesson I have designed for this EDTC 6431 Individual Project, students would still have the opportunity to “perform” their stories for their classmates, but would do so through a different medium, film, using the Digital Storyteller program. Using this program would give students the opportunity to learn about film-making — compiling, editing, special features, etc… — in the process.

Importantly, adding the more intentional use of technology in this project would serve to address ISTE 1 Standard, which requires that students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology. As the lesson stands now, it addresses the Key Concepts 7.2 and 7.3 of the AP College Board curriculum, but using technology in this lesson — and comparing an understanding about innovations in communication and technology in our past and present — would undoubtedly serve to make these lessons more valuable, and its fruits long-lasting. Undoubtedly, however, to use the technology well, the students would need at least a week to work on their projects, which would make the project much bigger (a 70-point project rather than the 20-point project it is now).

Students could even revisit these projects or submit them to Lehigh’s Reel American History Project, which seeks to collect and show student work nationwide: Partaking in a collaborative project like this would have also been memorable for the students — and a bit of a motivator to make their newsreels, and make them well!

Good teachers know teaching and lesson development is an iterative process. While the lesson works well as it stands now, it only stands to be improved by the incorporation of technology, allowing students to not only act out newsreels but really create newsreels of their own. I’ll definitely work more with this idea in the coming year!

Pairing Theory and Practice: Course and Internship Reflection for EDU 6136 Content Methods

In EDU6136 Content Methods this quarter, I have had the great privilege of learning about the pedagogical theories in the educational field that address Program Standard 4, Content Knowledge. The Content Knowledge standard requires that teachers use their understanding of not only their content area and its learning objectives or standards, but also know how best to teach the content to achieve those standards. This requires that teachers learn about and practice the pedagogical processes and resources available to truly impact student learning. This course has exposed me to a wide range of pedagogical approaches, but my internship placement has allowed me to actually apply several of these theories – from assessing prior knowledge, scaffolding, and deepening understanding – to practice.

While I had read Dochy et al. (1999), and believed I fully understood the importance of assessing students’ prior knowledge, I learned quickly in my internship that I wasn’t doing enough to apply this in practice. I was teaching my AP U.S. History students about Eugene V. Debs and the American Socialist Party, and had wrongly assumed we could dig right into a speech of his entitled “Winning the World” about how socialism would ultimately overtake capitalism. Luckily, I did begin the lesson with a KWL chart and quickly picked up on my students’ misguided impressions of the political theory of socialism – I saw my students had conflated the definition of socialism with that of communism. I ditched the planned lesson in order to work with students on coming up with a working definition of socialism. Had I assessed prior learning about the subject earlier, I would certainly have planned a Concept Instruction lesson to help students grapple with the theory on their own with prepared resources. I certainly learned my lesson, and learned that the next time I read about something related to pedagogical practice, I better take note and apply it in my internship!

I was reminded of this again when I read about scaffolding in this course. De Pol et al (2010), for instance, summarize decades’ worth of research on scaffolding in saying, “In general, scaffolding is construed as support given by a teacher to a student when performing a task that the student might otherwise not be able to accomplish” (p. 274). As I thought about scaffolding, I wondered how often I actually gave students too much support, and failed to really challenge them within Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (De Pol, 272). I thought, for instance, how in my AP U.S. History class we give the students time to grapple with review questions before taking a weekly quiz on the contents of the textbook chapter they have just read, and how I often answer several questions without challenging my students to think critically on their own first. De Pol (2012) and others works reminded me that teachers are really just there to facilitate learning, not to give the answers away. With time, and trying to more intentionally apply theory to my practice in my internship placement, I have begun to challenge my students to look in the text themselves or ask each other before coming to me. What a difference that has already made!

Later, as I read the works of Caram and Davis (2005), Goldsmith (2013), and Roberts and Billings (2009) about the importance of asking high quality questions to deepen student understanding, and welcoming questions, conversation, and debate to encourage student engagement, I already knew a little better. My mentor teacher had stressed to me the importance of question asking from day one. She had modeled for me the turn-and-talk in pairs technique, which allows students to bounce thoughts about a given question off of each other before offering them up to the class. I saw how this technique facilitated more open and thoughtful conversation. When I read of this very technique called “Think, Pair, Share” in Goldsmith’s (2013, p.50) research, I recognized it immediately. Additionally when I read Roberts and Billings (2009) work on Socratic seminars and stimulating “conversations that teach” (p.83), I found again that I knew this practice well. In my AP U.S. History course we have hosted seminar discussions on topics from the Declaration of Independence to what it is that Jacob Riis’s work and The Gangs of New York can reveal about the Gilded Age. Currently, I am planning a Socratic Seminar for my students (see below for directions) in which they need to come in as Civil Rights Movement activists and stay in character for the whole of the open discussion – presenting and defending their position on the proper course of the movement.

Scan 18.jpeg

It is amazing how theory informs practice (and vice versa)! As I moved forward in the course, I recognized more and more of the strategies we studied, and more intentionally applied them in my internship classrooms. My Content Knowledge skills improved signficiantly as I learned and then practiced how best to teach the information in my classroom. By the time we got to talk about feedback at the end of the semester, for instance, I had already given my students in my AP Language and Composition class substantive comments on creative performance pieces they had presented for the entire class. I typed 1/3-page responses to each and every one of the students about their piece, encouraging them and challenging them with additional questions to grapple with. It took a very, very long time, but I was thrilled I had done it, and had again lined educational theory about skillful feedback to practice.

In going forward, I know I will more intentionally recognize and apply these content method techniques in my internship classrooms in order to further impact student learning. As they say, we learn as we go. In this program I have realized that I learn through both theory and practice, and this course has given me the opportunity to think critically about how best to pair the two.



Billings, L. & Roberts, T. (2009). Speak up and listen. Kappan Magazine, October 2009 ed., pp. 81-85.

Caram, C & Davis, P. (2005). Inviting student engagement with questioning. Kappa Delti Pi Record, Fall 2005 ed., 19-23.

De Pol, J., Volman, M., and Beishusen, J. (2010). Scaffolding in teacher-student interaction: A decade of research. Educational Psychology Review. 22, pp. 271-296. DOI 10.1007/x10648-101-9127-6.

Dochy, Filip, et al. (1999). The relation between assessment practices and outcomes of studies: The case of research on prior knowledge. Review of Educational Research, Summer 1999, Vol. 69, No. 2, pp. 145-186.

Goldsmith, W. (2013). Enhancing classroom conversation for all students. Kappan Magazine, April 2013 ed., pp. 48-52.


With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Digital and Global Citizenship in the 21st Century

With great digital power comes great civic responsibility.

As our world and its digital interfaces overlap more and more, they become increasingly conflated. The gap between being a global citizen and a digital citizen is closing quickly; being an active and engaged citizen of one means being an upstanding citizen of the other. As a Social Studies teacher, this idea really resonates with me. I seek to teach students about their own civic responsibilities, about how their ethics determine those same responsibilities and shape how it is they choose to live in their community, society, and world. I would be remiss to forego educating them about how ethics should shape not only their communal but their digital behavior, and how the responsibilities of citizenship follow them in every step of their lives, no matter the forum.

In the 1990s, Doug Johnson, the Director of Media and Technology in Mankato, Minnesota public school district, foresaw the coming of the Digital Age in which students would need to undergo training in the rights and responsibilities of the digital citizenship. In his blog, Johnson details how teachers can educate students about ethical digital behavior by appealing to students’ sense of ethics. He writes, “the terms “ethical,” “safe,” “moral,” “appropriate” and “legal” are all used when discussing whether technology behaviors are right or wrong,” but cautions us to remember that just as in moral ethics, digital ethics are not always black and white — we as humans tend to think of most things on an “ethical continuum” (Johnson, 2002). For instance, Johnson offers, “A student using a school computer to view sports scores is not illegal, but it could be considered inappropriate if it violates school guidelines” (Johnson, 2002).

I find Johnson’s moral appeal very compelling, and know my students would connect far more deeply with the conversation surrounding digital citizenship if they could connect it to a philosophical exploration of their own moral judgement — what is right? What is wrong? What is in between? And why?

One of my classmates kindly referred me to The Global Citizen Foundation at, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and cultivating responsible digital citizens. The website offers digital professional development techniques that they urge be implemented school and district wide. The website also has several resources for teachers, and led me to historypin, a website designed for putting together local digital history projects — certainly a resource my students would enjoy! The Global Citizenship Foundation suggests that in order to be a knowledgeable digital citizen, we must be well-versed in solution, information, creativity, media, and collaboration fluency (The Global Citizen Foundation, 2016). Again, I couldn’t help but think about how transferable these fluencies are to global citizenship. I wonder if we can yet drop the “digital” when talking about digital citizenship, and consider just how universal our code of ethics can and should be.


Johnson, Doug (2002). Developing ethical behaviors in students. Retrieved from

The Global Citizenship Foundation (2016). Global digital citizenship guide. Retrieved from

Classroom Tips: Deepening Student Understanding through Questioning

Classroom Tips for Deepening Student Understanding through Questioning

We live in a sensory overloaded world. Electronic devices or the drama of real life can easily distract our students. It is important that we find ways to actively engage learners so that they have the space to explore their intellectual curiosity and deepen their content understanding. To do this well, we teachers must ask our students questions! We need to get them thinking about complex concepts and talking to each other as they grapple with them.


Students want to learn from each other. They want to share their own views and perhaps even argue about other’s. Stimulating conversation about things students care about is what will hold their attention and ultimately deepen their content understanding.

When competing with the sensory-overloaded world out there, it is important that teachers show students that we want to hear what they have to say, and facilitate open and exciting discussion.

How do we do this? We ask them open-ended and intentional questions, get them asking their own, and get them to investigate together. Ask, ask, ask away and get them to engage deeply with the content at hand.

1.) Engage students and informally assess their comprehension by asking questions and stimulating dialogue.

Use preplanned and guiding questistudent-raising-hand-clip-art-image013ons as you go. Avoid trick questions and phrase questions clearly and concisely. Ask questions that engage student interest; relate them  back to their worlds. Think music, politics, social issues, etc..! Listen carefully to their responses and ask follow-up questions to encourage open conversation. (Caram and Davis, 2005).

2.) When asking these thought-provoking and open-ended questions, have students talk in pairs before opening up full-class discussion.

Students are often nervous to pipe up without having a moment to reflect on the question their teacher has just asked. By asking that students turn and talk to the person next to them about the question at hand, students get to put their ideas into words and learn from their partner before having to share with the class. This simple routine gives students confidence to speak up in classroom discussion, and enhances the quality of classroom discussion overall.

3.) In order to elicit deeper critical thinking, stimulate conversation between students!

Instead of asking just one student to respond to an open-ended question, be sure to ask other students if they agree or disagree, and why. You can also hold students responsible for listening to each other by asking that students restate what their classmate has said, and following that up with questions about their own opinion on that response (Goldsmith, 2013). This way we get students responding directly to the ideas of their classmates.

4.) Avoid the traditional raise-your-hand to respond method. Hold students responsible for classroom engagement.

Especially if teachers use the turn-and-talk method after asking each question, students should feel prepared with a response. Cold-calling holds students responsible for classroom engagement. It also helps ensure that students who are more timid and less likely to pipe up have the opportunity to share their ideas with the class.

th5.) Host Socratic seminars, and stimulate “conversations that teach” (Roberts and Billings, 2009, p.83).

As said, questioning deepens content understanding, as students are held accountable for their own engagement. It also provides the teacher with important information regarding student comprehension. So, get students to ask their own questions! Host Socratic seminars and teach students what are factual, interpretive, and evaluative questions. Listen carefully as they go to get a sense of how they are grappling with classroom texts and ideas.

To teach students factual, interpretive, and evaluative questioning, begin with a fun, recognizable story like Cinderella and ask students to come up with each type of question based on that story. Then, ask that they apply this questioning method to the texts read in class.

Whenever hosting a Socratic seminar, give students time (either in class or at home) to prepare by developing their own questions. Encourage them to ask questions that refer directly to the text and deepen textual understanding.

6.) Set up Structured Academic Controversies (SACs) in the classroom to get students to work together to investigate questions on their own.

The SAC allows students to explore a complex question in teams. In pairs, students are assigned a certain position related to a question. For instance, the teacher may ask: Was the New Deal a success or failure? One pair of students must find evidence for it being a success, and the other pair must find evidence for it being a failure. After, both teams must present their evidence to each other, and then must come to a consensus as a group regarding their own position on the issue.

In a SAC, students do not have to choose one position for their consesus, but can develop more complex, fuller answers to the question. For instance, they may decide that the New Deal was successful in that it treated the symptoms of the Great Depression, but was a failure in that it did little to address the root causes.

Students don’t easily forget the conclusions they came to on their own. Ask them the right, tough questions to get them investigating together!


Billings, L. & Roberts, T. (2009). Speak up and listen. Kappan Magazine, October 2009 ed., pp. 81-85.

Caram, C & Davis, P. (2005). Inviting student engagement with questioning. Kappa Delti Pi Record, Fall 2005 ed., 19-23.

Goldsmith, W. (2013). Enhancing classroom conversation for all students. Kappan Magazine, April 2013 ed., pp. 48-52.

History Matters: Using Rich Media to Conduct Historical Research

This week began by investigating the digital tools and resources available to help students of history use critical thinking skills to conduct and manage their own research.

I began, then, by referring to EdTechTeacher: Best History Websites at, which offers educators tools for History Research and Writing Guides, Internet Search Tools, Primary Source Collections and Activities, History Databases, Museums Online, and Website Evaluation Materials. Dr. Bates warns teachers must be sure not “overload” students, or present them “with too much information at too complex a level or too quickly for them to properly absorb it” (section 6.6.3), so I evaluated each tool individually to better ascertain how I would directly teach its use.

As I dug into each section, I was particularly struck by The Center for History and New Media (CHNM), which seeks to produce historical works in new media forms to test their effectiveness in the classroom: I have already used their History Matters website a few times in my own classroom; its Many Pasts section has primary documents in text, image, and audio that importantly trace the stories of ordinary Americans. The CHNM also features a Research and Tools section, which details how to use Zotero, a free Firefox extension used for managing and citing research sources. Additionally it offers a Making Sense of Evidence section, which provides students with strategies for analyzing online primary documents, and contains interactive exercises designed to guide the use of traditional and online sources. Lastly, CHNM’s Reference Desk offers students information on how best to evaluate websites and understand copyright and fair use.

CHNM’s History Matters website what Dr. Bates would define as a “rich media source,” offering students many ways to interact with its tools inside and outside of the classroom. As Bates warns, however “rich media may contain a great deal of information compressed into a very short time period and its value will depend to a large extent on the learner’s level of preparation for interpreting it,” (section 6.3.3.) so direct instruction in how to use each feature of this informative and varied website would be absolutely essential to explore its full and rich potential.

Another integral part of using rich media is educating students on how to do so responsibly. Students must be able to make informed decisions on the appropriate use of digital resources, and while History Matters offers some great suggestions on the matter in their Making Sense of Evidence and Reference Desk sections, students should know a thing or two about digital citizenship before even embarking upon such complex digital research.

I found a website called Digital Citizenship, which offers a “Nine Elements Section” that provides students with a list of commandments, if you will, that are easy to remember and will help guide students in their individual digital research projects These nine elements remind students what it is to be a critically thinking historian who uses their digital resources carefully and responsibly. Being responsible digital citizens, after all, allows students to make full educational use of the rich media at their fingertips.


Bates, A.W. (n.d.). Fundamental change in education. In Teaching in a digital age (6). Retrieved from

Learn by Doing: Using Historical Databases in the History Classroom

In my AP U.S. History course, we have begun to discuss the concept of Historiography. Students are now reading secondary sources with a critical eye — analyzing them for argument and evidence and spotting what has been left out of the secondary source all together. Students are starting to see that History is written by mere humans, humans with biases, slants, and opinions just like the rest of us.

They have had fun with this realization. Just last week we read two differing perspectives on why the U.S. entered World War I, and students assessed both of these historians’ arguments and realized that both had failed to mention the Zimmermann Telegram, a pretty integral part of the story in their view. Why hadn’t either historian mentioned that, they asked? What evidence did these two historians offer? How did they differ? How did they support their arguments?

After ample practice with this, I’d like to see my students move a step further. Dr Bates explains that in the digital age within which we now find ourselves, “the key shift is towards greater emphasis on skills, particularly knowledge management, and less on memorising content.” He continues, “We need teaching methods for teaching and learning that lead to the development of the skills needed in a digital age.”

In my course, I am trying to teach students the skills of real life historians and am trying to get them to use digital resources to do so. I like to get them investigating and drawing their own conclusions. I, of course, do provide them with enough information, or scaffolding, on a given topic (usually through interactive lectures) that they feel equipped to investigate it more on their own. Ultimately it is the students who are assessing the primary documents and analyzing the historical arguments, however; they are the true historians in my classroom.

Unsurprisingly, I was compelled by Bates’s description of Ralph Goodyear’s  HIST 305 Historiography course at an unnamed public university in the central U.S., in which students are expected, for the last third of their course, to engage in their own research projects about city histories and present their research to the rest of the class. According to Bates, Goodyear was delighted by the quality of the work and reported “What I liked was that the students weren’t learning about history; they were doing it.”

In order to get my students thinking like historians, I need to get them to do history.  I need to prepare them to do historical research first and foremost; they need to know what digital research tools and databases are available to them that will allow them to engage in archival research within the school building and even in the comforts of their own homes.

I have already found several historical research databases I intend to show my students to get them started in independent, historical research. Some of these digital archives are local in nature — including and the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project — and some national — including the Library of Congress’s online resources.

One database I have found particularly comprehensive is Fordham University’s Internet History Sourcebooks Project: The website offers a variety of historical sourcebooks, organized by time period and space, or historical topic. Students can click around such historical topics to find primary documents through which to sift. The website founders have already organized the sourcebooks to ensure that all documents and external websites are of high quality.

Importantly, the website also includes a “Studying History” tab that offer students guidance on how to best use primary sources, engage in historiography, and write effective research essays. All of these tools are intended to help students critically evaluate the historical information they are gathering through this site and others.  See these additional tools at:

I foresee suggesting that students begin their research with a database such as this, and let it lead them to additional resources along the way. Hopefully this will allow them to piece together the history they are researching in their own way, which will allow them to read secondary sources with a more critical and independent thinking eye!

The best way to learn history is to do it. As an educator, I plan to use online databases to help students do history. They’ll investigate sources, conduct research, and make their own judgements as to how all of the pieces fit together. They’ll be the historical detectives of their own studies, and they’ll get to decide what it is that makes history history.

The digital age, and its varied online resources, can help us as educators entrust our students with the responsibility of their own learning, and instruct that our students learn by doing.


Bates, A.W. (n.d.). Fundamental change in education. In Teaching in a digital age (4). Retrieved from

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