5 Takeaways from CCSS18

Post date: Mar 26, 2018 2:04:55 PM

The California Council for the Social Studies state conference has just wrapped up and it was quite an experience. I’ll likely write about many of the great ideas I picked up in detail but I wanted to get some first impressions out quickly. Here’s some of my major takeaways - the good, the bad and the ugly!

1. Reading is a Real Problem Statewide

Multiple sessions were offered on how to tackle the problem of limited (or non) readers needing to grapple with difficult historical texts. I saw lots of interesting ideas with my personal favorite - mostly because it can be implemented and integrated with what I do already very easily - was an add-on for Google Docs called The Highlight Tool.

While I much prefer print reading to digital the sheer amount of text I have to deliver via print is becoming difficult to manage. I will not use our textbook for various reasons and I imagine whatever new text we adopt will be just as problematic. That means I’m providing articles for my kids to read and annotate. When I provide them digitally students can do a bit of marking up/close reading using the Comment tool and the like but Highlight goes even further. You can set up specifically colored highlighters for each activity and attach it to the doc. When students open the doc (assuming they have the add on) the highlighters and opened too. You can have them focus on specific things in each reading - a big plus.

I also saw a presentation by Dr. Bill McBride that outlined a series of pre-reading and post-reading activities to help kids learn to read (more than to help them with a specific text necessarily.) It takes time but I’m further and further convinced that time spent teaching reading is time well spent. He had a lot to say about how the digital world has shifted the brain’s ability to focus and decode. I’m eager to look deeper into his work.

It’s frustrating to know that our kids are coming to secondary not only with almost no history knowledge but with very low reading skills as well but that is what it is. It is something we all need to come to terms with and work on.

2. We need each other

Seeing what my fellow teachers are doing with the students was the exact spark I needed. I’ve been frustrated with the lack of progress in education in general and particularly in my own classroom the last couple years and I hadn’t realized how much it has slowed down my creative progress too. I saw some amazing, simple, things that have me inspired to do more.

A session about the scandals of Jackson, Clay and JQA has me excited to create some kind of video intro based on ABC’s Scandal. I haven’t done a new TV theme in quite some time. My original ones like House have almost no connection to my students. Time to refresh!

A session on inquiry in the classroom by Susan Myers and Katherine Rand was inspired in part by my history mysteries. The two of them have really run with the concept expanding it into mock trials, congressional hearings and act-it-outs. Meanwhile, I’ve completely stagnated on these. Honestly, stagnation would be an improvement. This year, largely due to the reading issues mentioned above, I’ve done very few of my History Mystery labs. They are my best, deepest, Common Corest lessons and I’m hardly even using them - let alone growing them. Seeing what others are doing has me eager to get back to designing these incredible experiences.

I’m quite plugged in to the social studies community. I’m active on Twitter. I work with a great group of colleagues. Still, I have fallen into hiding in the 4 walls of my classroom. We need each other to show us what we are missing. Then we take it, use our own creativity and run with it.

3. We Need to Teach Presentation Skills - and Not Just to Students

One thing Dr. McBride said that stuck out to me was “oral competency outpaces reading competency by about two years.” His point was that reading out loud so that kids hear proper reading is key in struggling readers. To me it goes a bit further than that. My kids talk to each other a ton in my room but I don’t really take time to teach them how to present their ideas - even to a partner. If reading is such a struggle then we should take advantage of what their brains ARE better able to do. We need to teach them to use their speaking and listening skills to present information clearly.

But we really don’t. We might teach “academic conversations” or using “scholarly voice” in their discussions but we don’t teach them how to present ideas to a group.

Why not? I think we don’t know any better. I’ll be frank - I saw more than a couple bad Google Slide presentations in my sessions. In some of them they were given by very dynamic speakers whose message was clouded by a less-than-stellar presentation. If teachers, people who spend an incredible amount of time presenting to an audience, don’t know how to design an effective presentation then our kids won’t either. We need to model it for them.

So, why aren’t presentation skills taught in college education courses? Well, I mean have you seen how most of those professors present? They don’t know how to do it effectively either! Our teachers (and our kids) see bad presentations so they make bad presentations. We are battling for their attention. Bullet points and grainy clipart are not going to get the job done.

I’ve been beating this drum for awhile now but Google Slides has made the fight even harder. It is just ugly. Powerpoint on PC or Keynote on Mac are beautiful canvases on which to work. Google Slides is functional. That’s about it. The average Google Slides presentation looks like it was made in Powerpoint 2000. Powerpoint has gone through 3 major revisions since then and countless yearly iterations to make it look better. And yes, looks do matter! I will again highly recommend The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs as a guidebook.

That said, I saw more GOOD presentations this year than I’ve seen at any conference I’ve attended, (including tech focused ones) so there is some hope. A few of my sessions used their presentations strictly as a way to put big pages on a screen so we had a common visual to discuss. That’s great! We don’t need the text. Just give us the visual and let your voice be the text. Remember, our oral competencies are way ahead of our reading!

4. Fun Still Matters

Scandals, mysteries, VR 360 images, collaboration, drawings, and games! Oh my!

When you’re in a room full of teachers for a training what makes them most excited? What changes the room from heads down, grading papers, half-listening to engagement? It’s fun. I saw that time and time again in my sessions at the conference.

I played some awesome, quick, simple and completely non-digital games with Wendy Rouse. She had a room full of adults arranging puzzles and stacking cups. At the end of one game one group was so engaged with their task that it took nearly two full minutes for them to realize the rest of the room was moving on to the next game!

I played some awesome, quick, simple and completely digital games with Stacy Yung and Amanda Sandoval. They had a room full of adults eliciting audible “oohs” and “aahs” while looking at 360 images. They had us racing to finish a trivia game on Star Wars (I won’t forget this Henry.) They even had us playing a variant of Heads Up called Charades to reinforce vocabulary. And the room loved it.

If fun can help engagement with a group of adults who were choosing to give up their weekend to hear this information imagine what it does for our kids who, in some cases, don’t want to be in our rooms at all. Fun is the gateway to engagement and we need more of it at every level.

5. Teachers Aren’t Always the Best Models

The closing event of the conference was a Gubernatorial Forum. Instructions explicitly stated that all applause and booing was to be held until the end of the Forum. I had the pleasure of sitting behind a group of high school students who were attending the forum and the displeasure of sitting next to four teachers.

The high school students were models of civility. They listened. They focused. They followed the rules. They were well-dressed. At times they’d turn and whisper quietly to a neighbor in response to a point made. Meanwhile, the 4 teachers next to me showed up in T-shirts and sandals, cheered loudly, clapped wildly, booed, shouted out their own questions and yelled out “shame on you.” Light applause out of turn is one thing. We’re human, we get emotional, but come on. It was, quite frankly, embarrassing to me and caused me to hide my conference badge. I simply do not want to be associated with such behavior.

If we can’t model how to disagree civilly how can we expect our kids to do the same? There were some things stated that I wildly disagreed with in the forum but there is a time and a place to voice those disagreements. These 4 teachers tried to make the forum about them. It wasn’t.

The forum otherwise was informative and well-run. I knew very little about the 4 candidates before the forum and came away with a very clear picture who each was and what they stood for (and believe me, to the two candidates who failed to show up, good luck ever getting my vote.) It is disappointing a handful of teachers caused an unfortunate end to a great conference.

Special thanks to the team who put this conference together. It was inspiring and endlessly useful. Thanks to the 700+ attendees who gave up their weekend (and for many, the first weekend of their Spring Break!) in an effort to be better for their students. Thanks to the 60+ people who attended my session, especially those who said such kind things to me about it as they saw me throughout the day.

Time to start planning for Costa Mesa in 2020 and Design Like Disney 2: 3 More Tips!