10 of the best websites for bringing history & social studies to life

History and social studies bad reputations for being boring. To many students, these subjects mean reading long-winded textbooks and memorizing incessant facts. They don’t necessarily see the importance of studying something that happened hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Getting students to really care about what they’re learning involves bringing the subject to life for them. Thanks to the internet, there are so many ways for students to experience the past. History and social studies feel more real as students participate in these interactive and immersive activities. The resources are endless, but here are our online charter school’s 10 favorite websites.

1. Google Earth
Much of history involves understanding the geography and settings for key events, and with Google Earth, students can explore those places. The free software lets them view the globe from a high altitude or zoom in on countries, towns, and even street corners. The overlay feature allows students to drop a map over a historical site, which gives more context to its significance. With Google Earth, students can also view 3D models of various sites and create “flyovers,” where they can use placemarks to “fly” from one point to another over a specific route.

2. Google Lit Trips
For some students, the best way to experience history is through storytelling. Google Lit Trips takes the locations and journeys of beloved literary characters, and drops them into Google Earth. The program also offers relevant media, thought-provoking discussion starters, and links to supplementary information about real-world references to bring the story back into a historical perspective.

3. YouTube
YouTube is a treasure trove for historical film clips from more than 100 years ago—when motion pictures were invented—to the present. Learning about presidential elections? Search and view the first-ever televised presidential debate between Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon. There are also an abundance of channels that help students visualize historic concepts. For example, American Rhetoric compiles speeches of political, cultural, athletic, and religious significance. Other channels, like Crash Course, give students mini-lessons on social studies, U.S. history, world history, and government.

4. iCivics
iCivics makes learning about social studies and politics interactive and fun. Founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the website uses games to transform abstract concepts into real-life scenarios. Students get the chance to learn how the government works by stepping into the role of a judge, member of Congress, community activist, and the President, and engaging in challenging and thoughtful role play. To top it off, the points students earn while playing can be used to vote on their favorite “impact project,” which the site then donates to every three months.


7 reasons why we need innovation in schools

Innovation is more than a buzzword today—it’s something educators strive for in their classrooms, schools, and districts.

We can’t test students on their innovation, but we can encourage them to explore new concepts, look at challenges from all sides, and embrace failures as opportunities to try again with more knowledge.

We also want to make sure you know about our Distinguished Innovator Awards program, which recognizes educators, leaders, schools, and districts that are embracing personalized learning, closing equity and opportunity gaps, and using groundbreaking strategies to improve education in every classroom. If you have a minute, enter the contest or nominate a colleague! The contest is open until November 30.

It’s important to recognize innovation when we see it. Here, we’ve highlighted some excellent examples of innovation in schools across the nation, and we’ve linked to more information about each example.

1. Young people who aren’t exposed to innovation are “lost inventors”—those who have tons of potential but are much less likely to pursue careers as inventors due to this lack of exposure. Addressing this gap is critical for the nation’s future.

2. At Atlantis Charter School in Fall River, MA, educators are taking an innovative approach toward education to help ensure that happens. Working with a coalition of partners from higher education, business, and industry, educators designed a high school curriculum that addresses the growing skills gap that exists in education today so that students are prepared for what is expected of them in college and beyond. The cornerstone of the high school is five school-to-career academies.


We all teach SEL: Empathy activities & tools for students

Building social and emotional learning (SEL) skills such as empathy requires face-to-face interactions, meaningful discussion, and reflection. Edtech is no complete substitute for that, but there are tools that can supplement the development of character in the classroom and at home. According to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

While some tools focus specifically on empathy, the websites and apps that you use daily (in all subjects) can be used to promote perspective taking, too. You don’t have to stop using the tools you love or toss out your lesson or curricular plans to start developing SEL. Below we have included some tips, tools, and actionable ideas for seamlessly integrating empathy and life skills-building into your content classroom.

Why empathy?
Classrooms are complex, collaborative, and diverse spaces. An enriching, engaging, and supportive classroom environment is one in which students reflect on themselves and their peers as learners and as people, full of similarities and differences. A group culture that encourages trust and friendship—that practices empathy—functions better as a whole and can better tackle tough concepts. Some schools are recognizing how impactful empathy can be, like the one in Pennsylvania where students shared their deepest, most painful secrets before 500 of their peers. The leaders of this school believe that events like this—free of criticism or judgment—create openness and understanding rather than discord and isolation. It’s through this cultivation of empathic students that schools become communities.

Take action

  • Don’t be afraid to tackle hard topics as a class—get students thinking about their similarities and differences.
  • Set high expectations, and find opportunities to help students see how their feelings are connected to behavior.
  • Treat each student as an individual, and use a problem-solving approach when helping them overcome an obstacle.
  • Make sure the technology you use doesn’t take the place of, but instead supplements, face-to-face interaction.
  • Using our Digital Citizenship Curriculum? Both our student interactives and lessons already foster key SEL skills.
  • Use some other excellent SEL resources, including CASEL, Character Lab, Edutopia, and Ashoka.
  • Think about the digital tools you’re already using in the classroom. Can you find a creative way to use them to model empathy? Check out our suggestions on the next page!

How individualized supports for students with autism promote success in the mainstream classroom

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is, at its heart, a processing disorder. And while the students with ASD face a variety of challenges depending on where they fall on the spectrum, even those considered high functioning have difficulties with pragmatic social language and understanding social interactions. So, when educators mainstream students with ASD and hope that they will learn how to interact in the classroom just by watching their peers, the educators are setting up the students for failure.

Nina Finkler, a learning consultant with years of experience working with students with ASD, says success comes when schools actually acknowledge the different needs of students with ASD and set up individualized supports throughout their learning career. In her edWebinar “Meeting the Needs of Students with ASD within the Mainstream Classroom,” Finkler outlined the biggest challenges with mainstreaming and key strategies for helping them thrive in their new environment.

First, before even considering placing a student with ASD in a mainstream classroom, Finkler advises asking why the student is being mainstreamed and what the goals are for the student. In other words, students shouldn’t be in a mainstream classroom because that’s all a school has or it’s an overall goal for the school. Students have IEPs for a reason, Finkler reminded the attendees. They need individual accommodations to reach their learning potential, and while mainstreaming may work for some, it is not the best educational environment for all.

Once in the mainstream classroom, students with ASD will face challenges particular to their disorder, like sensory issues and understanding abstract learning. However, the biggest core challenge is often overlooked: comprehension of language. Although many students with ASD may seem overly verbal, the amount of verbal output does not always equal complexity or comprehension. Coupled with the fact that the majority of students with ASD are visual, not auditory, learners, the typical amount of classroom communication could be overwhelming.

Similarly, educators often overlook that students with ASD have trouble with generalization. They don’t have an innate capacity to take a skill from a specific subject or task and apply it broadly to other classroom tasks and behaviors. Unrealistic expectations from teachers and staff can often lead to frustration when the student does not perform as anticipated.


Principal prep is changing for the better

Universities are starting to change their principal prep programs to better prepare principals to meet real-world challenges, according to a new RAND Corporation report.

The report looks at the first year of a four-year $49 million initiative to improve training for aspiring school principals in seven universities.

The seven universities participating in The Wallace Foundation’s University Principal Preparation Initiative (UPPI) are redesigning their principal prep programs by working with local high-need school districts that hire their graduates. They also are working with accreditation agencies in their states—a move not typical of most other programs.

“Past research shows that successful principal preparation programs should include partnerships with districts,” says Rebecca Herman, a senior researcher at RAND and a lead author on the report. “Our report illustrates such engagement is feasible, valuable and critical to creating these programs.”

Principals help set school vision and culture, supporting teacher effectiveness and, ultimately, improving student achievement. Some educators say many university programs that train principals favor theory over practice and provide too little field experience in which candidates learn by taking on duties of school leaders. The initiative seeks to boost such programs by generating lessons for other universities on how best to design a program that prepares effective principals.

The RAND report finds that, during the first year of the initiative, programs are working to better align programs with expected skills needed upon graduation, as well as ensuring their programs meet state and national leadership standards. All have taken evidence-based self-assessments to see how programs can be improved and developed models to guide their redesign.


3 ways to navigate American politics in the classroom

In our current social climate, it can be tricky for anyone, especially a teenager, to talk about politics and the role of government. But as educators, it’s our job to explain the varying viewpoints that make up our political discourse. It’s also our job to foster an open, secure environment in which students feel safe to share their own opinions.

As an online instructor at a statewide public school, I’ve taught U.S. government and politics during two contentious election cycles. And although I live in California, a left-leaning state, I teach students from across the state whose core beliefs fall all along the political spectrum. From day one, I explain to students that respecting different viewpoints—even when you don’t agree—is part of building maturity. Here are three ways I build a culture of respect in my classroom.

1. Set guidelines
At the start of each session, I provide several rules for students about how we will discuss upcoming topics. Students must respect their classmates’ opinions and offer constructive criticism. I also remind them that I may revoke chat privileges if they do not adhere to these class rules.

It’s no secret that this generation’s students are comfortable with communicating via social media. Unfortunately, this means many of them view aggressive and confrontational comments as the norm. To help cut down on this kind of behavior, I teach them to present their beliefs using facts and appropriate word choice. This not only helps others understand different sides of an issue, it can also make students more cognizant of how their own rhetoric affects others in their day-to-day life.


Research says these math, ELA apps may be the most effective

Most school’s aren’t using learning apps enough to actually impact student outcomes–but some might help students increase achievement, according to new research from BrightByes.

Many students don’t meet the target number of instructional minutes ed-tech app providers recommend, and average app use of fairly low across schools and districts.

The study, authored by Dr. Ryan Baker, director of the Penn Center for Learning Analytics, uses data from 48 school districts with more than 390,000 students. It measures digital app use in three areas: investment (subscription cost, number of licenses, and active/inactive users), engagement (student use, session duration, frequency, and quality), and impact (relationship between standardized test scores and student use).

The research revealed a few key findings about general app use:

1. Rates of app use matter–sometimes. Many apps in the study didn’t have any impact on student learning, regardless of student use rates. Still, a few in the study were associated with positive learning gains with proper use.


What is COPPA?

The Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act, more commonly known as COPPA, is a law dealing with how websites, apps, and other online operators collect data and personal information from kids under the age of 13.

COPPA has a number of requirements, but some key ones are that tech companies making apps, websites, and online tools for kids under 13 must:

  • provide notice and get parental consent before collecting information from kids;
  • have a “clear and comprehensive” privacy policy;
  • and keep information they collect from kids confidential and secure.
    (Source: Complying with COPPA: Frequently Asked Questions)

For a more detailed, yet still accessible, overview of the law, you can also check out EdWeek’s “COPPA and Schools: The (Other) Federal Student Privacy Law, Explained.” The article gets into the somewhat confusing and contentious issue of whether or not schools can stand in for kids’ parents when giving consent. In short, schools can grant COPPA consent if—here’s the tricky part—the tool is used solely for an educational purpose. As the FTC explains in its COPPA FAQs, the information collected must be “for the use and benefit of the school, and for no other commercial purpose.” And it can often be hard to tell exactly where that line is drawn.

In addition to knowing when teachers and schools can consent on behalf of parents, teachers and schools should also follow other best practices with respect to COPPA: conducting appropriate due diligence in vetting products and providing appropriate information to parents (such as the names of sites or services it has consented to on behalf of parents, and those sites and services’ information practices).


Pernille Ripp

This week’s #BloggerMondays share is the wonderful blog of Pernille Ripp, creator of The Global Read Aloud and a relentless advocate for creating environments that instill a passion for reading for students.

Ripp’s focus, however, goes well beyond developing readers. She is a fierce advocate for all students and she shares routinely about resources that can support our students who are the most vulnerable.

My favorite thing about her blog is that she is willing to be vulnerable and share the real struggles that educators face. A great example is a post from November 2 titled Good Enough. A line that resonated with me was the reminder that we need to take time to recharge: “So give yourself a break. Do the work, do it with love, do your best, but then step away.”

Reading blogs from educators like Ripp who understand the work that goes on in schools and classrooms is a great way to maintain perspective!

[Editor’s Note: eSchool News will be highlighting a different blog every Monday. Send your favorites to eullman@eschoolnews.com.]


OnEducation Podcast

OnEducation is a source of entertaining and timely conversations about “teachers, teaching, and everything in between” as well as trusted, expert-level opinions on the best software and technology for the classroom. Since March 2018, OnEducation has consistently grown its listener base and is now regularly the number one podcast on the iTunes “Educational Technology” chart.

OnEducation is hosted by Glen Irvin and Mike Washburn.

Irvin was a foreign language teacher for almost 20 years before recently moving into a new role as an educational technologist in Sauk Rapids, Minn. He is best known for his groundbreaking work integrating Minecraft with Spanish language instruction.

Washburn is a computer science teacher and technology integration specialist from Canada. His Game Design Challenge asks students to spend an entire school year crafting a video game: designing the graphics, music, narrative, and programming the entire game themselves.

OnEducation also offers a blog to allow Irvin, Washburn, and their guests to take a deeper dive into the topics they discuss on the podcast.

[Editor’s Note: eSchool News will be featuring a K12 podcast every Friday. Send your favorites to eullman@eschoolnews.com.]