New York Social Studies Toolkit Unleashed!

I’m excited to share the product of a project I was working on all last year: The New York Social Studies Toolkit, which consists of 6 “inquiries” at each grade level ranging across the Social Studies disciplines.  While I’m generally quite skeptical of anything coming our state ed,  I think this work is a little different. The work was led by SD Grant, Kathy Swan, and John Lee, all brilliant professors and the lead writers of the C3 Framework.  More significantly, these inquiries are authored by New York State teachers drawing on the real experiences of their classrooms, and were refined with feedback after being tested in classrooms across the state.  I was humbled to be the 11th grade writer, though could not possibly take credit for any of the finished products, which were the result of a collaborative process with all involved.
These inquiries are in many ways unlike any other curriculum product I’ve seen.  While publishers often brag about “teacher-proof” curriculum, I have often joshed that these inquiries are “admin proof.”  They cannot simply be handed to a teacher who is told to do them.  There is no scripting.  These are in many ways minimalist sketches of a sequence of lessons that demand adaptation and decision-making by thoughtful, professional teachers.
The inquiries are designed in many ways like an accordion; a basic version of each one could be done in a few periods, but all contain enough depth to be extended to a full multi-week unit through using the suggested resources or through additions teachers will make themselves.
Perhaps my favorite smart feature is that they are all available as both PDFs and Word documents.  If you like what you see, you can just print out the PDF and all the documents needed students are there to be copied.  If you have ideas for improvement, you can directly change the word document for yourself.
I’m curious to hear thoughts and feedback.  If you like them, please share them with your colleagues and networks.  If you don’t, please let me know.
All the inquiries are available here:  Choose from the drop down menus to see them all.  Here are direct links to the ones I worked on:
Hope everyone has had a great start to the school year.

On Different Ways Of ‘Learning By Doing’

I’m included in Larry Ferlazzo’s most recent, and always wonderful, Classroom Q&A.  This week’s question:  What are the differences between Project-Based, Problem-Based and Inquiry Learning? My response, in part:

The key question teachers should ask themselves about inquiry is who is actually doing the inquiry work. Early in my career, I thought I was doing inquiry-based learning, but really, I was the one doing inquiry, not my students. I had what I thought was a great unit on US Foreign Policy based on the question, “Why are we at War in Afghanistan?” which traced the development of US interventions from the Spanish American War to today. But I was the one doing all the work. Students learned lots of facts about various US interventions, but I was the one connecting everything. For explanatory questions such as the one I asked, it’s only inquiry learning if the students are the ones doing the connective work. It’s also essential that the answers to the questions need to be evidenced-based.

Read the whole piece here (free registration required).

Congressional Testimony

Earlier today, I had the incredible and humbling honor to testify as a classroom teacher before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on testing and accountability within the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act in an attempt to fix No Child Left Behind. I want to thank Senators Alexander and Murray for hosting me and the rest of the panel. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of discourse on the panel and the extent to which Senators listened and really engaged, through good questioning, with our ideas.
It was a surreal experience, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say soon. In the meantime, you can read my full testimony on the Shanker Blog or Washington Post’s Answer Sheet.

UPDATE: Video is available here:  I also submitted additional testimony in response to some questions from Senators, which is here.

For NYC Folk: Workshops on C3 Framework

I’ll be part of the group leading the second one, which is being held at my school on May 7. From the flyer:


The College Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History builds upon the Common Core Learning Standards

“The C3 Framework is the result of a three year effort led by more than 20 States with the cooperation of 15 Social Studies Content Organizations, including the National Council for the Social Studies, (ATSS/UFT is New York City Local Council affiliate). The C3 Framework was developed for states to upgrade their state social studies standards and for local school districts, schools, teachers and curriculum writers to strengthen their social studies programs. Its objectives are to: a) enhance the rigor of the social studies disciplines; b) build critical thinking, problem solving, and participatory skills to become engaged citizens; and c) align academic programs to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies.”

The event is free, but registration.  For more info, click the link below.

C 3 INQUIRY ARC May 3 workshop PDF flyer

Teaching/Blogging History, Again

For the first time in three years, I’m teaching a history class this semester!  While I enjoy the Civics, Government, Econ, and English I teach the rest of the time, history will always feel most like home.  I’m trying something that might be a little crazy: a 100% open inquiry course, where what we learn is entirely based on students’ questions stemming from current events and issues.

This is very much tied into my thinking of the C3 Social Studies Framework, so I’m trying to blog pretty regularly about the course at  The first piece on the class is up now:

After a year of lauding hosanna’s towards the C3, during the past month my relationship with the framework fundamentally changed; I started to actually put it into an action.  And while my first thought at all times was still, “wow, this is brilliant,” as I spent more time thinking and planning about my teaching for the second semester, the more present thought was more often, “wow, this is going to be hard.”

For the rest of the school year, I’m hoping to use this space to share thoughts on my continued relationship with the C3 as I try to implement it in one global classroom.  In this first post in the series, I want to give some context for my work.  While every school is unique, mine is especially so in many ways and it is important for readers to realize early on that I have rare freedom and flexibility. In subsequent posts, I’ll discuss the challenges I encounter, how I try to deal with them, and share my inevitable failures and hopeful triumphs.

Read the whole piece at

Moving Social Studies Forward

This Wednesday at 7 pm, there’s  a webinar hosted by the Center for Teaching Quality discussing the new national C3 Framework, which I love.  The webinar will feature Kathy Swan, the lead writer of the framework.  If you’re interested in joining the webinar, register here.  Here’s a full description of the webinar:

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards has been developed by CCSSO to guide and enhance the rigor of standards in civic, economics, geography, and history. Though states will be developing their own standards for these subjects, the pedagogical shifts implied by the framework will be felt in social studies classroom across the country. Find out from one of the framework’s authors–a practicing teacher–how you can begin to prepare. Bring your own challenges–we’ll devote part of the webinar to finding solutions together.

More urgently, Monday is the deadline for giving feedback on new New York Social Studies Framework.  My take went up on Chalkbeat NY this week (the re-branded Gotham Schools). There’s also a very thorough and thoughtful news piece on the Frameworkfrom Chalkbeat’s Patrick Wall.

If you’re a stakeholder in New York Education, please take the time this week or weekend to respond.  Before then, please forward this to all Social Studies teachers, administrators, and concerned parents that you know.  Here is the link to read the new Framework and submit feedback:

Here’s my piece: Continue reading Moving Social Studies Forward

Thoughts on C3 and Common Core

I think I’m officially out of the habit of blogging at this point, but I have written a couple of pieces for other places recently:

  • I have a piece up at  If you’re a Social Studies teacher and you haven’t checked out the new C3 Framework yes, I highly recommend it. The site will be something special too as it expands over the course of the year.
  • I was also recently asked to write a piece for the Education Funders Research Initiative discussing how NYC is doing on implementing Common Core:

Our current system, in which students who are not meeting standards in third grade are overwhelmingly not meeting standards in ninth grade, does not work for these students.  As the report highlights, “despite this variability in students’ prior educational experience, New York City high schools are now expected to graduate every student” (3).  It is insane that high schools are expected to change the course of a student’s previous nine years of education in four years.  If our goal is truly to ensure that academic achievement gaps are closed, then we need to offer students and schools the time to do so.  With that time, students can actually develop the skills of problem solving and persistence that are crucial for future success.  If we shift measurement, and therefore accountability, towards growth on authentic tasks, we can then actually have a real conversation about how to make that happen for all students.  This is a radical proposition, but given the overwhelming evidence, it seems only radical steps will serve all students, rather than just the ones for whom the system is currently working.