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.