Teaching Students How to Call Bull

The University of Washington introduced a popular course this year called something very close to (but slightly more vulgar) Calling Bull. This course was designed to give students the intellectual tools to recognize and address fake news, inauthentic use of data, and pseudo-science.

They developed a companion website (with the same vulgar name) and shared it with the world. They received enough inquiries from secondary school teachers that they created a mirror website that scrubs out (most of) the vulgarity (see they last paragraph below for an explanation of that qualifier). While I don’t personally give a… let’s say darn… about the vulgarity of the original website, having one without the reference to excrement in its title is helpful in the public school arena.

Secondary teachers, especially teachers of contemporary world issues courses, may find the resources on the Calling Bull website helpful.

My favorite resources are the case studies which illustrate real examples of instances where a good bull detector would be helpful for consumers of information to have.

I also like the Tips and Tricks for Spotting and Calling Bull that explain how to approach information

There are also videos of lectures that address such topics as causation versus correlation, the manipulation of visual data, and reproducibility. These videos have not been scrubbed of the vulgarity described above so use with students is not advised. That said, they can still useful to the harder-to-offend teacher who wants to better understand these (and other) concepts as they relate to spotting and addressing bull.

To protect Constitutional rights, citizens must first understand them

Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat: I still get the local paper delivered in print on my front porch (well, sometimes it only gets as far as the driveway). I’m sure I could get the information I need via free, online avenues but I think it is important to support the local paper so I consider the money I spend on my subscription a bit of a donation (don’t contact the IRS: I do not claim this donation on my taxes).

In that print copy of my local paper this morning was an interesting editorial about the state of civics education (or lack thereof) as well as a call to action to improve it.

You can read it for free here but if you think being informed about your local community is important, you might just decide to subscribe. You don’t have to go print as they sell unlimited access to their online content as well.

 

Defining Authenticity in Historical Problem Solving

As I have investigated personalized learning in general and project-based learning (PBL) more specifically, one of the concept I have wrestled with is authenticity, especially how it relates to a study of history. This article from Edutopia has some interesting and illuminating ideas about where teachers (and students) can find authenticity within the “bumper guards” of grade-level historical content defined by the state.

 

Indigenous Peoples Day Offers Authenticity to the History Classroom

It is admittedly difficult to authentic connections to the history students are learning about but connections can be found. For years an authentic debate over the existence of Columbus Day as a federal holiday has been roiling.

Real people in real communities all over the nation, including several in the state of Washington have questioned whether honoring Columbus is appropriate given the history of his personal actions and the history on the Western Hemisphere since he stumbled upon it in 1492.

Engaging students in this authentic debate with a possible real audience of our own city council or state legislators can make for an engaging connection between centuries-old history and the world today. Click here for details about how some high school students recently addressed the city council of Edmonds, Washington on this issue.

 

 

 

ABCs of PBL (Project Based Learning)

If you have been hearing the term PBL (Project based Learning) bouncing around and felt intrigued but too busy to dig in, here are a few resources that can get you started:

  1. Gold-Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements
    If you want to get a solid overview in under four pages, start here.
  2. Minding your Ps and Qs for Better DQs
    If you have a pretty good idea about the basics of PBL but feel the need to know more about developing engaging and effective DQs (driving questions) around which to build a project, start here.
  3. BIE Project Search
    If you are the type that would rather see something to understand it than read about it, go here and poke to find a project plan built around  a topic of interest to you (and your students).
  4. 20 Days to PBL
    If you are the type that just needs to dive right in and try something out, try this plan (developed by Texas PBL teacher and instructional coach, Erin Starkey) for getting students ready to engage in the team work, problem solving and critical thinking needed for PBL to be successful.

An unfortunate opportunity for authenticity in history education close to home

One of my regular stumbling blocks when thinking about personalized learning and project-based learning within the context of history is where to find the authenticity. Certainly, one way to keep things authentic in the history classroom is to have students investigate history the way a historian might. That option is frequently available, especially for older students through analyses of primary and secondary sources.

There is nothing wrong with that but sometimes an authentic connection to the past emerges and it gives teachers an opportunity to connect learning to the real world.

Recently an issue emerged right here in Clark County, Washington that could be used to make authentic connections to history: the vandalism of the Jefferson Davis highway marker found at the park built in honor of him. Is vandalism an appropriate response? Should there be a park that commemorates Davis? Why was the park even built here in the first place? What can a concerned citizen do to protect the park or get it removed?

These are all authentic questions that are being discussed in the real world right now. Let’s add student voices to these kinds of authentic debates.

 

Some worthy (but maybe not beach-worthy) summer read suggestions for teachers of social studies

Looking for something to fill all the time you have left over after fixing up the yard and resealing the deck? Here are some summer read suggestions for teachers of social studies:

  • The College, Career & Civic Life (C3) Framework. It’s available online for free.
    The state has adopted this as an “instructional framework”  for social studies that is informing the revision of the state SS standards. It’s definitely not a “beach read” but it is free and informative. It’s focus is on the inquiry arc of learning.

 

  • For teachers of US History who feel the need to brush up on content knowledge, Don’t Know Much About American History by Kenneth Davis is pretty good (and a light and entertaining read more appropriate for the beach but still probably less so than a Dan Brown novel.

 

  • Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts by Sam Wineburg or Why Don’t You Just Tell Me the Answer: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12 by Bruce Lesh skew to teachers of older students (which I know is obvious by the subtitle of the second one) but I think they could still be relevant to intermediate teachers who want to explore the important skills beneath the learning of historical content.

 

  • Lastly, here are three books that are very relevant to teaching social studies but are not written with social studies specifically in mind so if you have teachers who don’t want to commit summer reading time to something that is exclusive to the content of social studies, try these:
    • Dive Into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice by Trevor Mackenzie
    • Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana
    • 17,000 Classrooms Can’t Be Wrong: Strategies That Engage Students, Promote Active Learning, and Boost Achievement