A Few of My Favorite Things

One of the things I sometimes think I’d like this blog to be is a sort of crib sheet for new teachers. I spent a lot of time flailing around when I first got serious about my education as a teacher. It was hard to cut through the sheer volume of material out there to find what was useful to me. Now, I still have a ridiculous number of books on mStamp Reward Prize Best Winner Awardy shelves and bookmarks in my “teaching” folder, but the truth is that there are a handful of each to which I return over and over, to which I find myself referring other people, and which consistently inspire me. So this is the post I wanted and couldn’t find as a young teacher:  a deliberately short list of my “best” websites about teaching. (Best books will have to wait for another day and another post;  it’s harder to make up my mind about them). This list is unabashedly idiosyncratic, and it leaves out a lot of really good sites. Your list would, and should be different (share in the comments, please?), but this is mine.

Sites about what good teaching can be: For this post, I tried to limit myself to organizational websites that have many different ideas to add to the conversation about best teaching practices. Some of the most important parts of that conversation are happening in individual blogs, articles, or twitter chats, but I think that’s another post–those resources are rich but often not very efficient, so it’s a different kind of reading. This list is my answer to the question, “Where could I go to get a lot of new ideas in a short time?”

CriticalThinking.net and criticalthinking.org are two sites trying to codify what critical thinking really means, how it can be elicited from students, and how it can be measured.

Making Learning Visible a Reggio-inspired offshoot of Harvard’s Project Zero, with lots of good resources for thinking about classroom culture, especially when it comes to documentation of learning in groups.

Paideia has been thinking for a long time about how to use classroom discussion most effectively to foster learning.

Stanford’s Design Thinking resources provide a specific, carefully defined way to approach problem solving.

The Teaching Channel is a collection of videos of exemplary teaching. I always see something I want to steal here.

National History Education Clearinghouse can be a bit of a challenge to navigate. They don’t have a ton of resources in any one category yet, but what they do have is thought-provoking and well designed. This is one to watch as it builds out further.

A couple of old standbys are still going strong in the world history community: H-World and World History Connected are places to find interesting conversations about what we should be teaching and how.

And finally, three sites that are more organizational than resource-focused but which bear following because their organizations can always be counted on to be doing interesting things you probably want to know about: National Council for Social Studies, National Center for History in the Schools (UCLA)Center for History and New Media

Lesson plans and specific teaching ideas: There are thousands of lesson plan clearing houses out there, but I find I spend a lot of time wading through things that wouldn’t work for my kids. My criteria for this list:  consistently high quality (by which I mean interactive, thought-provoking, and focused on inquiry and critical thinking, not just amassing information) and wide-ranging enough that they’re a regular go-to for me, not just a one-off.

Stanford History Education Group my hands-down favorite source for plug-and-play primary source lessons. The list of lessons is a bit eclectic, but when they have something that’s a good fit, it’s always well designed and focused on critical thinking. They also do a nice job of curating short primary source excerpts in accessible language. Also a good source for ideas about best practices, but I didn’t want to double dip! They have both World and U.S. history lessons.

Facing History’s teaching strategies collection I love everything about Facing History and Ourselves, and they have created any number of thought provoking long lessons (more like modules/mini-units) on social justice issues, mostly modern, which are excellent in the classroom. I also like to send newish teachers to their teaching strategies page, which is the best compendium I have seen of generic lesson activities you might want to use in a class on any topic.

Choices Focused primarily on ethical issues in modern history, the Choices sells some of the best detailed lessons (more like units) out there, focused on primary sources and critical thinking.They also provide a ton of free materials, like their Teaching With the News lessons.

EDSITEment Mostly U.S. History, with excellent, carefully thought-out lesson plans, usually in two or three parts and usually involving both primary source and empathy-generating activities.

World History for Us All A UCLA-based, Big History approach with a focus on global interaction. It is meant to be usable as a stand-alone course (albeit a slightly quirky one), but it’s also my first stop for innovative ideas for global lesson plans, particularly ancient world ones, which are often hard to come by. Not all are of equal quality, but the collection is rich.

Bridging World History Not really for lesson plans per se (this series is intended to educate teachers, not students), I still turn to it all the time for short video clips and nicely put together collections of primary sources, especially visual ones. Each lesson centers around a video and is put together thematically, bringing together three societies from around the world to talk about some broad idea. They can be hard to fit into a conventional chronological syllabus, but when they fit, there’s nothing else out there quite like them. Be sure to do lots of scaffolding for young students, or the videos will go right over their heads; with scaffolding, I regularly show them to 9th graders.


About wordsarestrong

I teach history at an independent school in California.
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