Posts Tagged 'teaching'

Dear Teachers

As part of Dr. Melissa Gibson’s class Teaching Middle Secondary Social Science, students are asked to think about social studies in a new light — and throughout the course, their perceptions do shift. Through their blogging during the semester, we can see these changes in the students’ own words. Read on to learn along with our students!

By Elie Ortiz

The first eight years of my life were spent in Puerto Rico. It was a place where everybody spoke Spanish. I was comfortable — comfortable talking to my parents, extended family, friends, and teachers. But all of a sudden, my life took a huge turn. I was no longer in Puerto Rico; I was sitting in a classroom where everybody spoke English. At the time, I knew about three words: door, window, pencil.

Social studies was a drag. I was forced to memorize vocabulary words such as “allegiance” and “sovereign.” I might know what they mean now, but when I was a little girl I didn’t, and I was traumatized by my entire social studies experience. All of the kids around me knew what they were talking about; they constructed arguments, they debated, and seemed like experts in the subject. Me? I was struggling to even form a sentence in my head just to ask the teacher about a homework assignment.

By high school, I was fluent in English, but I was definitely not fluent in social studies. I still hated it. It dragged just as much as it did in elementary school. Why? Because social studies was never taught beyond the books. We did not go out to explore our community, there were no guest speakers, and our readings were bland. While we did more inquiry and took informed action, I still had a negative attitude about social studies until college. I never loved social studies until now, all thanks to my amazing professor. As it turns out, social studies is not just about world wars and looking at historical documents. It’s about learning about ourselves, our community, our world — using our knowledge to question the world and take action. It’s about the impact each individual person can have on the world.


I am not telling you my story so you can feel sorry for me about my experience with social studies. Rather, it’s to emphasize the importance of teaching our kids to be sociologists, geographers, historians. Students, especially during their younger years, are curious about the world. If we lecture them, have them take notes, then give them tests all of the time, are we really impacting our students? No. We are teaching them what to think, not how to think.

Overall, my thinking about social studies in K-8 classrooms has changed tremendously throughout the semester. At first, I viewed social studies as only boring history facts, but now I see it as a powerful tool to help students not only succeed in school but as human beings as well. The C3 Framework presents the following four Dimensions: Developing questions and planning inquiries; Applying disciplinary concepts and tools; Evaluating sources and using evidence; and Communicating conclusions and taking informed actions. These dimensions can be applied in the classroom and in the real world as well.

For example: Let’s think about poverty. Why are people living in poverty? How is poverty affecting our economic status? What is the data? How many people live in poverty today? What can I do to stop poverty?

As we can see, we can apply what we learn in the classroom into the real world and actually make a difference. As educators, let’s impact our students through social studies. Every single student deserves to learn about how powerful it can be.


A Brief History of Butter…

As part of Dr. Melissa Gibson’s class Teaching Middle Secondary Social Science, students are asked to think about social studies in a new light — and throughout the course, their perceptions do shift. Through their blogging during the semester, we can see these changes in the students’ own words. Read on to learn along with our students!

Western-pack-butterBy: Audrey Meyersieck 

While it seems insignificant in our daily lives, butter has a huge impact on the different types of food we eat. Without realizing, I likely consume butter 3–4 times a day. Whether I use it when I’m cooking, spread it on my bread, or even when I eat premade baked goods. Although butter is seemingly a normal, household staple, it actually has an epic history that not many people are aware of. Behind every piece of buttered toast, buttered noodles, or batch of chocolate chip cookies, there is a story. Where did that butter come from, and how did it get into your local grocery store? In first grade social studies we learned that the pilgrims invented butter, and even dressed up at pilgrims to make our own butter in class. But that might not be the case.

In the Desert of ancient Africa around 8000 B.C., a lonely traveler made an accidental discovery. Thirsty from the hot terrain, he reached for the sheepskin pouch attached to his pack animal. However, when he tilted the pouch to take a sip of milk, he was shocked to discover that the milk had turned into a thick mush from churning around on the animals back. Surprisingly, it tasted delicious!

At least that is likely how it happened according to Author Elaine Khosrova in her book, Butter: a Rich History. She writes that butter is like “a historical roadmap of humanity.” While we often get our butter from cows today, early butter came from the milk of yak, sheep and goats. Over the years, butter has taken on different uses. In ancient Rome, butter was used for cosmetics as well as for healing balm; ancient Sumerians offered butter as gifts in temple, and the first student protest was even linked back to butter in 1766 at Harvard after a meal with rancid butter was served to students (Jankowski, 2017).

Today, most of the butter we consume is from cows. In order to make it, cream is held at room temperature, it is then aged in an aging tank for about 12–15 hours. After this process is done, the cream is churned and eventually butter granules form and condense; the liquid left over is called buttermilk. Salt is added to improve the taste and shelf life. In the final step, the butter is shaped, packaged into wax paper, and shipped off to the grocery store where it can be purchased for consumption. Butter factories did not come to the United States until the 1860’s, and it soon became a table top staple. Today, Americans consume about 940,000 metric tons of butter per year, and there is an increasing demand.

While butter can be found in a majority of American homes and grocery stores, many of us forget about the long process that it takes to produce it, or the environmental implications that it has on our planet. Through economic thinking, we can analyze the long-term effects and processes of producing different foods, and weigh the costs and benefits of buying certain things from our grocery stores. As social studies teachers, we can encourage our students to dig deeper into where our food comes from, and can provide them with opportunity to explore something of interest to them. They can discover a wealth of information about the culture during the time the food was discovered, and how such products have evolved over time.


“Overview of the Butter Making Process.” Animals | Causes of Color, 28 Nov. 2018,

Patton, Leslie. “Americans Are Eating More Butter Than Ever.”, Bloomberg, 14 Mar. 2017,

Jankowski, Nicole. “Spread The Word: Butter Has An Epic Backstory.” NPR, NPR, 24 Feb. 2017,

To My Teachers of the Past

As part of Dr. Melissa Gibson’s class Teaching Middle Secondary Social Science, students are asked to think about social studies in a new light — and throughout the course, their perceptions do shift. Through their blogging during the semester, we can see these changes in the students’ own words. Read on to learn along with our students!

Retrieved from The Ways, © 2019 Wisconsin Education Communications Board.

By Keanna Ross

Growing up, when my teachers or classmates found out my ethnicity, they treated me either as a foreign creature or as if they knew my entire life story: “You people still exist?” “Do you live in a teepee?” (I live in a sturdy house like the rest of my family and my ancestors actually lived in wigwams.) “You won’t have to work as hard for college because you get to go for free!” (If only they knew that my tribe is so poor, they avoid students’ emails and phone calls in order to avoid giving out an $800–$1,100 grant, which I have yet to receive in my fourth year of college.) Or, my personal favorite, “You’re lucky, you don’t have to ever pay taxes!” (Hahaha, I wish!) As you may be able to assume, I am Native American–well, half anyway. My dad is Ojibwe and Oneida, and our family is from the Bad River reservation in northern Wisconsin.

From childhood to adulthood, I have always been very involved in my culture. Though my mom is German, she was always much more enthusiastic about having my sisters and me know our Native half. She would sit with my grandma, my dad’s mother, and learn about all of the traditions; she took us to powwows religiously, learned how to bead, learned how to make regalia, allowed us to dance. When my mom passed away in the fall of 2015, she requested a traditional Ojibwe service at the Congregation of the Great Spirit, the Native American Catholic Church founded by my family years ago. Because of my mother and grandmother, my sisters and I have always been very involved in our culture and always will be. As you can see from this small backstory, my culture is very important to not only me but also to my entire family. I wear Native pride on my sleeve.

Due to this pride, I openly share my background with everyone. This is not a bad thing when people want to become educated. It is a bad thing when you’re a shy second grader, and your teacher puts you on the spot during November because we are talking about the pilgrims and the ‘Indians,’ and makes you the example ‘Indian’ to represent a whole nation. It is a bad thing when you are a senior in high school and you are told by a classmate, “You should be happy the Europeans came! They made this place better,” without having any knowledge of the cultural genocide that occurred.

Along with a HUGE majority of K-12 students, I have only ever been taught small fragments of the truth. We have been taught only one perspective. Imagine the knowledge being passed down as an animal exhibit at the zoo. As students, we have only been taught what we can see when we grab onto the binoculars. We have been focused on only one tiny part of a truth. If that is all we are taught, that is all we grow to know, because we are never taught to take the binoculars away from our eyes and see the rest of reality around us.

This cycle is still happening. Children are being taught a single perspective. This is not only a problem with Native American history being accurately represented but also African American history, Japanese American history (which I have yet to formally learn about), Mexican/American history… world history! As a sophomore in college I took an African history course, taught by an extremely knowledgeable and sweet man from Nigeria. You wouldn’t believe how many times he had to correct students when they referred to Africa as a COUNTRY, or implied that it was tiny, not modernized, or that they felt sorry for Africans. People do not know how huge the CONTINENT of Africa is; they do not know how many diverse countries are in Africa. This professor would always tell us stories about how people would ask– because he was from a country in Africa– if he knew their friend who was located on the opposite side of the continent! This is sad because this is all a result of inaccurate education.

In American schools, we are only taught about the slave trade and of Africans being “primitive;” we only learn about the dehumanizing of these people. When I learned about Egypt in sixth grade, I was never taught that it was a country in Africa; it was never even mentioned. When learning about Native American history, we were taught that the pilgrims and ‘Indians’ had Thanksgiving and that the stealing of homes was consensual. We were told that the Europeans helped the natives. We were taught about the Trail of Tears in high school, but this only consisted of a section of a chapter which was not its focal point. We were not taught that it was wrong of the Europeans; we did not mourn the deaths of millions of indigenous people (not only in what we call America, but also Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, what is now known as Mexico, and also Canada, along with South America, Hawaii, and many many more).


If I could suggest anything to my teachers of the past, it would be to take into account all of your students. Stop teaching the dominant narrative of colored people being less intelligent and less capable. It does not matter what your background is, you can teach history with a broader perspective. You can represent ALL of your students, truthfully. Be open to, not only, learning from your students, but also changing how you teach. Understand that history textbooks were made by white Americans who create them to appeal to a certain audience. Learn with your students, because what you were taught is not coming from a point of multiple perspectives. Becoming the difference in your students’ lives is educating them on different people. It is allowing yourself to stray from tradition. Be the one who helps develop humans who are knowledgeable about the world, instead of the one who contributes to stereotypes.

As an educator you should care about how you are shaping the future. Let’s take the binoculars off and see the entire reality and truth.


  We Better Listen to the Kids

Dreamer of Dreams, by Joe Brusky/Overpass Light Brigade. Retrieved from Flickr for Creative Commons use.

As part of Dr. Melissa Gibson’s class Teaching Middle Secondary Social Science, students are asked to think about social studies in a new light — and throughout the course, their perceptions do shift. Through their blogging during the semester, we can see these changes in the students’ own words. Read on to learn along with our students!By Cynthia Zuñiga

The goal for any teacher is to not only educate their students, but to make sure students are able to use the knowledge we share and apply it to their daily lives. Personally, I strive towards this goal, but I also hope what I teach my students will help them become great citizens and create a stronger society than the one I grew up in. I have only recently learned that the version of history I was taught when I was in elementary and high school was based on half-truths. A lot of the important information in social studies classrooms is sugar coated or swept completely under the rug. This is something that I do not want for my classroom. I want my students to know the real society that they live in, so that they may not be as shocked as I was once they get older.

Thankfully, some teachers are already striving for this social change. They are igniting a flame in their students to take action and create change. A great example of this is the Milwaukee organization called Y.E.S. (Youth Empowered in the Struggle) that was founded through Voces De La Frontera (Voices of the Border). This is an organization that has been connecting with various high schools around the Milwaukee area to create “chapters.” Students learn about the social issues that are occurring within their area and nationwide. They create plans to get the community together in order to help them face these issues that are effecting their families, neighbors, teachers, etc.

As many students realize over time, the society that they live in is not perfect. Through a variety of social studies lessons, they learn the message that nothing in society will change if effort isn’t given. One helpful lesson would be studying the Civil Rights Movement and how the marches on the streets ensured people that their voices were heard. Another example is when Cesar Chavez began a boycott to help the United Farmworkers to make sure that others would realize the difficulties society would have without farmers. History can never changed by just watching on the sidelines; this is what is being taught to the students that are involved in the Y.E.S. program. You can watch this video of the annual May Day march held in Milwaukee. On this day, May 1st, all Latinx, immigrants, and refugees are encouraged to not attend their school, job, or any other responsibility. It is a day to demonstrate what life would be like without these people. It is a day to bring awareness while also gathering the community together.

When students organize and actually “do” social studies, they are able to use their freedom of speech to stand up for their beliefs and make a change. It allows them to apply historical knowledge of how others before them were able to stand their ground and make an impact. In addition, by organizing and attending these marches, the students become aware of social issue events that are happening within their immediate community and nationwide. Their perspectives on different cultures also change because they become more aware that oppression is not only placed on the Latinx and Black communities, but on other groups as well.

* * *

Another example of students engaging in social studies on a national level is the National Walkout, when individual expressed their perspectives on gun laws and human rights. These students, like the Y.E.S. members, studied history and realized it had been repeated over and over, but that there had been little positive change. By participating in the National Walkout, these students took matters into their own hands to make sure that the government knew they were ready to fight for change. One quote that I heard repeatedly during the time of the walkout was “I think we better listen to the kids”; this quote is one hundred percent correct. Our students can change the world, and they are the ones who often have a clearer perspective than most adults.

The students, like those who participated in the walkout, are hungry for change, and they will not be satisfied until justice and reform have been accomplished. By participating activities such as the National Walkout, students are able to “do” social studies; by using their freedom of speech and applying their knowledge of human rights, they are able to learn and connect more about how the government works — specifically on the topic of guns. When students become politically active, they gain a variety of perspectives and then have the ability to branch out and stand up for many human rights issues.

* * *

It is clear that more students are standing up for their rights and using their voice to be heard by those in power. Examples such as these are needed in the classroom when teachers discuss civic and informed action. Students will come to realize that when they see something with which they do not agree, they have the opportunity to educate themselves and fight back. Once students are equipped with that knowledge, teachers can then focus on the Amendments and other laws that protect them when they decide to speak their mind.

Proactive teachers can also use these examples to teach students the reasons why, historically, these groups of people have fought back and demanded change. Engaging in modern day movements can help students reflect back to the civil rights movement, and it can help them understand how minorities are still being neglected and treated poorly. Ultimately, as educators, we must focus our students’ attention on the differences in the lives of those who are privileged and those who are not. We must help them realize that not everyone has the same social, economic and educational opportunities. When they have such understandings, they will be better equipped to enter the real word and make big things occur. The children are our future, and I am ready to listen to what they have to say.

Writing, Rubrics, and the College Application Essay

Blank notepad and pencilBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Adam paces the back of the room, struggling to come up with an idea. “Do you think I can take a walk around the building?”

“Yes, good luck,” I say. “Maybe a change of scenery will help.”


Adam sighs, takes his notepad and pen with him and paces his stress in our high school’s hallway.

In the middle of Arrowhead High School’s College Essay Workshop, each student’s stress shows in a different way. While Adam paces, another student finds comfort in procrastination and college essay YouTube videos; another student reads excerpts from 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays; a group of girls discuss life-changing moments they might write about.

“I wish there were a rubric for this,” Adam says when he returns.

I cringe, as he reminds me students are taught—by teachers of all subjects—that good writing can be accomplished by checking boxes on a grid. “Adam, you don’t need a rubric. You know what you need to do. Just tell a story that shows your positive qualities. Take your best attributes—your humor, your helpfulness, your patience—and find a story that illustrates that.”

I remind Adam and the 84 other students in the workshop what they know about good writing: “Good writing is not the five paragraph essay, with the thesis at the end of the first paragraph, followed by three body paragraphs and a concluding re-statement. Good writing isn’t formulaic.” But I know that’s what students learn when each assignment in elementary, middle and high school comes with a rubric.

Arrowhead High School’s College Essay Workshop is not graded. Students attend to receive guidance on how to produce an essay that stands out in the pile of writing on a college admissions counselor’s desk. Students are nervous and unsure—and they want a rubric to ease them.

I say, “You’re in control of your own story. You can do anything you want. Your story could be one long extended metaphor. You could write your essay in poem form, or maybe as a graduation speech or even as a conversation. Do something that will make your essay unique. Let’s start with some examples.”

I show the class Justin’s essay that was read to all incoming freshmen during the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Welcome Week. I show them Molly’s essay that received a $5,000 scholarship. We read Ashley’s essay that earned a handwritten note from Marquette University’s president commending her writing, inviting her to be part of Marquette’s 2015 class with a scholarship. “What are these authors doing? What do you notice?” I ask.

Students instinctively recognize Justin, Molly, and Ashley’s good writing. The students respond: “Small paragraphs.”—“Stylistic devices.”—“They all tell an interesting story.”—“I see dialogue.”—“I see characters and a climax.”

Then the students take their observations and apply similar devices to their own words, sentences and stories.

To improve the students’ writing, my co-teachers and I read, comment, re-read, edit, and provide feedback on the drafts. We discuss, we interact, and we collaborate. The process can’t be reduced to boxes on a rubric. Because the writing is purposeful and authentic, students are invested and do A quality work (even though the workshop isn’t graded).

As Adam shifts his laptop into his backpack, he clutches his notebook. “I am really excited about my ideas. I know what I want to write about.” Adam struggles with autism and says he will write about how he uses movement to aid his learning.

“I’m really excited to see your first draft and talk about it,” I say.

“Me too,” he says as he walks out the door. “I want to hear what you have to say tomorrow.”

If you’re looking to read more about rubrics and writing, feel free to check out the following resources:

  • Broad, Bob. What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in Teaching and Assessing Writing. Logan: Utah State UP, 2003.
  • Kohn, Alfie. “The Trouble With Rubrics,” English Journal. March 2006, Vol. 95, No. 4.
  • Mabry, Linda.  “Writing to the Rubric,” Phi Delta Kappan, May 1999, pp. 678, 676.
  • Tchudi, Stephen, ed. Alternatives to Grading Student Writing. Urbana: NCTE, 1997.
  • Maja Wilson, Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006).
  • Maja Wilson, “Why I Won’t Be Using Rubrics to Respond to Students’ Writing,” National Council of Teaching English. English Journal. March 2007, Vol. 96, No. 4.


Get Involved: From Milwaukee to Cape Town

By Charlotte Adnams

Something that I really appreciate about Marquette’s College of Education is the immediate immersion into the elementary, middle, or high school settings. Throughout these couple years, I have been able to work with students of different age groups, diverse needs, and school districts across Milwaukee. Because of these experiences of working with different students, it has encouraged me to become more involved and exploring of other volunteer opportunities where I can work with students.

1 There are so many groups across Marquette’s campus that focus on volunteering and mentor programs. Whether it be working on math with high school students during the week, or doing arts and crafts with young 1st and 2nd graders, there are many opportunities to get learn more from the students across Milwaukee’s schools. To find a program or organization that best suits you, the Marquette Involvement page is helpful or check the bulletins with bright, numerous postings throughout Schroeder Complex.

2 Start your own group! Each Friday at the beginning of my college career was spent among dozens of 1st-4th grade students at an inner city elementary school. At the after school program I mentored various young students while we completed an art activity. All of this was possible because a group of passionate Marquette students formed the group just a few years before. Grab a few other friends and start something you think can make a difference (hint: you can do something great and you will make a difference!).

3 Embark on an opportunity that takes you somewhere new, boosting your skills and understanding of the importance of educational diversity. One opportunity is the Marquette Action Program (M.A.P.) where Marquette students venture across the country during Spring Break learning and acting upon justice issues, one of the many including education.

Another is a program that I came across at the end of my sophomore year from a COED newsletter. One Heart Source (OHS) has “designed and operated volunteer programs for university students who seek to broaden their context of humanity and the world through results-oriented service learning.” The experience I had with One Heart Source in Cape Town, South Africa was completely unique, empowering, and honestly life changing. I was able to mentor a student individually and in small groups throughout the time that I was there, and then engage in dialogue with fellow OHS members and leaders. I highly encourage this experience, and taking a peak around their website).

Photo from One Heart Source

Expanding our education opportunities can be so beneficial and can broaden our experience diversities, so get out there and explore the many options across Milwaukee (and the world)!

Are you prepared to teach about the Presidential Election?

american-flag-1020853_960_720By Nick McDaniels

Because I am not. I split my time recently between participating in the American Federation of Teachers 100th Anniversary Convention and watching the Republican National Convention on television. As you might expect, the differences were striking, though the format was largely the same. But this post is not about my convention. This is about the big party conventions. I spent time watching speech after speech on TV, watching delegations leave the floor, watching convention rules of order crush dissent, and I reflected on what this historically entertaining election means for me as a teacher.

In the past, I have done what many teachers do. I harness the power of presidential elections to discuss the democratic process, the electoral college, the use of rhetoric. But this election, make no mistake, is decidedly different in the opportunity it affords for teachers. It is, of course, a sociologist’s dream, and, as such, creates many new ways to present to students our political process in this country.

But where I struggle, though the difference between this election cycle and any other one in my lifetime is clear, is how to teach this differently. Do I use Trump rhetoric to further my Teaching Tolerance-driven teaching? Or do I seize the historic moment of the strong possibility of Mrs. Clinton becoming the first female to occupy the oval office? I don’t know. I think because I am having so much trouble myself wrapping my head around this election and the media coverage thereof, I am struggling to come up with exciting ways to teach this election differently.

So here I blog, on my knees, pleading for some help! How do we help make sense of this election for our students? How do we teach our students about the ratings-boosting, shoot-from-the-hip style of one candidate and the same-as-it-ever-was cover-up the bad stuff style of another? How do we express to students that there are more than two choices? And more importantly, how do we, with two major candidates that very few people actually support, teach our students that they should still have hope for the democratic future of this country?

If you have an idea, leave a comment. Help me figure out how to teach this.



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