Tuesday, May 12, 2015

2014 NAEP Scores in U.S. History, Civics, and Geography and Global Learning?

In the past few weeks, the National Center for Educational Statistics released its 2014 NAEP U.S. History, Geography, and Civics scores. According to its own website, the NAEP is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas. The NAEP tests were administered between January and March 2014 to a nationally representative sample of 29,000 8th graders at more than 1,300 schools. The results of the assessments have been coined “The Nation’s Report Card”.

Much in-line with the scholarship on the marginalization of the social studies post-NCLB, student test scores in History, Geography, and Civics could best be described as a disappointment. Less than one-third of students scored proficient or better on any of the tests, and only 3 percent or fewer scored at the advanced level in any of the three subjects. While reviewing the released test items I found it especially troubling at the difficulty students experienced on those items dealing with the history, geography, or government outside of the U.S. While there is not a World History designated NAEP Exam, it’s interesting to evaluate how well students performed on those few test items pertaining to issues, cultures, histories, and topics outside of the U.S. homeland. Especially, since very few nationally representative data sources exist for researchers trying to better understand what today's youth know about the rest of the world, its people, and issues.

Below, I will review three of these questions I came across on the NAEP Civics Exam. Unfortunately, globally oriented items were not as common on the Geography or U.S. History exams. To review additional released test questions click here.

    Student Performance
2014 Civics Exam (sample item dealing with World Affairs)
·     Explain how at least two of the following three global interactions benefit countries
o   Trade
o   Treaties and agreements       
o   Humanitarian aid

Only 62% of 8th graders successfully answered this question

2014 Civics Exam (sample item dealing with World Affairs)
What do the current governments of Canada, France, and Australia have in common?
A. They are controlled by the military.
*B. They have constitutions that limit their power.
C. They have leaders with absolute power.
D. They discourage participation by citizens in public affairs.

Only 64% of 8th graders successfully answered this question

2014 Civics Exam (sample item dealing with World Affairs)

The cartoon below appeared in 2007. What point was the cartoonist making?

*A. Pakistan is not truly democratic because one person holds too much power.
B. Pakistan is a democracy because it has different branches of government.
C. Democracy is not as important in countries where most people are of the same background.
D. Pakistan would be more democratic if it had a congress instead of a parliament.
Nick Anderson Editorial Cartoon used with permission of Nick Anderson, the Washington Post Writers Group and the Cartoonist Group. All Rights Reserved

83% of 8th graders successfully answered this question

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Violent Social Studies Curriculum

Youth today are surrounded by violent video games, movies, and entertainment, and it appears the social studies curriculum and classroom is no different. Students studying U.S. history often move from one conflict or violent struggle to the next; rarely having the opportunity to use what they learned in class to take action and/or to take agency to promote peace and understanding in their community, country, or world.  U.S. History, and the history depicted in textbooks, is riddled with conflict, human disaster, tragedy, competition, and loss.  Research indicates that history education can serve as a weapon that exacerbate conflicts, divisions, and violence in societies (Saltarrelli, 2000; Hilker, 2011). Violent conflicts depicted in history textbooks often impose singular dominant narratives that rely on sensationalism, misinformation, and propaganda to advancing political goals- often in the name of nationalism.  

As students move from one heart-wrenching episode to another, they soon become overwhelmed, disempowered, and desensitized to the human condition and suffering.  Youth are often repeatedly exposed to this death, destruction, loss, and violence in the study of history- which in itself turns many youth off to the study of U.S. History.  This constant barrage of negatively and not having a productive academic outlet to being the change they wish to see in the world, only breeds youth apathy and inaction. Students become overwhelmed with a sense that the world is a very dangerous place, as indicated in a recent study that found 60% of Americans considered a third world war likely.

This movement from one significant historical conflict, crisis, and unpleasant episode to another only serves to wound students’ perceptions towards their own industry, resulting in civic despair and apathy. While worldwide deaths caused by war and conflict have steadily decreased, textbook publishers often exclusively focus on use of violence and war to solve domestic and global challenges. Instead of focusing on the gains made through non-violence and diplomacy, textbooks often glorify and highlight how the use of violence and confrontation is foundational to beating back “evil”.  Students in U.S. History classrooms are left with the impression that violence is the answer, and fail to learn and apply the essential skills of non-violent conflict resolution. Pulling from what’s been taught in their history classes, some youth all too quickly turn towards the use of violence. This being a serious challenge, as homicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24 (CDC, 2012). Other youth are left simply overwhelmed, desensitized, and turned-off to a violent history curriculum that rarely provides them with the opportunity to learn peaceful conflict resolution skills and understandings that can truly make a difference in their lives and communities. In social psychology this phenomenon is called learned helplessness.  By enduring continued adverse and unpleasant stimuli, youth become unable or unwilling to see how their actions can make a difference around them. In the complete antithesis to the mission of the social studies, youth become turned off by the study of history and yes even emerge as disempowered.

The acquisition of apathy and learned helplessness is all too common in U.S. History classes.  An analysis of most U.S. History textbooks will showcase significant content on issues of war, violence, destruction, and conflict.  For instance, in class, students learn about the death and destruction brought on by rising nationalism and militarism during World War I. After learning about the horrible toll of this Great War, including its over 37 million casualties, students transition into the next unit- or the next great tragedy. This usually includes students learning about the struggle and suffering of workers and families facing great hardships during the Great Depression. Black Tuesday and dwindling consumer confidence create panic and financial ruin for communities and households.  Despite New Deal Reforms, families learn to live without, and many people fight to sustain themselves through soup kitchens and breadlines. 13% unemployment rates and mounting federal debt eventually gives way to the next big, horrific event in U.S. History- WWII and its Aftermath.  In this unit, students encounter more conflict, genocide, extremism, nuclear warfare, and Fascism. Over the course of the semester this trend continues as students stare down such topics as the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, and the War on Terrorism. In most cases, the heroes turned towards the use of guns and tanks to achieve victory.

Today’s standardized and high-stakes tested classrooms often impede teachers from having the opportunity, curricular flexibility, and resources to help students learn valuable strategies and tools to promote peace and to improve themselves and their communities (US Institute of Peace, 2014).  This includes learning about the thousands non-violence acts of courage, bravery, and civic protest by ordinary Americans that have led to a more prosperous and inclusive nation. Students are rarely given the opportunity to use these stories of perseverance, grit, determination, and non-violent protest to build connections with their lives or the times in which they live today- all in an attempt to improve the quality of their community and circumstance. Instead of passively listening to one bleak, depressing, and harmful encounter with disaster and conflict, which can breed learned helplessness, the study of history should inspire and prepare students for the challenges they face and will face. Such an approach to teaching social studies yields relevance and authenticity. Maybe, instead of focusing on a conflict ridden past, social studies teachers can put at its curricular and instructional center a more peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable tomorrow? Instead of a social studies curriculum and pedagogy that privileges and prioritizes the narrative of successfully using violence to achieve our goals we inform and showcase to students the profound role conflict resolution, active diplomacy, statesmanship, and non-violent activism can play in creating a better tomorrow?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Crisis in Civic Education: Ohio's Lackluster High School Graduation Requirements

Having an informed and active citizenry is at the heart of a functional democracy- after all, this is supposed to be a government of the people, for the people, and the by the people. It was Abraham Lincoln that brought us these words in his Gettysburg Address (1863). In this memorable speech, he noted it was up to the People to ensure the Union would last and that if we fought hard enough a democratic form of government would not perish from this Earth. While the Union was victorious in this epic civic war, one could still argue that we’re still entrenched in a significant battle to preserve democratic governance in the U.S.

In the State of Ohio and around the U.S. there’s a crisis in civic participation, engagement, and trust. The facts and statistics reveal unequivocally that voters are as politically apathetic and discouraged at the quality of our government and its leaders than at any time before. In the May, 2014 primary, less than 17% of all registered Ohio voters went to the polls to vote. Even when voters did turn out to vote, a significant number of candidates ran unopposed. 56% (9/16) of all U.S. House of Representative races in Ohio had Republican candidates that ran unopposed in their districts during the 2014 midterm election (around 31% of Democratic contests). Thus, not only are citizens not going to the polls to vote but the very electoral campaigns meant to ensure the health and vibrancy of American democracy are in significant distress. Citizens’ mistrust of government only grows, as the approval rating for our U.S. Congress has reached historic lows. A recent Rasmussen Poll (August, 2014) indicates only 6% of U.S. citizens think Congress is doing a “Good” or “Excellent Job”.

Issues such as gerrymandering, corrupt election finance, and growing partisanship only inflicts more sickness on a frail U.S. democracy. Our nation and the State of Ohio are at a tipping point. A decision must be made, “Will we work to advance a citizenry willing and ready to strengthen and sustain the health of our democracy? Or, will we continue to the trend of disinvesting in citizenship education and in the curriculum most predicated on fostering informed democratic citizens- the social studies?”

Ohio lawmakers over the summer opted to continue its trend of disinvesting in civic education and the social studies. Recently, I reported that Ohio lawmakers decided to NOT require World History for high school graduation. Instead, they opted to only require American History and American Government. While I am extremely saddened that today’s high school graduates will not receive instruction on the bulk of the world’s people and institutions, I was somewhat comforted in that at least students would be required to complete American History and American Government coursework. Furthermore, word spread in spring 2014 that all high school students would be required to “pass” two end-of -course exams in social studies: One in American Government and the other in American History. Knowing that we live in an age of what is tested is taught, Ohio’s social studies teachers appreciated our state prioritizing the instruction of history and government.

However, it looks like we spoke too soon. Over the summer we learned that while students would be required to take the American History and American Government end-of-course exams, they could in fact graduate from high school without passing either! The State Board of Education Graduation Requirements Committee has proposed that Ohio’s students must earn a total of 18 quality points across seven end-of-course exams in order to graduate. The seven content areas that will have exams are:
  • English I and II 
  • Algebra I 
  • Geometry 
  • Integrated math I and II 
  • Physical science 
  • American history 
  • American government 
Based upon students’ performance, they will earn 1-5 quality points per exam. The scoring breakdown is:

5 – Advanced
4 – Accelerated
3 – Proficient
2 – Basic
1 – Limited

The issue comes in that while all students are required to earn 18 quality points, students can easily earn this minimum score by FAILING the American History and American Government exams. The State Board of Education does note that students must earn a minimum of:
  • four total points across the English end-of-course exams,
  • four total points across the math exams,
  • and, six total points across the science and social studies exams.
Thus, if a student scored 4s on both English Exams, 3 on the math exam, 3 on the science exam, and TWOs on the American History and American Government they would still earn 18. Students would have accumulated enough exam quality points to graduate. This means student that demonstrate a below proficient understanding of institutions, principles, and histories of American government and history will freely join the ranks of an already disengaged, apathetic, and broken democratic system. The civic mission of schools is being decimated by Ohio high school graduation requirements that fail to prepare the informed and active citizens our nation, state, and communities so desperately need.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thank You: 2014 State Social Studies Leader

Just want to say Thank You to OCSS for this amazing award...  Truly, an organization fighting to ensure a strong history, civics, and social studies curriculum in Ohio's schools.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Update: The Campaign to Save World History in Ohio's Schools

UPDATE (12-19-2014): VICTORY!

A special thank you for your support as we fought to ensure all of Ohio's students learn about the world, its people, and issues. Because of your efforts and tireless pursuit to ensure we build a truly world class educations system for Ohio's students, Governor Kasich just signed into law a provision that requires students complete 1/2 unit of instruction in world history before graduating high school. Again, our campaign to Save World History in Ohio's Schools could not have been successful without your support!

For more information on this legislative victory, see http://www.lsc.state.oh.us/synopsis130/h0367-130.pdf

As we continue to rally for Senate Bill 96 to come to the floor of the Ohio Senate for an up or down vote, there are still a few Senators expressing concerns about all of Ohio’s high school students being required to complete a unit of World History for their graduation. With recent changes in graduation requirements, World History has been downgraded to an elective course. There have even been published accounts of school districts already making the decision to downgrade world history to elective status. For more information on this issue, click here.

Unlike any other generation our world needs U.S. citizens that know about the rest of the world, its issues, and people. Our nation and its people continue to face a host of opportunities and challenges as it relates to the rapidly accelerating pace of globalization.  Instruction in world history is critical to the promotion of global mindedness and a better understanding towards the interaction (for better and worse) between cultures and countries.

Two influential Senators in particular have expressed concern towards Senate Bill 96- which is a significant reason for it not receiving an up or down vote to-date in the Senate. We need you to contact these two Senators and tell them:

·        Our state’s future depends upon its citizens knowing about the rest of the world, its people, and issues. Thus, World History must be a course requirement for high school graduation.

·        Senate Bill 96 would require students to complete a unit of world history, is budget neutral, and is flexible enough for local school districts to continue to offer other global course substitutes (ex. study abroad courses, AP world/global history courses, etc.).

·        Finally, the reason Senate Bill 96 is necessary, is to correct a recent policy decision to downgrade world history to elective status.

The two Senators are:

·       Senator Randy Gardner (R., Dist. 2)

                        -Services Geauga, Lake, and Portage County

                        (614) 466-8060

·       Senator John Eklund (R., Dist.  18)

                        -Services parts of Erie, Wood, Lucas, Fulton County.

                        (614) 644-7718

The best way to contact them is by calling their offices. While everyone is encouraged to call, we really need those constituents in the serviced counties to make contact.

We’ll keep everyone posted as the campaign moves forward.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Story of Inches and Opportunity in Teaching and Learning

As a teacher educator, I consistently find myself pulling from my experiences as a kid growing-up in inner-city Cleveland.  For instance, I tell my students (many of whom come from suburban/middle-class households) how obscure and abstract getting a college education was for me in high school.  Sure, I heard people on television and teachers talking about the importance of going to college but they might as well have been talking about the importance of buying a BMW.  No one on my street or in my house had ever gone to college, in fact, most people never even graduated from high school.  I knew no one outside of school with a college degree, and almost everyone I hung out with couldn't dream of punishing themselves with two yet along four more years of school after high school.  Yet, these same people (without the B.S., M.A., Ed., PhD, etc.) were some of the brightest and most passionate people I've known.  You learn by what’s closest to you, and a college education was right next to winning the lottery for me and for far too many U.S. youth.  

Interestingly enough, I did graduate with a college education and I have spent most of my career advocating for the importance of education. However, in retrospect, I was inches away on many different occasions from falling prey to dropping out of high school- like so many friends and family members.  I frequently tell my students a story of one of those instances when I was saved by an unlikely hero- a local university student doing his student teaching at our urban high school.  I tell my university students (who are all preparing to become teachers) this story before they head out in local schools to work with middle and high school students.  My goal in telling my university students this story is for them to understand that what they do and don’t do when placed in area schools matters.  I want my students to actively seek out opportunities, however small, to make a difference in the lives of children. Since my university students are themselves still in school, and most are in their early twenties, there’s a unique opportunity for them to build a rapport and relationship with their students. It should be noted that my university students bring with them a fresh set of eyes, helpful hands, and naive optimism that may give middle/high school students the extra-opportunities, supports, and inches they need to be successful.

My Story: An Inch Away

I was a naive freshman experiencing the first week of classes at a brand new high school.  In many regards, I was not an ideal student.  As I entered high school, I was one of those middle school students that just managed to get by in my classes.  I learned quickly in the first week of class how important it was to make friends and “fit-in”- after all, high school is one big popularity contest.  After my second period class, a few students I went to middle school with came over and asked if I wanted to skip school with them.  Not having too many friends and knowing how important it was to fit-in, I agreed.  We plotted our escape past the school’s security guards, and low and behold the next thing I knew I’m running out of the school’s backdoor and towards the parking lot.  Once outside of the school, we agreed to walk one street over to go hide behind a small convenient store.  Ironically enough, once we got back there, and all breathed a sigh of relief, a gang of teens immediately walked over and pulled a knife on us, demanding we hand over our wallets.  Fight or flight kicked-in and I immediately dashed away from the thugs and back towards my high school. 

I remember I ran to the back entrance of the school that we initially dashed out of in hopes that I could sneak back-in during the shuffle between class periods. However, this wasn't possible, as a school security officer was standing right in the door way! I was done for and started to think of other places I could go (i.e. the park, hide in the basement, hang out by the football field, etc.).  I wish I had never agreed to skip class, and I truly wanted to go back inside of school, but I didn't want to get caught by the school’s security guard- which would have certainly led to a suspension and getting yelled at by my parents.  Knowing that I couldn't get back into the school, I walked a few inches away from the school’s backdoor, and then it happened.

Actual Backdoor of My Old High School

A student teacher from a local university was entering through the back entrance of the school to complete hours for his student teaching experience.  As I walked away, this young man yelled over, “hey, kid, where are you going?”  Since he seemed cool and close to my age, I told him the predicament that I was in… that I really wanted to go back to class and that this whole thing was a mistake… I told him that I messed-up but that it was too late and now I have nowhere to go.   In a single act of courage, and in words that I’ll never forget, the young college student said, “follow me.”  He grabbed my arm, walked me passed the attentive security guard, and finally into my fifth period class.  As soon as we walked in, this name-less college student yelled over to my fifth period teacher, “he was with me.”  I ran to my seat with a whole new outlook on school.   This university student- who wanted to become a teacher- gave me a second a chance. 

In the end, all of these inches add-up to yards, miles, diplomas, Phds, books, and blogs.  For all those teachers and student teachers fighting to give our youth those extra-inches and opportunities, Thank You.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Breaking News: Ohio Senate Education Committee Unannimously Supports SB 96

Today, the “Campaign to Save World History in Ohio’s School” moved one step closer to its goal of keeping world history as a graduation requirement for Ohio’s high school students. Yesterday, the Ohio Senate Education Standing Committee voted unanimously to support Senator LaRose’s sponsored legislation (Senate Bill 96) that requires Ohio’s students to successfully complete before graduating from high school:

…at least one unit of instruction in the study of world history and cultures from around the world other than that of the United States.

 The bill now moves to the floor of the entire Ohio Senate for deliberation and a vote.  Having the whole weight of the Senate Education Standing Committee gives us great hopes in advancing this bill out of the Senate before their recess. 

 The Campaign needs your help now more than ever! Please, continue to contact your elected House of Representative Members- especially, those in the House Education StandingCommittee. Feel free to use the letter template provided by the Ohio Council for the Social Studies. Also, be sure to sign and share our petition (on Facebook and Twitter, and over discussions) with friends, family, and vested groups and networks.

In a few weeks, Corbin Moore (President of the Ohio Council for the Social Studies) and I will testify to the Ohio State School Board on why they should support Senate Bill 96. It’s important that we gain their support in advancing this legislation through the House and onward to the Governor’s desk.

Please, know that while we still have a way to go, today was a huge step forward for the Campaign. Your previous efforts and all of your contributions have led us to where we are today.



Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Today, Corbin Moore (the President of the Ohio Council for the Social Studies) and I provided a proponent testimony to Senate Bill 96.  As we all know, the Ohio Legislature recently downgraded World History to an elective courseIn order to graduate from high school, Ohio’s students will only need to complete required coursework in American History and American Government.

We believe that today’s global age demands all of Ohio’s students receive instruction in world history before graduating from high school.  Unlike any other generation, today’s students will be actors on a global stage.  Due to improvements in technology, communications, and transportation events in a once distant part of the world have immediate impact on our nation and state.  Significant global issues such as nuclear proliferation, international trade and investment, conflict/terrorism, and environmental degradation can only be remedied through a commitment to global understanding, communication, collaboration, and action. Today’s schools are on the frontlines in preparing citizens with requisite knowledge and skills in world history, culture, economics, and geography.  By not requiring instruction in world history, our attempt to build a world-class education system is anything but worldly. 

Senate Bill 96 sponsored by Senator LaRose and co-sponsored by Senators Lehner, Hite, and Cafaro is essential in putting the global back into our efforts to build a world-class education system.  After testimony today, both Corbin and I are confident that with this legislation will continue to move through the Senate’s Education Committee and pass the Senate.  However, we have some significant challenges ahead if this greatly needed bill is to become law.

Some members of the Ohio House of Representatives and some members of the State Board of Education oppose this legislation.  Their rationale varies from one Representative noting “…it’ll be a cold day in hell before he spends one dollar of Ohio taxpayer revenue to teach about other countries, as students need to learn about U.S. values and how this country is a light on top of a hill.” Other reservations include the possibility of the legislation/Ohio Legislature overstepping its boundaries and micromanaging the curriculum of local school districts.  Such rationale fails to account for the fact that some fiscally strapped Ohio local school districts have already cut and downgraded world history to an elective course and many more will continue to do so at a time where our state and its economy can ill afford a globally ignorant and apathetic citizenry.   This argument against also fails to account for the historical precedent set by the Ohio Legislature in the past in identifying particular courses and content that must be taught (see  SB 165 which was signed into law), and the Ohio legislature’s constitutional right to ensure a high quality learning experience for all of its students

This campaign needs your help (as we’ve come so far) and we’re asking that you contact the following two parties and ask each support Senate Bill 96:

Please, feel free to use the provided letter template in your correspondences:  http://tinyurl.com/lhrnaq4.
The time to act is now, and your contacts will make all the difference in our Campaign to Save World History in Ohio’s Schools.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Teachers Matter: From a Forever Grateful Student

I want to start this post by saying something teachers don’t hear enough of, that teachers  matter.  This message of hope is clouded in the realities of standardization, high stakes assessments, program disinvestment and teacher accountability.  How do I know that teachers matter? I know because they showed me so. 
Growing up my dad, mother, and three siblings lived in the upstairs of my grandma’s house on West 117th and Lorain in Cleveland. My mom was unable to work, and my dad fought everyday to keep what we had.  For middle school, I attended Cleveland’s Carl F. Shuler and later Wilbur Wright Middle School.  At both schools, I was frequently absent and really didn't "like" school.  Of course, this reflected poorly and I didn’t do well academically.  No one in my family ever graduated from college, and both my older brother and younger sister would latter drop out of school all together (even though I couldn't be prouder of them and both would latter go back for their GED).  Where I lived, I knew no one with a college degree as very few people even graduated from high school.  

With the odds stacked against millions of youth in low-income households, again, I want to reiterate teachers matter. As a high school student at John Marshall High School, I was put on the “let’s hope and pray this kid graduates track”, as I still struggled with attendance.   Marshall required students to take at least one year of foreign language.  I remembered my older brother saying something about a “cool” tattooed French teacher he had, and I decided to take French over the alternative Spanish course.   On the first day of French class, I walked in and behold it wasn’t the “cool” teacher my brother had described.  This teacher had no tattoos and was very organized.  Mrs. Rae (the instructor) had placed name tags on the desk for every student. Mind you, there were over thirty kids in this one class. In fact, throughout the entire first day of class she actually called us by our first name.  This was quite an accomplishment as most of my classes were large (think kids sitting on tables and heating fixtures large), and you could tell that most teachers were just trying to survive on the first day.   But Mrs. Rae seemed uncannily calm, collected, and reassuring.  While it was clear the course was going to be tough, she kept reiterating how she was going to be there with us every step of the way. 
In all honestly, I wasn’t a spectacular student in her class. She sat me in the front near her desk, and I frequently found myself dazing out. It was almost as if she was speaking a foreign language at times.  I remember her calling on me during one class, and trying so hard not to mess up the pronunciation of “Comment tally vous”.  But of course, I butchered the phrase and everyone laughed.  Later that night, I received one of the most surprising yet important phone calls of my life.  I remember the phone ringing and my mom saying, “Ohh really. Wow, thank you for telling me and this is good news.  Do you want to talk to Brad?”  My mom passed me the phone, and as to my surprise it was Mrs. Rae.  “Brad, I just wanted to call to let you and your mom know that you’re doing a wonderful job in class. I’ll see you tomorrow.”  My breath had been taken away and I was stunned. Why didn’t she talk about my frequent absences, her having to move my seat next to her desk, or my poor performance in class?

Later on in life, I would learn it was because Mrs. Rae knew I had been told my whole life what I wouldn’t or couldn’t do but she wanted to let me and my family to know what I could do.  To her, that phone call was an investment.  It was an opportunity for her to say, “hey Brad, you matter and can do anything you put your mind to”.   After that phone call I tried- I tried like hell to do better in her class. But, the subject just didn’t come easy for me and I was definitely outshined by others in the class. My attendance was a little bit better, and I found myself going the extra-mile to meet with Mrs. Rae before and after class to get help on assignments.  She knew I was struggling in class, and throughout our conversations she learned more about me, my family, and the challenges we faced. 
I know that teachers matter and they can open the world to their students.  On May 19th, 1998, during the homeroom announcements, the school’s principal announced the names of school-wide award recipients.  These awards were given to the really smart kids for highest GPA, most likely to succeed, student of the year, and in other areas.  Needless to say, during this announcement I zoned out and paid little attention.  However, I’ll never forget when the school’s principal read “French student of the year, Brad Maguth”. What? No Way?  I was shocked, my friends were shocked, and yes, so was my homeroom teacher. I knew that this had to be a mistake or some sort of cruel prank.   After homeroom, I went to Mrs. Rae’s class to see what was going on.

Mrs. Rae congratulated me, and said that I was most deserving of the award. She said that I had demonstrated the most progress throughout the year, and that she was so proud of me. She also wanted me to know that the award came with a $100 reward.  She handed me a check for $100 dollars.  This check had her name, personal address, and signature on it.  I would later use this check for my university housing deposit.
I never asked Mrs. Rae why me, as I didn’t want her to say it was out of sympathy for me or my family’s struggle.  I’ve thought about this question “why me?” for a while now and it’s traveled with me throughout my entire professional career (to NYC, London, and Beijing).   I’m still unclear as to the answer, but I do know that Mrs. Rae changed my life.  Even though I wasn’t the most academically qualified or talented, she believed in me. While there were students with better grades and who performed better in class, she knew this little award could be my big break.  Thank you, Mrs. Rae for investing in me- at a time when no one, not even I, saw potential. 

Despite my poor academic track record and my inconsistent classroom performance, this teacher invested her time, per patience, her money, and her sense of promise within me.  This teacher mattered, and I’ve carried and will carry that investment with me forever. 


Monday, December 5, 2011

Save World History in Ohio: Sign the Petition!

We've recently started an online petition to ensure World History is a required course for high school graduation in Ohio. For more context on this story, read the previous blog entry.

The names of supporters will be sent to the Ohio General Assembly to document our shared support of ensuring all students are prepared to understand the world and its people.  It just takes a second to complete!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Save World History in Ohio

As a teacher educator, an avid voter, and a citizen deeply concerned about the future of the State of Ohio, I’m asking for your help in curtailing the devastating cuts made to the social studies curriculum by the Ohio State House. In its most recent decision, the Ohio State Legislature and the Ohio Department of Education decided not to include World History as a required course for high school graduation. The state representatives have also failed to include world history on its list of courses to be assessed. In the past 10 years, the education community has come to learn that if a course is not mandated or assessed, it’s usually not taught; especially, in such difficult economic times for schools. This unprecedented move by the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Legislature will have devastating consequences for our students, families, communities, and industry in an increasingly globally interconnected age.

The decision to not include world history as a required course could not have come at a worse time with our nation and veterans engaged in two on-going international military conflicts, citizens facing a global economic recession, and our world facing important global issues. The fact is that our State needs citizens, consumers, workers, and businesses that are knowledgeable about the rest of the world and its people. More so than any other generation, today’s students will be actors on a global stage (Merryfield & Wilson, 2005). Their lives will be shaped by events, movements, and issues from all corners of our planet. Their economic, political, and environmental decisions will have a significant impact on our world. World History is one of the most important courses in the entire social studies curriculum geared towards preparing students to work with a diverse citizenry committed to a deeper level of understanding in order to confront both local and global challenges.

We need your support in mandate that World History is a required course for graduation in the State of Ohio. There are three steps readers can take to meet our goal of ensuring World History stays a vibrant course offering in Ohio:

1. Discuss this issue with family, friends, and community leaders. Be sure to emphasis how the decision to not include World History as a graduation requirement or to mandate the state-wide assessment of World History in the State of Ohio will be devastating for our State’s mission of cultivating globally attuned and active citizens.

2. Contact your elected leaders and voice your concern about the failure to include World History as a required course for high school graduation.

For more information on this topic, please, feel free to review the advocacy efforts of the Ohio Council for the Social Studies:  http://ocss.wordpress.com/advocacy/legislative-updates-and-contacts. I have also blogged about this crisis at http://globalandsocialstudieseducation.blogspot.com/2010/09/state-of-social-studies-educatin-in.html .

I look forward to your support in helping to educate the youth of Ohio in a globally interconnected age.

A Recent Article Published in TSSP
Saving World History in Ohio's Schools

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mobile Technology as a Disruptive Force (for Better and Worse) in the Social Studies Classroom

---Part II: Harnessing the Educative Potential of Cell Phones in the Social Studies Classroom

Adults and teens are increasingly turning to their ‘smart’ cell phones to communicate and access information. In fact, over 85% of adults and 75% of teens have a cell phone (Pew Internet, 2009). While the number of cell phone users continues to grow, teens in particular have a special relationship with their cell phones. Besides a communications portal with friends and family, these smart wireless devises serve as MP3 players, web browsers, can stream videos/audio, and allow for interactive gaming. Cell phones have in many ways become a social utility knife for teens. In a recent report, over 47% of teens polled said their social life would end or be worsened without a cell phone, and 57% credit their cell phone for improving their life (CTIA & Harris Interactive, 2010). Recent research points to teens feeling comfortable and knowledgeable in using their cell phones to access information and communicate with friends and family (Lenhardt, 2009). For instance, teens frequently note their preference towards texting rather than talking on the phone (CTIA & Harris Interactive, 2010). Texting allows students to multi-task, enter into and exit conversations quickly, and have these conversations on their own terms.

Mobile technologies like smart phones, iPads, netbooks, and laptops are disrupting/changing our relationship with both time and space. People can now access information when they want it and where they need it. For instance, people can get directions, translations, the weather, and even local news on the go. Learning is no longer land or line locked. Mobile platforms are allowing individuals access to information that is practical, up-to-date, and in-demand in real time. In a recent Pew Internet and America Life Survey, 30% of all mobile using respondents stated they use their cell phones to follow local news and 42% use their phones for weather updates (Pew Internet, 2011). These devices are allowing on the go citizens the ability to access information and communicate.

While there are still significant numbers of citizens without access to computers or the Internet, new statistics have emerged that teens in low-income households are more likely to access the Internet on their cell phones than on household computers (Pew Internet, 2009). Rates of cell phone adoption drastically outnumber the pace of low-income families adopting household computers (Pew Internet, 2009). In the United States, a disproportionate number of low-income African American and Latino households often struggle to have stable and meaningful access to computers and the Internet (U.S. Dept. of Commerce, 2010). Mobile technology access and use could hold the potential to be a major disruptive force in combating the digital divide (Kim, 2008). In fact, teen cell phone owners from low-income households are most likely to use their cell phones to go online. 41% of teens living in households with incomes under $30,000 used their cell phones to go online, while only 23% of teens living in households with incomes over $75,000 used their cell phones to go online (Pew Internet, 2009).

As already presented, mobile technologies can serve as a familiar and meaningful tool for teens to communicate and access information. However, many would argue that these same mobile technologies can be disruptive forces that impede student learning. Nationally, most schools ban students from using cell phones on school grounds (Scholastic, 2010). Many administrators and teachers see these digital devices as nuisances that distract students from learning. Such noted distractions include students sending text messages in class, browsing the Internet, and taking pictures/video in school. As a result, many schools and school districts have adopted a zero tolerance policy for students using/having cell phones in schools (Lenhart, 2009). Other mobile technologies like iPads and netbooks are still scarce in schools, and most students are discouraged from bringing their personal laptop computer/mobile device to school. In a recent conversation with a high school Principal just outside Cleveland, Ohio, he stated how the school goes to great lengths to inform both students and parents that personal laptops, cell phones, and other mobile devices are not allowed in school. Even though the school lacks enough working computers and has an overly sensitive/ highly unstable Internet connection, the fear of these devices being used inappropriately or damaged/stolen discourages their use and integration. Learning in the classroom is still very much land, textbook, and chalk board locked.

In particular, the social studies has been notorious for its teachers being over-dependent on lecture, rote-learning, and textbooks (Loewen, 2010; Shaughnessy & Haladyana, 1985). As a result, students often cite the social studies as one of their least favorite subjects (Martorella, 1997). These instructional methods often leave students thinking at lower-levels, bored and questioning the importance of the social studies. Marc Prensky, in Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (2001), comments that when teachers incorporate new technologies into their instruction they genuinely get students excited about learning and often tap into their culture and digital interests. In an age where technology has redefined commerce, communication, advocacy, the integration of these technologies in the social studies classroom can help students gain the skills and etiquette needed to use these technologies appropriately. Furthermore, this familiar technology (cell phones and mobile devices) can serve as an important platform in getting student excited about the social studies (Greenhut & Jones, 2010). Yet, there has been very little discussion/ research in regards to ways in which mobile technologies (like cell phones and iPads) can be used to promote student learning in the social studies.

Below, I’m including my top 8 Applications for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch for mobile learning in social studies education:

1. The World Factbook 2011

• The World Factbook 2011 is an app that allows students to examine global demographic information, populations trends, navigate land masses and water ways, and better understand physical and cultural geography.

2. My Congress

MyCongress is a portal that provides detailed information about your elected U.S. Congressional officials. Track their news, video and Twitter feeds. Look up their official Open Congress profile or contact them directly. MyCongress helps you get in touch with your government.

3. We The People

We The People is an app that allows students to review and explore the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

4. Stake the States: Lite

Stack the States is an app geared towards elementary students that makes learning about the 50 states fun! Students will get to watch the states actually come to life when playing a colorful and dynamic game! Users get to learn state capitals, shapes, state locations, and can actually touch, move and drop the animated states anywhere on the screen.

5. World Wiki
Get quick access to detailed demographic information of almost 250 countries around the world. Users can access information about the capital, government, population, area, GDP, currency and the flag of any country as displayed on the Wikipedia site. Best of all, the app is free.

6. The Civil War
150 years after the start of the American Civil War, HISTORY presents The Civil War Today, a ground-breaking app that allows users to experience the war as it unfolded, one day at a time, with daily updates that let you live the events in “real-time” over the course of four years. Users get to feel and explore thousands of original documents, photos, maps, diary entries, quotes, and newspaper broadsheets like never before.

7. iAmerica: The Pocket Guide to the US History and Presidency

American History at your fingertips! The iAmerica app offers users a complete reference guide to the life and history of the Presidents of the United States. This includes presidential biographies, images, and videos.

8. Oregon Trail

Westward, Ho! This app allows users to make critical decisions and solve problems as they encounter real historical characters and locations. These historical facts explain the perilous journey of the pioneers.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Harnessing the Educative Potential of Cell Phones in the Social Studies Classroom

Nationally, most schools ban students from using cell phones on school grounds (Scholastic, 2010). In fact, many administrators and teachers see these digital devices as nuisances that distract students from learning. Such noted distractions include students sending text messages in class, browsing the Internet, and taking pictures/video in school. Chris Deibler, Principal at Pound Middle School near Lincoln Nebraska, recently expressed such an opinion when interviewed in the Lincoln Journal: “We never allow a student to have a phone turned on or use it in the building- ever (Anderson, 9-30-2009).” This zero tolerance policy for student cell phone use in schools is quite common (Lenhart, 2009). Even though districts, principals, and teachers have adopted strict standards against student use of cell phones more than 2/3 of teens admit using their cell phones in school when they shouldn’t (Lenhart, 2009).

Distracters in the social studies classroom have always existed. From passing notes to doing math homework in social studies, students have always tested the boundaries. Especially, since students cite the social studies as one of their least favorite subjects (Martorella, 1997). The field has been especially plagued by its large dependence upon bias textbooks and teacher lectures (Loewen, 2010; Shaughnessy & Haladyana, 1985). These instructional methods often leave students thinking at lower-levels, bored and questioning the importance of the social studies. Marc Prensky, in Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (2001), comments that when teachers incorporate new technologies into their instruction they genuinely get students excited about learning and often tap into their culture and digital interests. In an age where technology has redefined commerce, communication, advocacy, the integration of these technologies in the social studies classroom can help students gain the skills and etiquette needed to use these technologies appropriately. Furthermore, this technology (cell phones) can serve as an important platform in getting student excited about the social studies (Greenhut & Jones, 2010).

Student Use of Cell Phones

Today’s cell phones hold unprecedented potential for both teachers and students in promoting learning. This holds special significance since according to a 2009 Pew Research Study, 71% of students aged 12-17 own a cell phone (Lenhardt, 2009). As teens get older, they are more likely to own a cell phone. For instance, 83% of teens aged 15-17 own a cell phone (Lenhardt, 2009). This number is growing rapidly, and students are more likely to own a cell phone than a laptop computer. From such basic functions as planners, clocks, and cameras to more smart functions like searching online encyclopedias and browsing the Internet, cell phones are evolving into sophisticated micro-computers. In fact, smart phones hold many of the same capabilities of computers. While smart phones are growing in popularity, this manuscript will learn towards the integration of basic cell phone functions in the classroom. These discussed applications include: Using text messaging to search and translate, sending out free notices to students and parents, making Power Point presentations interactive, and using cell phones to add commentary to a slide-show. These applications were selected for three reasons:

1. All of these applications hold great educative potential in the social studies.
2. While basic cell phone data and minutes rate apply, these applications are free to teachers and students.
3. These resources are user-friendly, and offer educators resources and strategies on the integration of these technologies into their classroom.

Student Use of Text Messaging : SMS (Short Message Service)

Teen use of text messaging has dramatically increased in the past few years. According to a new study, Teens and Mobile Phones Over the Past Five Years, from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American life Project, over 75% of teens that have a cell phone have unlimited text messaging (Lenhart, 2009). Moreover, more than half of all teens that text message send over 50 text messages a day, and one in three send more than 100 messages a day (Lenhardt, 2010). The Pew Report goes on to cite texting as “… the form of communication that has grown the most for teens during the last four years (Lenhard, 2009).” Between 2006 and 2009, the percent of teens that use texting to contact friends outside of school on a daily basis has gone from 27 to 54 percent. Face-to-face contact, instant messaging, mobile voice and social network messaging have remained flat during the same period, while use of e-mail and the landline phone have decreased (Lenhardt, 2009). The widespread availability of unlimited text messaging plans has “…transformed communication patterns of American teens, many of whom now conduct substantial portions of their daily conversations with friends via texting (Lenhardt, 2009)).


As students turn to text messaging at greater rates, Google Mobile has tapped into this technology to allow teachers and students to access a great deal of information. While Google is known as the Internet’s largest search engine provider, its platform of free mobile products holds great educative potential. Google SMS allows students to access real time information, definitions, translations, stock prices, and maps (Google SMS, 2010). Thus, Google SMS is a dictionary, newspaper, atlas, translation guide, and calculator all in one. All students have to do is text their inquiry to GOOGLE (466453) and then the provider will text message results back. Of course, handsets must be SMS capable and students should be authorized to send text messages as standard text messaging rates apply.

When teaching an economics course, students could be asked to look up the actual stock quote of Target Corporation via Google SMS. To do this, students would have to text sock tgt to GOOGLE (466453). Or, if students wanted to review a map of Cleveland, Ohio, they could text Map downtown Cleveland Ohio to GOOGLE. Besides reviewing stock prices and maps of locations around the world, GOOGLE SMS provides a host of other features social studies teachers and students can tap into to promote learning.

2. Joopz

Joopz is a service offered by MobileSphere that allows teachers the opportunity to send out mass text messages to students and parents using their PC keyboard (Joopz.com, 2010). No longer must teachers use the microscopic keypad on their cell phones to individually alert parents to upcoming important dates (i.e. parent teacher conferences, field trips, or test dates). Social studies teachers can also use Joopz to send out text message reminders to students about their homework assignments, due dates, and other announcements.

When you sign up with Joopz, you provide your mobile telephone number along with your name, e-mail address, and a password. Once verified through an e-mail, Joopz provides users with a variety of different resources that have important instructional implications:

A. Teachers can send out mass group text messages to students and parents. Furthermore, the website easily allows teachers to manage which participants receive text messages. The teacher can also browse the history of all text messages distributed.

B. Teachers can construct SMS messages in advance, and then schedule these messages to be sent out on a future date/time.

The free basic account allows teachers to send 10 outgoing messages to each group per month. For those users that receive the SMS messages, only standard text messaging rates apply. The Joopz service will appeal to teachers wishing to correspond with parents and students through bulk text message, while not having to type individual SMS messages using the tiny cell phone keys.

3. Yodio

Using the Internet and a cell phone, students can add their voice and audio to a slide show. After creating and uploading a slideshow to Yodio, students call in from their cell phone to add music or a narrated track (Yodio.com, 2010). First, users are asked to complete a simple registration process whereby they construct an account that includes the cell phone number they will record from. This number is private, and will never be shared or published. Yodio will use this phone number to recognize the user when they call in to add narration or audio to a slideshow. After users have created a profile and activated their account, they are free to upload slideshows and pictures. Then, users call 1-877-MY-YODIO (699-6346) and follow the prompts to make their recording. After recording their narration, users return to their account at Yodio.com to pair their recording with the slideshow/photo. When students are done, they can share their narrated slide show by publishing it to the web, embedding it in a blog, or by e-mailing it to others.

In American History classes, students could be asked to create slideshows on an important topic in U.S. History. For instance, students may be asked to create a slideshow on the Civil Rights Movement. After researching key figures, events, and issues, students could compile important pictures and images into a slideshow. Then, using their cell phones, students could narrate their slideshow and discuss important themes, concepts, and historical figures. After adding audio to their presentation, students could publish their narrated slideshow to the web or house it on their teacher’s or school’s website.

4. PollEverywhere.com

Social studies teachers are amongst the worst abusers of Power Point presentations and slideshow software to deliver instruction (VanFossen, 1999; Whitworth & Berson ,2003). Social studies teachers often use slide shows that promote lower-level thinking, rote-memorization, with an over-abundance of text (Gabriel, 2008). While there are many ways social studies teachers can enhance the quality of their slideshow presentations, there’s one cell phone SMS based technology that makes PowerPoint slide shows interactive and engaging for students.

Polleverywhere.com is a device that allows teachers to embed interactive polls and quizzes into their PowerPoint presentations (Polleverywhere.com, 2010). Students can respond to questions and vote for a particular selection in the social studies through sending text messages. This technology actually lets students use their cell phones to text their votes and opinions into a PowerPoint presentation. The free plan requires that visitors sign-up for an account (they ask for the usual information: name, e-mail address). The free plan is also limited in that only 30 votes can be recorded per poll (so the teacher has a class of fewer than 30 students each student can vote once per question).

After signing up for an account, the teacher has a choice of what type of poll they want to create and embed into a PowerPoint presentation. They can include a fixed response poll whereby students select from possible choices (much like when the audience is asked to text their responses to American Idol). Another type of poll offered is for opened response answers. After the teacher poses a question to students (such as ‘What are your feelings on global warming?’), students can use their cell phones to text their response into the presentation. As student respond, their answers automatically appear in real time into the PowerPoint presentation. The teacher needs a stable Internet connection and computer to display these results to their students. Also, students should be aware that standard text-messaging rates apply.


Today’s cell phones hold unprecedented potential for both teachers and students in promoting learning in the social studies (Friedman, 2010; Greenhut & Jones, 2010). This hold special significance since according to a 2009 Pew Research Study, 71% of students aged 12-17 own a cell phone (Lenhart, 2010). This number is growing rapidly, and students are increasingly gaining access to more sophisticated cell phones. From such basic functions as planners, clocks, and cameras to more smart functions like searching online encyclopedias and browsing the Internet, cell phones are evolving everyday. This article described ways in which social studies teachers can harness the potential of cell phones in the classroom. The discussed applications included: Using SMS (text-messaging) to search and translate, sending out free reminders to students and parents, making Power Point presentations interactive, and using cell phones to add commentary to slideshows.

As students’ access to cell phones increase (Lehnart, 2010), and as new applications and software becomes available, cell phones will continue to grow in their functionality and capability. While it is true that cell phones can be distractions, much like watches and comic books of previous generations, the real test comes in social studies teachers harnessing the massive potential of cell phones in the social studies classroom. Instead of banning all cell phone use, teachers and administrators should encourage proper cell phone etiquette and their appropriate usage as learning tools. Like any classroom technologies, students should learn that having the ability to use this tool is a privilege that can be taken away if used inappropriately. Simply disallowing and prohibiting the use of cell phones by students, especially, as they grow in educational capabilities, marginalizes their ability to serve as 21st century tools that allow students to access information, communicate, and present new information.

Global and Social Studies Education

The website/blog allows educators in the social studies to reflect upon key issues in the social studies. It also allows teachers the opportunity to access resources that help infuse instructional media and technology, and global perspectives in their teaching.