Indy Book Projects

As I start to reflect on the end of another school year, I want to focus on a couple of pieces of student work that have made me feel like an accomplished teacher. I always try to integrate an independent reading project into my history class. I am purposefully vague with students and only tell them that they need to complete a project that convinces me they have read the book. This year, I had two Gaby’s that exceeded my expectations.

The first student read Dead Wake by Erik Larson, which is a fantastic book to help students understand an important turning point in WWI history. This student was part of our school’s Teaching Academy and she decided early on that she wanted to transform this book into a children’s book. I was very impressed by the details she recorded and how she made the author’s text accessible to lower level readers.

Lusitania Children’s Book by scottmpetri on Scribd

The next student wrote a review of the book Forty Autumns by Nina Willner but responded to my feedback with at least five new versions of her review. I especially enjoyed how she included some questions for the author. I was able to contact the author on Twitter @ninawillner and she agreed to respond to the student’s questions. I love how technology has helped bridge a previously insurmountable gap between authors and readers.

Garden of BeastsInfographic Template

The-Great-InfluenzaGreat Influenza Foldable

I love doing projects like this where students have voice and choice as to the type of book they are reading and the project they are creating. The only instruction I give them is that their project should convince me that they read the entire book. The fun part of teaching is seeing how different and creative students can be.

#NotatCUE but Not for Long

For several years, I have heard the buzz about CUE’s annual conference in Palm Springs. Many of my teacher friends have gone. I have heard that 15,000 teachers attend. Instead of going to CUE, I have been doggedly close-minded about only attending “History conferences” to increase my content knowledge and get better at my craft of being a history teacher. I have enjoyed attending and presenting at conferences sponsored by The California Council for Social Studies, The National Council for Social Studies, The Southern California Social Science Association, the UC History-Social Science Project, and The World History Association, but I have realized that the speakers work the circuit and can be repetitive. Over my teaching career, my pedagogy has shifted from delivering content to increasing historical thinking.

CUE History Teacher

The influence of common core and college readiness standards have honed my focus on using historical content to teach skills. I have examined listening skills, writing skills, speaking skills, collaboration skills, basically, anything that is difficult, if not impossible to measure with a standardized test. From what I understand about CUE, their mission is to inspire innovative thinkers and bring them together. This aligns nicely with my philosophy that great teaching is teams of teachers working together, not individual teachers working alone.

For those who have never experienced a CUE Rockstar camp, this video explains their program.

Later this spring, I will attend the CUE Rockstar – History Teacher Edition on the USS Hornet. I want to shred a session on speaking and listening instruction because I have not spent enough time improving these skills in my academic program. I hope that many History teachers will sign up and join the CUE Rockstars in Nor Cal for a memorable and powerful learning experience as we host a sleepover on the USS Hornet.

Teaching The Harlem Hellfighters

I am preparing to bring my US and World History students to meet Max Brooks, author of The Harlem Hellfighters at an event at the Autry Museum on February 25th. This lecture is open to the public, you can get tickets at the Southern California Social Studies Association web page.

Many literacy experts have been espousing the use of graphic novels or comics in the classroom because they are high-interest and engage students (Yang, 2008). I was inspired by a colleague from the National Council for the Social Studies, Tim Smyth (on Twitter @HistoryComics) and his story of using comic books in the classroom, which was covered by PBS.


This post shares some of my students’ work and how I used the graphic novel to engage history students in the study of World War I. Although much has been written about The Harlem Hellfighters, surprisingly they are not even mentioned in my District supplied (2006) US or World History textbooks.
Most of my high school students finished the graphic novel in five, 53 minute class periods. I tracked their page numbers each day to monitor effort. They struggled to annotate double entry journals in order to keep track of the individual characters and events in the story. After conversations with the English teachers at my school, we have tried to design activities that teach students how to paraphrase and cite textual evidence. So one of my post-reading activities was to have students corroborate the WWI information in the graphic novel with information their textbook with parenthetical citations.

I found a set of discussion questions posted online that may guide students through the reading (although I think this disrupts the joy of reading a good story). I am also willing to share my “final exam” on the graphic novel. I hope to see you at the Max Brooks event at the Autry.