Marinate Your Head

David McCulloughDo you cringe at the thought of taking a history class, or worse yet, TEACHING history? As for me, my FORMER dislike of it came during high school, in a little town in southern Ohio, where all the teachers were the football or basketball coaches: the mantra seemed to be, “All coaches teach Social Studies.” I have fond memories of us being threatened with a paddle, dare anyone talk, as we answered questions at the end of the chapter while the teacher/coach prepared for the upcoming football game that Friday night; one used to watch movies and plan with his assistant coaches. The “last straw” came when I went to an interview for a 6th grade Social Studies teaching position (southern Ohio) and the principal’s opening question was, “Can you coach football? I need one.” You can imagine the results of THAT interview!

Thus, my move to Virginia. Imagine my delight, when during the first interview, the opening question wasn’t about if I could coach, but what my philosophy on education was! Wow! Eight years into my teaching, I was named the history teacher of one grade level. Instead of fainting, I made a promise that my students would not suffer at my hands like I did in school. History had to be more than just facts, facts, facts, memorize, memorize, read monotonous chapters that meant nothing, and ANSWER THE QUESTIONS AT THE END OF THE CHAPTER.

My wife and I watched the HBO series John Adams on DVD this week, and should you get the chance, please watch the David McCullough documentary on disc #3. Fascinating! In it McCullough says, “Marinate your head” and get into the character and become them. Moreover, get a feeling of what their lives are like. Some examples of what you can do as a teacher and integrate technology:
==> Have a colonial fair (Go)
==> Visit the Colonial Williamsburg site at,
==>Have students make movies on Movie Maker or iMovie (we had a Lewis and Clark reenactment, Abolitionist Rally, etc., where students scripted and edited videos)
==>Read previous comments about why Colonial Fairs work: Go

McCullough’s final quote on the documentary:
“History is not about dates, and quotes, and obscure provisos. History is about life, about change, about consequences, and cause and effect. It’s the mystery of human nature and the mystery of time. And it isn’t just about politics and the military and social issues, which is almost always the way it is taught [italics mine]. It’s about music and poetry and drama and science and medicine and money and love.”

Be a story teller; make history come alive for your students.

Have you had any of those “a ha” moments where history came alive for you?

Have a Colonial Fair at Your School always thought my Social Studies teachers were boring. Very, very, VERY boring. In fact, just the word history made me cringe. To me, I always thought that to be a history teacher, one had to be a coach. I can remember when I applied for a 6th grade Social Studies position in Ohio, the principal’s first question at the interview was, “Can you coach football?” Obviously, he proved my hypothesis correct!

What turned my distaste of history into a passion? I live near Colonial Williamsburg, and one Labor Day weekend, when the girls were little, and we had little funds for fun, we decided to check out the encampment on Labor Day (press release). We were enthralled! As we strolled on to Market Square, the area was full of pup tents, reenactors, artisians, actors, musicians, story tellers, tradesmen, and much more. My particular fascination was with the cooking demonstration in one area, and the smell of the food cooking was intriguing. “Why,” I wondered, “couldn’t I do something like this for my students?” I was hooked.

Some ideas for you if you want to do this:
COOKING: Have some dutch ovens, iron skillets, and plenty of hardwood, and impress your students. I demonstrated how colonists prepared their daily meals, and students realized that with today’s technology, life IS easy. We made fried apples, homemade bread, pies, biscuits, chicken stew, and homemade butter. Start your fires early so as buses pull in, anticipation builds!
GAMES & TOYS: Research games of the colonial era. My students enjoyed playing with Bilbo Catchers and then making their own out of Dixie cups, string, and balled up foil (honest!).
WRITING: Have students write with quills. Find some calligraphy lessons from the era and show how nice handwriting was emphasized.
PLANT A GARDEN: I thought students would resist, but they actually enjoyed digging, hoeing, and planting seeds.
CANDLE MAKING: Have an adult demonstrate dipping candles. If supervision is excellent, maybe have students practice also
COLONIAL SCHOOL: Times were different then! Show how they had lessons on slates, etc.
BASKET MAKING: My wife made baskets and had children practice also
QUILT MAKING: Do you have someone in your community to demonstrate how to make a quilt?

There are many resources for supplies, and two examples are James Townsend and the Teacher Resource catalog from Colonial Williamsburg. Here are examples of two sites after doing some research: 1 and 2. Colonial Williamsburg’s Teacher Gazette from December 2003 is also a good resource to read: Colonial Day

Do you know of other ideas, resources, or links? If so, please share! Also, don’t hesitate to ask a fellow Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Instiute graduate, Lisa, for assistance. She’s our elementary Social Studies specialist and will be happy to share her ideas.

Previous posting: Go (also check the comments)

picture found at…/ueAbg6fkAlnOBdNZ4wqVKwOlive Branch Colonial DaysJohn Tyler Colonial Fair

American History Teachers! Need a Great Teaching Resource?

Textbooks can strike terror in a student, especially if the teacher has students read aloud and then says after the lesson, “Answer the questions at the end of the chapter.” Argh! Last week, when Lisa and I were teaching a sixth grade history lesson, I asked the students, “If you hate history, please share your reasons.” Many said, “We memorize,” “We learn the same thing every year,” “We memorize,” and on and on and on. Time to spice up your lessons!

Colonial Williamsburg sends out a monthly Teacher Gazette newsletter via email that focuses on primary sources, shares lesson plans, and other pertinent helps to get your students out of the Social Studies Hum Drum.
“Tight Lacing, or Fashion before Ease,” by Bowles and Carver after John Collet, London, England, ca. 1770–1775. From the collections of the Colonial Williamsburg FoundationFor example, this month’s newsletter covers “Tight Lacing: Taking Great Pains with Fashion,” by Susan Pryor; Primary Source of the Month:
“Tight Lacing, or Fashion before Ease” ; and Teaching Strategy:
“Extreme Fashion” in the 1700s

If you are interested in signing up, click here: Go

Also, if you wish to have a wealth of resources to explore, don’t forget to go to the Teacher’s Resources page on the CW website. There you will find:
–>recordings of songs, music, and other multimedia
–>lesson plans
–>virtual maps and interactives
and much more

National Archives Primary Sources for Mashups, etc.

Tired of the hum drum of teaching Social Studies? Occasionally I come across a blog post that causes my heart to skip, and this is one of them.

Glen has written a post about the National Archives new Digital Vault site where students can access primary sources. It is well worth your time, especially if you are a history teacher!

Read Glen’s post here: Go

Free Videos to the Rescue

logoIf you are a user of United Streaming, you’ll understand the great benefit of video-on-demand for your classroom instruction. Although this is a FABULOUS resources for classroom teachers, it does cost a lot of money. What if you can’t afford it? There are other options out there.

WGBH (Boston) has a free service for teachers named Teachers’ Domain: Multimedia Resources for the Classroom and Professional Development. This website offers videos for Early Reading and Science teachers in Grades K-12. For more information, click here: go.

Another offering from WGBH is Sandbox: “The Sandbox is the Lab’s way of sharing high-quality video clips with you – for free. Use our clips to make a mash-up, documentary, music video, or whatever!” So, if you produce videos, or need clips to put in a PowerPoint, or an addition to a student project, why not see what they have to offer? There are a lot of history clips, as well as Science, nature, and the like. See examples here: Go