Common Core

Conference Review: National Council for Social Studies

The National Council for Social Studies had its 96th annual conference this past week in Washington, DC. Like the NEA’s Representative Assembly, the assembly is held in the nation’s capital during election years. It marked my first in attendance.
Being from central Pennsylvania, I’m fortunate enough to be able to drive to the District of Columbia. However, the misfortunes of driving there involved navigating through the growing traffic of 4 of the nation’s 5 fastest growing counties. So we arrived a bit late.
When we did finally arrive, check our bags at the hotel, and meandered to the convention center, we still had enough time to attend the first session. I chose to tag along with a colleague of mine and check out “Islamaphobia.” After opening the door, it was evident that this popular session was standing room only. I also noticed that the session was a panel – sorry presenters, you lose me during panels – so I ducked out and traveled to a different session of interest.
Side Note: I’ve found that the most difficult component of this conference was deciding where to go. There were such a wide-variety of interesting sessions to attend, and yet none of them repeated. If you missed it once, you missed it entirely.
So I walked in late to learn more about Docs Teach by the National Archives. Again, it’s unfair to provide a rating to a selection where I only saw half of the presentation, but they seemed to do a decent job of providing some information on this growing website. My only suggestion for improvement for the presenters would be to encourage the teachers to have their laptop or device to follow along and possibly leave that session with a primary document they can use in that class on Monday.
Next, I went to hear Laurie Halse Anderson (@halseanderson) speak. The author of the famous historical fiction books Fever 1793 and the Chains Trilogy, her speech was superb. She was honest. She was frank. She was personable. She was, by all intents and purposes, the mind of a teacher as an author. She also was from Philadelphia, so I appreciate the matter-of-factness that I’m sure rubs our Southern teachers a bit wrong. My favorite quote from her was about Benjamin Franklin, whom she said “was a man before he was a monument” as she discussed the difficulty we have in admitting our Founders – including this one who held slaves – were humans filled with faults. I left her speech excited and enamored at the thought of marrying the story of history to those people who were there.
Benjamin Franklin “was a man before he was a monument” Click To Tweet
Afterward, I traveled to the exhibit hall to examine what vendors were there and what they could offer me and my classroom. There were approximately 200 vendors, many of whom were quite friendly and didn’t push any products. I personally enjoy the $5 book stand and loaded up my bags until I could hardly walk away.
Then I met my colleagues for lunch, as we traveled together to learn about what Discovery Education (@DiscoveryEd) had to offer. After a very tasty sampling from what the Marriott had to offer, they sat us down “for some homework.” We were to work in groups and try to solve a puzzle using a variety of cards that linked to documents, 3D images, and their (cleverly named) textbooks. They were quite proud of their lesson, as they should be. It was fun and interactive, however, I see it taking my 7th-grade students a pretty lofty amount of time to complete.
The third class I attended was called “Beyond Superheroes: Using Graphic Novels as Serious Texts for History and Biography.” The presenter was Quinn Rollins (@jedikermit), a Utah teacher and author of Play Like a Pirate, a graphic novel that helps teachers be creative (and I of course purchased). His session was quite informative, thoughtful, and helpful. I must have decided to go full bore on a self-sequester of graphic novels as a child, but I’ve been growing interested after reading the graphic novel Maus, which told the graphic story of the Holocaust through mice and cats. Rollins discussed a variety of titles that could be used in a multitude of classrooms, and many of his ringing endorsements led me to return to the $5 book table and try to cram my bag with a few more titles, including a wordless graphic novel, titled The Arrival, dealing with immigration.
Rollins understood his competition for the final minutes of his session was with John Lewis (@repjohnlewis), who was the featured speaker at 2PM, so he released us a bit early.
I had met John Lewis in 2008 through the House of Representatives Historian’s Fellowship, and it was one of the most amazing two hours of my life. Lewis pulled us into his office for what was supposed to be a 30-minute conversation with the other fellows. However, after discussing photo after photo on his wall of amazing challenges and accomplishments, we left shaking our heads in awe.
This John Lewis was a bit slower. Now 76-years-old, the Congressman certainly showed his age. That didn’t mean he changed much. Nor did he have little to say. The man treats a podium like a pulpit. I highly doubt he knows what he’s going to say, but he tends to say the right thing. He tends to move the masses. My colleagues were as enraptured as I was the first time I met him. We mostly enjoyed his quote on the history and the future – “we may have all come here on different ships, but now we’re all in the same boat.” Afterward, Lewis sat outside to sign copies of his graphic novel – March – and the line was 1,000s of teachers long.
“We may have all come here on different ships, but now we’re all in the same boat.” Click To Tweet
Following Mr. Lewis’s speech, I sprinted down the convention hall to listen to Mary Beth Tinker (@marybtinker) of the famous eponymous case where she – as a 13-year-old student – defied her school’s rules and nonviolently protested the Vietnam War, taking her case all the way to the Supreme Court, where she won. She focused on the background and impacts of the case, where she mentioned that the history teachers didn’t even pay much attention to the fact that she was at the Supreme Court! God, how does that happen?! I wrestled through a cold and sleep deprivation to ask her what “taking a stand,” this year’s National History Day theme, meant to her. I also was able to snap a photo and get a signed armband.
But the night wasn’t over yet…
After this session, I needed to go back to our hotel room for a power nap before walking a bit out into the capital to go to our president’s reception at the Newseum. If you haven’t been to the Newseum, it’s a must see. Though you have to pay for this locale, I believe they have an educator’s discount. If not, it’s well worth it. One of my colleagues who had never been there was astonished to see a part of the Berlin Wall, examine the Freedom of Press throughout the world, to see the great photos of the 20th Century, and to examine the newspaper headlines from the 1600s up through the modern day. Afterward, my colleagues and I went for a late dinner and then I found some much-deserved sleep.
My first session was Movement Matters by Michael Derrick. This session offered some interesting tidbits to use, but I was disappointed that the session wasn’t done by modeling them a bit more. Granted, most of these sessions only last an hour, but I’d like to see them in action, especially if it’s titled “movement matters.” Especially at 8a in the morning.
Simulations with Swagger was scheduled for an hour’s worth of time. The presenters Kathleen LaRoue (@kflaroue) and Courtney Pope hurried through the process it within half of an hour. The simulation was somewhat fun, as we were tasked with trying to “cop” items from a retiring teacher by claiming them and why we should have them. However, I didn’t understand the point of it, and the drive home message didn’t resonate with me.
Using Inquiry to Explore Primary Sources was run by Brian Thomas (@Brian_ThomasTCI) of TCI. I’ve been following Thomas for several years now, and have incorporated many of his strategies into my classroom. He has great presence and is quite a master planner, so his modeling of a lesson about women’s rights and connecting it to stats today certainly was something that any of the teachers could pack up and take with them back to their classroom, whether or not they choose to go with TCI’s products.
Next, I walked with Thomas to the luncheon that TCI sponsored, also at the Marriott. Here we were able to interact more with some of their products, which is important because our district is considering purchasing them for the social studies classrooms. I cut my luncheon a bit early so I could go hear the Secretary of Education speak.
Secretary John King (@JohnKingatED) wasn’t what I was expecting — and I didn’t know what I was expecting. He has a great life story, one that I’ll cover in a future article (as well as all the past SecEds throughout the short time of its office’s inception). But it was hardly a draw in attendees. While Rep. Lewis packed the ballroom 24-hours prior, King hardly had 150 people in the same space. He was quite wonky and nerdy, so I appreciated that in him, but there really wasn’t anything I pulled from his speech that I’ll take with me in my pedagogy or pulse.
@JohnKingatED was quite wonky and nerdy at his speech, which I liked fine enough Click To Tweet
Hamilton: Using Music to Promote Inquiry was led by Alex Warren (@AJWarren14), and though it was in one of the smaller rooms, it seemed like there were just as many people in this session as King’s speech. I’m sure we were in violation of fire codes – or at least a lack of oxygen – in this room, but it was great to see how this teacher fell in love with and then built a unit surrounding the musical. It was inspirational, actually. And as I look to add more of the musical’s songs to my curriculum (I have used three of the tunes in the American Revolution unit, while I plan to use 3 more in the Washington presidency), he provided examples of projects and lessons that that will really drive home the musical’s strengths, the historical connections, and the passions in the students. He definitely gave me much to think about.
My final session was listening to a speech by Dr. Daniel Feller, who is a professor and the handler of Andrew Jackson’s papers at the University of Tennessee. I teach bias to my students by the release the dam of malcontent and an archery division of bitter hatred for the 7th President, so this was an interesting session for me. I don’t think I changed my mind much on how I feel about him as a populist authoritarian who bullied his way through legislation, executive action, Indian removal, and life for that matter. But it did help paint the other side of the story a bit better.
At the conclusion of this session, we traveled back to the hotel, grabbed our things, and traversed back into the traffic until reaching central Pennsylvania once more. Some takeaways I have from the NCSS conference:
Take advantage of the discounts in the exhibit hall.
Definitely, prioritize your speakers.
Choose your conferences carefully, as there are so many great offerings.
If something isn’t meeting your expectation or need, find a new one and vote with your feet.
If you’re traveling with a team, divide and conquer.
Find ways to find free meals or tickets to see other things in the city.
Connect on social media with people whom you meet (either presenters or fellow “classmates”).
Bring some of the lessons learned back to your staff as a PD provider.
Try to present something that you’re prodigious in yourself at future conferences.
Take that rekindled love of the subject back to the students, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

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