How Does an Eighth-Grade History Class in Public School Look Today?

How Does an Eighth-Grade History Class in Public School Look Today?

Tracy Middleton posted this experience in her eighth-grade history class on her personal Facebook page. Her experience as a classroom social studies teacher provided a model for excellence in social studies teaching. Thank you, Tracy, for sharing this glimpse into your classroom.

Today's Public School Eighth-Grade History Class

by Tracy Middleton

Inside the classroom, there is chaos. The room is noisy, as students are talking, arguing with one another, and some are roaming around the room while others stay at their tables and focus on the task at hand. The teacher is bouncing from table to table putting out fires and asking students questions that are forcing them to think more deeply.

Eighth-Grade History Class

Another project: creating Constitution Alphabet Books

An outsider walking into the room for the first time might believe the teacher has no classroom control, and for a moment, the teacher may think she has little classroom control. But when the teacher gets a time to step back and take a breath, she sees what is happening. The room is chaotic, but not because students are off task, but rather, the chaos is constructive chaos as all students are on task and thinking beyond what they ever thought they could.

They are arguing their points, asking each other questions, getting frustrated with one another because their partner can't seem to find the words to express him/herself. Some were wandering around the room to get their brains thinking, and some were visiting other tables to see other people's work.

Eighth-Grade History Class

Zeal for history displayed in another Constitution Alphabet Book

Creation, the Highest Level of Thinking and Learning

That was my classroom today as my students were on day 2 of creating illustrative metaphor posters on the different principles of the Constitution. Yesterday was the research day, and it was quiet as students were watching short videos related to their assigned task and taking notes. It was so quiet and peaceful, but today was so different as kids were asked to do some deep thinking to find a metaphor.

It was fun listening to them try to explain their thinking to teammates, watching the frustration turn to "Ohhh, now I get it," and seeing some of the metaphors begin to take shape. Kids who typically struggle were engaged in some high-level thinking conversations and finding success for the first time in a long while. Kids were encouraging their team members.

It was hectic and noisy, but the room was full of thinking 8th graders. My favorite part of the day was listening to two special ed boys discuss what kind of metaphor they were going to use to explain the separation of powers. They understood their principle.

It was the perfect teacher day!

Eighth-Grade History Class

Tracy Middleton

Tracy has a B.A. in Liberal Studies with a minor in social science, and an M.A. in Education in the area of Leadership, Learning, and Instruction.  She currently teaches 8th-grade social studies at Del Dios Academy of Arts and Sciences in Escondido. She also provides professional development in the areas of historical thinking and the C3 Framework for Social Sciences.  Mrs. Middleton has presented at both the National Council for Social Studies and the California Council for Social Studies annual conferences.  Tracy has served on the CCSS Board of Directors for over six years, first serving as a Region Director before serving as the Southern Area Vice President.

Professional Development: Echoes & Reflections

The Power of the Human Story

by Gay Atmajian

Professional Development for ELA and HSS teachers in Tulare County at TCOE. Echoes & Reflections

Professional Development for ELA and HSS teachers in Tulare County at TCOE. Echoes & Reflections

“A real human being puts a personal face on history,” posits Echoes & Reflections presenter Sherry Bard.

In a professional development opportunity for English Language Arts and History/Social Studies teachers hosted by Tulare County Office of Education, over 40 county educators learn how “Bringing in an eye-witness brings an unmatched opportunity!” We know this to be true. The minute a historical concept, idea or entity takes on a human face and voice, we experience history in a very personal way. is a true gold mine of opportunity:

  • 65 real testimonies available
  • professionally filmed eyewitness, primary source accounts

“We want to teach the Holocaust from the point of the individual,” Bard proffers. “We want to know the stories. When you teach history and talk about the stories. Students say, ‘Wait, we remember stories!’”


Bard’s position is buttressed by Nicole Krueger’s ISTE article 3 Strategies for Using Empathy as an Antidote for Cyberbullying. Krueger writes:

"Storytelling offers a powerful entry point for engaging students’ empathy by actually changing the way their brains work. Neuroeconomics pioneer Paul Zak, who studied how people respond to stories, found that even simple narratives can trigger potent empathetic responses through the release of neurochemicals such as cortisol and oxytocin."

Krueger also quotes journalist Emily Bazelon:

"Stories have tremendous potential to help kids reflect on not just how other people are feeling but why that is a value . . . They kind of lift kids out of their own situations and give them another vantage point and a way to think about other people's experiences."

We are thus reminded that if we listen to individuals as they tell history—as they tell their stories of what they saw, what they experienced, what they lived, or what happened to them—it helps us to see them as people. It puts a face, a voice, and skin on an actual human being. We can relate to the human experience. We can connect with the person. We can understand the human being. We see the facial expressions; we hear the emotion in the voice; the tone changes; we see them remember. Through this process, history is learned, and empathy is birthed, if not nurtured, in us and in our students. Drawing on visual histories works as an avenue toward creating an empathetic citizenry—a citizenry that cares for one’s fellow man.

Gay Atmajian at Echoes & Reflections Sept. 28, 2016

Gay Atmajian at Echoes & Reflections Sept. 28, 2016

Finding Resources for Lessons

Go to Click on the Lessons link on the home page. Go to Lesson Components. Voila! Suggested Links” will appear toward the top right of the screen. Click on Visual History Clips by Lesson to discover an index of visual histories listed by topic, speaker, content, and length of the video.

Utilizing the visual history clips—the testimonies—puts a human face on history, History becomes a person-to-person connection rather than information on a page.

Gay Atmajian Biography


English Language Arts/ ELD/ Social Studies Staff Development and Curriculum Specialist

Gay Atmajian serves as a Staff Development and Curriculum Specialist in English Language Arts and Social Studies. Her background includes a B.A. in English from UC Davis, an M.A. in Theological Studies from Regent College in Vancouver, BC, and an Administrative Services Credential from Fresno Pacific University. Gay is a world traveler and a former copy editor for Global Road Warrior, a division of World Trade Press. Her career as an educator includes leading adult school Student Success workshops, working as a BTSA support provider for teachers at both elementary and high school levels, a decade of teaching grades 9-12 English Language Arts, and several years serving as an instructional support coach for K-6 instructors.

Gay welcomes opportunities to provide staff development and instructional support in:

  • Unit Design
  • Curriculum Mapping
  • ELA and H/SS California State Standards
  • Student Engagement Strategies
  • Checking for Understanding
  • Integrating VAPA standards in ELA and H/SS
  • 21st Century Skills
  • Close Reading

Gay Atmajian
(559) 651-3350

Happy Constitution Day

Just a reminder

There are two events happening tomorrow to celebrate Constitution Day.

At the Fresno State Student Union from 9-12 students and teachers alike can participate at the Constitution Day Event.

Constitution Day 2016.3

At the Tulare County Library meet some of the residents of the past from Allensworth. 

Josie Triplett, Child Development Professor (retired), George Finley, former principal of Allensworth School. Ms. Triplett’s mother was raised in Allensworth and Mr. Finley was the school principal there for many years. Together, they will relate some of the history of this unique community, as well as their personal experiences there.
Visalia Library Hosts Allensworth Event

Visalia Library Hosts Allensworth Event


Annual Rededication Event
October 8th,  2016, Saturday, 10:00 am-4:00 pm at Allensworth State Historic Park

SJVCSS Lantern Tour
Saturday, November 5th, 5-9 pm Meet at Qué Pasa in Tulare then  Allensworth State Park

Free Teacher Resource

Why is the Constitution so Hard to Amend?

Even teachers will learn something from this fun video.

Go to the profile of Peter Paccone I am a San Marino (CA) High School social studies teacher.

San Joaquin Valley Council for the Social Studies SJVCSS provides professional networking opportunities both on and offline for social studies teachers in Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Madera and Mariposa Counties. The council advocates to keep history-social science as an important part of the core curriculum in public education K-12.

If this video was helpful to you, please share it.

An Old Document (the Constitution) Comes Alive with New Classroom Technology

a 4 min read by Peter Paccone, reprinted with permission
Image courtesy of Mr.TinDC on Flickr

My students will never see a constitutional amendment passed. Why?

  1. The US Constitution hasn’t been amended in 45 years. (Nevermind the one that was ratified in ’92 - it was actually proposed in 1789!)
  2. We’re living through one of the most polarized political landscapes in history.
  3. The founders deliberately made constitutional amendments pretty hard to pass.

When I lay this all out to my US government class at San Marino High School, I always hear some version of a rather optimistic question:

Don’t you think our generation will be more inclined to support a constitutional amendment than previous generations?

They have a point. Millennials are a famously progressive group, so it might follow that support for constitutional amendments is on the upswing.

But whatever my answer in the past, it never gained much traction in the class.

Feeling like I was missing an opportunity to engage my students on a pretty meaty topic, I set out to find a new way to tackle the question.

I found it by embracing live polling, email, and social media.

The Old Way

Image courtesy of Thomas Eagle on Flickr

Here’s how I used to do it.

First, I’d ask students to create a survey designed to find out the extent to which the general public supports various constitutional amendment proposals.

So, questions might look like this:

“Do you think the Constitution should be amended to prohibit the burning or desecration of the American flag?



I don’t know/decline to state

Or maybe this:

Do you think the Constitution should be amended to prohibit same sex marriage?



I don’t know/decline to state

The survey would also record the respondent’s age, so when the data was gathered, we’d have an idea of the generational split (if indeed there was one) on constitutional amendment favorability.

Now, think of the amount of work that would go into gathering that data with pencil and paper. Faced with that amount of effort, many students would simply phone it in.

Not very engaging.

The New Way

Now, imagine the same issue, the same format (polling), but this time, we hit the students where they live: on social media.

Using Poll Everywhere, a real-time polling app, students can create the very same survey in digital form, then send them out to their friends and family, or to the general public, via email, Twitter and Facebook.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Instead of schlepping through the streets and asking random strangers to answer a question about constitutional amendments, they can blast the question out to the web at large and see as many as 600 responses roll in in record time.

It’s kind of a rush for students to experience that.

Taking it to the Next Level

Once the survey is closed, Poll Everywhere can generate reports to help students visualize their data.

Using that data, instead of a tepid response that produces no real effort (and thus no real learning), now we’re engaging students through:

Debate | Discussion | Charts | Critical Thinking

Students are doing the work, getting instant results, visualizing the data and using critical thinking skills to extract value from the data they themselves generated.

It’s really cool to watch.

Do it Yourself

For anyone interested, I’ve created a public Google Doc with survey questions you can use and examples of the resulting poll questions and charts.

Have fun with it, and I promise your students will, too.


A special thanks to Poll Everywhere for helping me to make this article possible. Brian, Rebecca, and Ashok, you three in particular. I really appreciate all the support and assistance.

Also a very special thanks to San Marino High School Stats teacher Russell Silver. What great support and assistance he provided and at such a crucial time. I couldn’t have completed this work without him. Can’t wait to see where he takes this next.

For several other great ways to use Poll Everywhere in the classroom, see


Peter Paccone

San Joaquin Valley Council for the Social Studies SJVCSS provides professional networking opportunities both on and offline for social studies teachers in Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Madera and Mariposa Counties. The council advocates to keep history-social science as an important part of the core curriculum in public education K-12.

Three Great Ways for Teachers to Get their Students to Blog

a 3 minute read by Peter Paccone

I am a San Marino (CA) High School social studies teacher who has taken to heart something that Edutopia facilitator (and Kenilworth Junior High School teacher) Laura Bradley said earlier this year.

“If your students are writing,” she said, “I challenge you to move that writing to blogs. And if your students aren’t writing, blogging is one way to change that.”

Laura added that “when students move their work from paper to blogs, they:

  • publish their writing to a bigger (and more significant) audience;
  • can easily access and read their peers’ writing;
  • can engage in online conversations in response to their peers’ writing;
  • learn to work online for academic purposes;
  • learn a variety of digital skills within a meaningful project.”

With that in mind, I went to work. By year’s end, I had formulated the following recommended approaches for teachers aiming to get their students blogging:

  1. Create a blog that first requires students to play a learning game (preferably digital) and then have students post their results to the blog. Have students address a number of questions related to the game’s subject matter.

Example: The iCivics Blog:

2. Create a blog that is named after some event in history and then have students blog about that event from many different angles.

Example: The World War II Blog

3. Create a blog that first requires students to engage in some kind of simulation and/or PBL and then have students (1) showcase their engagement and (2) describe any/all thoughts the students had related to the simulation and/or PBL.

Example: The Mock USSC Hearing Blog

For each blog, a team of student editors was created to assure quality and consistency.

The above approaches were designed to provide students with an interesting, informative, and engaging extra credit learning opportunity, but there’s no reason that they couldn’t be used as primary learning activities or extensions.

I should add that I define the word “blog” as a regularly updated website or web page, typically run by an individual or small group, that consists of discrete entries (posts). I define the word “blog post” as a piece of writing or other item of content (image, video clip, iMovie, sound clip, etc.) that is intended for and otherwise appears on a blog.

Given these definitions, the true beauty of a blog isn’t just that it provides students with an opportunity to write, but that it also provides students with an opportunity to:

  1. Demonstrate proficiency when it comes to a whole host of other all-important 21st Century skills, including collaboration, creativity, tech and multimedia, research, public speaking, and publishing, among others.
  2. Produce a work that can be read and responded to by a wide audience. What a great motivator.

And what do my students think of all this? To answer that question, one need only to look through any one of the three examples I have provided. No matter the number of extra credit points offered, students don’t produce work like this unless they find the work interesting, informative, and engaging.

  • Go to the profile of Peter Paccone

    Peter Paccone

    San Joaquin Valley Council for the Social Studies SJVCSS provides professional networking opportunities both on and offline for social studies teachers in Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Madera and Mariposa Counties. The council advocates to keep history-social science as an important part of the core curriculum in public education K-12.