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.

Do You Want Professional Development for Social Studies Teachers?

Do You Want Professional Development for Social Studies Teachers?

Everything at OUR District Is Language Arts or Math!

Professional Development IS available for history-social studies educators. California Council for the Social Studies is the prime source of PD for all branches of social studies, and that is in March. National Council for the Social Studies is an amazing conference for teachers across the nation and will be in CA in 2018. That is a fall conference.

What about locally and at home?


San Joaquin Valley Council for the Social Studies (SJVCSS) meets regularly and schedules tours across the county. We had a teacher meet-up in Visalia which inspired all of us. We will be scheduling more of these. Tulare County Office of Education has a broad assortment of Common Core Social Studies Professional Development (PD), that your district would approve.

But have you considered a webinar?

Here at SJVCSS central, we get notices all the time - opportunities for teachers to educated themselves with top experts across the country. This one  from the Library of Congress caught my eye scheduled December 7 at 4:00 EST, 7:00 PST.

Join Us For Books Go To War: Armed Services Editions in WWII

Join reference specialist Abby Yochelson, of the Library of Congress Humanities and Social Sciences Division, as she discusses “Books Go to War: Armed Services Editions in World War II” based on the Library’s America Reads exhibition.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, it opposed nations that had banned and burned books. In 1943, the Council on Books in Wartime, working with the War Department, began distributing pocket-sized volumes to every theater of war. Approximately 123 million copies of 1,300 titles in every genre were printed and distributed. The program rescued from obscurity such now-classic books as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn became a national favorite.

Today, the books are loved by collectors, and the Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division has the only complete set. Join us to learn more about this fascinating collection. Register here .

Individuals requiring accommodations for this event are requested to submit a request at least five business days in advance by contacting (202) 707-6362 or

Attend a webinar on your own or with friends


Have your considered having your own meet-up and inviting us? SJVCSS members are all over the Central Valley. If you email us at and send us the info, we can create a simple flyer and share it with our Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter followers and our paid CCSS members by email.

Does your principal want you to be a better social studies teacher?

Of course!

Does the school or district have money to bring big speakers to you?

No, they don't, so if you can substitute something else that would meet all of their needs including Common Core, will they support you? You'll never know until you ask. If you want Professional Development that makes sense for YOU, sometimes you have to take an active role to find it. And we can help.

SJVCSS is here to help meet your professional development needs in social studies.

Please help get the word out about the LOC webinar and share this post on your timeline and to your groups. Thanks! 🙂

Related Articles


Do You Need Units and Want to Learn How to Engage Students in International Issues?

SJVCSS received this email from CCSS affiliate member, Mimi Stephens.

Introductory workshop for secondary level social studies teachers. Engaging Students in International Issues: The Choices Approach Walnut Creek, CA Thursday, December 8, 2016 8:30 am - 3:00 pm Co-sponsored by Acalanes Union High School, CA Units Provided: The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy & The Origins of the Cold War: U.S. Choices after World War II OR Mountain House, CA Friday, January 27, 2017 8:30 am - 3:00 pm Units Provided: Immigration and the U.S. Policy Debate & Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi More info:

What Do Excellent Social Studies Teachers Discuss at a Meet-up?

What Do Excellent Social Studies Teachers Discuss at a Meet-up?

If you expected some great ideas, you'd be right!

This is the coolest book. Have you heard of it? "S?"

San Joaquin Valley Council for the Social Studies hosted a meet-up in Visalia, CA at Cafe 225. Exciting ideas burst simultaneously around the table. Teachers shared how they taught students before and after the election, keeping the students civil in the process. Brinkley Abercrombie shared that she had the students think about what they felt about this election and type on their computers how THEY would vote in 2020 based on what they learned from this election. Gina Nelson focused on the propositions. She held a mock election. Each student had to research on a proposition.

iPhones came out as Chris Cumiford showed the group his classroom. You will read more about it soon. I'd like to go to class here, wouldn't you?

"Physical environment is just as important in student learning as assessment.

"Physical environment is just as important in student learning as assessment.

Notice the screen in the front. There are actually three of them, and students have access to a multi-media slide show and actual artifacts as they study a unit.

Chris Cumiford2.jpeg

What motivated these social studies teachers to attend a meet-up in the middle of the week?

  • Money, a stipend?
  • Nothing else to do?
  • Duty?
  • Close to home
  • None of the above

According to Chris, money or location would not make him give up time with his little daughter to attend a meeting. He wanted to share with other excited teachers. And share they all did.

Do you want to see a picture of that?

Do you want to see a picture of that?

Ideas about future meet-ups flourished as Chris shared about what programs the Tulare County Historical Society is planning. Marsha shared about the San Joaquin Towne Hall meetings in Fresno. Chris said that he enjoyed going to different places around the region because he had not been to all the historical spots. "It's nice to change it up."

It would be nice to have some online meetings, too. But it's not the same as face to face.

"It would be helpful to have some online meetings, too."

"I'd love that. It is hard to get out at night. This is the third night out this week, but I'm glad I came."

"I agree that online meetings work but it's not the same as face to face."


These teachers want to expand what they know in order to become better teachers.

Teachers teaching teachers began spontaneously.

Chris brought an amazing book written by and author and movie producer. The double plot was like a classic book with student writing and notes in the margins. "Impressively smart, engaging . . . Filled with secrets and stories that are endlessly beguiling and inviting . . . Reading S., and trying to decode everything [was] an incredibly enjoyable, fun experience, as well as a particularly immersive one. . . . For all its mysteries and intrigues, this is a book about the value of books, and what they can offer us that other storytelling mediums cannot." --Wired

This is the coolest book. Have you heard of it? "S?"

This is the coolest book. Have you heard of it? "S? See the student's notes in the margins."

As he opened the book and told us about it, artifacts fell out of the book. Not pictures on a page of a document - an actual document or post card.

"Wouldn't that be cool if textbooks were like that?"

"They will make it into a movie soon."

"JJ Abrams said he did not want it to become a movie."

The story is about two kids that share a library book. See the bar code.

The story is about two kids that share a library book. See the bar code?

The Business Part of the Meet up

"So what about the SJVCSS awards for excellent teachers?"

"Wouldn't it be cool if we could get donations from stores for cool stuff for their classrooms?" (Like Chris's 3 screens?)

"That would be awesome!"

What about other meet-ups for social studies teachers?

"Did you hear about the last Fox last event, Nosferatu? It was a silent movie. Someone came out and told the history. It originally aired in a deserted zoo. Everyone at the Fox was dressed up in period costumes. They decorated the theater to look like the original setting. This is what it looked like. And the coolest thing was the organ music."

The original location of the silent horror film Nosferatu.

The original location of the silent horror film Nosferatu.

"The Tower Theater in Fresno does the same thing!"

"I'd love to do things like that, especially if someone explains the history."

"Listen to what the Tulare County Historical Society is planning."

"That sounds interesting, too. I wonder if Visalia teachers would come to things in the Visalia area?"

"We can try it."

"Yeah, we could."

All they need now is you.

Would you be interested in social studies teachers' meet-ups?

Join us on Facebook, Facebook GroupTwitter or LinkedIn

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How to Teach the Election in 2016


Reach Out to History for Examples of Similar Policies

Need just the right story? Donald Trump wants to build a wall. Here's a book, The Tunnels by Greg Mitchell about Berlin, the media that tried to fund a tunnel under  it, and the government who tried to stop the tunnel. Sounds fascinating.

The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall..

The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall...

Focus on Behavior of the Followers as Well as the Candidates

Do we have a part to play in politics? Should it be violent or reasoned?

"I just watched a video on a homeless woman getting attacked and cussed at, and degraded for defending a the Trump Hollywood Star.
And then I started to wonder when did it become acceptable to verbally and physically bash each other over who the heck is running for president? When did we stop teaching our children to have love and compassion for each other? When did we stop teaching our children that disagreement should not be acted in the form of belittlement or hate or even violence? Somewhere this negative energy has to stop, it will either build and escalate or we each can do our part to help dissolve this negativity. How? I think it starts with us not being part of the problem, we can stand up for injustice, we can teach our children love and respect, and most of all we can model our values and what we were brought up with. We CAN change the world one person at time or at least we ourselves can share compassion and understanding." Gina Skov Hansen

Compare Current Debates with Former Debates

One television network aired the 1960 debates the other night. What a difference! We were in an alternate universe. The Republican defended the status quo much like Hillary defends the greatness of status-quo America. The Democrat pushed for change asking people to do for their country rather than the other way around - possibly to "Make America Great Again." Here's an eight-minute youtube clip of the first debate.

Check Out PBS

Peter Paccone wrote an article, Teaching the Election in an Age of Hate for PBS that you should read.

Teach Argument Writing

TCOE Professional Development

TCOE Professional Development

How are you teaching the election? Does it come up in conversations in the classroom? Tell us what you think. Comment here or on Valley Social Studies Teachers. Share this link.

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