10 Tools to Get Started with Blended Learning

I'm often asked by teachers how to get started doing Blended Learning. My answer is always "why do you want to try Blended Learning?" Rather than trying to be cheeky or coy about my practice, I'm trying to begin Read more

It's not 1892 anymore

We have all gone to school. We all know that school is organized around academic subjects like math, English, history and science. But why? -It is not easy to question something that everyone takes for granted. It is especially Read more

Advanced Placement: A Race to Nowhere?

"Honestly, the best thing to do would be to get rid of the AP Program, and just design a course that prepares students for the college-level experience." A few nights ago, we hosted a screening of the film Race to Read more

Photos Across the Curriculum

ITSC '11 Mid-Day Three My last day at ITSC 2011 began with a high-energy session by Dean Shareski (@shareski) and Alec Couros (@courosa). "Photos Across the Curriculum" challenged participants to consider how valuable images are in 21st century education. Dean's Read more

History Education in a World of Information Surplus

In light of the realities of the 21st century, I think all history classes should be interdisciplinary courses about current events, taught Read more

Math is dead. Long live Mathematics!

Recently I watched a TED talk which got me thinking about Mathematics in a way I hadn't before. To cut straight to the video, scroll down. Let me be clear at the start of this post: I've had a difficult Read more

Building a Better High School Government Course


My students at the White House (2010).

An energetic young teacher spent the summer of 1996 preparing to teach Advanced Placement U.S. Government for the first time. This week, that teacher finished teaching his last AP Government course. After 18 years, I am done with “AP Gov” for the foreseeable future.

I am as passionate today about teaching citizenship as I have ever been, arguably more so, and I will be teaching a different kind of course in government and politics next year.

A Better Civics Course

Though my school isn’t offering AP, I have the unique opportunity in 2014-15 to teach a new and different kind of government course. One that drops some of the things I’ve never quite liked about the Advanced Placement program – the breakneck attempt to cram content, the standardization of everything (knowledge AND students), and the high-pressure exam culture. My new course will be inquiry-/project-based and in line with our school’s and department’s mission:

OES prepares students… so that they may realize their power for good as citizens of local and world communities.

The department… motivates students to raise, investigate, and respond to meaningful questions about human experience, so that they may become active citizens locally and globally.

A “better government course” will give students the chance to actually be citizens, engaged in the community, and not simply academics studying citizenship and preparing for exams. I imagine students will do work that is meaningful to them, while preparing for both university and a life of contribution to local and global societies.

What is a great high school level course in government, politics, and citizenship?

Any ideas? I could use your help in designing my new course.

Complete this form below, or use the comment tool on this blog post. In future posts, I will describe the process of designing this course, from soup to nuts, and key events in its roll-out in 2014-15.

Posted on by Mike Gwaltney in History Education, Innovation, PBL, Schooling 2 Comments

Three Documents for your First Lesson Plan of September 2013

Who Chooses War in a Constitutional Democracy?

war powersIt’s not often that one of the fundamental democratic questions is front and center for us. When President Obama spoke on Saturday about his intention that the United States should take military action against Syria, he seemed to imply that an important debate is still to be had on the question of how a democracy chooses to go to war.

If a goal of our work in History and Social Science classrooms is to provide a student-centered over content-centered experience – and that’s a debate that should be rested by  now – then middle and high school teachers around the country should be rethinking their lesson plans for Tuesday. What is before us this week is an opportunity to put students in an authentic inquiry, to behave as citizens of a democracy are intended to, and to practice important historical and critical thinking skills.

Whether it’s your first day of class, as mine will be in AP Government, or you’re a month in, consider taking Tuesday September 3rd to lead an inquiry-based discussion about democracy and war, about what it means to be a citizen in the United States.


To be sure you’re all set (or to provide further context for students if so desired), make a quick study of the War Powers page at the Library of Congress. Familiarize yourself with the debates over war powers from the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

In Class:

To begin the classroom lesson, pose the Discussion Question at the top of this post: Who Chooses War in a Constitutional Democracy? Invite some responses from students, and try to lead the conversation toward a recap of the events of the last two years in Syria, and of the last few weeks in Washington.

Then, put these documents in front of small groups of students:


Post these questions for students to use while reading the documents:

  • What are the key words and what do they mean? [Define]
  • What does the passage mean? [Summarize]
  • How does this passage relate to the DQ? [Analyze]


After allowing students to discuss DQ in their small groups, bring them back and lead a full class discussion on the question. Invite them to make a list of follow-up questions in their notes – ask them what questions are developing for them, and what answers do they need to be able to answer the DQ. Brainstorm the list of questions in front of the whole class.

Follow-up Discussions:

For an overnight assignment, invite students to investigate their questions and to look for more information. Discuss in class how that went, and look for ways to teach important lessons of information literacy.

I would follow up this class discussion with a online discussion that runs all week. A driving question for that could be about the proper role of a citizen: how important is it to discuss key questions? to share ideas with other citizens? to communicate with and be involved with political leaders? Students will come to their own conclusions about citizenship.

One of our most important roles as educators is to prepare the citizenry for participation in democracy. We are presented this week with an opportunity to make this learning goal authentic, meaningful, and engaging for students.

Posted on by Mike Gwaltney in Critical Thinking, History Education, Rigor & Relevance 1 Comment

ISTE13 PBL Slides

I was pleased and honored to present “How to Take Thinking Deeper” in Project-based Learning with Suzie Boss at ISTE 2013. Here are our slides from our one-hour standing-room-only presentation:

I mentioned several blogs in our presentation. These are kept by my students – I act only as a moderator for discussion, and the students manage and write the blog posts.

Click the “about” page on each blog for more information about the classes, and resources you could use in your class.




Posted on by Mike Gwaltney in Conferences, History Education, PBL 2 Comments

NAIS ’13 + EdCampIS ’13 Resources

I was fortunate to be able to attend and to lead sessions at both the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference and EdCamp Independent Schools last week in Philadelphia. Here are some of the resources I used in my four sessions:

Leading with High Quality Project-Based Learning, NAIS (with Suzie Boss and Jonathan E. Martin);
How to Support and Advance PBL in Independent Schools, EdCamp (with Jonathan E. Martin):

Workshop Website with Resources: http://tinyurl.com/leadpbl

Technology is Not The Answer, NAIS (with Brad Rathgeber):

3. Teaching Writing in a Digital Age, EdCamp:

Posted on by Mike Gwaltney in Conferences, Education Technology, Online Learning, PBL, Schooling 1 Comment

OESIS 2013 Digital Citizenship Session Resources

Resources from the Presentation: “Robust and Responsible Digital Citizenship”, given at the Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools.

Slides: http://slidesha.re/UHpIaN

Group-created Digital Rights and Responsibilities: http://bit.ly/Xb5y62

Posted on by Mike Gwaltney in Conferences, Education Technology, Online Learning, Schooling Leave a comment