Are We Teaching Enough Civics in Schools?

haiku deckDo you ever worry that core subjects are getting lost in the muddle of all the other stuff that is becoming part of the accepted curriculum in K-12 schools? I’m purposely not naming any of those because that’s not the subject of this article so I don’t want to distract (but feel free to add your thoughts in the comments). One of the becoming-forgotten subjects I have begun to fear is Civics so I loved this article from Commonwealth Magazine on how this understanding our our form of government in America is not forgotten, in fact taught well:

Mass. getting good grades on civics, history

AS THE COUNTRY engages in a heated debate over what civic education should look like, a new report by The Thomas B. Fordham Institute suggests that the nation should emulate the model we’ve developed here in the Commonwealth.

The State of State Standards for Civics and U.S. History in 2021 grades every state on their civics and history standards that guide teaching and learning in these content areas. Massachusetts earned a grade of A- (the highest grade earned by any state) and is listed as one of only five exemplar states.

Read on…

For more websites that teach civics for MS and HS, check out these:


Tract+Genius Hour–a new twist on a popular project

If you haven’t heard of the learning platform, Tract, you are in for a treat. Tract is a new way to inspire students to become lifelong learners. It focuses on student growth rather than state or international standards (it does meet them–just don’t look for that in the detail). The purpose of its videos, hands-on projects, and lessons is to spark student creativity–empower them to explore their passion. Lessons are delivered by peers–high school and college students with a love of the subject. Students engage through tasks, projects, and peer interaction. Content is vetted, curated, and reviewed by teachers to ensure educational rigor.

Click for a more detailed review of Tract or visit Tract’s website here.

What is Genius Hour

Genius Hour is inquiry-based, student-directed learning that promotes curiosity, research, creativity, and speaking and listening skills. Students are given 20% of in-class time to research and complete a project related to their passion which they then present to classmates. It can be as loose or structured as the teacher wants. Almost every student I know loves it.

Why Tract + Genius Hour?

I have been a fan of this innovative learning approach for almost a decade. Before discovering the Tract platform, researching Genius Hour meant sending students to the library (virtual or physical), digging through books and pages of website hits, and finding the knowledge required to complete the project that was then presented to the class. Tract simplifies that. Now, students have everything close at hand, in one virtual place, so the work doesn’t distract from the joy of learning. Tract is designed to spark creativity and empower learners ages 8+. What better way than through self-directed projects about their interests. Suddenly, reluctant students become life-long learners fueled by a love of knowledge they didn’t know existed.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what Track Founder, Esther Wojcicki, has to say about pairing the two:

“… 20% time can be … every day, every week, or every month. It may be more collegial if it is decided by the school or by several teachers in a single grade level working together. Students working together on a common product in a similar way, provide a sense of community; kids can ask each other what they are doing in their 20% time. Teachers do not need to provide any other instructions other than providing the website address and student login information [for Tract]. Explain to them that they can work on any of the Learning Paths they want. That’s it!

How it works

Genius Hour projects can be done individually or in small groups, whatever works best for students. Most include a “ToDo” list something like this:

I’m Traveling

October 24th – November 7th

My wonderful son is changing his duty station from Okinawa Japan to Fort Dietrich Maryland. To celebrate his return to the US, we are taking a 3,700+ mile road trip across the country, from California to Maryland with a stop over to see my daughter, also in Maryland. We have a lot of sights to see, at the top of the list SpaceX’s center in Bolsa Chica Texas and Florida.

See you-all in a few weeks!

halloween lesson plans

Halloween Projects, Websites, Apps, Books, and a Costume

Three holidays are fast-approaching–Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. If you’re a teacher, that means lots of tie-ins to make school festive and relevant to students.

Here are ideas for Halloween projects, lesson plans, websites, and apps (check here for updated links):

Websites and Apps

  1. 30-day Halloween fitness challenge
  2. Build a Jack-o-lantern (in Google Slides)
  3. Carving Pumpkins
  4. Carve-a-Pumpkin from Parents magazine – Resolute Digital, LLC (app)
  5. Enchanted Learning
  6. Halloween games, puzzles–clean, easy to understand website and few ads!
  7. Halloween ghost stories
  8. Halloween counting & words games – IKIDSPAD LLC (app)
  9. Halloween Kahoot Games (video for teachers)
  10. Halloween Science
  11. Halloween WordSearch – FinBlade (app)
  12. Halloween Voice Transformer (app)
  13. Landon’s Pumpkins – LAZ Reader [Level P–second grade] – Language Technologies, Inc. (app)
  14. Make A Zombie – Skunk Brothers GmbH (app)
  15. Math vs. Zombies (app)jigsaw
  16. Meddybemps Spooky
  17. Readwords reading collection for Halloween
  18. Readworks Halloween Reading Resources
  19. Signing Halloween–a video
  20. Skelton Park
  21. The Kidz Page
  22. WordSearch Halloween – AFKSoft (app)


  1. ASCII Art–Computer Art for Everyone (a pumpkin–see inset)
  2. Lesson Plan: Halloween letter for grades 2-5
  3. Make a Holiday Card
  4. A Holiday Card
  5. A Holiday flier


A New Era of #SpecialEducation–a video

Illuminate Education has an interesting video (on-demand) about Navigating a New Era of Special Education. Here’s a preview:

Research shows that more students will not meet grade-level benchmarks this fall due to COVID learning disruptions. In this on-demand webinar, experts provide guidance on how to ensure students receive adequate supports while reducing unnecessary special education referrals. Watch it now.

If you’re looking for more resources on special education in your classroom, check out our resources:

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month

How Wearable Technology is Changing Education and Easing Disabilities

Favorite Shortkeys for Special Needs

How Smart Tech and IoT are Making Educational Spaces More Accessible

Is Orton-Gillingham Right For Your Students?

A Helping Hand: Assistive Technology Tools for Writing

3 Great Special Needs Digital Tools

Long list of Special Needs Websites

@illuminateeducation @illuminateed #specialneeds #specialeducation


Getting up to Speed: Teacher Prep and Technology Integration

We know technology is a challenge for veteran teachers. It wasn’t part of their teacher training program so they rely on school PD to fill the many holes in blending tech with education. What is surprising is that many teacher programs don’t prepare their graduates well for the rigors of using technology to meet current educational requirements. That is made worse by the demands of a post-pandemic classroom that often operates online, remotely, or a hybrid. Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Christian Miraglia, 35 years as a teacher and now an educational consultant for T4Edtech, has a good discussion on that:

For many years I served as a master-teacher for prospective teachers from various universities in my area. In my interactions with the candidates, I found that although their coursework focused on methodology and practice, it invariably lacked a technology integration component. It was clear that as I  worked with these up-and-coming teachers, their first exposure to the integration of technology was in my classroom. I can only imagine a teacher entering the workforce now who has to contend with the basics of teaching and then realizes that there is a whole other component of the equation that they were inadequately prepared. 

In the report, Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, published in 2017,  the Office of Technology Education recommended that:

“Institutions responsible for pre-service and in-service professional development for educators should focus explicitly on ensuring all educators are capable of selecting, evaluating, and using appropriate technologies and resources to create experiences that advance student engagement and learning. They also should pay special care to ensure that educators understand the privacy and security concerns associated with technology. Institutions cannot achieve the goal without incorporating technology-based learning into the programs themselves.”

And here lies the problem. The pandemic affected every school district in the nation, yet many of the university programs still lack the technology component in their programs three years later. Exposed now are deficiencies of utilizing online learning management systems that school districts face. There should be a concerted effort to focus on this area.

Moreover, sending teachers into the workforce without adequate training is equivalent to sending doctors out to practice without learning to treat specific ailments. The student today learns much differently than students did five years ago. Moreover, the general use of technology has changed. There is an increased movement towards personalizing the educational experience, practiced with student agency and choice on assessments. For a teacher, this translates into knowing what students use and understanding these platforms themselves.


Remote Learning Varies Around the Country

Remote learning used to be for snow days or virtual schools–alternatives to the traditional. Now, all public schools are coming up with remote learning plans. But they vary. Here’s a great article in K-12 Dive on that subject:

Geography, socioeconomics created significant variation in pandemic learning plans

Remote learning plans filed by school districts last year in Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming varied by connectivity, geography and poverty levels, according to a report from the Regional Educational Laboratory Central. For example, 73% of districts with high connectivity included plans for social and emotional learning and support — compared with 50% among districts that had less connectivity.

Read on

For more about teaching during the pandemic, check out these articles from Ask a Tech Teacher:

10 Digital Platforms to Teach Remotely

10 Tips for Teaching Remotely

Teaching During #CoronaVirus–An Old Strategy That’s Perfect