One of the greatest professional disappointments of the COVID-19 pandemic for me personally was the necessary cancellation of the 2020 Organization of American Historians (OAH) Annual Meeting. I had been super excited to participate in a panel called “State, Society, and ‘Correcting the Body,’” during which I would have presented research begun during my 2019 sabbatical. Instead I spent that April weekend in lock down, at home, helping my students and my own children transition to fully remote classes. I truly missed the opportunity to engage with fellow historians and teachers, and to hear about the new research happening in our field. This week, therefore, I want to encourage us all to visit the online resources of the many professional organizations dedicated to supporting our teaching and research. Most of us belong to at least one professional organization. Maybe, like me, you have a pile of publications in your home office waiting to be read when the challenge of recording online lectures and holding virtual meetings with students wanes this summer. Don’t wait, however, to visit the organization’s web sites, many of which have been updated to support remote teaching and learning. Here are just a few examples: The Organization of American Historians (OAH) is moving forward with this year’s Annual Meeting, Pathways to Democracy , virtually and has a robust schedule of panels and speakers available through their website. The event features both live and on-demand content this year, as well as workshops and discussion groups. The American Historical Association (AHA) has a particularly useful collection of online resources available through their Teaching & Learning Remote link, which reflect the wide-range of areas studied by AHA members. Materials are listed chronologically, geographically, thematically, and by resource type. Visit the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations website for a list of articles on teaching foreign relations to secondary and post-secondary students, in addition to suggested syllabi and assignments . The site also includes an extensive list of digital archives useful for students researching US foreign relations. The Society for History Education has past issues of their publication, The History Teacher, archived on their website, allowing visitors access to dozens of articles on the practice and process of teaching history. Scrolling through the vast collection is a great way to think about refreshing lectures and topics in our courses with new research. Finally, check out the American Social History Project ’s list of History Resources for educators. Their current work on Teaching Elections and Mob Violence in US History may be of particular use this semester. If you’ve let your membership to a professional organization lapse, still visit their site! Many of the resources are offered free-of-charge for student and faculty use. And, of course, consider renewing your professional memberships if you are able. As we approach the one year mark of teaching and learning from home, connecting with fellow teachers and researchers through professional organizations’ web presence is a great way to re-energize ourselves and our virtual classrooms.
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In Fall 2020, we kicked off our first-ever Black History, Black Stories contest. Both professors and students were invited to answer the prompt in either a 300-word essay and picture -or- a-brief video: “How are you drawing inspiration from historical Black events, movements, and leaders?”
Please congratulate the following winners!
1st Place: Dr. Bradley Borougerdi
Tarrant County College, Southeast Campus
2nd Place: Dr. Headley White
3rd Place: Dr. Shiarnice Burns
Houston Community College
1st Place: Charles Walker, Jr.
2nd Place: Maddison Hill
3rd Place: Riell Swann
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In a January 2019 blog titled “Making Connections: History & Medicine” I wrote about the importance of incorporating the history of health care into survey history courses. At the time I was deeply entrenched in sabbatical research on women and the treatment of the mentally ill, which afforded me the opportunity to explore lots of sources that were new to me as someone who had not previously studied the history of medicine. Fast forward two years and healthcare in the United States has become even more central to the narrative of general US and world history. Thankfully, there are numerous online sources that can supplement our courses as we navigate the constantly changing world of science and medicine. As we have now entered the vaccination stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s useful to encourage students to look at the long and controversial history of vaccines in the United States. The College of Physicians of Physicians of Philadelphia has a fabulous interactive site that allows students to examine the history of vaccines worldwide through 2018 as well as an article titled “The Scientific Method in Vaccine History” that enables comparison of earlier practices in the development of vaccines to what we as a society have witnessed over the last twelve months. Ask students to think about the time frame that today’s scientists and public health officials have worked with in comparison to early efforts against smallpox and measles. Film footage of mass-vaccination efforts are another interesting way to connect what students are seeing in news reports to historical events. Internet Archive enables students to search internationally-produced government films on vaccination efforts. Of particular interest to today’s students is “Unconditional Surrender,” which documents the story of the first child to be vaccinated against polio in the United States in 1954. The American Social History Project has created “Epidemics in US History” as a gathering point for primary sources on smallpox, cholera, influenza, and AIDS. The site provides links to online exhibits by the United States Library of Medicine, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Museum of the City of New York, each of which enable students to consider how American society has dealt with infectious disease in earlier periods. Finally, the advertising industry’s long-standing relationship to healthcare is illustrated by the nearly 600 examples of health-related ads curated by the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, & Marketing History at Duke University. Who knew, for example, that Scott Tissue was once marketed as a protective face mask? Encouraging students to study such healthcare-related advertisements is yet another innovative way to advance discussion of our historical understanding of germs and disease, health and wellness.
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What was it really like to travel as a Black American during the era of Jim Crow laws and segregation? Award-winning journalist Alvin Hall and social justice trainer Janée Woods Weber hit the road to find out on Driving the Green Book, a living history podcast from Macmillan Podcasts. Over the course of 12 days and 2,021 miles, the two drove from Detroit to New Orleans collecting personal stories from Black Americans who used the historic Negro Motorist Green Book travel guide to navigate trips safely and with dignity, patronize Black-owned businesses, and come together in the face of institutionalized racism. Driving the Green Book sheds light on what has (and hasn't) changed for Black travelers since segregation and honors the stories of those who lived through the era, supported and uplifted each other, and fought for equality.
Listeners can also gain a deeper appreciation of the historic, but often forgotten, locations that helped Black Americans to travel safely across the United States with Driving the Green Book's custom Apple Maps Guide. They can also enjoy a playlist on Apple Music highlighting the songs that came out of the era, many of which were written in response to the injustices faced by Black Americans all over the country. Educators can use the podcast and addiotional resources as supplemental tools in a variety of history courses to explain how the Negro Motorist Green Book was a seminal publication in the ongoing fight for racial and social justice.
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This week I’m attempting what feels like the impossible: I’m transforming a fifteen-week survey course into a three-week winter session. Yikes. Many two and four-year schools offer short, intensive courses in a variety of fields and formats over the January break. In my case, I will be delivering “US History since 1877” fully online. Although I’ve taught six-week summer courses for many years, the three-week format is new to me and somewhat daunting. I spent a good part of this week deciding how best to assess students in such a short period of time. For better or worse, the students will have to take on a great deal of independent learning and I definitely worry about whether they know what they are getting themselves into: fifteen chapters of historical narrative will be covered in a period of eighteen class days. After several discussions with colleagues in a variety of disciplines, I decided to break the course into three units of six class-days. Each unit will contain roughly five chapters of material. I will assign a reading quiz for each chapter and a discussion for each unit, which will draw together the major themes of the unit’s chapters. Students will have a research project assigned on the first day and due on the last, a well as a final exam. I’m exhausted just thinking about it! I need to continuously remind myself that students take short, intensive courses for a number of reasons, most of which involve needing credits to complete their degree. At the same time, however, I do not want their need to get the course done quickly to take away from what I see as the value of a US history course. This challenge, I believe, may be the greatest to the process of condensing a full-semester course into the time frame of winter session. Unlike in typical-length semesters when I rely upon the College’s student evaluations for feedback, I’ve decided to survey the students myself at the end of the January term to find out what did and did not work for them. I’m very curious to learn whether students’ expectations of workload were realistic. And, I’d love to hear from anyone in the Macmillan Community who has taught a three-week intensive course -- history or any other subject. Advice? Suggestions? I’m all ears!
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It’s safe to say that most of us are tired of COVID-19. We are hopeful that 2021 will see the introduction of a safe and effective vaccine so that the Pandemic of 2020 can be relegated to the archives along with cloth masks and journals documenting the many hours of quarantine we spent watching television! As a historian and teacher, however, I cannot let 2020 commence without one last suggestion as to how we can help our students contextualize our national experience this year by comparing current social and political conditions to a historical period of public health crisis. Last week students in my US Women’s History class read this fascinating article: “The Pioneering Health Officer Who Saved Portland from the Plague” ( Smithsonian Magazine) by Bess Lovejoy, which tells the story of Esther Pohl, an obstetrician tasked with navigating Portland, Oregon, through a 1907 outbreak of bubonic plague as the city’s health officer. Pohl’s work in Portland at the start of the twentieth century was groundbreaking. One of only a few female physicians in the city, Pohl sprung into action as the city’s health commissioner in response to her study of an earlier plague that had ravaged sections of Honolulu’s Chinatown, leading that city to intentionally burn buildings to stop the disease’s spread in 1899. San Francisco, she learned, confronted the same plague in 1900, quarantining 25,000 residents of Chinese-descent in a 15-block area. Pohl, Lovejoy writes, “designed an anti-plague strategy [for Portland] that combined her scientific and technical expertise with an understanding of the power of the press.” She invited the press to inspect and report on areas of Portland’s waterfront where garbage was attracting large numbers of rats, known as the primary carriers of the bubonic plague. Unlike in Hawaii and California where politicians had made unsubstantiated connections between Chinese communities and the spread of the plague, Pohl “avoided racist rhetoric and targeted [clean up of] the waterfront instead….” My students were particularly interested in Pohl’s personal call for community action: “everyone in the city, rich and poor, should consider it his duty to exterminate rats.” Esther Pohl’s story is a useful example of the kinds of challenges that educated women were tackling at the start of the twentieth century. Even though Pohl could not legally vote, she was committed professionally to using her knowledge and skills to aid her community and was subsequently recognized as an expert in a time of crisis. More importantly, considering the time in which we currently live, Lovejoy’s article acknowledges the long history of ethnic discrimination associated with public health crises in the United States and one female doctor’s ability to handle the crisis effectively without resorting to racism and ethnocentrism. My students, many of whom are the children of immigrants, were saddened by the fact that more than one hundred years after state governments’ xenophobic actions in Honolulu and San Francisco targeted people of Chinese heritage, politicians in 2020 have made similarly racist charges in relation to COVID-19. No doubt future history textbooks will document President Trump’s references to the “kung flu” and “Chinese virus” as an example of how slow our nation’s progress on race has truly been. Nonetheless, introducing our students to the work of Esther Pohl and other pioneers in public health is a great way to impress upon them that the experience of 2020 is not in itself unique. History presents us with examples of positive and negative responses by human beings to crisis, and offers our students opportunity for both intellectual growth and self reflection.
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We’ve just hit the mid-way point in fall semester so it’s a reasonable time to consider how my first all-remote semester has progressed. When the semester started I was definitely gloomy as I imagined the 3 ½ months ahead (see First Day of School Blues ). I was correct in my assumption that I would dearly miss my daily interaction with colleagues and students. Conveying information via email and learning management system is not the same as reading expressions and body language during face-to-face lessons. One positive experience I’ve had this semester has been an increase in students’ attendance at office hours. I’ve approached my office hours as a “by appointment only” practice this semester. My college uses a program called Starfish where students book an appointment with me during times that I have preestablished. The system notifies me when an appointment has been made and I send the student a link for our virtual meeting. I’m keeping an office hours log with the names of students I meet with, times and topics of conversation. Prior to this semester I never kept track of student visits to my office because they often seemed so casual. Now, however, I see the benefit of being able to review conversations and follow-up when necessary. I’m definitely concerned about the students’ ability to stay committed to online classes for the entire school year. Here at the semester’s half-way point I’m hearing from students who are debating whether they can or should continue with the fall term. Many are overwhelmed by the challenges of family members also needing the home WiFi and technology to attend school remotely. One of my students this week told me that the daily pressure of helping his children with their school work has completely drained him of the motivation he once had to finish his associate’s degree. I’m worried about the long-term impact the pandemic will have on those students who have been struggling with economic difficulties while trying to keep up with their school and family responsibilities. And, of course, I’m stressed about the election. As I write we are less than a week away from November 3rd. Many of my students are voting for the first time this year and these young men and women want to feel as though their votes will make a difference. The historian in me knows that voters are often disappointed and this election more than others in recent memory has the potential, especially for new voters, to yield a great deal of disappointment and frustration. I would hate to see that disappointment turn into apathy. Questions about the Electoral College, the importance of voter turnout, and the ramifications of the recent ascent of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court are weighing heavily on engaged students’ minds. Given the current pandemic, answering these questions with any certainty based on historical precedent is more difficult than ever before. I’m hopeful that we, as historians, can continue to encourage our students to engage politically and intellectually no matter the outcome on November 3rd. One more scattered thought before I close: if you haven’t already, please encourage your students and colleagues to submit an entry to Macmillan’s “Black History, Black Stories” contest. I offered my students five points "extra credit" on their lowest test score of the semester if they entered and it was amazing how inspired they suddenly were to think about their own relationship to black history! In this year of ups and downs, disappointments and frustrations, my motto regarding student engagement is “whatever it takes!”
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I like to joke with my students when they ask me a question to which I have no idea the answer: believe it or not, being a historian does not mean knowing all things about all aspects of history. Case in point: my admittedly-sketchy knowledge of the finer points of the US Constitution. Over the last several weeks I’ve found myself searching the web for reliable non-partisan sources to help students with questions they have about current events related to the transfer of power, the nomination of a candidate to the Supreme Court, and contested elections. Twenty-plus years ago, as a graduate student preparing for doctoral exams, I no doubt could have answered these questions with a lot more certainty than I can today. Nowadays, I leave the day-to-day teaching of the Constitution to my expert colleagues in political science. So this week I’m sharing some of the resources that I and my students have found particularly helpful in recent days. Side note: there are seemingly infinite resources online. I have sought to be as non-partisan as possible with these suggestions while acknowledging that every source has a bias of one sort or another. The National Constitution Center has a fabulous “Interactive Constitution” that allows students to read the document by segment, offers brief articles on common/shared arguments, and a section called “Matters of Debate” written by scholars on opposing sides of interpretations. For any student or teacher looking for a straightforward, accessible site for easy reference, the National Constitution Center is the place to start. The Constitution Annotated is a more scholarly but also useful site that calls itself “a comprehensive, government-sanctioned record of the interpretations of the Constitution.” If, after the circus of the first Presidential Debate, you have students asking “what’s the point?” send them to the Commission on Presidential Debates web site, which is an amazing resource for transcripts and videos. Here students have the opportunity to judge for themselves how debates have changed in practice and process throughout the twentieth century. The “Debate History” tab will take students all the way back to the 1858 debates. Asking the students to compare our 2020 Presidential Debate(s) to one from years past is a fun way to engage them in a discussion of the media’s role in politics and to consider how candidates’ interactions with each other have changed dramatically over time. Finally, if students are curious about the history of voting/voting rights in the United States, there are many websites that provide basic timelines and some analysis. See, for example, the Carnegie Corporation’s Voting Rights: A Short History , which offers a brief illustrated timeline. The League of Women Voters ’ educational initiative may be of interest to students who want to learn how non-partisan organizations seek to encourage voter turnout. Students may also find useful voting resources by checking the web sites for their state’s Secretary of State’s Office. My home state of Massachusetts , for example, maintains a robust and informative site to help with all kinds of voting-related questions. These next several weeks will no doubt be politically contentious. As historians and teachers, the best we can do is offer our students resources to consider where our country has been historically and the critical thinking skills to decide the direction of our nation’s future.
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It’s week three of the anything-but-normal fall semester of 2020: a good time to think about what’s working and what is not. This week’s blog, then, is a mismatch of things I’ve been thinking about since the semester began. I receive what feels like dozens and dozens and dozens of emails every single day. Teaching asynchronous, fully-online classes and never seeing my students face-to-face except for virtual office hours means that I take a daily descent into a bottomless inbox. I get emails at all hours of the day and night, all week and weekend long. The first week of classes I studiously carved out two blocks of time per day when I specifically responded to emails. Something happened during week two. I threw that organized practice out the window when I started feeling overwhelmed by the volume that would greet me during those planned response times. Reality, however, is that I’m likely being less productive now because I’m responding when each email pings my box even if it is interrupting other work. To add to the stress of the string of messages, I am constantly doubting the written directions I’ve given. More than once a day my internal voice asks “Isn’t that in the syllabus?” as I address a student’s question. I’ve literally re-read my syllabus countless times to check myself before responding. It’s almost as if my brain is saying “if people are asking the question, the answer must not be there.” But then the answer IS there … and so I just feel frustrated. On the other hand, the writing assignments I have added for extra credit have been a fabulous addition to my Black History class. This past week students read “What Kids are Really Learning About Slavery” ( The Atlantic 2018) . Although a small percentage of students in the class chose to complete the extra-credit assignment, those who did gave me a window through which I could learn about my students’ prior knowledge of Black History. Several wrote that the article forced them to consider the age at which they first learned about slavery in grade school. Some wondered if their schools waited too long to introduce difficult topics. Many reflected that their study of the institution had never before been directly linked to the history of racism in the United States. In their grade-school classes, some wrote, slavery and racism seemed completely disconnected. These observations have opened my eyes further to the beliefs that my students bring to my US history classes in general. As I move forward with this semester I’m hoping to do more assignments that help students see history as a process and not just lists of facts to memorize. The more I read their informal writings on historical events, the clearer it becomes that most students give very little thought to what they have been taught and why . Living in this era of so-called “fake news” makes it more important than ever that as historians we help students to question their sources -- even when those sources are academic. Now if I could only get them to read the syllabus...
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How are you drawing inspiration from historical black events, movements, and leaders?
2020 has been a time of extraordinary challenges for many people. It has also been a time of resurgent activism, nowhere more dramatically than with events associated with the #BlackLivesMatter movement—events that took their inspiration from the long quest for equality for Black Americans and charismatic leaders like the late John Lewis.
In many respects, we are looking to African American history to understand what has happened, what might happen, and how it may orient us in finding a better path forward. We want you to share your story: how are YOU drawing inspiration from black history, events, movements, or leaders? Share your video or short written story for a chance to win up to $1000!*
All higher education students and faculty are eligible to share their stories for participation in the contest.
Visit our contest website for more details on how to enter. We look forward to hearing your story!
* Fall 2020 Macmillan Learning Black History, Black Stories Contest
No purchase is necessary. Open only to legal residents of the fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia who, at the time of entry, are 18 years of age or older, are enrolled as a student at, or employed as an instructor at, a higher education institution within any of the fifty (50) United States or the District of Columbia. Must enter by 11:59 p.m. ET on December 14, 2020. Void where prohibited. For full Official Rules, visit https://go.macmillanlearning.com/black-stories-terms-and-conditions.html . Sponsored by Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group, LLC d/b/a Macmillan Learnin g.
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I'm not a fan of being asked by students for "extra credit" assignments. Finally, however, this semester, I've found a reason to adopt a form of the practice in hopes that my students will gain some extra knowledge along the way to their coveted extra points. A continuously evolving result of the rise in civil rights activism prompted by the death of George Floyd in May has been new attention by the media and public on the history of black Americans. Most recently, as our nation marked the one-hundredth anniversary of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, mainstream publications highlighted the participation of black women in the suffrage movement. As a historian it has been heartening for me to see non-academic friends post articles about the work of Ida Wells on social media, among other courageous black women who were previously relegated to footnotes. As we approach what is likely to be a uniquely different fall semester, I want to encourage my students to take note of new spaces where they are seeing black history acknowledged. It’s not February, after all -- “Black History Month” -- and the sad reality is that prior to the tumultuous summer of 2020 most Americans did not know anything about Juneteenth or the Greenwood (Tulsa) Massacre of 1921. As a historian I want to see this new public fascination with black history find its way permanently into our K-12 curriculum so that the first time a student learns about the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow is not in my college classroom. One of my goals, however, is also to help students to recognize that understanding black history means more than knowing the ideological differences between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Our students need to acknowledge with the help of history the level to which racism and stereotyping have infiltrated all aspects of American society. We each have to start somewhere so my simple plan for this fall is to share an article -- weekly or bi-weekly -- that will encourage deeper reflection by my students and not just memorization of famous names and speeches. The article I’ve chosen to share to start the semester is “The Penn Museum Moves Collection of Enslaved People’s Skulls into Storage” ( Smithsonian , 4 August 2020). To those unfamiliar with the work of physician Samuel George Morton I invite you to read the article (and the various sources linked within) to learn about the Museum’s display of skulls, including at least 50 that critics argue were used by Morton and others “as pseudo-scientific evidence of a racial hierarchy and justification for slavery.” Students at the Ivy League school were instrumental in pushing for removal of the skulls from the Museum’s display. My plan is to create an extra-credit generating discussion board that will provide space for students to respond to the articles, share perspectives, and ask questions. I will encourage them to reflect on how the subject matter enlightens their personal understanding of black history as well as the way that the particular topic informs us how racism came to be so deeply ingrained in the American psyche. It is my hope that this first article, for example, will encourage students to begin thinking about scientific racism several weeks before we reach the subject matter in the textbook and simultaneously expand on whichever topic we are covering during a particular week in a no-stakes environment of extra-credit discussion. Extra credit: yay or nay? New assignments to help your students engage in the world around them while learning new course content? Please share.
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The Voting Rights Act was passed 55 years ago today. A movement that outlawed widespread voting discrimination, particularly for people of color, yet we all must consider the conundrum: have we really moved that far ahead of where we were 55 years prior?!
I'm curious what everyone in the community is doing as a way of not only encouraging their students to make sure that they are registered but also their family members, friends, kids of voting age, etc. Please share it below!
I think we can all agree that exercising this right to vote has never been more important. The fight for racial equality is from over and we must all do our part.
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This summer our college filled three online sections of a six-week intensive Black History course in a matter of weeks. The sheer volume of student requests for capacity overrides led us to add to the number of sections of the full-semester course we will offer in the fall. Here at the community college where I teach students are undoubtedly motivated to understand how we as a nation arrived at current debates about race and racism. Teaching the course has been both exciting and overwhelming because so much is happening in real time around topics about which I’m introducing to the students. News references to “Jim Crow” and “Black Wall Street,” for example, are leading students to wonder about other subjects that were never taught to them in general United States history classes. Keeping the students focused on covering fifteen textbook chapters in just six weeks with the world changing seemingly by the minute around them has been difficult. Try as I might to stick to the course syllabus, weekly discussion boards have inevitably strayed to conversations about current events. I decided early in the first session of summer classes that I needed to try to satisfy both aspects of student curiosity simultaneously -- history and current events. Midway through the first six-week session, therefore, I began sending an extra email to the class each week specifically about current events with links to articles and/or videos to help the students explore a topic that I had seen or read about in the news further. The first link I sent was a “60 Minutes” piece on the Greenwood (Tulsa) Massacre of 1921. My brief email reminded the students about upcoming assignments and then added the link at the end. The cynic in me assumed that my already busy students would ignore the link. Instead I received a handful of emails sharing perspectives about what they had watched. The positive reactions from students encouraged me to continue the practice for the rest of the six-week session. I discovered along the way that a local historical organization had compiled a list of ways that residents could celebrate “Juneteenth” in our state. Sharing that list revealed to my students that Black History physically surrounds them every day -- not only during the month of February. At the end of the course I sent the students a final email that included a list of articles that I believe will be meaningful to the group now that they have completed a Black History course. This list included articles about textbook biases and surveys of current beliefs about the history of slavery. While many of these articles were published prior to the most recent round of civil rights activism that began in May 2020, my hope is that my students now have the historical context through which to understand articles that they likely would not have read prior to studying Black History in a formal course setting. The task of keeping students focused on the past to complete the course goals was enhanced by encouraging them to think about the present. By sending students links to articles and videos I hope that I encouraged the students to look beyond the news sources they might typically read and open their minds to new perspectives. Several students thanked me for helping them sort through “too much” information coming through their social media feeds while others shared articles with me that provided a foundation for further discussion and gave me a window into the news sources that students are regularly reading. How are you balancing the challenge of teaching history and current events this summer? Please share.
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