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Empowering Students to Take a Stand

On September 27, 2018, I had the privilege and opportunity to attend a workshop at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie entitled “Inquiry as Engagement: Empowering Students to Take a Stand,” which was facilitated by Mary Ellen Daneels of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. This workshop was great for many reasons, from the topic and presentations being interesting, to finally having some ideas on how to incorporate the new Illinois Civics standards into my teaching, it was three of the best hours of PD I have had in a while!

The new Civics standards that the state of Illinois has begun to mandate have felt rather overwhelming when teaching 8th grade due to them being written in such an open manner without a lot of specific focus in many cases. Having that much leeway is the same as having too many good food options on a restaurant menu because it makes it so difficult to know which option is the best. Mary Ellen Daneels did a great job of making me feel far more comfortable with what the standards are really looking for and giving approachable ways to deal with the standards.

We had the opportunity to work in small groups to look at what makes a good essential question and what does not. We also learned about organizations such as the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and illinoiscivics.org to help with resources and planning for seamlessly bringing the standards to our students in a meaningful and useful way.

Also, as part of the PD, we had the chance to spend time with Amanda Friedman of the Illinois Holocaust Museum on a tour of the Take a Stand Center within the Museum. The exhibit allows for teachers to bring students through several different sections to learn what people of all ages, races, genders, nationalities, religions, ethnicities, and abilities have done to make the world a better place. All of the sections are designed to be interactive and hands on to keep the kids engaged in the learning. Furthermore, this exhibit is inspiring and encouraging to those students who feel motivated to make a change to make the world a better place. It helps to show them that they are not alone in wanting to do this.

If you ever have the chance to work with either of these amazing organizations I would strongly encourage you to do so as I was able to learn so much in such a short amount of time!

For educators interested in the Take a Stand Center and other materials from the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center (IHMEC), consider attending this year’s National Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference. There will be a NCSS pre-conference clinic, “Take a Stand: From Civics Learning to Civic Engagement,” on November 29. Museum staff will also present a “Vital Issues Session” on November 30 at 11:30, “Lessons of the Holocaust: The Experiences of Survivors,” and a workshop on December 2 at 8:30, “From Tongue-Tied to Responsive: Navigating Difficult Questions” about the Holocaust.

How do you empower students to take a stand? Please comment below. Together we can prepare the youngest members of our community for college, career and civic life.

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