Keep learning going: The OER Conference for Social Studies

Keep learning going: The OER Conference for Social Studies

Watch Yohuru Williams discuss what he describes as "The Lewis Doctrine" and the gift John Lewis left for social studies teachers.

Spring 2020 was a difficult period for educators determined to keep learning going. By the end of March, it was clear that even by fall, students would not all be back in classrooms learning as usual. In conversations with groups like the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) and the World History Association (WHA), we learned that in-person professional development options for teachers this summer were necessarily being canceled. But the need to get together and focus on history teaching practices only grew and continues to grow in the face of a global pandemic and an inflection point for racial justice. At just the moment when teachers need to gather to talk through challenges and find solutions, current events are preventing it from happening.  

So, our mandate at OER Project shifted in earnest to finding new ways for teachers to have those needed conversations. We worked with NCSS, WHA, and many state-level organizations to gather advice, and we then built an innovative way to bring educators together for professional development: the first ever OER Conference for Social Studies.

On August 5–7, thousands of educators gathered online to discuss their teaching practices, exchange ideas, and encourage one another. It was a first-of-its-kind three day online virtual event. We brought in keynote speakers John Green & Nate Bowling, Linda Darling-Hammond, Yohuru Williams, and Jill Lepore.

We created an online space to discuss key topics in social studies, including: 

However, the OER Conference for Social Studies extends beyond the live discussions that took place in early August. We also worked with over 70 K–12 educators who presented on these eight key topics in 10-minute Track Talk videos, which were made available before and during the conference, and will continue to be accessible for inspiration and education. These “voice of the teacher” Track Talks were the heart of the conference and sparked great discussions throughout. We were thrilled to see the exchange of ideas happening in the session chats and were moved by the contributions from our keynote speakers that honored and–we hope—inspired the teachers watching.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with over 85 percent of people who attended already reporting they will watch more Track Talks and close to 98 percent reporting they will attend the next conference. All of our sessions were recorded and are now available to watch online. The conversations started at this conference will continue in the OER Project Community, and we’re already looking forward to expanding on this new way of meeting.

Please note: If you attended the OER Conference for Social Studies you must submit Clock Hours information by September 1!

Here are a few quotes from attendees:

This was absolutely fantastic. I will be sending the link out to others. Really the best PD I have seen for remote learning. THANK YOU! Phyllis Santacroce, Nicolet High School (social studies teacher)

It was a very good discussion, but what was even better was the chat with other teachers during the live stream. So many great resources and ideas. Rob Weddig, West Bend School District (7th grade social studies teacher)

Wow! I will need to watch this presentation again and again to glean everything from it. But it was so well constructed and easy to follow that I already carry the powerful message and inspiration with me. I have also thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from the discussion-based format of the other keynotes. Both are relevant and necessary to hold a virtual audience meaningfully. This conference line up has been mind-blowing. Donnetta Elsasser, Walla Walla Public Schools (alternative education teacher)

I stand in awe [of] the seamless weaving together of both process and content skills across multiple disciplinary practices. This demonstration of teaching scale and intersections of past/present history is what many of us do mentally but helping others see those connections is often difficult. Dr. Williams…made this obtainable and understandable. Grace Ogoshi, Pioneer Middle School (teacher)

I appreciated many things about this conversation. Mr. Green's memories of being a student were valuable to remind listeners that our connections with students are the foundation of everything else we do. Mr. Bowling had so much to offer as a classroom teacher—the idea of being a public intellectual and learning alongside students, addressing kids' basic needs before focusing on content, ways to address and aid students' different language abilities—so many great ideas and reminders. Courtney Ferrari, Valley Catholic School (teacher)

The keynote discussion was simply excellent. Being a fly on the wall while Nate and John have a conversation about history and related subjects raised my IQ about 20 points! It also raised my CQ: my confidence quotient...and continuing with the theme, it increased my other IQ: my inspiration quotient. Fred Truby (teacher)

Great discussions, deep personal stories, and thoughtful insights made this the most unusual and uplifting keynote I have ever witnessed! Laura Lewis (teacher)

I appreciated the range of evidence discussed as well as reminders that children use this format throughout their lives. Useful, cross-curricular. Jillene Partrick, Tacoma Public Schools (teacher)

Loved how practical the talk was—things I can immediately apply towards my lesson plans and discussions with my students! Crystal Van Cleef (teacher)

Three accomplished educators showed helpful methods to lead and encourage students to ask the questions that will help students find knowledge on their own. Craig Smith (teacher)

This had some very practical information that gave me ideas on how to implement into my current curriculum. Alice Muirden (teacher)

Excellent ideas of front-loading vocab and stories that initially engage before introducing complex text. Look forward to exploring more resources. Bridget Fariel, Windsor Schools (instructional coach)

Cover image: Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) is photographed in his offices in the Canon House office building on March 17, 2009 in Washington, D.C. The former Big Six leader of the civil rights movement was the architect and keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in 1963. © Getty Images and Jeff Hutchens.