Mike Ward: Teaching Students About History and Life

Mike Ward: Teaching Students About History and Life

On Tuesday evenings, I scan through the photos of the newest 100 Club inductees on my iPhone. Every time a student earns 100 percent on a Newsela quiz in class, I take a photo while they hold up their laptop, their proud grin flashing next to their perfect score. I compile the 100 Club photos into a collage that night and Tweet or email it out. Students get excited to see their photos on social media and often Retweet. I teach social studies in a high school in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. The student population is 68 percent African-American, 25 percent white, and primarily high-risk.

Clintondale Teacher Mike Ward
Clintondale Teacher Mike Ward

On Tech Tuesdays, there are Chromebooks waiting on the desks when students walk in. They log into Newsela and begin reading articles. I either assign the same two articles to everyone or allow students to choose from four to five different articles. I choose articles that relate to the curriculum I teach, so they’re usually about a contemporary policy issue. Students choose their reading level, read the articles independently, and then take the quizzes.

I invented the 100 Club as a way to hype up nonfiction reading and pique student interest. The first week, I gave the class a goal of earning 10 perfect scores – or 100 percents – on a quiz. They beat that goal. The next week, the goal was 25 perfect scores. Reaching a goal of 100 percent on a quiz isn’t just an academic accomplishment. It also requires quite a bit of motivation and persistence.

When students are working independently during class, I cruise around the room and use the time to give quick feedback and build relationships. I try to have a conversation with every student every day. The relationship is key. If they buy in to me, I’ve won half the battle in getting them engaged in the curriculum.

After class, I look for patterns in the quiz data. Sometimes, I email or text students about what I notice. Other times, I use the data to open the next day’s class, pointing out a question many students missed and discussing the correct answer together.

I try to leverage technology to make the content I’m teaching real for students and give them ownership over their learning. I’m not just teaching history here. I’m teaching all kinds of life skills.

Mike Ward is a social studies teacher and varsity football coach at Clintondale High School in a suburb northeast of Detroit, Michigan. A veteran teacher with more than 20 years of experience, he speaks around the country at education conferences and was recently honored with the Mel Miller Award by the Michigan Council for the Social Studies. Follow Mike on Twitter @TLC34E to see photos of the 100 Club.

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