Saturday, July 1, 2017

7 Questions With Rodney Gillis of the American Numismatic Association

Rodney Gillis, a former Middle and High School teacher of 15 years, is currently the Executive Director of the ANA ( ). He helped with the proposal to have a commemorative dollar coin minted to honor the veterans of World War I and helped write the legislation for the coin. The legislation was signed into law and the coin will be minted at the start of 2018. He is the proud owner of a 1951 Buick Roadmaster. He is married (29 years) and has a Dachshund (Little Louie) and a Yellow Lab (Dixie).

1.      How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
My mother encouraged me to read at an early age and I took an interest in the history of the presidents.

2.      What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
I have a collection of stock certificates that includes the parent company of the Titanic. I also own an antique car that I have worked to keep as original as possible.

3.      How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I was a history teacher for many years. As the Education Director of the American Numismatic Association, I am constantly looking for outreach opportunities to show that coins are really primary historical documents.

4.      Why is studying/knowing history important?
History plays an important role in the study of cultures. History also gives us an example as to how we should make decisions.

5.      What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
My favorite period of history is the 1880s to the turn of the 20th century. So many innovations and interesting characters.

6.      How did you become a numismatist and what does your job as Education Director entail?
My brother and I were walking down a street in Puerto Rico and he pointed out a shiny object in the middle of the street. I picked it up and it was a very old U.S. coin. I started to collect soon after. As Education Director at the ANA, I teach classes on grading, travel to local schools to conduct classes, put education content on our website, answer coin questions from the public and administer programs designed to get youngsters involved in the hobby.

7.      How do coins and coin collecting reflect history and how can coins be used in history education?
Coins are really primary historical documents. Their design reflects the cultural icons of the country that produced them. It is always fun to imagine that a coin minted in a historically significant year was actually in someone’s pocket at a famous event.

Friday, June 2, 2017

7 Questions with Kevin Hicks of History Squad

Kevin Hicks is a veteran soldier and policeman.  Kevin set up the History Squad over 20 years ago to deliver live history workshops in schools and costumed guided castle tours and has now set up Squaducation in order to create 60 second histories.  This new online history resource delivers hundreds of bite size history films with ready made lesson plans and a clever sharing function so teachers can safely share films with students.  Spanning Ancient History right through to World War One, 60 second histories is a resource well worth exploring. The History Squad Website is

1.      How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I first became hooked on history as a young boy around ten years of age.  I had listened to the stories of both my grandfathers who had fought in the second world war and also to the experiences of my mother and father who lived through the Blitz in Birmingham, England.  So playing at ‘war' was what we kids did until I discovered Robin Hood!  My father took me to Sherwood Forest to see Robin Hood’s tree which is known as the Major Oak.  Well that was it, at the tender age of 6, I was to be Robin Hood and with a subsequent visit to Warwick Castle I was well and truly hooked on history and still only a boy of around ten years of age. Within two years I had my first real long bow and quickly realized that I could shoot, I think it must be in my blood.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
It is fair to say that history is the single most important part of my life outside of my family; any trips we make always have a history angle bur fortunately my wife is very tolerant and my son follows in my footsteps.

3.      How is history part of your professional career?
If it wasn’t for history I wouldn’t have the career I have today.  I was injured as a soldier in the British Army by a bomb blast and injured again as a serving Police Officer which meant that I was medically discharged.  After a period of convalescence I was invited to give a talk and display about our English Civil War at a local school.  I had been involved with a re-enactment society and therefore had the musket and uniform of a 17th Century musketeer.  After this first successful display I was invited to another school after which a teacher made a simple throw away comment that it was a shame that it was the musket I fired and not the longbow.  I asked her why and she told me that they would love to find someone to shoot a longbow at a local castle for her school group.  Within three weeks I had taken her school group around Chepstow Castle and it was so successful I still take school groups to Chepstow to this day, over twenty years later.  During this period, History Squad was born as I created a series of history workshops and delivered them in the classroom.  As an historical interpreter and educator, I now deliver workshops that span from Ancient Egypt right up to my own experiences during the Cold War in Berlin. I have around 150 schools on my books, and as well as the live school visits I make, I have also set up a company called Squaducation and created an online history film resource for schools called 60 Second Histories, so my professional career for the past 23 years has been nothing but history.

4.      Why is studying/knowing history important?
I have a great belief that we as people should know who we are and where we are from, if you know and understand your own past and heritage then perhaps you find your place in the future

5.      What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
I have several favorite periods of history, Medieval, WWI, The rise of the Nazis and the Holocaust.  With regard to the Medieval period, I have shot the longbow for over fifty years and have been fortunate to have worked at some of the finest Castles in England and Wales as well as Sherwood Forest so Medieval history really is part of my life.  The study of WWI came about because of the loss my family suffered, my great grandfather was killed in 1918, he died as he charged over the top during the second Battle of the Somme.  In studying the action he was killed in I was drawn into the study of the whole period and occasionally travel over to France and Belgium with school groups to study the Battlefields.

6.      What is the History Squad and how did it come about?
History Squad came about due to demand from schools, if a teacher asked if I could cover a new period I carried out the research and created a character to fit the role.  At first I called my little business Through the Eyes of a Soldier as all of our characters were military but as I expanded the range of characters, many of which were civilian and we became more professional, History Squad was born.

7.      What are the keys to creating engaging historical presentations?
For me, I believe that the story is the hook.  Whether it is a class of children or hundreds of adults in an audience, it is always the story that engages people and then making it real is very important too.  I am very lucky having fought as a soldier as I can use my own experiences of combat to tell the story of others. Also researching every aspect of a subject, what the people ate and why, where did they go to the toilet, it’s these personal and sometimes intimate details that count and help to keep students hooked. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

7 Questions With Erin Hromada, Office of the House Historian

Erin Hromada has worked in the United States House of Representatives for eighteen years.  Currently, she is director of the Office of the House Historian, U.S. House of Representatives.  She has an undergraduate degree in history from what is now Meryhurst University in Erie, PA.  She also earned an MA in history and a MLS from the University of Maryland.  The Office website is

1.  How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I realized that history was my favorite subject in 3rd grade.  At that point it was more Social Studies oriented, but I loved learning about different cultures and the world.  After reading Johnny Tremain in 7th grade, I was hooked on the Revolutionary War and the Constitution.  I still have my high school copy of the Federalist Papers.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
Outside of work, I am always talking about history.  Whether it is talking to my three young sons or my neighbors, history is never really in the past. 

3.  How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I have what I would call my dream job.  Every day I get to go to work to preserve the institutional history of U.S. House of Representatives.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
To be a good citizen, you need to know the history of your country.  This allows you to answer the questions about how we got there and we should be going.  Knowledge is power.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
I still enjoy the Colonial Era of U.S. History.  The founding fathers stood up for what they believed in and then created a government. 

6. What is the origin and mission of the Office of the House Historian?
Our office existed off and on since the bicentennial.  The Historian’s Office works with the Office of Art and Archives.  Together, the offices preserve, collect, and interpret the heritage of the U.S. House, serving as the institution’s memory and a resource for Members, staff, and the general public.  Our website is: and our Twitter is @USHouseHistory .

7. What are some of your favorite stories or little known facts about the House of Representatives?
I love the quirky stories about the House.  The section on Historical Highlights on our website has been baby for a number of years.  Some of my favorite stories are about Former Speaker Joe Cannon.  I have also authored a blog post titled, “We Can't Make This Stuff Upand “We Can't Make This Stuff Up Either".

I also love to talk about Jeannette Rankin of Montana. She is the first woman to serve in Congress.  This year is the Centennial of her service.  What makes Rankin even more interesting is the fact that she was elected before women had the right to vote nationally.  

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

7 Questions With Rhetta Akamatsu, Author

Rhetta is an author and journalist who is fascinated with history, especially social and cultural. She loves to write about music, especially blues, and is happiest when she can combine history and music. Her most popular books so far, however, are The Irish Slaves and Haunted Marietta. She lives in Marietta with her husband and children.

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
When  I  was about 8, my best friend got a series of books about famous women. At about the same time, I read The Little House On the Prairie books. I believe that started it.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
I love genealogy and have traced some of my ancestors back over a thousand years. I also enjoy visiting cemeteries, museums, and abandoned buildings.

3. How is history part of your professional career?
As a writer, I love to weave history into every subject I write about, including ghost stories and music.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
History helps us understand ourselves and others. It gives us insight into current events and perspective on everything from relationships between individuals to relationships between countries. 

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
That is almost impossible to say.  It changes all the time but right now it is probably the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So much happened in that period that influenced our modern  world.

6.You've written about variety of subjects. How do you select a topic? Is there a common thread in your research and writing?
I get interested in a subject and  if I can't find a book that answers my questions I research and write  one. The common thread is the  stories of ordinary people,

7. Tell us about your latest book or your current project or both?
My latest book came out last Christmas. It is a history of blues in Georgia from Blind Willie McTell to the present. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

7 Questions With Dakota Russell, Heart Mountain Interpretative Center

Dakota Russell has spent the past twenty years working in the field of cultural interpretation. He is currently the museum manager at Heart Mountain Interpretive Center  ( ) in Park County, Wyoming.

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
It's been a gradual process. I started working at a historic house museum when I was a teenager. Back then, the appeal was getting to go "behind the ropes" into forbidden and often forgotten areas. I soon discovered that all of history is like that-- there's always something new to uncover and explore. Instilling that same feeling of discovery in others is a big part of what keeps me hooked on history.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
It’s how I met my wife! We were both working at different sites related to the Daniel Boone family, and we started sharing notes and collaborating on programs. We both still work in museums today, so there’s a lot of shop talked at the dinner table. I’m an interpreter and she’s a registrar, so often we come at problems from entirely different directions. Leaning on each other’s expertise can be extremely helpful in solving them.

3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I started out as a part-time interpreter at Battle of Lexington State Historic Site in Lexington, Mo. That’s where I learned the ropes. Eventually, I became the full time interpreter at Nathan Boone Homestead State Historic Site in Ash Grove, Mo. The site had yet to open to the public at that time. My primary job was to research and develop the interpretation. I had an amazing opportunity to decide what stories we would tell, and how we would tell them. I became so attached that I stuck around for another 15 years! I left Missouri for Wyoming this past summer, and joined the staff at Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, where I’m excited to delve into an entirely new subject and an entirely new era of history.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
I tend to think of history somewhat the same way I think of novels or movies or music: they’re all stories we choose to tell. The stories we tell about the past can encourage people to look differently at their own lives and the world they live in. That, in turn, can affect our future. For that reason, I think it’s important to expose people to a diversity of viewpoints and voices from history.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
I really enjoy digging up forgotten stories or perspectives. Back at Nathan Boone Homestead State Historic Site, one of my most satisfying projects was uncovering a rich African American history of the place, which began with slavery and continued well into the 20th century. It opened up whole new ways to interpret the site. I guess I’m most interested in preserving the lives of people who didn’t have the power or means to write themselves into history. That’s a big part of what drew me to Heart Mountain Interpretive Center and the chance to tell the stories of more than 14,000 Japanese Americans confined there during World War II.

6. What is the mission of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center?
The mission of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation is to:
       Preserve and memorialize the Heart Mountain World War II Japanese American Confinement Site and the stories that symbolize the fragility of democracy;
       Educate the public about the history of the illegal imprisonment of Japanese Americans at Heart Mountain during World War II and its impact on the Big Horn Basin;
       and Support inquiry, research and outreach to highlight the lessons of the Japanese American confinement and their relevance to the preservation of liberty and civil rights for all Americans today.

7. What will visitors take away from Heart Mountain?

We want our visitors to understand that democracy is an activity, not an assumption. Japanese American incarceration didn’t happen in some “dark period” of our national history. It happened when the US was supposed to be at its best, a paragon of freedom doing battle against ultimate evil. All this while we were incarcerating our own citizens because of their race. Fear and hatred are powerful forces, and it wouldn’t take a huge cultural shift for this to happen again. All it would take is for us to let our guard down. We all have a responsibility to actively support each other’s rights, and sometimes we have to question or speak against authority. If we fail to do that, democracy means very little.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

7 Questions With Andrea Runnels, The Social Studies Whisperer

Andrea Runnels is a former classroom teacher from metro Atlanta turned full-time Social Studies consultant. She spent 16 and a half years in the classroom, primarily teaching 5th grade. She is ESOL and Gifted certified and also Montessori trained, which provides her with the experience and background to modify Social Studies for a wide range of learners. See her website at .

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I have been fascinated by American History ever since I was little. I remember being obsessed with The Oregon Trail in elementary school. I credit my interest in history to my parents and grandmother, who shared family stories and artifacts with my siblings and I which made that personal connection. We also visited Washington D.C. multiple times since my aunt lived in the area. I take a really vested interest because I can trace my roots back to the Mayflower on both sides of my lineage. I also come from a long line of military veterans which fills my heart with patriotic pride. Samuel Rogers, one of my ancestors, proudly displays his Union blues in a picture that hangs in my parents’ house and both of my grandfathers served during WWII! I was born at Fort Benning during my dad’s time in the army.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
History definitely plays a significant role in my personal life. I would say the majority of the books I have read in my life have been historical fiction. High school term paper? Gone with the Wind. Favorite movies? All historical fiction. I have visited many museums and historical spots in the south. As a parent I have tried to expose my kids to these experiences, too. Tried. Somehow I ended up with two math whizzes who barely tolerate my passion. For some odd reason, connecting with historical sights grounds me. When I lived in Snellville, I loved walking at the Yellow River Post Office Park. I would think about who may have visited that post office or wonder about the family that may have lived in the restored slave cabin.

3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
American History and writing have always been my favorite subjects to teach. I made it my mission to make instruction creative and engaging because I wanted students to have a mindset shift about history. I always integrated literacy into my content, too. I was super excited to serve on the Gwinnett County Social Studies Leadership Team last year because I already had the reputation as a “guru” at my local school. I began blogging and creating digital resources while still in the classroom. And along that journey I have built up a community of teachers through my Facebook group Social Studies Salute. After beginning live streaming, I watched my audience grow even more. I knew that teachers needed to hear what I have to say. I decided after a huge life epiphany that last year would be my final tour of duty in the classroom. Igniting a revolution to bring American History back is my calling and that vision spreads beyond four cinder block walls.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
To paraphrase the famous quote, “Those who don’t learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat it.” I think it is our duty as American citizens to understand the sacrifices and struggles that our forefathers have experienced to bring us to the way of life we are so fortunate to experience today. I feel that sometimes we take things for granted and complain about what I call “first world problems.” There are untold stories from the past that get left out of textbooks. Such regaling tales of overcoming adversity and perseverance and grit that students have no clue about. You can find inspiration for challenges you face by learning lessons from people in the past. Once on a Periscope broadcast, someone commented and said something about why history doesn’t matter and that we need to worry about what’s going in the news today. Well, his remark featured some far more colorful language. My response was that is exactly why we need to study history! Many of the issues involving race and civil rights are the remnants of decades of strife. They aren’t unique to 2016. I feel that if people really took a closer look at the struggle of Congressman John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. and the magnitude of what life was like in the 1960s their perspective would really change.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
WOW!! So hard to pick. I am definitely Team American History. I find the story of Pompeii really interesting but other than that I really favor my own country’s heritage. I LOVE learning about the Civil War and WWII and I don’t know if I could pick a favorite between those two. I think maybe it’s because I know my family members were a part of both. The movie Free State of Jones was such a powerful movie and just validated my mission. Sometimes I feel like I’m alone in spreading my love of American History (but obviously I’m not). I love learning about life on the home front during both time periods and getting to know the personal stories. The changing role of women during WWII and the gravity of the Tuskegee Airmen actually being in combat and the brilliance and bravery of the Navajo Code Talkers just floor me.

6. What makes you the Social Studies Whisperer? How did that come about?
I guess dubbing myself “The Social Studies Whisperer” sure means I better bring the awesome. My business and website used to be Running Things with Runnels, which was a play on words. To me it was a state of mind to help people run their classrooms more effectively. To others, it was a source of bewilderment for why I did not have tennis shoes and fitness tips. Well, as I left the classroom and got real with myself this summer about my clever pun I decided I should rebrand and clarify. What does the Dog Whisperer do? He takes challenging situations with sometimes insurmountable odds and reframes them into something that works for everyone. Well, essentially I know the odds are stacked against American History instruction. If there is one thing I am blessed with it is the ability to take an idea and spark another one. I know I can help teachers and homeschooling families fit in history when they feel like they don’t have time. Integrating literacy makes that excuse invalid. I always started my lessons in unique and engaging ways that really hooked kids and I feel like with a few tweaks other teachers can do the same. It is hard work trying to save the world but I feel strongly in my mission. I want to take what may seem like impossible odds and turn that around into something that teachers look forward to teaching. When I talk about American History and my passion my face lights up and people respond. When I write about it, words flow almost endlessly. I don’t want to tell people how to run their classrooms or homeschooling family. I hope that by sharing what I have done or resources I have created or found that I will inspire others.

7. What are the challenges in social studies educations today and why is it important to meet and overcome those challenges?
I often refer to Social Studies as the redheaded stepchild of education. And as a redhead myself, I can say that. There is such a push for Reading and Math, history gets lost in the shuffle. STEM is such a key component of instruction in the digital age. Don’t even get me started on testing being a problem. Teachers are forced to fly through curriculum to make sure kids are prepared for a test. If there is a shortage of time, what subject gets dropped? You guessed it. Many teachers loathe teaching history because they think it’s boring due to their connotation from their own schooling. Well, they are right! Just memorizing dates and places on a map using dusty, drab textbooks and mundane workbooks or worksheets is terribly dull. I believe in connecting the past to the present and infusing your own interests and passions into instruction. I really didn’t exactly love teaching Science so I taught it primarily through literacy. Kids can learn a lot writing song parodies about the Scientific Method. When teachers put their own spin on lessons and show enthusiasm kids will be so much more connected to the content. I know many teachers struggle with the wide range of learners in a class. That’s why I create a lot of products to modify instruction for English Language Learners so they feel included. That’s why I believe in incorporating music, pop culture, and the arts. If we don’t overcome the challenges and problem solve to make sure students learn history, I fear for the next generation. American History should be the first thing taught not the last.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

7 Questions with Jessica Spotswood, Author

Jessica Spotswood is the author of the historical fantasy trilogy The Cahill Witch Chronicles and the contemporary YA novel Wild Swans. She is also the editor of the historical anthology A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers, and Other Badass Girls and the forthcoming The Radical Element (Candlewick, 2018). She lives in Washington, DC with her playwright husband and a very old cat named Monkey. Jessica also works for the DC Public Library as a children's library associate.

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I think I got hooked on history when I was in fifth grade and read Gone with the Wind. While I realize now that it's very problematic, at the time I was totally enchanted by Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler. My grandmother was also very into genealogy at that time and compiled a family history that fascinated me. The summer I was twelve, my grandfather swam in the Senior Olympics in Baton Rouge and my grandmother took me along to tour historical houses and plantations along the River Road and in New Orleans. When I got home, I started writing the first of three sprawling GWTW knockoffs that I worked on throughout high school. They were all about headstrong girls who fought with their sisters and kissed boys and rode horses during the Civil War. (I fought with my sisters and rode horses and wanted to kiss boys?)

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
I grew up in a small town just outside Gettysburg, PA, site of perhaps the most definitive battle of the Civil War. As a child, my family took hikes and had picnics on the battlefield. As a teen, my friends and I hung out at Devil's Den and tried to take pictures of ghosts in Triangle Field. History felt tactile and ever-present to me. My father is an enormous history buff with a study full of books about generals and presidents and statesmen. I was fascinated with history, but I didn't see myself reflected in any of the history books or westerns on his shelves. Maybe that's why I fell in love so hard with Gone with the Wind; it was historical, but the heroine was a girl! 

3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
My first published books, the Cahill Witch Chronicles, took place in an alternate version of 1890s New England where magic had been outlawed by the patriarchal priests of the Brotherhood. While it was alternate history, I did a lot of research into the fashion, home decor, technology, and etiquette of the 1890s and then shifted things a bit. And then in 2014 I had the idea to put together an anthology of historical fiction and fantasy about American girls throughout history, which became A Tyranny of Petticoats. 

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
I think it's important to know where we've come from in order to celebrate the accomplishments and triumphs -- and to realize the mistakes and injustices of the past so that we can hopefully prevent them from recurring. Plus, there are lots of awfully good stories.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
I'm pretty fascinated by the latter part of the Victorian era. I think there's something about the contrast of the old-fashioned romance of the Victorian upper class - carriages and gas lights and corsets - with the beginning of modern social movements, particularly the suffragettes!

6. You recently edited A Tyranny of Petticoats. Please tell us about it.
The contributions of women - especially women of color and queer women - have too often been erased from history. Tyranny is fifteen short stories about girls throughout American history, from an escaped slave girl posing as a sailor boy on board a pirate ship off the coast of the British North America in 1710 to a black girl who's protesting Vietnam with her girlfriend and gets caught up in the riots of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. 

The official blurb is: Crisscross America - on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains - from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today's most talented writers of young adult literature on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They're making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell. 

7. What are the hallmarks of successful young adult historical fiction?
I think successful YA historical fiction gives a sort of wonderful texture to history by strongly anchoring it in the specific details (fashion, food, music, home decor, etiquette, politics) of an era while also showing how its themes are relevant today. A great example for me is Kekla Magoon's beautiful story "The Pulse of the Panthers," set in 1968 California, in which the Black Panthers' visit to a young black girl's farm prompts her to learn the truth about her grandfather's death. It combines the personal with the political and feels very firmly set in the 1960s but also (unfortunately) still very resonant.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

7 Questions with Tony DiSario, Social Studies Teacher on Special Assignment

Anthony “Tony” DiSario, M. Ed., graduated from the University of Florida with professional specializations in Elementary Education and American History. With the exception of three years teaching at Georgia State University, Mr. DiSario has spent the better part of twenty years providing engaging learning opportunities for elementary students. Currently, Mr. DiSario supports Elementary Social Studies instruction in the twenty-eight elementary schools in Henry County, Georgia as the Elementary Social Studies Teacher on Special Assignment. When not teaching, Mr. DiSario coaches wrestling and enjoys watching his son and daughter compete in athletics. Mr. DiSario can be seen traveling from school-to-school on his deep orange, Harley Davidson Road King CVO, lovingly nicknamed, “Betsy.”
1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I took two courses in high school that really hooked me on history. The first was called POD – Problems of Democracy. I had a really engaging teacher who was great at telling stories and at pointing out the difference between myths and probable facts. Then, I took one of the most incredible courses in my career. It was simply titled, Humanities. Three teachers taught three classes of kids at the same time in a large room. One teacher was a history teacher, one a Language Arts teacher and the third was an Art teacher. Between the three of them, we looked at the multi-faceted components of our history. It was a truly integrated course, the likes of which I have never seen again.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
This question would require a whole book of my personal history to answer fully. Instead, I’ll respond in unrelated bullets:
  • I keep ordinary documents. Movie stubs. Check stubs. Love notes from 5th grade.
  • I can argue with people on Facebook.
  • I don’t freak out when I watch the news. Historians can always point to a previous time that was worse.
  • I am cynical. I want to see the evidence before I take a side or agree with an opinion.
  • I rarely believe in conspiracy theories.

3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I “Do History” every single day. I am charged with finding new and better ways to help learners to seek out their own answers to their own questions about history.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
Studying and knowing history leads to freedom. Personal historical “perspectives” are spewed in all sorts of media. Knowing history gives the historian the ability to question those, typically baseless, perspectives. Understanding history gives one the power to seek the truth. To me, the ability to question and seek the truth define freedom.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
The part when the aliens came and the President of the United States and a scientist saved the world. I guess, knowing that’s why we celebrate Independence Day, is my favorite part.

6. What does your job as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) entail?
Specifically, my job is to assist the Social Studies Coordinator in supporting our twenty-eight elementary schools in Social Studies instruction. The focus of my daily work is on professional development, but I deal with all areas related to Social Studies in the elementary schools including, materials, technology, and instructional design.

7. What are some high points and low points of being a social studies TOSA?

I love my job. I literally get to work with history every single day. I get to learn more everyday about history education and I get to do my favorite thing in the world – help other people. I love traveling to see and learn new instructional strategies and to hear new perspectives on history. I love working on new materials and strategies that will excite teachers and their students about history. Unfortunately, the tradeoff is that I don’t get to have my own students any longer. Not hearing, “Mr. D.! Mr. D.!” in the hallways hurts my heart.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

7 Questions with Kevin Lyle, President of Politicraft

Kevin Lyle is the President of PolitiCraft, Inc., and Rachel Lyle is the Director. The mission of PolitiCraft, Inc is to transform traditional civics learning by developing students’ social-emotional skills, literacy skills, systems thinking tools, and design learning mindsets, while fostering improved communication, civil discourse and real-world civic engagement both locally and nationally. PolitiCraft is a narrative-based ACTION CIVICS card game that guides students through varying levels of civic engagement. Through game play, students are guided by the cards to craft narratives based upon a student selected civic issue, informing them of the multiple pathways available to achieve real change in their school and community, while fostering greater civic participation nationwide.

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I got hooked on history at an early age, starting first with an interest in aviation and then aerospace.  From the Wright Brothers, to Lindbergh, to the Mercury astronauts, I devoured whatever I could find at the public library.  Growing up through the missions to the moon, Skylab and the Space Shuttle, I was an avid collector of books and magazines documenting these events, knowing they would be “history” someday.  Some of those items even came in handy when my two daughters were in school.  I then developed an interest in politics and our political system, fed by the Watergate scandal in my early teens.  One of my favorite photos, and the one my family laughs at the most, is my smiling as 13-year-old behind Walter Cronkite on the steps of the Supreme Court on the day the verdict they ruled on the Nixon tapes.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
As a Political Science major in college, history was a basic component of the curriculum.  It fostered a curiosity about why things happen, where the answer virtually always lies in an understanding of the what happened in the past.  That curiosity is even stronger today, as putting events into perspective now, as things change so rapidly and seismically, seems more important than ever.

3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
My career has spanned a number different fields, with both the earliest and most recent ventures touching the most on history.  Working in journalism in my twenties, and on PolitiCraft over the past 5 years, history was always a piece of the puzzle.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
Understanding the people and events that preceded us is, in my opinion, the only way we can successfully navigate today.  We certainly learn from mistakes, but we also learn from all the successes, the people, the events and the beliefs of what has already happened.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
If it is not clear by now, politics and political events are my greatest interests, specifically American history.  I’ve wondered many times where I would go if I was given the chance to travel back in time and observe first hand historical events.  Would it be the first Constitutional Convention, the Lincoln White House, FDR during World War II, the missing 18.5 minutes on the Watergate tapes or anyone of hundreds of other moments that have sparked my interest over the years?  I would love to have to make that decision.

6. What is PolitiCraft?
PolitiCraft is a non-partisan action civics card game which was created in partnership with the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), nationally recognized Civics teacher, Mary Ellen Daneels, as well as business and thought leaders in the fields of social-emotional learning, communication and civil discourse. The goal of the game, in which the students/players choose a real world issue that they care about and use the card game to guide them through various levels of civic engagement, is to inform players of the multiple pathways available to them to make real change in their community. The game has been officially endorsed by NCSS.

7. How can PolitiCraft change civics and government education?
The top priority in the game’s development was to identify and integrate key tools for engaging in civil discourse including, but not limited to: collaboration, active listening, negotiating, compromising, and building partnerships. NCSS and their C3 Framework, which emphasizes the acquisition and application of knowledge to prepare students for college, career, and civic life, helped ensure that the game would meet school standards and be a real tool for learning in the classroom. The result was PolitiCraft, a fun, interesting, challenging, and inspiring game with original artwork by a Los Angeles artist.

In addition, a comprehensive set of game resources has been released on the PolitiCraft website ( Additional game materials, original curriculum, instructional videos, quizzes and other civics resources can all be found on the newly updated site. A PolitiCraft user forum has also been built for all teachers and players of the game to come together and discuss the game, trade classroom ideas, and ask questions.

PolitiCraft Inc., a registered 501c3 organization, has far reaching plans for the game. Net proceeds from the organization will be helping achieve the goal of providing the game free of charge to any schools/districts that lack the resources to purchase it, while at the same time developing new versions for different levels (starting with a middle school version), and organizing community events which will bring together students and community leaders to play through the game around an issue that needs to be discussed. Ultimately, the nonprofit wants to transform traditional civics learning and build a new generation of engaged citizens.