Nominate a social studies teacher who inspired you and return the favor by expanding their platform


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Click to watch my brief acceptance speech for the National Social Studies Middle Grades Teacher of the Year Award from the National Council for the Social Studies in December 2016

I have been very fortunate over the past few years to receive several major teaching awards. It is a very special honor to be nominated by people you highly respect and then supported by letters from colleagues, students/parents, community partners and administrators. I consider myself to be a very humble person but something I feel strongly about is the need for elevating the profession. The primary reason I followed through with any of the award nominations I’ve received over the years was to gain a greater platform with which to improve the overall quality of education, particularly of the Social Studies.

Nominate a teacher and then when they receive the award, strongly encourage them to use the platform of that award to promote whatever is their educational passion. There are a lot of closed doors in this world and an award can serve as a great door stop. It can be an excuse to have a meeting with somebody who helped sponsor the award to thank them for the honor. The publicity that goes along with the award won’t make the nightly news or generate much action on social media (outside your friends and family) but the right people will see it and could reach out. Better yet, use it to reach out. Share the news with your alma mater and offer to return and speak with pre-service teachers. Share the news with your legislators and ask them to visit your classroom or have a sit-down conversation with them about educational issues.

When I won my first teaching award from the Minnesota Historical Society in 2010 I made a plan to use that award as a launch pad. I once interviewed somebody for an article I wrote in the Outdoor News who had won a national championship. He said when he won the competition the sponsors would come calling. A year later, his phone had barely rang and somebody else took his title. It took him 10 years to win the title again, and when he did it his next call was to a few companies he hoped to work for. The title gave him the meeting and the rest was up to him, but he was speaking to me with 20 years of being a professional in his chosen field (duck and goose calling if you must know) thanks to the platform given him by striking when the timing was right. If a duck and goose calling champion can turn a national title into a life’s work, a significant teaching award can transform a good teacher into a greatly influential one.

So please nominate somebody. Pick somebody with a great classroom presence who truly enjoys teaching students and the teaching profession. Pick somebody who is passionate about the value of the social studies and will work to elevate the profession further. Honor somebody who is on a Quixotic journey to slay the windmills and who dreams the impossible dreams. If they dare believe their students can change the world, and it’s their life’s work to make it happen, then by all means take a few minutes to nominate them.

There are a lot of awards out there and two that are near and dear to my heart include the Minnesota Social Studies Teacher of the Year program from MCSS and the National Council for the Social Studies Teacher of the Year program (see below). Nominate that teacher. Tell them you did and insist that they complete the application. Then remind them what they owe their students and the profession once they win. To paraphrase a great movie, “Nothing’s riding on this, except maybe the future of our country.”

Outstanding Social Studies Teacher of the Year
The annual NCSS Outstanding Teacher of the Year Awards recognize exceptional classroom social studies teachers for grades K-6, 5-8, aawardbannergraphic2nd 7-12 who teach social studies regularly and systematically in elementary school settings, and at least half-time in middle or junior high and high school settings.

  • $2,500 cash prize
  • up to $500 in 2017 NCSS Annual Conference travel expenses
  • complimentary 1 year NCSS membership
  • 2017 Teacher of the Year Annual Conference Panel presentation
  • 2017 Individual Teacher of the Year Annual Conference session presentation

Click here for more details and additional awards/honors from NCSS you can earn or bestow on your fellow Social Studies teachers


The Scary, Fun, Uncertain Need for Change

This was originally published on in February 2017

Inspiration and collaboration drive the evolving nature of magnet schools


If you’ve been living in the real world for any number of years you can probably rip off a bunch of different cliches about the need for change, embracing it, how it’s an opportunity for growth and so on and so forth. Change is scary and often those cliches are tossed at us by people who are about to impose it upon us as they see fit.

That’s not how it has to be, however, and Gandhi dished out the best advice when he told us to “Be the change you want to see in the world.” My hope is that your magnet program has the staff, leadership and structure to be able to make this a reality.

It’s not a simple process, but it’s certainly a necessary one and while it’s messy, with many heads and hands involved it can turn out quite elegantly in the end. The STEM magnet school where I teach at in Elk River, Minnesota (suburb northwest of Minneapolis) recently went through a significant change with our school themes because we felt it was time to do so and necessary to reinvigorate our program.

This change comes not at a low point in our overall school performance but a high point. Our school was recently recognized as a top performer in the state and we have seen powerful growth in statewide assessment measures. Our commitment to having a diverse student body continues and our school population of students of color is double the district average with ongoing recruitment efforts showing further growth.

The 140-characters-or-less story of our program is this: a decade ago our magnet program began as a school within a school. I joined the program in year two and we changed our themes. Eight years later the magnet expanded to encompass the entire school and our themes remain the same.

Okay, that was longer than 140 characters, but it’s a pretty good summary of the last decade. Those themes that served us well for four years of being a small program, and through the process of going all-school magnet, were due for a change because so many of the conditions they were created in changed.

Going to an all-school magnet program was the first big change. It was championed by the small number who were part of the original magnet. It was accepted by a good portion of the staff and tolerated by the rest. While there weren’t any who actively opposed the transition, it took a few years to get the vast majority in the “accepted” category.

The number of staff who championed the magnet program grew over time, and new hires into the magnet program didn’t know any different. Ongoing professional development of our STEM themes was extremely helpful in bringing everybody into the “accepted” category and creating champions, but it was glaringly obvious to those of us with the most experience that a Salk STEM version 2.0 was necessary. Making change can be tough when it seems that everything is going just fine, but one could argue that anytime you see the need for change that’s when you should make it. Don’t wait for things to get better or worse, be the change you wish to see.

Changing our themes
Our original themes, that existed for only the first year, were very specific to various interdisciplinary units. In the second year of our magnet program (my first year there), we began changing them to broader themes that encompassed all subject areas. Those STEM themes were as follows: Technology Applications; Scientific Communications; the Nature of Science and Engineering; and, STEM in Society.

Those themes were used very effectively with four years worth of students in the school-within-a-school program and because the subject area magnet teachers taught those students for two to three years of their middle school experience, we highlighted each theme for a quarter and integrated them into our instruction.

Those themes were easily interwoven into the entire school culture with the expansion to all-school magnet but those of us in the small program felt the dilution of the themes. This transition was led by our curriculum coordinator, Teri Ann Flatland who worked diligently with subject area professional learning communities (PLC’s) and helped them connect the themes to their existing curriculum maps. She used the existing magnet program model as a template, and allowed PLC’s to make adjustments as needed.

That drove us to help boost the concentration and understanding of the themes for students and staff alike and it was effective. Still the problem remained, and those of us in it felt it the most, should we engage in a process to change the themes? Flatland, myself, and our school principal Julie Athman, who opened the magnet program, had the same overarching concern: If we change the themes do we run the risk of losing the momentum gained with the existing ones? We wondered if staff merely embraced the existing themes at a superficial level or believed in them strongly enough to go on that soul-searching journey of creating new ones.

Change for the sake of change is never effective. Change for the sake of improvement and a better understanding of self is essential. Adapting to changing conditions is the key to survival, but getting others to embrace and live that process together is complicated.

Sending a group of staff members to the Magnet Schools of America conference in 2014 and again in 2016 turned out to ignite conversations that sparked in 2014 and ignited in 2016. When you have a staff who only know your program from within, either because they had it superimposed upon them or were hired into it, they likely don’t know what else is out there. “New teachers to our school don’t understand the bonus they get when being hired to a school with so many opportunities for students,” said Tasha Goudy, a Salk special education teacher who was hired a few years after the all-school transition. Goudy attended the MSA conference in Miami and said the school tours were the most powerful part of her experience, “I was able to bring back lots of ideas and realize that just because I teach a smaller population of students, I still have the capacity to give these students a quality STEM experience that connects with the larger mission of our school.”

The school tours, workshops, speakers, and opportunities for networking at MSA’s national conferences were crucial to electrifying the light bulb of new ideas and understanding of the power of magnet schools. Themes that looked good on paper, and were superficially understood in the classroom, became glaringly in need of adjustment by these folks new to the STEM magnet program. “There were so many great ideas that we garnered from the conference that are starting to show up and trickle into the classrooms and program as a whole,” said science teacher and theme team member Megan Heitkamp.

Those of us who knew it from the start were not in a position to ignite the change. We could facilitate it, we could harness it, we could work with it, but we alone could not drive it. Flatland created a “theme team” that existed for several years before our recent overhaul. That team needed time to analyze the existing themes and develop their own desire for change .”It took lots of staff input and seeing how students connected with the themes–that power of common language–to get more staff understanding the need for change.”

Something else was happening at the same time that posed a threat to the old themes. Teachers were innovating their instruction because that’s what good teachers do, but these innovations were not always tied to the magnet themes. When that happens, it’s time to make a change. “The conference helped me identify how our magnet program is unique and illustrated the point that we cannot allow the program to become stagnant even as our practice is improving, those must all be part of the same process for the sake of our students,” Heitkamp said.

Making the change
The theme team engaged in a brainstorming process in the spring of 2016 and then met over the summer to try and develop updated themes. One decision that was made was to ditch the quarterly thematic approach and allow the themes to exist all year. The power of quarterly themes is that emphasis can be placed on each one schoolwide, allowing students to see the theme through a multitude of lenses. The drawback of that is the theme doesn’t always fit best with each subject area during any given quarter.

Through all those discussions we developed updated themes to present to the staff, parents and select students for feedback at the beginning of the school year. “The journey we were on to update our program is an important one because the world is shifting around us,” Heitkamp said. “Our learners become more diverse and dynamic so our goals need modification to ensure that they meet student needs and push success at higher levels.”

By December the theme team had ditched the four quarterly themes for three annual themes: Technology Integration; Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving; and, Evidence Based Communication. The response was very favorable from staff, parents and students and what was especially appreciated has been the essential question of each theme:

  • Technology Integration: How can I appropriately utilize technology as a tool for learning and communicating?
  • Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving: How do I use innovative and creative thinking to solve problems as citizens of our community?
  • Evidence Based Communication: How do I apply the inquiry process to show evidence of learning?

“I believe that these latest themes and essential questions are better intertwined with the work that we are engaging our students in and the future curriculum pieces that we are envisioning. The essential questions are better geared to the cornerstone projects that already take place and better involve all the content areas to demonstrate that each teacher, no matter the subject area, is a magnet teacher,” Heitkamp said. 

Evolving and celebrating
As the students and staff of the Salk STEM magnet program stride into 2017 we do so with an updated mission. Posters of the new themes adorn classroom walls and the hallway. Discussions at several staff meetings and PLC’s have folded the updated themes into every classroom at ever-expanding levels.

​Our theme team has created a theme alignment board in the staff workroom and teachers across all subject areas are sharing the work they complete that aligns to each of the themes. This listing of lessons and units will be used to further integrate the themes into all classrooms and further discover alignment across the disciplines.

In a celebration of our updated themes and staff-wide re-commitment to an aligned focus, we will be donning our finest formal wear and  hosting the first annual “Stemmy Awards.” Each of the content areas will be recognized for their commitment to the themes and launch us into the next phase of our ongoing growth. Creating a welcoming school for all of our students, engaging them in active learning that compels them to ask questions and dig into the possible solutions, and honoring the processes of learning, is what this is all about and student feedback is very positive.

As we enter our second decade of existence as a magnet school, we are inspired to continue collaborating together for our students and being the drivers of the evolving nature of our STEM magnet school program.

Group Treasure Hunt template and some ideas


Click here for a GoogleDoc of the group treasure hunt (view only…make a copy for yourself and edit away!).

This is real fun, low-risk activity I’ve done with middle school, high school, undergraduate and graduate students and they’ve all had a lot of fun with it. I use it when I’ve put the students into groups and want them to develop a sense of cohesiveness and build community amongst themselves. I don’t take credit for “inventing” this activity by any stretch of the imagination…I learned it during my time as an adjunct professor at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and am pretty sure it’s a Tom Jackson activity

Experience taught me…
1) Give one copy of the treasure hunt per group and make sure each group has space to work together without interference from other groups. 

2) If you haven’t already, introduce the concept of shared responsibility. Students can rotate asking the questions and keeping track of the “points.”

3) When students ask about the points, you can make it seem like a big deal or leave it mysterious. It can make many groups more engaged if they think the points are attached to some reward. Spoiler Alert: The ultimate award is getting to know their teammates a bit better

4) The key point to make at the end, as you process the results, is how arbitrary the points seem to be. The process of learning was what was most important, not who had the most eyelets in their shoe versus the number of people in their family. A good point to make about the value of the work they do together…it’s not for the points, it’s for the learning together. 

Elk River Mayor John Dietz meets with 17 of my students to discuss city issues

Originally published on in March of 2016


The scene in the conference room at Salk Middle School resembled a typical city committee meeting with Mayor Dietz at the head of the table giving reports from city staff and asking questions of the group.

​The only difference is that the mayor wasn’t meeting with city council members, city staff, or local business leaders–he was meeting with 17 Salk students in seventh grade who had written him letters airing their concerns about city affairs.

“I grew up in Elk River and went to school here, I received your letters and instead of writing back, I worked with staff to come up with answers so I could meet and answer them with you face to face,” Dietz told the students.

For the next hour, he went around the table, student-by-student, giving a detailed response to each of their questions. “It was pretty cool that he came here and spoke with us,” said Salk student Nick Larson who wrote about traffic safety concerns he has with the fourway stop at 181st Street and Twin Lakes Road. “I learned a lot about my issue and also lots of other things about our community that I’d never thought before,” Larson said.

Larson wrote his letter to the Mayor as part of an assignment he completed in his social studies class taught by Ron Hustvedt (Mr. H.). Students were supposed to consider an issue they were interested in at either the local, county, state or national level. They then conducted extensive research into that issue, wrote a position paper outlining the different sides, and then taking action by writing letters to public officials and doing something else to advocate for the issue.

“It’s one thing to learn about the responsibilities of citizenship, civic engagement, and communicating with public officials, it’s totally another thing to actually do it with issues that are important to you,” Hustvedt said. “I wanted students to experience these duties of citizens and get an introduction to what it means to be more actively involved than just voting every few years.”

Hustvedt designed the lesson as part of a national grant the district received from the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) to develop inquirybased lessons centered around getting students prepared for college, career and civic life. “One of the central tenets of that framework is getting students to take informed action and I’m very proud of how well all my students responded to that charge,” he said.

Student letters went to mayors and city council members of not just Elk River, but also Otsego, Zimmerman, Nowthen and Ramsey. Issues regarding the school district went to the Superintendent and School Board. Students who selected county letters wrote to county commissioners and sheriffs. Letters for state issues went to state Legislators, the Governor and his commissioners. Federal issues were addressed to members of the Presidential Cabinet and members of Congress.

“The response has been pretty good from most levels of government and students have received letters back from the Governor, all our local Legislators, most county and state officials, even members of President Obama’s cabinet responded,” Hustvedt said. Some students have received phone calls from local officials who spoke with them over the phone and the Wright County Sheriff visited the home of a student who wrote about an unsafe intersection near his home. 

“It’s great to have a student walk into class grasping a letter from her state senator, excited about receiving it, and bragging to others that she received a response,” Hustvedt said. “What was an unexpected outcome of the lesson was students who received letters from officials who disagree with the student’s position–It was interesting to see how students responded to that and how it really made them think about the need for being informed and involved.”

None of the students reported getting a response from the ISD 728 School Board or Superintendent but most are still hopeful for as heartfelt a response as other public officials submitted.

Mayor Dietz spent half an hour going through each student letter and then opened up the meeting to questions from students. They grilled him for the remainder of the meeting. “I attended a meeting last summer with the City Council about a Skate Park by Lake Orono, what’s the status of that?” asked 7th grade student Hayden Barnes. “We have it all designed and everything is ready to go, we just need to pick a spot–we are also trying to get the cost down and get a contribution to pay for it,” Dietz said.

The mayor concluded the meeting by challenging students to continue to be involved in their community and commit to doing more to make Elk River a better place to live. “It’s part of your responsibility as a citizen to not just take but to give back–there are always ways to get involved in something through your classes, your school and with the city,” Dietz said.

“The city is grassroots government as its best and we work with citizens to either solve the problem or decide that it’s out of our power and develop solutions at other levels.”

Final Assignment 2014? Reflective Questions to Measure Learning and Inform my Teaching (Hopefully!)


I’ve never been a big fan of ending the school year showing some lame “social studies related” movie. Not to judge, I’ve been there and done that, but never again. For one thing, that’s what so many other classes are doing and getting kids to want to focus on their third video of the day is annoying. Another reason I won’t do that anymore is that this is a golden moment of the school year. You have a group of people who have been with you through thick and thin…these kids are experts on being your students. They know the most up-to-date version of the teacher you are now. Why not find out from them what they got out of the experience and what sticks in their minds? 

Also, having done a last few days of the year assignment for many years now, I’ve found that this final assignment can be very meaningful for students. It’s your chance to provide a meaningful ending to a good year rather than just a session of screen-watching babysitting. 

When I had 8th graders we’d conclude the year by doing some personality tests (Myers-Briggs, Gregorc, etc) and then they had a final reflection assignment. They also wrote a letter to themselves that they were mailed a year later along with a note from me. Last year, I had my 7th grade students write about how they were the “Keepers of the Republic.” This assignment was then handed off to their 8th grade teacher both as a writing sample but also as a jumping off point from one year to the next. 

This year, I am going to ask my 6th graders to reflect back on what they learned from the year, what they wish they’d done better, and what they’d have like to do differently. The questions are phrased very carefully so that the focus is on the work they did and how things were set up…no questions about “what was the most fun” or “what did you like best” because I feel like that’s not going to tell me what was the most impactful. 

So here are the questions I’m going to handout tomorrow in class for students to discuss as a large class, then in small groups, and then reflect upon individually. Take these and borrow them as you choose, change them, or scoff at them smugly and rock the end of the school year in your preferred way. 

1) List the major assignments/projects we worked on this year.

2) Which assignment/project did you learn the most from? Give examples. 

3) Which assignment/project made you work the hardest? How so?

4) What are two a-ha moments from this year? Provide details as much as you can remember. 

5) What assignment/project did you feel you did the best on? Why?

6) What assignment/project do you wish you could do over again? What would you do differently?

7) What are three pieces of advice for Mr. H. to either keep doing, do better, or totally change?

8) What are the one or two most important things you learned in this class that you will use in your future? 


Elk River Teachers ‘Donate’ $255,000 Weekly to School District for Extra Time

Photos from the live feed broadcast of the meeting


On February 10, 2014 I had the honor of representing the teachers of the Elk River School District (Minnesota) and presenting a check to our district’s School Board in the amount of $255,000. It was literally a big check, created by an elementary teacher, and it was meant to remind the leadership of our district how much extra time teachers put in each week.

In the week since presenting it, I’ve received quite a response from my fellow teachers and the community. Everybody has been grateful and considerate, but what strikes me the most is the difference in response between teachers and, pretty much, everybody else. “Are you sure that’s right?” is what most teachers say, followed by, “Only 10 hours a week? That seems so low compared to what I put in.” I’d have to agree with that comment. I know that I clocked 18 hours that week and it was a slow week. The comment from non-teachers is an interesting contrast. They tend to say, “Are you kidding me? Teachers put in 10 extra hours each week?” And it’s said with legitimate shock and usually some level of disgust. Because then those non-teachers usually say, “That’s a lot of extra time put in each week. I don’t think people realize it.”

Which is why we presented the check to a School Board that is pretty much made up of non-teacher members. It was well receivd by most Board members I’d say, from my perspective at the podium. I made sure to achieve solid eye contact with them as I read my speech, and I had my teacher eyes on to see if I could read them. One member seemed quite annoyed at the whole thing and it’s not much of a surprise. The Board member who was taking the place of the Board Chair that night was very gracious and even mugged with the check to the television camera after I presented it to her.

Where’s the check now? Good question. One of the Board members commented, “I wish that was real,” as I handed it to the chairwoman…and I wish I’d said this at the time, but it’s very real. As I did say in my speech, the check is for time already given to the district and, since the survey was conducted, there has been another million dollars of money “donated” by the teachers.

Read my speech for more details below: 

“Greetings Board Members, Superintendent, Administrators, Teachers, Staff, Students and Members of the Public. My name is Ron Hustvedt and I am a middle school social studies teacher at Salk Middle School. It is my esteemed privilege to be here tonight on behalf of the educators of ISD#728 and the Elk River Education Association. As all of you know, the educators of our school district are a very hard working group of professionals who are passionate about educating our students, passionate about supporting our schools, passionate about teaching. We do what is necessary and then go above and beyond to do what is amazing.

A few months ago, chatting with a friend of mine, who is also a parent of three students in our district, she said something along the lines of, “Well you get to leave at 3:30 so that gives you lots of extra time I’m sure.” With a smile on my face I challenged her to check out our school parking lot at 3:30. And then at 4:30. And then at 5:30. I’ve worked with each of her three children over the years and reminded her of the times she’s seen me at school after 3:30. I asked her to go through the emails she gets from teachers, check when their websites are updated, and when her Parent Portal app beeps with grade updates. As a manager at a Fortune 500 company in downtown Minneapolis, she knows the value of employees putting in extra time. “I wish more of our people put in that much extra time,” she said.

It’s easy to forget how much extra time goes into the profession of being a professional educator. It’s easy to forget that the work we do during our contract is just a portion of the work necessary to do a good job. So we put the question to our teachers. For one week, keep track of the extra time you spend on school work. With over 400 teachers responding, the average teacher registered over 10 hours of extra time per week. This was from January 10 to 17, a fairly average work week. There weren’t any snow days, it was not the end of a grading period. If it had been, the average would be even higher.

We asked teachers what they do with their additional time and it’s amazing to think all that’s accomplished. This time is spent: writing lesson plans, calling and emailing parents, reviewing student assessments, writing individual education plans, collaborating with coworkers, grading student work, meeting with students and parents, working on classroom webpages, and developing SmartBoard lessons. We are professionals. This is a necessity of our job as we see it and we often go to sleep knowing that there’s more to do.

According to our calculations, if you round down the average time spent to 10 hours per teacher, multiply by 850 teachers and apply an hourly rate of $30 an hour you come up with a total donation of $255,000 for one week of our extra service. Everyone has value, and I’d say that a $255,000 donation each week is one heckuva value. During the Super Bowl and Olympics they talk about the need to give 110%. Teachers putting in 10 extra hours a week actually calculates to 125% of the time for which they are actually paid.

Taken over the school year, this is at the minimum, a $10 million value added benefit to the community for 350,000 additional work hours. This $255,000 dollar check is a symbol of the gift of time given each week, to the students, the district, and the community, by the 850 educators who make up the Elk River Education Association. This is what we do. It’s what we will continue to do to educate, inspire, and empower our diverse learners, to shape their futures, to accomplish their dreams and to contribute positively to our local and global communities. Thank you very much.”