Review by Jennifer Sitkin, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2017

Beyond the Bubble

Top-quality assessments challenge students to think like historians

Subjects & skills
  • Social Studies

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: The assessments reward critical thinking vs. memorization; the rubrics and student samples aid implementation.

Cons: No supports for ELLs or other students with language challenges who may have trouble with the complex documents.

Bottom Line: A ready-to-go, pedagogically sound route for refocusing formative assessment on critical thinking and literacy rather than memorization.

First, teachers should take some time to review Beyond the Bubble's approach to assessment. To start, use the short assessments to monitor student learning throughout a unit. If you're hooked, consider revising your approach to student evaluation throughout a school year. Beyond the Bubble provides users with a group of core assessments and also a list of all of the assessments available in chronological order. Teachers can find assessments that emphasize a particular skill -- such as sourcing or contextualization -- as well as ones that fit with the content they are studying, to add depth to student learning. For example, in a unit on World War I, teachers can use the Debate over the League of Nations materials to assess how well students can draw conclusions about differing historical perspectives and attitudes; using the Women's Rights materials, teachers can assess students' contextualization of two historical documents chronologically. In all cases, the assessments build a bridge between content knowledge and historical thinking, and offer teachers a way to see how well students are putting knowledge to use. 

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Developed by the Stanford History Education Group and using the vast collection of historical documents at the Library of Congress, Beyond the Bubble provides teachers with short, easy-to-administer assessments. These, however, aren't typical history quizzes and tests. The goal of Beyond the Bubble assessments is to move away from fact-based multiple-choice tests and quizzes and toward an evaluation of historical thinking skills and the development of academic literacy. Toward that end, the site offers a range of assessments, called Historical Assessments of Thinking (HATs), that include a document, assessment questions, an interactive rubric, student samples, videos on related content, and links to similar types of assessments. For example, an assessment on American Imperialism emphasizes background knowledge, contextualization, and corroboration as students make connections between a photograph of Filipino prisoners and the explosion of the US Maine and the belief in Social Darwinism. Teachers are provided with the student-facing materials for the assessment and a rubric that highlights student responses at the proficient, emergent, and basic levels. 

Teachers often don't change their curriculum because they don't have time to develop new material. Beyond the Bubble makes it easier for teachers to make a curricular shift because it does a lot of the necessary heavy lifting: There's a set of curated historical documents as well as assessments questions, rubrics, and real examples of student work. The pedagogy -- aimed at historical thinking vs. factual knowledge -- is also sound: HATs emphasize higher-order skills such as critical thinking and analytical reasoning. Students will particularly benefit from building these skills, and requisite content knowledge, through deep engagement with fascinating, authentic historical documents tied to important social, cultural, and historical topics. Beyond the Bubble's methodology challenges teachers to upgrade their assessment practices, and challenges students to practice real analytical research that thinks through primary documents.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Students will appreciate ditching multiple-choice tests for assessments that focus on critical thinking. Interest level will depend on content and instruction related to the assessment. 

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Assessments require students to go beyond the facts and apply historical thinking to core content and primary sources. Each assessment is aligned to the Common Core. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Resources are classroom-ready. Rubrics, student samples, and downloadable materials make the assessments easy to implement. 

Common Sense Reviewer
Jennifer Sitkin Classroom teacher

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