Posts Tagged ‘social studies’

So, I’ve been thinking about history and history projects. Projects that not only require knowledge of facts and events, but that ask students to think about a particular  historical time period and how those in it would relate to our lives today. I know that when I taught ancient civilizations in 5th grade it was easy to get caught up in the time period, learning great stuff, having good discussion, etc. and then move on without connecting it too much to modern times. I mean, we were supposed to be studying ancient civilizations, so that is what we did. My concern is and was that the kids were left with the idea that these ancient places might as well be on mars for the connection they had to us. We did talk about inventions and ideas that have been significant; however, I think I could have, should have, done more. I tried a few different things, but was never all that satisfied with any of them.

What got me thinking about this again was a book that I picked up in my school library in the graphic novel section. It’s called And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman who is an illustrator and author of numerous kids’ books. In an early chapter she is writing about her interest in Abraham Lincoln and talks about where she would take him based on what she infers were his interests.

Ok, I think this is a great idea! And, how fun would this be in class?! It could totally be leveled up or down depending on knowledge base etc. Conversations could be imagined, itineraries planned, photo journals written. The possibilities are endless. It could be adapted to be two different people in the past, but from different times or places, you name it. To do a good job would require a real understanding of time periods and/or places. I think as a teacher it would give you a good sense of who “got it”–a great way of seeing who could connect the dots. (I just watched this TEDxYouthBFS talk by Seth Godin in which he asked, “are we asking our kids to collect dots or connect dots?” Although I didn’t agree with everything he said, I think this is a good question. I also understand that there will be some dot collecting too, even it is involuntary.)

If I’m going to collect and grade a project or piece of work, not just evaluate informally and give feedback, then I want to be sure that the item being graded does a good job of giving me the information I want. I think a project inspired by this idea would do just that.

Any takers?

(Calvin Trillin wrote about the restaurant tour he would plan if he got to drive Mao around NYC for a day, called “Mao and Me” from Alice, Let’s Eat and also included in The Tummy Trilogy. His essay was more about food than history, but also worth reading.)

Eames TimelineSo, I’ve been thinking about social studies and history. I am the co-chair of the PreK-12 social studies/history department at my school. One of the issues we are always coming up against is the fact that history is not getting any shorter, in fact it’s getting longer every day. We can’t teach it all in 4 years of high school, we can’t teach it all even if we add in 3 years of middle school. And, expecting that content that gets taught in lower school will not need to be taught again at a more sophisticated level is a pretty high-risk move. So, that leaves us thinking about what to take out.

The careful reader will notice I did not talk about “covering” anything. If we are just interested in covering the material, and we are ok with going at break-neck speed, we could cover a lot. However, that gets us back into a high-risk situation–a high-risk that not a lot will get remembered. If that is the case, why spend the time at all? Well, as you might imagine as the department co-chair, I happen to think that history and social studies are important and worth doing well.

That brings us back to what to cut out, because seriously folks, there is no way to do it all. We need some depth not just breadth.

So, here are my questions. Feel free to answer some or all. (I could really use some comments here. Not only has it been a bunch of posts since I have had any responses other than spam, but I would love to get some ideas.)

  • How much US history is too much?
  • Are some time periods more equal than others?
  • How important is geographical distribution?
  • Can some topics/time periods be breezed through lecture style to leave more time for others to get in-depth treatment?
  • Is so, which ones?
  • Ancient history, how much time should it get?
  • Medieval history, an important and interesting time or understand the feudal system and move on?
  • How much time to spend on art, music, literature, and culture of the time?
Did I mention I would love some ideas?
(Super cool photo by Nat Tarbox used under creative commons license)

So, I’ve been thinking about the strategies that I learned in my 2 days of reading PD at the end of the school year last year. One of the strategies that our facilitator shared with us was having students take mind map type notes as they read in social studies. Although our facilitator talked about putting the finished sheets up in the room as the endpoint, I have plans beyond that.

We had some reading about archaeology to do. I began by putting students in groups of 4 or 5. Each group had a table, big paper, markers, a book per person. They had a short reading assignment and I said they would be reading and drawing/writing notes. I modeled this first, talking through both my thinking about the reading and my drawing/writing.

Then student gave it a try. First they read and made their notes. Then they shared in their groups, circled common ideas and made a center box with repeated ideas and key ideas. Finally each group shared their central ideas with the class.

Looking at the list we generated, I noticed that many of them had been sidetracked by the fun tidbits in the reading at the expense of the bigger ideas. Of the list on the board only about half were what one would label as important ideas. So, I directed everyone to the helpful headings that were also on the pages we had read. I wrote those on the board next to the list of ideas. I said that I thought that if the headings were the big topics then our facts should help us understand those ideas. As a class, we looked at the list on the board and the list of headings and chose the facts that were most important.

This was a really useful activity.

Not only was it a different strategy for generating notes, but also it showed so clearly how it was easy to be distracted by the “sparkly” tidbits in the passage, just like early archaeologists who were looking more for treasure than information. What a happy connection there, no? I really pushed this connection and we talked about how that fun fact is there to grab your attention, but shouldn’t distract you from the big ideas, rather it should help us remember.

I asked the students what they thought of the strategy, since it was not one I had used before. Many people were very positive about it. They felt it took the pressure off having to summarize in words all the time. And, I would say that most folks were on task and putting forth good effort. Obviously there is room for improvement, but it was a first for them too. Certainly something to do again.

As I said at the beginning, I have bigger plans for the papers than bulletin board decoration, although they will be useful there. Once we get the hang of it more, I think the plan will be to use this as a first step to generating a set of class notes on reading. And, since we are using Edmodo I can add a document to the library and everyone can use it.

I think it’s all going to come together nicely.

So, I’ve been thinking about this great idea I found on WhatEdSaid’s blog. It’s ok, she won’t mind. She even said so on her initial post. Anyway, here’s how she ended her post:

But how about planning a one day ‘conference’ on a theme that’s relevant to everyone? Or a grade level ‘conference’ day as a provocation for a new unit of inquiry?  What do you think? Can you help me develop the idea further?

Then another teacher took the idea and ran with it. I read that post too. Then I got to thinking about how I like conferences and wouldn’t it be great to do this. I got my grade level team interested and we were off. Well, not off quickly, but it was towards the end of the year and we were knee-deep in projects. But, this Wednesday, day 11 of the school year with back to school night the next day, we did it. We had a conference for the 5th grade.

It was fantastic and exhausting!

Our topic was: Who owns history? There were 3 sessions times, each with a theme: misinterpretation, artifacts, and story. During each session time there were 3-4 options for students. On Monday we introduced the idea to the students and they registered online using this google form. On Tuesday we finalized the groups and logistics, oh and finished planning all our sessions. When students arrived on Wednesday they went to the “registration table” to sign in and get their personalized session schedules and name tags just like at a real conference.

There are 3 sections and 56 students in fifth grade this year. For each session students mixed and remixed as they moved around. Some sessions were bigger than others and all could have used more time, but there was enthusiasm to spare and good learning happening too. As we had planned and organized sessions, we made sure that the big ideas we wanted to get across under each theme could come out in each class.

My personal sessions were as follows:

  • In Session 1: Misinterpretations– who is the hero and who is lost?
  • In Session 2: Artifacts–Egyptian artifact role play. Where do the artifacts belong?
  • In Session 3: Story–How can buildings and plants tell a story?
So, in session 1 I read a great book called Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. In it the boy finds a penguin at his door, goes to great length to return it to the south pole only to discover that the penguin was not lost, just lonely. We talked about how artifacts are mute, like the penguin, and cannot tell us how they were used or how old they are. Instead we must make inferences, which are sometimes wrong. We then went back and reread the book taking turns to “speak” for the penguin as different points in the story. I also read The Hermit Crab by Carter Goodrich.  In this book there is another misunderstanding. The hermit crab, while using half of an action figure for a shell, is mistaken for a hero who saves the flounder from a lobster trap. In this case, the misunderstanding is never corrected. We talked about how there could be all sorts of information we might read or see in museums or books that could turn out to be incorrect.
In session 2 I guided the students in a role play activity. Using symbaloo (which I have written about here) I collected links to various news articles about Egyptian artifacts from the past 10 years. (You can link to an active page here.)Most were not too long and addressed issues ranging from calls for the return of Egyptian artifacts to Egypt, to concerns about looting and security in Egypt, to the money brought in by big traveling exhibits, and the money spent by museums to keep up their collections. Students took on one of 4 roles: US Museum director, European Egyptologist, Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, or Egyptian citizen. Then each group used the webmix to read and collect information, form an option, and back it up. We came together at the end to share ideas and “discuss” the issue from a given point of view. There is a lot to think about on this topic. Students only got a taste of the issue, but we can come back to this when we study Egypt later in the year.
In session 3 I again read some picture books to get to the point. I shared this book first: Grandpa Green by Lane Smith. It is new and not only beautiful, but has a lovely message. Grandpa Green is a gardener and as the story of his life is told the background is always of hedges and bushes cut into forms to illustrate the events. The final sentence says that although Grandpa Green is getting old and forgets things, “the important things the garden remembers for him.” At that point there is a double fold out page that shows the entire garden: a series of topiary scenes of his life. (At this point I try not to get weepy.) Students then had a chance to read one of two books. Angelo by David Macauley is about a plaster repairer in Italy. Angelo has never been a fan of pigeons as they do damage to his buildings, but finds an injured one who he nurses back to health and befriends. Angelo begins to slow down and just finishes his repair before passing away. When the scaffolding is removed the building is spectacular and looks new. However “only one thing truly was”–a nest that he has made out of plaster that says above it “per Sylvia, grazie, A.” (More potential for weeping here.) Here we see a building telling the story that the founders had in mind (stories of saints etc) and now having an additional story of Angelo and Sylvia added to it. Another grous read Tin Lizzie by Peter Spier . It is about a 1909 Model T Touring car and the families who live and work with it.

We ended with a quick gathering to share thoughts, show the students the evaluation form that we emailed to them to fill out, and to celebrate an exciting morning.

I was so exhilarated by the morning (that and a bit ragged). Once I go through the responses to the evaluation form I will share some highlights or lowlights as the case may be. I think the overall feeling of the morning was very positive. Next up, student led sessions, outside experts, TED talks, and new topics!

What new ideas have you heard or read about and then borrowed?

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about creating a digital museum for ancient history with my 5th graders next year. I know, there is still plenty of time left in this year. But, something this big needs time to develop.

I am part of a group at my school that is working together to understand and begin to implement more Project Based Learning. We are using the excellent online resources of the Buck Institute to learn about true, unadulterated PBL. So, the plan is for each of us to work on a unit we already teach that could be transformed into PBL. Then, we meet and help each other do the nitty-gritty of crafting driving questions, planning assessments, and coming up with ways to have a more public final something (which I find the hardest).

Once again, I have found myself with eyes bigger than my stomach. (Anyone who has seen me in front of a dessert buffet will have a clear picture here.) Instead of thinking about a unit, my idea involves tackling an entire subject area. In fact, I have had this idea rumbling around for months already. I have “put it away” many times and “gotten it back out” just as many. At the moment, it’s out again.

Every time I spend some time with the idea, I drag more folks into the project  get more people interested in working on the museum. So far this list includes:

At the moment, though, I am a bit stuck on the big question of what format to use for the base of the whole thing. I have not let this stop me, but it has slowed up my planning. Instead of really diving in, I am flitting around the edges, which is starting to feel unproductive.

So, I am asking for some ideas.

Here’s what I want:

  • to create “pieces” in many formats (text, audio, combination)
  • to embed these “pieces” on some home site
  • to be able to edit the site (during the year and year to year)
  • some ability to comment or contact us (my class/school) as creators
  • something that looks good
  • something that is a somewhat flexible

Question mark made of puzzle piecesI know about and can find out about lots of great web tools that will allow my students to create the individual pieces (some which can be embedded elsewhere, some would have to be links out). And, there are more being created every minute. What I don’t know is what the base site should be. At the moment, I’m imagining that my options are wiki or google site, but I’d love some advice.

What do you think?

Anyone else interested in being involved in the project?

(Photo by Horia Varlan used under Creative Commons license.)

So, I’ve been thinking about what do on the day before spring break when there will be a few too many people absent to do something new and a few too many people present to just do fluff all day. I planned my formal assessments for the day before the last day since I actually needed everyone to do them.

Then I planned a super-fun, if I do say so myself, day of running around and showing me what you know about Ancient China. Yes, you read that correctly. Why don’t I tell you about it.

First, the background:

  • We have been studying Ancient China.
  • I gave a map quiz, but needed to assess student knowledge on dynasties etc.
  • I really didn’t want to give a standard test.

Here’s what I thought about as I planned:

  • This blog post by Hadley Ferguson about how a colleague of hers combines physical activity and coursework.
  • If we’ve been doing group work maybe I should try group assessment.
  • I wonder what my kids would like to do?

Step 1:

  • I talked with my class about the fact that I needed to know what they had learned.
  • I posted on our class blog asking for suggestions of games or activities we could play.
  • We reviewed the many helpful blog comments and had more discussion in class.

Step 2:

  • I settled on 3 games (a version of “The Amazing Race,” memory, and a version of Capture the Flag)
  • I spend a ton of time making the games, the answer sheets, laminating, color coding, etc.
  • I make charts to record “data” as the games progressed.

Step 3:

  • Let the games begin
And the results are in: VICTORY!
Proof it was a success (another list):
  • I overheard more than 1 student say “I studied so much.”
  • I also overheard someone say, “I forgot my notes so I read over the whole chapter. It took me forever.”
  • All of the above was said with smiles and excitement.
  • I am NOT kidding.
  • Students had a great time running around looking for clues and answering questions in “The Amazing Race.”
  • They strategized and made secret signals to get information to team members in the dynasty memory game.
  • They huddled to perfect their explanations for the tough questions in “Capture the Dynasty.”
  • I got plenty of information about who knew what.
  • We all went home happy.
(Photo by Dennis Jarvis used under Creative Commons license)