Monday, September 28, 2009

Service Learning in Social Studies

When searching for a social studies related service learning plan, I found a lot that seemed really interesting and like they would be fun to do with a class. The Citizenship Test Project on really piqued my interest, however.

The site's description of it is:

While studying immigration to the United States in the 1990s, students will learn about the naturalization process and prepare lessons to be given to adult school citizenship classes. These lessons will help prepare the adult school students for their citizenship test. The lessons will include handouts in English, Spanish and other languages that might be relevant. Students will also present the lessons in several languages to meet the needs of the adult students.

This service learning project reflects some of the benefits of inquiry learning in social studies, such as allowing students to connect lessons to daily life, fostering "team spirit" as all the students are working towards one goal, and stimulating students curiosity and motivation. As immigration is a controversial issue in many communities, this particular service learning project will also allow students to sharpen their critical thinking skills in general and make them more aware of this controversial issue in particular.

The Citizenship Test Project also puts into effect the "learning cycle" method. Before beginning the project, students must first have a working understanding of the information necessary to pass the U.S. naturalization exam, such as basic U.S. History and Civics. They would have to also go through the specific questions on the naturalization exam, discuss and decide what is most likely to come up, and decide how to present the information in order for others to learn from their handouts.

This plan also reflects some of the best practices found throughout inquiry learning: using topics relevant to students (again, as immigration is a "hot" issue at the moment, cities are growing all over the country due to immigration, and many students are immigrants themselves or have been in the United States for just a few generations), using collaboration between students, and students learn various lessons through hands-on experience in producing these study guides.

Surely challenges may arise when creating the Citizenship Test Project, such as depending a lot on students and requiring a lot of participation from them. The teacher overseeing this project must absolutely be there every step of the way, acting as a guide by providing examples for each step and making sure things stay organized.

Reading through the assignment, I thought it was great that the students would be creating handouts for adult students preparing for the citizenship test. I thought it could be taken a step further, though, and benefit more people taking the U.S. citizenship exam if the class put their handouts up on a website. Another idea I had was providing some tutoring from students for the adults about to take the citizenship exam, or having a group of adults come in and having the students teach them lessons they have prepared.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Potential Social Studies Activity

I browsed through a lot of article summaries collected by classmates, trying to find an idea that really struck me and inspired a social studies lesson. I was getting a bit frustrated because nothing was coming to me, but then I read the summary Louisa posted for "Making Connections: Using Online Discussion Forums to Engage Students in Historical Inquiry," which appeared in Social Education and was written by Whitney Blankenship.

The article described the teacher's use of online discussion forums in her IB social studies classroom, and I thought it was brilliant. I thought it would be a good idea to have students participate in an online community as characters from different time periods. For example, when learning about, say, the Depression, pose a question about how a particular event may have affected their "character," like a student or a housewife or a stockbroker, and have the students investigate the conditions for their character and respond as such. Ideally, I would be able to pose questions or scenarios from the start to the end of a period, and have the students track their characters life through the events.

The objective is for the students to gain greater overall knowledge of the time period discussed, and to understand how and why people do things that they may not since they live in a completely different time period. It also would require the students to work on their research skills, and improve their comfort level with technology. This could be used in a U.S. history class, world history class, or a global issues class.

A different variation could be used in a Civics or Government class, as well--for example, having each student be a representative from a different state and have them vote on proposed legislation and discuss their rationale, given the voting history of their area.

It seems rather involved, but like it could be fun. What do you think could be done to get students more interested in a project like this, or to improve the project overall?

Blankenship, W. (2009). Making Connections: Using Online Discussion Forums to Engage Students in Historical Inquiry [Electronic version]. Social Education.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A few resources among many

There are so many resources online for social studies teachers! My quest over the weekend was to find a social science blog, wiki, and podcast to share. Here's what I discovered:

I found the Southern District of Florida blog on my search for a social studies blog. It's not an "official" blog, but I thought it would be a good one to share because as I read through I found interesting information about topics ranging from Justice Souter's retirement, immigration law, and various court opinions. The blogger, Davis Markus is a South Florida lawyer who has a lot of experience under his belt. I like that he presents a lot of information about things going in that have to do with South Florida's federal judicial system without really infusing much of his opinion in it. Again, that's just what I've seen so far--I didn't have time to read each and every post, and I'm sure that like most bloggers, Mr. Markus is not always objective. Another thing that I like is that Mr. Markus has links to information about the southern district judges, which students could use to learn more about them when learning about the federal judiciary system.

I mentioned that this blog is not "official," but I like it a lot more than a so-called official blog I found: "The Official Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building Blog". I just found the blog messy and annoying, and actually very unofficial: the bloggers do not identify themselves, and are really just attorneys down in Miami who are not authorized to speak for the Justice Building.

I also found some great blogs for teachers in general, like The Tech Savvy Teacher, and a few others whose links I seem to have lost. I'll post them as I find them, however.

It was more difficult to find a good wiki than a blog or podcast. There are a lot of incomplete or otherwise useless ones out there. However, the War of 1812 Immersion project is awesome. It's an project completed by Mr. Armstrong of Del Mar Middle School's history class. He gave his student this challenge:

"Due to our country's current economic crisis and California's enormous budget shortfall, many local schools are having to find ways to cut costs and save money. Del Mar Middle School is no exception. The principal and superintendent are searching for ways in which to reduce costs and are seeking alternatives to purchasing large and expensive textbooks for next year. They have heard that some schools and universities have replaced textbooks with wikis and they would now like to see for themselves the type of learning that is possible.

Using the War of 1812, design and create an online wiki that could replace the information in your History Alive textbook and be used by teachers and students.

The students did a great job. Scrolling down, you can see the submissions of each of his students. They used podcasts and a variety of media to create these wikis, and covered the subject really well. These students' teacher gave them a challenge: to learn something well enough to create a teaching resource, and that they did. They also learned to use the internet to create something for the world responsibly.

I was really surprised by how many history podcasts are out there. I listened to a few using iTunes, and some were great. I found that a lot of them were available on The Podcast Alley, like The History of Rome. I really liked this one, though some of the podcasts are really long--not so great for students with short attention spans. I also thought it was a bit mature at times, so it may not be one to recommend for younger students. Appropriate for everyone, though, is the Learn Out Loud podcast, Founding Documents Podcast. It is an audio reading of important documents in our nation's early history, such as Federalist No. 10 and the Bill of Rights. Another great Learn out Loud podcast is the Great Speeches Podcast. These are either readings or archival recordings of famous speeches in history, like Eisenhower's resignation and Bobby Kennedy's announcement of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. I listened to Bobby Kennedy's speech, and the screams of surprise when he announced Dr. King's death were something I'd never heard before and made the situation come alive for me at that moment. The rest of his speech, calling for calm and peace between the races in light of such an event, was great. I think having students listen to these speeches is a great resource to teaching them history and making it seem "real," for lack of a better term.

I'm really happy I stumbled upon these resources, particularly the podcasts. There are a lot available that are helpful to social studies teachers at Learn Out Loud, but also on The Education Podcast Network.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Unfortunately, I just realized that I didn't actually answer the question about why technology should be integrated into the social studies classroom. I really just responded to the reading assignment for this week. So, please think of this as an addendum to my first post.

I think that technology should be used in the social studies classroom because we increasingly use technology in all aspects of our lives. Technology can help us enrich our subject in many ways, such as illustrating points that are difficult for students to grasp by giving them visual examples at the click of a button. We can use it to help students work together on a class project, like the math teacher in Winnipeg (I really love what he did, if you couldn't tell), have them ask us questions any time of day, and help them improve their writing, reading, and communication skills by using technology. And, honestly, technology often makes things more fun to teach and learn...for me, anyway.

Also, I knew that September 1 was the anniversary of Germany's invasion of Poland, but I did not know that today was also the fifth anniversary of the Beslan hostage crisis. The BBC news this morning did pretty great pieces on both of those things, but the one on the schoolchildren in Beslan was really interesting. Some of the children that were taken hostage were interviewed, and it was quite touching--a bit disturbing, though, as in the case of the little boy who spoke in a very matter-of-fact way when giving a tour of the school, saying "This is where they shot my father...this is where they threw bodies out of the window." It was interesting, but kind of heavy to watch firs thing in the morning and over breakfast.