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.


  1. Making history personal for the students is definitely crucial in making it interesting for them! Not to "cheerlead," but I really, really like your idea of having the students choose a character. Obviously, this could work with any historical event. It is important for students to see how historical events impacted individual people's lives. All too often, students view history as an abstract event that no one actually experienced. I think that for each historical event, the students need to rotate characters, thus providing them more insight and more avenues to research!

  2. I think it's a wonderfufl idea because you get to integrate technology into the classroom and make history or any other social studies course interesting and engaging. The only possible problem I see with this assignment is that many students and schools lack the necessary resources to complete such tasks. As we discussed in previous class lectures many students do not have access to computers at home or school. Therefore, they will not be able to complete the class assignment unless their teachers allow them to complete the assignments during class. However, teachers can try to work around this problem by either applying for grants or trying to raise money to buy more class computers. Students can also spend time on the assignment during class or after school.

  3. I think the whole character idea is awesome. If you gave the students the opportunity to choose what character they want...that could add some motivation. I am pretty sure students would choose characters they are interested in, and as a result, would be excited to participate and engage in the activity. This is an excellent idea that can encourage endless ideas and interpretations... thanks Zahra. :)

  4. I think (like everyone above me) that this type of activity would be regarded very enthusiastically by students. It reminds me of a combination of Oregon Trail and the Sims. Every bit of literature we have seen exposed to recently emphasizes the ever-expanding "digital age" of today's society and this type of lesson plan/activity would follow right along with those guidelines. In addition to improvements the others suggested, I think it would be interesting if students continually added to the 'world'. We have seen quite a few sites containing primary documents and it would be beneficial for the students to explore them as well. Obviously this just adds to the problems that could arise with the idea :)

  5. I really love this online discussion character idea. In my high school a teacher assigned each member of our class to write a paper based on a historical figure from the great depression, typically famous people like movies stars, political leaders, authors, athletes etc. At the end of the unit we all dressed up in character and attended a party in character. It was a fabulous exercise that really got everyone thinking. That might be a good conclusion to the discussion where students could socially interact as the characters they have developed online. It could also serve as a motivator for students to really get involved.

  6. This idea reminds me of a lot of the class games my friends and I loved doing when we were in school. We had games like Gold Rush and Flight!, which asked students to take roles, do research, and make decisions within the game.
    And asking students to participate in an online discussion forum is the 21st century application of those ideas.
    This is probably an activity that works best when students have time in-class to research and/or write in the online community. Teacher guidance would be important to ensure students are accessing the materials necessary to make this experience accurate and relevant for the classroom.

  7. I know we're not supposed to agree with everything everyone says, but honestly when everyone continues to make such great points, how can you not? I love this idea and thing it would help getting all students engaged and participating. We are all aware that there are people who do not feel comfortable talking and sharing their ideas in front of entire class. However, when they are behind a computer screen, the ideas seem to flow more easily and they are genuinely able to add significant comments to the discussion. I would not have this completely take the place of in-class discussions, but I think it's a great supplemental tool to ensure everyone's active participation. It's a level of role-playing that I think high school students would enjoy being part of and wouldn't necessarily roll their eyes at... they may do so if asked to perform skits or dress up.

  8. I absolutely love your lesson idea (just like everyone else!) The nature of this activity seems like it would be motivating enough for students. As with all other things online, it would be neat to emphasize to the students that people around the world will be able to see their discussions.

    A couple of ideas:
    - If your discussion is based on a much earlier time period, have students study writings from that time and see if they can incorporate that writing style, and maybe some vocabulary from that era.

    - If you are doing a civics/government discussion about elections or a particular issue, see if you can get relevant politicians or officials involved. How much more enriching would the discussion be then?

  9. I think it would be a lot of fun if the students actually came to school as their character, after having the online character for the duration of the activity. Perhaps on the final day of the project. This would give students a while to familiarize themselves with their character online, so they can bring their best in person.

  10. A great thing about having students take on a character is that it allows students to think about what life would have been like for the average person. People often times complain that history can turn into the study of white men, but this activity would allow students to imagine how certain things, such as the Civil War or the Depression, would have affected women, children, or minorities. Also, if there were two very conflicting viewpoints, it would teach students to look at multiple persepectives of an event rather than a textbook account. It would also be fun for students to get to choose the details of their person's life, such as where they live, their name, their hobbies, their families, etc.