Wednesday, November 9, 2016

You Mean Not Everyone Loves Social Studies?

TGIO!! Meaning, Thank Goodness It’s Over! While I love teaching elections, this one was particularly rough. Can we get back to real life, please?

Face it. We social studies teachers have a bit of an image problem. Even before students begin our classes, they come to us with the prejudice of a parent or older friend who “hated” our class and “hated” history (or Civics or Geography or Economics...).  

The recent election didn’t exactly shine history or government in the best light, did it?

Here’s why we have an image problem:

Part of the problem is that WE-THE-TEACHERS think that EVERYTHING we teach is inherently interesting to everyone. I mean, biology teachers think that the parts of a cell are interesting. Math teachers think binomials are interesting. English/Language Arts teachers think poetry is interesting.

And social studies teachers think that the three branches of government are interesting (especially this week!). And so is the Progressive Era and Thomas Jefferson and the Russian Revolution.

The truth is, not every person is inherently interested in every topic. They might even (gasp!) dislike our content!!!

And that’s okay. Different strokes for different folks, right?

So if our kids don’t come to us with a natural, intrinsic love of the social sciences, what do we do?

We have to engage them. They don’t have to go home obsessively singing Hamilton lyrics, but they do have to engage with the material. There are plenty of ways to do this, but I want to share the 8-Cs of Engagement.

I hope you can start looking at your lessons with these “Cs” in mind and find at least one “C” each day. No, no one is asking you to do one more thing with your lesson plans. But it might help as you review your lessons to see if you can “spot the C” in each day’s lesson.

  1. C is for Competition: Competition is motivating. Mild and friendly competition can help kids stay engaged. Kahoots, Jeopardy, Quizlet, Cube Game -- all of these can help kids get and stay engaged!
  2. C is for Challenge: Despite the tendency toward “this is too hard” argument, kids do like challenges, when framed right. “I wonder if you guys can handle ______” may give them the impetus to rise to the challenge. Try “I wonder if you all can handle this really impressive assignment -- like arguing against a historical figure”.
  3. C is for Curiosity: Kids do enjoy mysteries and puzzles (and so do grown-ups). As Aaron Burr sings, “How does a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower, somehow defeat a global superpower?” Or, as DBQ asks, “How Revolutionary Was the American Revolution?” Or “Why would America outlaw alcohol -- for the whole country?”. Or “How can/would the other two branches stop the president if he or she oversteps?”
  4. C is for Controversy: Social Studies Teachers, this is here we rock!  Other subject areas might be less comfortable with this, but controversy is part of what makes history, this current election aside (it’s a little too recent and a little NSFW). But ask kids who they would have voted for in 1800 or whether Alexander the Great was really Great. Have them play four corners with which compromise in the constitution was most important. Have them take a stand for or against the League of Nations. Have them debate the influence of yellow journalism.
  5. C is for Choice: Kids do better with choice. Let them decide if they write the questions and short answers -- or if they just write the answers in complete sentences that include the important part of the question. Let them decide if they will write Venn Diagrams or T-Charts. Let them decide if they will write a short paragraph or draw a four-panel cartoon or make a detailed timeline of the events leading up to the Revolution. Let them choose if they will answer the even questions or the odd questions. Give ‘em a choice and they will more likely engage since they will have a little power over their learning.
  6. C is for Creativity: We know this. When students get to make a poster for a political party or draw the Boston Massacre the way the primary sources said it happened -- they are more engaged. Let them make a skit, a rap, a poster, an illustration, a song. Whatever gets the creativity flowing, will help kids engage with content.
  7. C is for Cooperation: Students learn better -- and are more engaged -- when they cooperate. Teachers know this and often let kids “work together”. I encourage you to move past “working together” (that’s SOOOO 1996!) and toward real collaborative structures. It can be as simple as a turn and talk or as elaborate as a structured cooperative learning project.
  8. C is for Connections: By connections, I mean connections to the student’s real-world, thoughts, feelings, ideas, and lives. When is rebellion ever justified? What would you think if this event happened today? How does propaganda affect us in elections? In advertisements?

Of course, you can’t do all of these every day. But you can probably use one on most days.

Think of how to increase your engagement. You don’t need elaborate simulations or flashy videos every day. Check out your 8 Cs and increase your level of engagement.

How do you engage your kids? As always, I love to hear from you!
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