Monday, May 19, 2014

C3 - Exciting and Scary (as all good teaching should be)

Social Studies teachers often say that our goal is to create involved citizens for the betterment of our future society.  Do we?  I find that much of our teaching (especially at the end of the year) is getting through a list of expectations that we cross off as we go.  What and how do we need to teach to make students better citizens?

It is NOT achieved by having students memorize history facts to be forgotten soon after (What did you learn in 8th grade Social Studies?).  

I went to a county-wide Social Studies meeting today to discuss the impact of C3 on the future of Social Studies.  It was great to see that many other teachers are as excited, confused, and overwhelmed as I am about the changes being made in our field.  

Most of the apprehension surrounding the C3 is that it is "more stuff to teach"!  Teachers feel that we already have the the curriculum we need in the Michigan has the Grade Level Content Expectations.  "What do we do with those?  It is already too much!"

The C3 is not "more" if you are teaching Social Studies correctly.  Content expectations remain, but the students are asked to be more engaged with what they are learning.  It actually frees the teacher from a long list of content expectations and lets you dig deeper and make connections to their life.  Social Studies becomes more than History.  Civics, Economics, and Geography are given equal footing which allows us to connect current issues into the class.  

That is the trick for engaging students and getting them to care.  Most of the C3 can be taught through current events.  Students are interested in what is happening in the world.  They just need to learn about it.  There is a civil war going on right now, new constitutions being written, economies crumbling, huge elections, natural disasters, unsolved mysteries, and world leaders resigning and/or being removed from office.  Once they learn about these events, our elections, and economy become more interesting to them.  Our role in these events are questioned.  Should we get involved in these world events?  Have we in the past?  Was it successful?  What can be learned from the past to help us make decisions about today?  Isn't that what it is all about?

I think what is written in the C3 says it best:

Now more than ever, students need the intellectual power to recognize societal problems; ask good questions and develop robust investigations into them; consider possible solutions and consequences; separate evidence-based claims from parochial opinions; and communicate and act upon what they learn. And most importantly, they must possess the capability and commitment to repeat that process as long as is necessary. Young people need strong tools for, and methods of, clear and disciplined thinking in order to traverse successfully the worlds of college, career, and civic life.

Teachers read this and nod, but do we really do what is necessary to make this happen for students?  We can't just wish it will happen for our students.  It requires passion from the teacher on a daily basis, not worksheets to be used and forgotten.  The C3 can help teachers achieve what we say are desired results.  It's worth the effort.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Slavery is Good? - Using Pro Slavery Arguments to Teach Logical Fallacies

I taught one of my favorite lessons last week.  I have always been fascinated by logic and fallacies.  Being able to decipher good and bad arguments is important for a person to learn in order to make good decisions.  Buying a car, voting, how to invest money, and what values you stand for can all be swayed by good or bad arguments.  Being able to sift through the rhetoric and get to the meat of the issue is important for all citizens.

I've tried to do this with editorials in the newspaper, but the complexity of the issues sometimes goes over the students heads.  Therefore, the impact of the fallacies is hard to determine.  Also, if I attack an article for its fallacies, students will feel I am trying to push them to disagree with the author.  This isn't always the case, but I try not to let my personal views get too much attention in these discussions.  The purpose is to try to get the students to find out what is important to them and how they stand on issues.

Slavery is an issue that we can agree is bad.  But there were people in the 1800s that defended the institution of slavery.  This intrigued the students, so we found some pro slavery arguments from then.  I'v linked some of these at the end of the article.

How can you defend slavery?  If it is so wrong, what kind of tricks were they using to try to sway people's minds?  Do people use these tricks on us?  How can you respond to these fallacies?

We found some common tricks used in these arguments.  Attacking the opponent, using threats, trying to scare people, using moral authority, slippery slope fallacies, domino effect, appeal to tradition, and outright lies were used to get people in their side in this debate.

I had them read the arguments, decide how the author was trying to persuade, and come up with a response to this person.  I made it clear I was not trying to convince them that slavery is a good thing.  But if people can convince people that slavery is OK with fallacies, could they be used to convince us about something we know less about?

How do we combat fallacies?  How do we not get fooled?

Know stuff!  The more we know about may different things, the less likely we will fall for misinformation.  The southerners tried to assure the northerners that slaves had it great in the South.  "The factory workers in the north are the real slaves!" Many believed them.  The Northerners lack of knowledge hurt them.  Sometimes we take people at their word because we have no knowledge to combat it.  Knowledge is the most powerful weapon we have against people trying to fool us.

Let's use Social Studies to teach our students to be thinkers.  The goal of the class is to develop good citizens.  Individuals who can think for themselves and make good choices are required for our country to continue to thrive.

George Fitzhugh





Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bring Back Our Girls - Getting Social Studies Students to Care and Think with Current Events

On CNN Student News there was a clip about the tragedy in Nigeria.  It really had an impact on my 7th and 8th graders - and me.  The discussion and learning that followed was tremendous.  Nobody questioned "Why do we have to learn this?" that day.  Social Studies was not boring.  It made them think about what kind of world they live in and what type of impact they would like to have on it.  What is the role of governments?  What makes the US different than other countries?  What do we (personally and as a notion) stand for?

Before the news clip, they did some basic research on Nigeria.  I have them complete a spreadsheet during current events.  They put in the country in the news that day in the first column followed by the capital, continent, leader, government type, currency, per capita GDP, HDI, vocabulary terms, and a 1 - 2 sentence current events summary.  Most of this information can be found on Wikipedia or the CIA World Factbook sites.  This gives them a chance to do some comparing with other countries we have covered as well as the US that is on there for comparison.  After a few entries, they start using terms like HDI and GDP when comparing countries.  Even economics isn't boring if it is relevant to something in which they are interested!  The fact that it is the 7th most populous country in the world was surprising to most - including me.  The large variety of ethnic groups in the country and the north/south split of Islam and Christianity helped them see some of the problems Nigeria faced after gaining its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960.  That's why the official language is English - like us!

There was some new information that I shared with them about the abducted girls I always try to introduce some new vocabulary and have them do some reading to supplement what they have seen.  They do well at this when they have some inspiration for reading.  In this case, we defined the terms "extremists" and "abduction".

The most interesting discussion was over the question of "What should be done about this?"  You have to be careful here.  I'm not trying to convince them of anything, but tell them they need to figure out what they believe.  What should be done?  Who should do it?  How involved should we (the school, country, world) be in protecting these girls or children anywhere?  What is the role of governments?  Do we have any responsibility for others in foreign countries?  Is it our business?  Should it be?

This got them going.  Again, I stressed the fact that we are not here to try to convince others of our views (we will rarely get 100% agreement on most issues), but I would like them each to develop their own political conscience.  What do you stand for?  This needs to be determined in order to find politicians you can support.  But none of this can be done if you don't even know what is going on in the world in the first place.  People need to be aware of issues before anything can be done about them.  This can happen in Social Studies.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Using Justin Beiber to Teach WWII - the Ultimate Way to Hook Your Middle Schoolers

When you can connect WWII, President Obama's trip to Asia, Japanese / Chinese relations, the US occupation of Japan, US troops in Afghanistan AND Justin Bieber all in one class period it makes for a fun day of Social Studies.  We watched a news clip of the President's trip and they mentioned a couple of small islands that have been an issue of contention between China and Japan for a few years now.  When they mentioned that the US is siding with Japan in this dispute, many students inquired, "why?".

I directed them to some further reading (Obama sides with Japan) and this led to more questions. We had a 15 minute discussion (and more research) about US/ Japan relations including the Pearl Harbor and the nuclear bombings of 1945.  Most were aware of these events, but did not know about our occupation of Japan and the our involvement in the rebuilding of the country.

We went further and discussed similar plans the US has had for Iraq and Afghanistan.  If we can turn enemies into allies, that would be a good thing.  Most Americans would never have dreamed that we would be allies with Japan 60 years ago - can the same thing happen with Afghanistan?  Time will tell.  But history gives us hope.  If it had failed with Japan, the US's plans with  Afghanistan most likely would be different.  We learn from history!

I also remembered that Justin Bieber was in the midst of yet another controversy during his trip to Japan a few days earlier.  This led to the discussion and more research about war crimes and the relationship between Japan and China.  This was a lot to digest for the students, but that was the point.  Our relationships with other countries are important.  Knowing our past history, and the history countries share with others in crucial to understand if we want to keep these relationships positive.  It is one thing for the Biebs to not be aware of Japanese war crimes of the 1930s and 40s, but hopefully our President and ambassadors know this stuff.  Hopefully, it was taught to them and they understood the importance of learning it.  That is our job as Social Studies teachers.  I tell them that I am preparing them to be a future President of the US - I want them to be more aware of history that Justin Beiber if they get elected.  I hope we can expect that in our future.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

No Shortcuts in Social Studies - Hard Work, Knowledge,and Experience Necessary

Last week we discussed the ebola outbreak in the country of Guinea.  The students were not sure where this country was so we did some research.  We found that the country's motto and anthem are in French even though most of the people of the country are from African tribes (Fula, Maninka,..).  This led to more questions and research about the history of Africa - the colonization by the British in the 1800s, independence in the 1900s for many countries, and the current issues facing much of Africa today (diseases, wars, famine, poverty, hunger).
I showed them a few maps and charts showing the countries that colonized Africa and the dates of independence for many of the countries.  Another map showed the distribution of many African tribes.  Many questions were raised by these maps, including "What is the purpose of having colonies?"It really turned into a good lesson.  We connected US History, current events, African history, civics, economics, and European history - quite a bit for one class period.
I really felt there was good learning going on that day.  I've taught African colonization before, but the students this year seemed to be more interested and involved in the lesson this year.  I really believe by starting with current events (real world relevance) the students are more receptive to the historical connections - things are happening now because of things that happened before.
The toughest part of doing this is preparation and flexibility.  I teach the colonization of Africa each year, but instead of an ordered checklist given to the students on the same day each year ("Why do we have to learn this?"), teachers need to have the freedom to connect these lessons to world events.  This is not easy.  It takes knowledge, planning and work.  It can be stressful at times not knowing what direction you may be heading each day.  But when the students really start making connections and are engaged in the classroom, it is worth the effort and time.  Students see that historical events do have relevance for us today.
I don't think I could have taught this way early in my career.  I did not know the content well enough, I was not as aware of current events as I am now, and did not have the confidence as a teacher that comes with experience.  Hard work is necessary, experience is invaluable and knowledge is priceless in the teaching profession.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Linking Current Events to Ancient Mesopotamia

I have been teaching my 7th graders about Mesopotamia and the Middle East.  This week, President Obama visited with Mahmoud Abbas, and met with Benjamin Netanyahu a few weeks ago.  We did some research about the history between the Palestinians and Israelis (this map is a good discussion starter).  Peace talks are scheduled between the two, but appear to be at an impasse.  Each year this is in the news and it is important to link the history (beginnings of Judaism and Islam, creation of Israel, etc.) with the current issues going on there.

Linking the two gives students a way to see that events are connected to past events, and the past history people have with one another effects how they relate to each other now.  They don't care much about the history if they don't think it has any impact on something going on in the world today (and I don't blame them for feeling that way).  They are also more interested in current events when they know some things that led up to the event and know some of the history.  They go hand in hand and compliment each other.  It makes it more interesting to teach, and for the kids to learn.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Crowdsourcing Flight MH 370 (Geography Lesson Ready Made)

Students have been fascinated by the Malaysian flight missing for over a week.  I read about the Tomnod site that allows people around the globe to view satellite images of the area.  They want to use crowdsourcing to find the missing 777.
It was the easiest day of teaching ever - the students were glued to the images and asked question after question about the flight, satellites, and geography.  Alas, nothing was found, but they are all pretty familiar with the geography of SE Asia.
They did not seem too familiar with crowdsourcing (I was surprised that I was familiar with a tech term they did not know) but some have heard of Kickstarter.  I told them it was like teachers passing out papers to students and having each student grade a couple so the teacher does not have to grade them all.  They understood that.