Sunday, September 1, 2013

Social Studies = DULL and BORING . . . NOT!!!!!

Social Studies Begins And What To Do With Textbooks
    The year has kicked into full swing and I have really enjoyed the energy that exists in my classroom.  The students are excited about school and I see the benefits our team building activities had on building community.  After the first couple of days working on team activities we are now meeting with our specific classes and sharing our content with them.  I love History and I work hard to show my students that I am passionate about what we will explore this year.  The first action I have that provides the biggest shock factor is how I view a textbook.  Textbooks are a interesting topic for teachers.  They do provide reference for students to some information but they largely are a hassle to carry around and they limit students to a certain amount of information.  To show students our textbook I hold up the book, flip through the pages, and then drop it into a bin.  I tell students, textbooks are out of date as soon as they are printed because history is constantly changing.  A large amount of facts do remain true but I want to students to see that when archaeologists make new discoveries they are able to inform the public of new information or updates to how different civilizations functioned.  This visual is powerful for students to realize because most of them think history never changes.  I make it clear to them that history is not dead but has new revelations coming out all the time.  I'm so thankful for National Geographic Magazine for their work because they write stories on so much of what I study.  I love being able to infuse their work into my classroom because this allows them to see various sources of information.  My classroom seeks to use multiple sources to explore our content and students know from day one the textbook is not the only place to find answers.

Opening Exploration of Content
      As we began introducing our content I got a great idea from a fellow teacher on how to evaluate student knowledge of our content but also give them a teaser of all the topics we'll study.  I have typically showed an intro video that does some of this but it does not lend itself to as much conversation as this new idea.  For the activity I put 28 different pictures into a PowerPoint and asked students to try to identify the civilization represented in picture.  If it was a person or statue I also wanted them to try and identify it.  I could not believe how excited students were to look at these pictures and guess the civilization.  There were literally arguments between students over what a picture was.  How cool is it to see students arguing over content?  I was so excited.  The pictures were of the River Valley Civilizations, Greece/Rome, Middle Ages Europe, Islamic Civ, Native Americans, Mesoamerica, Renaissance, and European exploration.  The pictures stretched students minds but made them take risks.  One student even said at the end of the class, "You're making my brain hurt!"  I couldn't have been prouder because for that student that represented how hard he was trying to describe the pictures.  Phil Schlecty talks about engagement a lot and says teachers should strive to get your class to engaged.  He has 4 other categories and tons of strategies for how to create this kind of atmosphere in your room.  Schlecty Where do your students fall?  I can't say mine are always engaged but on this day I had never felt closer to having 100% engagement as I did then.  It was so energizing to be a part of the class.

Let Students Have a Say
    When I had the picture activity I saw this as an easy but informative for students as we prepare for the year.  What I didn't expect was what would happen in my 3rd period.  As we reviewed the pictures, some yielded more conversation than others.  Somewhere in the middle of the set we reviewed the Terra Cotta Warriors of Qin Shi Huangdi.  He was the first emperor of China and built this massive mausoleum for himself.  Most students recognized the civilization and what they were but did not know much about the emperor who built them.  As this class talked, one student raised his hand and asked, "Can we study more about him today or tomorrow?"  At that moment, I had a choice.  I started to go into teacher speak and say "We can't do that right now.  We'll study him in a couple of months. I've got a curriculum map I need to follow."  All those statements went through my mind in that split second before my response.  Thankfully as I spoke back to him I didn't say no but honestly trailed off not knowing what to do.  It wasn't until after that class and into the afternoon that I realized how much of a fool I am if I don't do something on Shi Huangdi tomorrow. I thought back to all of my classes that day  Every one of them loved that picture of the Terra Cotta Warriors.  China is by far the most difficult unit for my students year after year.  What am I thinking?  I've got to do something or I'll just allow the lull of the schedule to rule teaching.  I have an opportunity for engagement and I've got the hook.  With that epiphany I realized that this would be a great connection with my talk I like to have about archaeology since so much of my content is known thanks to the work of these scientist.  This was my direct connection and it was better than anything I've done before.  Thank you student for challenging me and asking for something.
     I started exploring and found this article, "The Secret Tomb" , talking about the mystery of his tomb and if archaeologists should dig into his central tomb.  The culture during Shi Huangdi's reign believed in the afterlife and the desire for immortality.  I placed the article in a page protector for students so they could make marks on it with a Vis-a-Vis marker but not ruin my class set.  (Nice strategy to save paper but also teach students how to analyze.)  As we read we found that Emperor Shi Huangdi took lots of mercury pills and even created a moat of mercury around his tomb.  This fascinated students and me for that matter as I never knew that information.  I love getting to learn alongside the students.  I encourage you in your classroom to let students have a voice in what you're doing.  Who knows what kind of learning that takes place.  Here are my suggestions:

- Let students share with you what interests them about your content
- Use this info. to guide how you set up instruction throughout the year
- Be willing to take a detour on your content.  If it relates to what you're teaching but is out a place, who cares?
- Have fun!  If what you do every year isn't interesting anymore, switch it up and do something different.

So what are you doing different this year based on this year's class?  I hope you take that into consideration as you plan.  Each class is different and what helps one gain mastery may not help the other.  Always do your best!


  1. Thanks Mr. Abernathy, I really enjoy getting your Tweets during class and enjoyed this blog entry. I look forward to reading the next one. My son is in your class this year, although I can't recall what period.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I've really enjoyed getting to work with this group of students.