Thursday, January 17, 2013

Take the Time to Make Fun of Yourself!

Students often times have trouble retaining all the content that teachers present in their daily lessons.  Using role plays, simulations, drama etc. really can help with retention.  However, sometimes it's just the crazy things you do as a teacher that students remember the most.  If you can make fun of yourself and let yourself go when telling historical examples, kids will see the humor in your presentation and believe me they will remember it!  For example, I was teaching a unit on the treatment of Native Americans and the Indian Wars after the Civil War and I was emphasizing the importance of the buffalo to Indian culture and lifestyle and I told them a story about my trip to Custer State Park in South Dakota.  I was trying to depict the size and ferocity of these animals to the students and told them that I took a jeep ride off trail right up to a herd of buffalo.  Soon I was engulfed and surrounded by these beasts who were snorting and practically breathing down my back.  I thought they might even tip over the jeep.  Suddenly two of the buffalo dropped to the ground and started wallowing in the mud.  Then a kids hand flew up and he said "What's wallowing?"  And I immediately without thinking dropped to the floor myself and began wallowing on my back as I simultaneously defined and explained that buffalo would roll around on their backs leaving deep depressions in the land that would sometimes fill up with rain water and become waterholes.  The students were smiling and watching me intently as I continued to roll around on the floor.  I suddenly jumped up and said "well that was fun, now I know why buffalo loved to wallow in the mud".   The following year when we got to the same unit on Native Americans, several students said " Mr. Aleckson, when are you going to wallow in the mud like a buffalo".  I laughed and said, we'll see ."   So clearly students had been talking amongst themselves about the lesson and clearly had retained this important content about the buffalo!  So let yourself go and don't be afraid to make fun of yourself!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Reading Historical Novels and Non-Fiction in Social Studies Classes

Its a great idea to hook kids on history by using historical novels and interesting non-fiction books.  Rarely do textbook readings really excite kids and get them interested in history.  Usually it is the study of the human side of history that perks kids interest.  What works is to find a truly engaging book that kids enjoy reading.  In grades 6-12 we have identified fun and interesting books that get students interested in history.  Teachers have a variety of instructional techniques to use like literature circles, Socratic dialog, written book reports, AR testing, etc.  But the key is to get kids excited about the subject.  Whether its a non-fiction book like Band of Brothers or Unbroken or its historical fiction like Copper Sun or The Enemy Has a Face, kids will respond positively to a good read! Using these books also allows students to examine things such as "historical accuracy" and "author bias."

Monday, January 14, 2013

AP Classes increase rigor across the Social Studies Curriculum

Social Studies programs that are looking to increase rigor in the classroom should look closely at developing a strong Advanced Placement program. At DCE we implemented our AP program in 1990 and it has paid off big dividends!  It brings efficiency, standardization and a strong focus on writing and thinking skills that prepare students for the next level. What I like most is the emphasis on writing that the College Board assessment process brings to the classroom.  To be successful teachers must spend time teaching students how to write essays that are both organized, content full and present and defend arguments.  Every week in the AP class students are either writing a free response essay (FRQ) or a document based essay (DBQ).  To be successful in this writing process students must build and defend their arguments with primary sources and their own background knowledge.  Whats really great about having AP classes is that the skills taught and practiced in the classroom will quickly be applied to the regular ed social studies curriculum.  At our school students grades 6-12 engage in this argumentative writing practice in all classes.  So by adding Advanced Placement to your curriculum you ultimately beef up the rigor in all classes!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Interviewing Experts via the Internet

I've been working with my students on their National History Day projects and I've asked them to complete at least one interview with a historical expert or a person who is considered a primary source on their topic.  At first I thought this would be difficult for them, but due to the internet, the ability to email and talk to an expert has become a pretty simple task!  I told the kids to search for a museum or foundation that relates to their topic.  Almost all websites have a tab called " contact us" which will have as many as 4-5 peoples email and phone contact info.  For example, Maggie is doing her project on Malcolm X and she googled the Malcolm X foundation and sure enough their was just such an organization in Omaha Nebraska of all places!  Another student, McKenna, is researching the history of stem cell research and searched for a foundation that she found right here in Madison WI.  She has already received a return email and will be doing a phone interview next week!  What a great way for students to do authentic research!