Heading Out

This summer semester seemed like the quickest weekend road trip ever! It was most certainly challenging, but it flew by at warp speed. It’s amazing how much I absorbed and how much my thinking changed in that short amount of time.

Before this course, if I had to characterize the topic of Social Studies in one word, I would have said, “Vanilla”. I found the subject interesting, but not very exciting or engaging, and I certainly would not have picked it to teach if given a choice of one subject. What a difference 6 weeks can make. My interest has truly been sparked, and I have come away with so many amazing ideas for making this subject a favorite for my future students. Being exposed to all of the various ways to integrate the arts with social studies has made me a believer in the fact that SS can be engaging and meaningful, and it showed me a way to get them to make connections in order to retain information.

Another wonderful take-away from this course is the idea of “backward design”. In the past, SS often consisted of fun, crafty activities or just single, solitary blobs of information that never truly connected to anything. Using backward design helps you to view standards from the endpoint and say to yourself, “OK, the students need to know this or need to be able to do that. Knowing my students, how can I structure the lessons so that they can be successful?” “What is the true purpose of this lesson; what are they gaining from doing this activity?” If I can’t answer that with a solid response I have no business teaching that lesson or taking the time to have them do a particular activity. The school day is too short to waste on performing meaningless tasks.

Having just found out that I will be in a 4th grade room for my student teaching placement, I am particularly excited about Social Studies – I get to teach North Carolina history! Not being a native, I am going to learn so much, and I will have the opportunity to utilize the amazing resources of the NC History Museum! So, I am moving into a new segment of my incredible journey overflowing with enthusiasm and fantastic ideas – look out North Ridge Elementary, I’m headed your way!


Keeping Their Tanks Full

When raising my own children, I never really bought into the idea of “paying” them to behave – it just went against everything I believed about respect and obeying your parents. WIth age comes wisdom – I now realize that in a school setting, the children respond better to positive reinforcement and sometimes that means rewards.

In classrooms where I have worked, the students could pick items from a treasure box and it was always a fiasco on Fridays when they got to pick their “toys”. UGH! I see more recently, teachers are switching to allowing the students special privileges as opposed to material items. I like that Idea better. In our Classroom Management class, the professor prefers the use of verbal praise as opposed to “getting” something, but I just don’t think that is going to cut it in the reality of the classroom.

The teacher in my most recent field placement (4th grade), has the students earning Dojo points and trading them for privileges such as: being allowed to chew gum, swapping seats, using colored ink, being first to lunch, getting a late work pass, etc. Class points are being saved for parts of a fish tank: 1st 20 pts. = tank, 2nd 20 pts. = gravel, etc.

I can see myself using a similar system in my classroom. I truly do not want to have a treasure box – I would rather reward behavior with privileges. The internet (including Pintrest) has many great ideas for various rewards and reward systems. If truth be told, I would love to be able to manage a classroom without rewards, but that is just not being realistic. As teachers, we need to keep our students’ tanks full through positive reinforcement of wanted behaviors. It will work – if we remember to notice it!!! 

Getting Them Up and Running

Creating the integrated unit plan is quite a task. Katrina, my partner in crime, and I are trying to take it one step at a time. That being said, here is my “Rationale for a Hook”.

The unit covers the values and principles of American democracy and the key historical figures who exude those characteristics. I know that If I’m going to have the students analyze and discuss democratic values, the place they need to start is understanding what a value is. I think its hard to get a 5th grader to grasp that concept, so I’ve decided to have them start with the concrete.

My idea is to have them bring in an object that means a lot to them or their family. At Morning Meeting/Share Time I will have them start going around the circle, briefly explaining why the item means so much to them. Halfway around the circle I will say that the rest of the students are not allowed to share. I will then tell those students they will not be able to go out to recess, they must stay in and clean the room. At lunch they will not get to choose what to eat, they will all eat the same items and I will choose for them. I will ask how they feel about all of those restrictions. Including all the students in the discussion, I will then try to get someone to say that the things I restricted are important to them, thereby, allowing them to see that there are things other than material items that can be important to them. We all feel that freedoms, choices, and liberties are important – these are beliefs that we value – they are VALUES.

I think once they have a grasp on that concept, they will be able to better understand each particular value that is brought up during the unit.


Who is Steering?

It has been quite awhile since I have read a history textbook, but I do look back on my own schooling and am inclined to categorize the books I read as “whitewashed” versions of America. Having decades of hindsight, it is clear to see that they were meant to relate only to white Americans, and any wrong doing on the part of our founders, our military, our presidents, our lawmakers, etc. was glossed over very quickly, if not left out entirely. I’m left to wonder – are Social Studies textbooks any different today?

Cover of "The House at Sugar Beach: In Se...

Cover via Amazon

It is not just wrongdoing that is left out. As an example, 2 years ago I chose a book for my book club to read called, The House at Sugar Beach by  Helene Cooper. At the time of publication (2008), she was the White House correspondent for the New York TImes, and the  book was her life story and the history of her family. Apparently, in the early 19th century, freed blacks (usually mulattos) were given the choice to return to Africa; the reason being, the ruling white men realized the difficulty in having free and enslaved black residents. The government sent them to Africa (Liberia) to begin a new colony. It was a fascinating story, but I was shocked to discover that this was a part of American history that I knew nothing about! Not only that, it hit me that the African American population in this country most likely knows nothing about this occurrence either. What a crime – this is part of their story!! This is part of their history!! How dare we as a country just decide that this doesn’t need to even be mentioned?? It immediately concerned me, knowing I would eventually be a teacher. How could I uncover the stories that are never/rarely told? How could I be sure that the story I was telling was the whole story? How could I tell the story from a view point other than the white establishment view point – the textbook viewpoint? I’ve realized that I need to be the one steering on this journey; I need to decide where my lessons take my students. I now understand that the textbook is truly just a supplement for me to utilize when I see a need. I also know that there are many primary sources of information on alternate stories in our nation’s history. Am I allowed to tell those stories? What are my limits?

On another topic, I know that there may be some students in my classroom that have special needs or are English Language Learners. I believe that I would do as I always do when faced with a new situation – I would gain as much knowledge as I could. In this case it would be about the child’s disability, and where the student was both physically and academically. I would team with the specialists in the building to determine the best way to meet his/her needs and teach to the student’s strengths, while at the same time being sure to make them an equal member of the classroom community. A child who was an ELL also would need to be evaluated as to where they were academically and in terms of range of communication skills. I would be sure to include the child’s home language in the classroom – posters, labels ,charts, etc, as well as literature in the form of books, magazines, etc. (depending on the reading level of the student). I would be sure to “buddy” them with a strong English-speaking student to take advantage of that student’s explanations, modeling, and asisstance. I believe having an ELL in my classroom would present an incredible opportunity to explore another culture and language, and I would encourage that student to share all that they wished to in order to illustrate to the whole class how different we all may seem, but how very similar we are as well.

The Road Less Traveled

What are my thoughts on interdisciplinary instruction?

As a beginning teacher, I think my main fear is being able to cover all of the standards for all of the subjects by the end of the year. Will I be left with a mishmash of standards that I need to cover in the last nine weeks of school? I understand that is why you do annual plans, but will I be able to stay on track with those plans when I know how many interruptions and changes occur during the course of a school year?

Additionally, I have become a bit confused with the use of all the following terms: national standard, local standard, benchmark, learning objective, skill objective, language objective, short term goal, long term goal, understandings, essential question, etc. While I have a general understanding of what they mean/stand for, I guess I’m not sure at what point in my planning I need to be looking to those things for guidance and when do I need to be stating which of those I’m trying to cover. 

Another fear I have is if I decide to try this, will my grade level team be on board? I know that in some schools, the teams do all the same planning as far as when to cover topics, etc. WIll I be able to convince them to switch gears?

I don’t think we see much of this type of teaching because it takes A LOT of planning. I’ve seen it in my children’s high school, where the English and Social Studies teachers have created a year-long course in which they’ve combined both curriculums for honors students, and co-teach. In elementary school, it seems to be an easier prospect, as one teacher is responsible for all subjects. However, teachers need the proper training to feel confident enough to tackle this large task. 

I know at this point in my “career” I feel strongly that students need a well rounded education – an exposure to all subject areas. How will that change when I feel the pressure to make sure all of my students pass the EOG? I hope that I can learn this process of interdisciplinary instruction well enough to be able to incorporate those “extra” subjects, like the arts, into the major disciplines. I would think that the promise of higher student engagement would be a large factor in advocating for the “lost” subjects. I believe if you feel strongly enough about the importance of this, AND you can come forth with a strong plan, it won’t be that difficult to convince your team/administration to at least give it a try for one unit!  It will be an opportunity to take the path less taken, to travel an alternate route. Isn’t that when you usually find the greatest treasures?


Planning With a Purpose

My professor posed the following question:

“What are the attributes of meaningful, well planned social studies lessons?”

The first word that immediately comes to mind is “purposeful”. One of the main focuses of our first class was to grasp the idea that every activity, every assignment, every lesson, every video, etc. must serve a purpose. The actual amount of teaching time is so very limited that we must be sure we are doing something worthwhile.

Secondly, I would have to add interdisciplinary”. Again, when trying to fit social studies into a full schedule, the lesson must be able to cover one or more objectives from another subject.

Next, I’ll add “transparent”, meaning the main objective/purpose should either be obvious to, or specifically revealed to the students at the onset. There may be secondary objectives that happen to become fulfilled, but the students need to know why they are doing the work.

In the end, I do believe that the most important attribute is “purposeful”. As one of my former professors would frequently ask, “Why are we doing what we’re doing, the way that we’re doing it?” Exactly.

Another Wild Ride!

Welcome to the new, updated version of my blog! I’ll now be concentrating on how I learn and grow within the realm of Social Studies and the Arts. Hang on, another wild ride is about to begin!