As a Social Studies teacher, I’m obsessed with having my students think critically about the topic of History. Still, it’s difficult to have students think critically without some background knowledge. Therefore, I’ve taken on the task of making sure that my students gain background knowledge with a variety of activities and tasks. It has been a process for me to develop those strategies. I thought I might share some of those strategies here to inspire you to think about the classroom experience for your students.
Setting Up a Structured Debate – Middle school students are still learning the art of conversation, so when we as educators decide to have our class debate, we need to offer some structure to make sure that the debate offers a positive learning experience. I’ve had several debates over the years, some much better than others. In recent years, I realized that there were some crucial components to making sure that a debate proved successful in my middle school classroom.
I teach a little bit of Irish history every year. Even though it’s not really in the seventh grade curriculum anymore (except for the fact that the Irish helped build the Erie Canal), I still sneak in a day to discuss Irish immigration. Many of my students have Irish heritage, so they are easily interested in the subject. For some reason, they find the darkness of the famine really compelling.
Let’s admit it. This past election year has been really tough for teachers. Although we want to talk about political issues, and we want to give our students the tools to sort through those issues, it’s very difficult to do so when the country is so fractured politically. I’ve never seen my students so demoralized or disheartened by the political process.
Social Studies education has undergone (and is still going through) a revolution in teaching practices. The idea of teaching History through the authentic process of inquiry has completely revived my curriculum and my approach in the classroom. I’ve found my students to be more involved and engaged, and simply more interested. The inquiry process works particularly well with the middle school age. These students are naturally self centered, so they love to express and argue their own viewpoint.
This past June, PBS aired a documentary titled “First Peoples.” Though it was the end of the year, I noticed that one of the sections of the video – The First Americans – dovetailed nicely with one of NYS teaching standards for Social Studies from the new Social Studies framework – specifically:
Ever since Lin-Manuel Miranda released his first song from Hamilton the musical, I’ve been using his songs in my classroom to teach History. With the release of the full soundtrack this past fall, I was instantly envisioning new ways to incorporate the songs from the musical within my class. I love all of the songs, however, I’m obviously most attracted to those that relate to seventh grade Social Studies. This led me to the cabinet battles. They’re fun, catchy, and they sneakily teach about rather dry topics like the assumption of state debt and the Neutrality Proclamation.