Pulling out the VCR

Photo Credit: Tom Simpson Flickr via Compfight cc

Do you remember the teacher rolling the television set and VCR into the classroom and thinking ‘Oh, this is going to be a great class!’? Didn’t matter if it was a documentary, a movie, a television show, or a 10-minute infomercial – either way, we were always super excited when we got to watch something during class time because it was more fun than simply listening to the teacher talk about the subject matter.

Not much has changed.

Well, except for the type of technology and the level to which we incorporate it into class. Nowadays, I find it rare to have a class or lesson when I don’t incorporate some kind of video, even if it is a 12-minute crash course history lesson or a quick Canadian Heritage Minute. However, it seems like the incorporation of technology continues to engage and motivate students more than not using it – which I find to be the biggest pro of utilizing any tech tool in the classroom. There are a multitude of sites and blogs that speak to the pros of technology – a quick google search will yield a little over 2.1 million results in a mere 0.7 seconds. From making learning more fun, to improved knowledge retention, to personalized and differentiated learning, to connecting with students, to increased student collaboration, to preparing the students for the future – the opportunities and advantages of technology are seemingly endless (except for the cost, of course, which Dre already addressed in his previous blog posts). In previous blog posts, I had noted the value of assistive technology; from tools like Dragon Naturally Speaking to Zoom Text, technology can help students demonstrate what they know and achieve the levels of success they truly deserve.

But, I don’t think any of this is new knowledge. After taking several EC&I classes, I think we all know there are countless benefits to technology in the classroom – if there weren’t we wouldn’t be trying to incorporate it as much as we currently are. So, for this week’s blog, I really wanted to focus on the specifics in a Social Studies Classroom; why is it important in this specific setting, and what advantages are there for this particular subject matter?

Too often, teachers sacrifice student interest for content coverage. In a high stakes testing environment, social studies teachers are entrenched in methods that rely heavily on lecture and discussion. This teacher-centered classroom structure does not offer much opportunity for motivating students to take an interest in social studies content. – Tina Heafner

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Okay, bad teacher moment : I feel like this describes a large part of what I do. It being my first year teaching Social 10 and Social 30, I have been overwhelmed with covering the entire curriculum, and I have sacrificed interesting lesson plans, activities, and simulations, to cover all the content. Even now, with two weeks left before finals, I am feeling the pressure to get through all the information I need to and have enough summative evaluations in each unit to truly represent the final grade students will receive. However, like was mentioned in the article stated above, this is not motivating in the least bit, which is where technology can come into play. Heafner promoted moving away from teacher-centred approach to a student-centred one in Social Studies and using technology to motivate and engage students. This, in turn, will help them further develop their historical analysis and metacognitive skills, as is mentioned in this article.

Students have no motivation to learn social studies beyond the common justification of “it will be on the test”. – Tina Heafner

This is where we need to change the view some students may have of Social Studies. So many times students have asked me the importance of Social Studies in their daily lives. I, of course, start speaking to the age-old “you can’t understand the present without the past”, “our history defines our present, which will mould the future”, “your educated decisions and actions today need to be based on past successes, failures, and overall endeavours”. I truly believe it, but they have already heard these explanations over and over. If, however, we combine technology with history and work towards a 21st century approach to Social Studies, using digital skills to study historical thinking and analysis, students could be more engaged and motivated to learn the content.

This was, in fact, the main proposition of another blog post I read this week by Thomas Stanley. He noted that now, because of our increased technology, history and social studies classes should no longer be focused solely on reading textbooks and lecturing, but also on exploring and collaborating.

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Done well, technology and students and inquiry and history begin to come together to form a powerful – and authentic – whole. – Thomas Stanley.

That is the biggest benefit of technology in a social studies classroom – it can make the learning authentic. It can bring the past to the present and combine what students find at times dull and lacking value with skills that will be necessary for the future. Stanley suggests creating a global project that lasts all semester, where students may study historical issues in the context of the present. They can use the past to find potential solutions for the current problems. He suggests topics like the child soldier or refugees; topics that are important historically, yet show how the past is ever-intertwined with the future. Technology can help us achieve this by delving into inquiry-based research topics and using other apps and websites to help gain knowledge.

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I read several blogs this week that suggested a variety of apps and websites that could be used in a Social Studies classroom. Just like Jayme-Lee’s weekly blogs, I wanted to list some new ones that I found particularly interesting to start using in my classroom. Most came from this site, which has ample suggestions for a variety of social studies classroom from k-12. Creation tools like Explee*(the first one I want to try!), Flipsnack, infogr.am, Make Beliefs Comix, Pixton, QR stuff, and Bitstrips are just a few that I would offer my students as suggestions for their next projects. Organizational tools like Draggo, Lucidchart, and Livebinders can help both teachers and students with all the technology at our fingertips. Finally, other websites like Euronews and Newsela can all help students find current events that can interest them and help them develop both their historical thinking abilities and digital literacy skills (which can be targeted using lesson plans from websites like NewseumED, even though there is a significant American focus).

To end, I think one of the biggest draws to technology in a Social Studies classroom (and, in fact, in any classroom) is how motivating it can be for the teacher. Google, Teachers Pay Teachers, and Pinterest have helped me enormously when trying to find creative approaches to teaching historical concepts. I have found the majority of my ideas for simulations in the classroom – which are my students’ preferred lessons – online. So even if we aren’t directly using technology for a specific lesson, the advantage of technology in education is still prevalent as it helps teachers create, share, and engage students in learning history.

Photo Credit: Flооd Flickr via Compfight cc

To end, I wanted to share one of my absolute favourite examples of technology combined with history: the Great Canadian Mysteries website. This site – in both French and English!! – offers webquests to help students solve some of the greatest Canadian mysteries. Not only that, but each of these mysteries comes with an incredibly detailed teacher guide with links to all Canadian curricula, and precise step-by-step lesson plans for the entire mystery-module. If this isn’t an advantage to technology in Social Studies – and one that can make the class engaging and motivating for the varied learners – I don’t know what is!

Any other suggestions or comments on my pros listed above for tech in the classroom, please let me know in the comment section below!

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3 Responses to Pulling out the VCR

  1. Great post!! I like that you looked specifically at your subject area. I often face the questions of why do we need this? why is this important? Now days we are able to find fun, create ways of teaching and learning in our classrooms that involve technology from the past and present. I really liked the idea of focusing on one project throughout the whole semester, looking at a current event and running with that. You are doing a great job and your students are lucky to have you!

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  2. Great post! Thank you for the in-depth research and findings you found this week. I find the exact same struggle with teaching this social studies. It is often teacher directed and difficult to incorporate technology due to the content. Hopefully, some of the suggestions you’ve found can also work for grade 4/5 students. I really enjoy social studies, and find it hard to instill the importance of understanding our past, in order to really understand the present.
    I love the Great Canadian Mysteries!

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  3. Pingback: Last Few Words | E. Therrien

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