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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

How to Teach with Technology: Social Studies

Students fire off ideas for using digital tools to teach history and current events.
By Sara Bernard

Check out these tips from students and educators for high tech teaching:

Blogging the Textbook

"As a teacher, to make social studies more fun, I use the CoveritLive blogging tool. While I talk and read from the textbook, some of the kids have a blog conversation about what I am presenting.

Credit: CoveritLive

I can be sure they are staying on topic because another teacher approves their comments. (Every comment must be approved by a teacher.) Every day, the kids rotate who gets to be on the laptops and have the live conversation. Other people from around the world can also join in."

CoveritLive is a publishing tool that allows users to instantly publish their blog posts, which allows it to serve somewhat like a chat room. Lisa Parisi and Christine Southard use CoveritLive to enliven discussion and motivate their students to master social studies material in their fifth-grade class. Students also used CoveritLive during President Obama's inauguration. For more information about these projects, go to Parisi's blog.

Battle It Out

"In history, instead of just reading about battles from World War II, have students recreate them on film. The students could then add a director's commentary over the video, highlighting the different parts of the battle. The teacher could keep the DVD and show it the following year. Maybe students could film a new battle each year. I personally learn more by doing and seeing things than by reading from a book."

For online tutorials about filmmaking—from the planning stage to shooting to editing—the American Film Institute's ScreenNation offers a wealth of free resources. You can also explore the Good Shooting Guide, Make TV, and the Apple Learning Interchange's Videography for Educators.

"Friending" Thomas Paine

"We could use MySpace to create profiles about important people in history. Historical people are kind of boring when you just read about them in a textbook; students do better when they create something themselves. We did this in our social studies class, and I really enjoyed this lesson.

I made a page for Thomas Paine. One of the songs I put on it was called "Independent," because Thomas Paine's writings were such a big influence on the Declaration of Independence. For his "Top 40" friends, I put people who had interacted with him.

If I were to teach this lesson, I would explain to the students how to create a MySpace page and how to add pictures, songs, and videos about the person. I'd also show them how to add a creative background page that would relate to who the person was in history."

MySpace -- and its wildly popular cousin Facebook -- still hold the limelight when it comes to online social networking. MySpace and Facebook tutorials are available at MySpace's Take a Tour link at the top of the home page and Facebook's Help Center (click on Help at the bottom of the home page). For more information about using MySpace and Facebook in education, go to this Edutopia.org article.

Going to the Source

"I think it's a good idea to use Skype for learning about other states and countries. If you want to learn about a country, why not just ask the people who live there about it? I'm sure the information they provide will be more real and true than what you'll find on the Internet.

Skype is a way to communicate with people all around the world. All you need is a computer, a special camera that you can connect to the computer, a speaker, an address on Skype, and the other person's address.

If you have all that, you're set to Skype! You can see them and hear them, and if you wanted to use this to learn, you could interview the other person. I learned about other countries in third grade, and I wish we had been able to Skype back then. I'm sure it would have been much more interesting to actually talk to people from around the world."

Global Explorers

In Cheryl Lykowski's fifth-grade class at Monroe Road Elementary School, in Lambertville, Michigan, students connected with a class in Bucaramanga, Colombia, via Skype in order to learn about each other's country and culture. In addition to Skype calls, the class created podcasts (now available on the class Wiki page as well as through iTunes) and continued the conversation through a blog.

Soon, other students from other countries began chiming in, and by the end of the project, 25 countries had contributed. For more information on Lykowski's Global Explorers Project (including rubrics and other resources), go to Global Explorers.

Virtually Saving the World

"A game I would use to help learn in social studies class is FreePoverty. In FreePoverty, you have to locate a country or state on a map. If you don't find the country or state in time, or if you find the wrong country or state, then no cups of water are donated."

Credit: FreeRice

FreePoverty is a geography game that presents you with a city or landmark. You have a short amount of time (5-10 seconds) to locate it on a map. The closer you are to the target, the more cups of water are donated to people in need around the world. (FreePoverty is seeking a nonprofit organization to work with to help turn the site's revenues into water donations.)

FreeRice is a collection of games in different subject areas that makes a donation of rice for every correct answer. Both games encourage learning as well as civic involvement, according to Todd Williamson, a science teacher at Broad Creek Middle School, in Newport, New York.

A Web Site for Your Thoughts

"A wiki is a Web site you create that's very helpful to students and teachers. The subject of a wiki page can be math, social studies, or anything else you are learning in school.

Credit: Time Zone Experiences Wiki

First, students gather data and do research on the subject. Then they make a Web site and put in all the information they've gathered. For instance, if the subject is social studies, you could do a wiki project about Native Americans or the War of 1812."

A wiki is a Web page or collection of pages that allows any user to contribute and modify the content. In order to better understand the globe's time zones and connect with students around the world, Lisa Parisi and Christine Southard's class created the Time Zone Experiences Wiki, where students from across the globe can contribute information about their local time zone and weather and give other reflections.

For more information about building a classroom wiki, go to this Edutopia.org article or this one.

Sara Bernard is a former staff writer and multimedia producer at Edutopia.

Go back to the main article, "How to Teach with Technology."

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