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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

social studies

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how using technologycan social studies be taught

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Andrew Miller's picture
Andrew Miller
Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School

I think focusing on writing would be a great idea. Quick question? Are you grading writing or are you using it as a formative assessment?

I would push you to think past the traditional essay. What about a blog? What about a letter? What about a photo essay (with paragraphs)? What about a written proposal? Again think outside the box of the genre AND consider the audience. It will raise the rigor, and the quality of work. You can include the elements of the essay in a variety of written products.

Also remember to offer some choices for students, either in the group or the individual product. Maybe as a group they create the same product, but individually they have the choice of three.

Andrew Miller

Andrew Murphy's picture
Andrew Murphy
High School Social Science


I am using the essay as both an assessment of writing ability, or SS department works very closely with the Language Arts programe. We have a standard rubric used across all curriculums. I am also looking to assess thier understaning of the standards.

I was interested in your previous comment:

2) Your driving question MUST be student friendly. Suzie's example is on the right path with this. Don't feel like the DQ must communicate the content or standard, Your job as the teacher is to focus the instruction and assessment to make sure that they are achieved.

Do you mean the lessons leading up to the final product should be where i cover the standards but the final product does not have to necessarily have to cover the standards?


Andrew Miller's picture
Andrew Miller
Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School

Sounds like the essay will be your individual product. What will be the group product they collaborate on that will hold them accountable for the same knowledge.

The final product IS standards based. It should hold them accountable for the learning targets and standards you are assessing.
The DQ doesn't need to sound like a standard. The purpose is to engage and focus the kids.

Does that make sense?

Andrew Murphy's picture
Andrew Murphy
High School Social Science

Can't an individual essay be the final product. I hae a copy of the BIE handbook and it sounded like it could be. Does the final product always hae to be collaberative? I also liked your idea of blogging. It's something I have thought of doing for a while but don't know how.

Andrew Miller's picture
Andrew Miller
Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School

An essay could be a product, but for what purpose. PBL prides itself on having a public and authentic audience with each progress. Why? Relavent work, which helps keep students engaged. Like I said, you can have a letter with an audience as its purpose and still have the important elements of the essay.

Each project should have an individual product and a group product. As a team, we want innovation and collaboration, building 21st century skills. We also want to know that each student met the learning targets, hence individual product. Collaboration is one of the essential components of true PBL.

- Andrew

mikekaechele's picture


I would challenge you to consider a different product than an essay if this is your first PBL unit. You want the product to be something a bit different than a traditional class so students can get excited about it. An essay may lead them to think PBL is just the same ol' same ol'

You could still have students write something as part of the unit but have them make something else as a group that they present to some kind of authentic audience. Just my 2 cents

Kayla Bay's picture
Kayla Bay
7th & 8th Socila Studies

Last year I found out an online tool called SCAN by Tregoed. A short explanation is it is a "closed Blog" for your students only. You can set it up for each period or all of your students, whichever works best for you. It is easy to use, easy to learn, and affordable. I think a 1 year subscription is around 30-40 dollars. You cna go the their site, check it out and sign up for a trial period. I love ot because the kids do blog and with the teacher view I can delete inappropriate comments, I can give myself a username and blog with them..Just A nice tool to ad to your kit. I usually end with either an essay or other writing assignment using a RAFT (role, audience, format, topic) of some kind.

Andrew Murphy's picture
Andrew Murphy
High School Social Science

I am beginning to see that an essay as the final product might not be the way to go with this first unit, although I believe the importance of teaching good essay skills will be of great benefit to them in college and beyond. I am thinking of having the kids do a survey concerning what people know about their government. This, howeer, leaes me with the problem of a good driving qauestions. I liked Suzie's idea about ",How enlightned are we". But I am also thinkiong of asking "Was the American revolution really revolutionary."

I appreciate all the help you have given me, but I must confess that I am a bit more confused about this whole thing than I was when I started this line of inquiry. I will go back to the drawing board and let you know what I come up with for additional feedback.


Allen Berg's picture
Allen Berg
curriculum and projects learning centers

Dear Colleagues,

I was posting a message here at our Projects Based Learning Group and found this discussion about Social Studies going on...

Briefly, I am confused about "where we are"...?

The discussion started with Davion Kevro Reid, a teacher in Montego Bay, on the island of Jamaica...
Now it seems that we are in Hemet, California, in the Southern California Inland Desert area between Murrieta and Palm Springs...

And what is the question about teaching Social Studies... for who and where...?

I will step back into the background to see what clarification is presented... then if the teachers involved would like some assistance, I can check back in with your discussion...

Otherwise, just carry on...


Allen Berg

maganjess32's picture

Hi Andrew,
Your 3 examples suggest the important learning goals you're after (understanding roots of democracy, forms of govt., etc.), but I wonder if you might reframe your driving question to spark more curiosity and engagement.
How about asking: How Enlightened are we?
To arrive at an answer, students would need to thoroughly understand Enlightenment thinkers, and then do their own analysis/evaluation of today's system of government (which would mean using higher-order thinking and offering evidence to support their argument). You also want your ( Charlie page question to be open-ended and allow for considerable voice and choice when it comes to a final product or performance.
I'm curious to hear how others would come at this project idea.

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