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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

social studies

social studies

Related Tags: Project-Based Learning
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how using technologycan social studies be taught

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Robert Schlichtmann's picture
Robert Schlichtmann
9th grade World History Teacher Philadelphia, Pa. Empowerment School

My biggest problem is finding projects to do with World History. I will be doing Aztecs, etc & exploration in jan. wonder what I could do?

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

Howdy Robert,

For starters, I suggest you check out the following
ThinkQuest Project created by students for students:

"The Ancient Aztecs"

They have a very organized and complete menu of topics:
Timeline, Rulers (Leaders), Religion, Life (Culture part one),
Technology, Culture (part two), Spanish Conquest, and online Resources.

A second 'infinite' Visual and Engaging resource for you in planning curriculum and projects is always available using "Google Images" search tool: type in "Aztec" ... language, culture, history, technology, etc.

Enjoy the adventure and remember that if you are "organized to facilitate" students learning, they can do most of their own research
online and create a Class Portfolio for publication using Wikispaces and other Web 2.0 resources online.

Check back with any progress reports, further questions, and your students' 'productions', which we would be happy to view in January and further on...

Allen Berg

Andrew Murphy's picture
Andrew Murphy
High School Social Science

I am new to PBL and am looking for help with driving questions. I am working on a unit concerning the Enlightenment and how it influenced the development of American political and social thought. I have a few. If you could help refine mine or maybe suggest one I would be appreciative.

Here are the ones I am using as working models:

Why is democracy a good form of government?
How would the U.S. look without democracy?
What democratic ideas were the founding fathers looking to establish in America?

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate
Blogger 2014

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 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.

mikekaechele's picture

I would suggest following #sschat on Twitter or joining the sschat ning. These two places are full of social studies teachers using PBL.


I agree with Suzie about making it more interesting. How about something like "What if you could have designed the United States government?"

I like "What if" questions. You could then have students look at why the founding fathers made the choices that they did. Also what kind of final project and audience will you have? That could influence your choice.

Finally I would encourage you to also look at the roots of democracy in Native American culture, especially the Iroquois Contitution.

mikekaechele's picture


Not to leave you out in my last comment, but your question is so large. I could spend hours answering it. That is why I suggest joining the sschat community.

If you narrow down your question to a topic or something you would like to accomplish with tech. I could give a better answer.

Ron_Peck's picture
High School Social Studies teacher from Medford, Oregon

I really like your thought process for your PBL assignment. Instead of asking why democracy is good why not reframe it to ask whether it is good or bad and then compare it to other systems.

On your second question I would suggest narrowing the focus by asking these questions:
1. How would the political/governmental structure be different?
2. How would the U.S. economic system be different without democracy?
3. How would this affect the social structure of the U.S.?

I hope this helps. Let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Andrew Miller's picture
Andrew Miller
Educational Consultant and Online Educator
Blogger 2014

I've got a few suggestions for you.

1) I think you should focus on either the enlightenment as Suzie pointed to in her example, or American government and democracy. I think it will help focus the scope of the project and allow for a reasonable and managed outcome.

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.

3) What is the new and innovative product they will be creating? Once you have an idea of this you can say something like: How can we create x to do x? Or some variation. Product oriented DQs can work.

Let's see what you come up with and we can give you more feedback.


Andrew Murphy's picture
Andrew Murphy
High School Social Science

Just to clarify, since this is the introductory unit for the semester I wanted to get a writing sample from the students. They are in the 11th grade.

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