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Making US History more.... relevent

Jess Henze

I've been teaching Social Studies and US History for 4 years, and I can honestly say that I'd be bored out of my mind in my class. I don't like to teach this way, but I struggle. My love is science. This year, I will have my teammates helping me plan and implement lessons, however, I need to make it more interesting, relevant, and real-world.

I would LOVE to do project based learning, but I'm clueless about where to begin. I love technology and using it with students, but my teammates are far from stellar students when it comes to computers.

So, if anyone has any ideas, resources, lesson plans, etc that might lead me on a path of more excitement within my social studies units, I would greatly appreciate it!

Jess Henze
Sherman Middle School
Madison, WI

Comments (13)

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H.S. Social Studies teacher from Medford, Oregon.

Jess, There are a lot of easy

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There are a lot of easy ways to engage your students with or without tech. I have used cooperative learning with my students. I'd be happy to assist you with getting started on that. Additionally, try integrating what your students are studying with other subjects.
There are also some great resources for flipping your classroom depending on your resources.
I recommend you check the resources listed below:


Please let me know if you have additional questions.
Feel free to check out our SSChat Ning (sschat.ning.com) or the wiki (edutopia-socialstudies.wikispaces.com)


EdTechTeacher Instructor and Presenter, High School teacher In IL

You came to the right place.

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Maybe if you'd like you could tell me one particular area where you want to energize a lesson or a unit. I could share what I have done or refer you to someone who excels in that area. Ron's references above are all excellent too. Sounds like what you really needs is to discuss what is possible.

Shawn McCusker (@ShawnMcCusker on Twitter)

High School U.S. History and Civics Teacher, Prosser Washington

Depth vs. Breadth and Project Based Learning

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I have found that project based learning is very effective at engaging students and enabling them to make a connection with history. I also really enjoy enabling the students to collaborate and engage in creative endeavors. My students not only enjoy project based learning, but I have found that there is greater retention of the concepts as they dig deeper in the subject matter. However, each year I struggle with time management in balancing the unit content requirements with the need to conduct authentic engaging activities which take a considerable amount of time. I teach a one year U.S. history course and we cover Pre-Columbian America to the Present--quite a time span. While my units are organized along thematic lines, I really struggle to cover the many important concepts. I would appreciate any thoughts or comments regarding balancing depth with breadth.

Educational Game Designer

Social Studies Alternate Realitty Game

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I've been researching educational gaming and how they can help make subject matter content relevant to today's students. It's a difficult proposition to take even well-made history-related videogames, such as Civilization, and make the learning both relevant and transferable outside of the game context.

However, I think that one game genre that may be able to make learning relevant and transferable is educational alternate reality games (see http://www.giantmice.com/features/arg-quickstart/ if you are not familiar with ARGs for a quick primer). In ARGs, students play as themselves (not as a fictitious game character), so the overall learning experience is more meaningful to them. Educational ARGs can be made for practically any subject matter, esp. social studies/history because of all the rich stories that make up the content.

I'm currently running a trial of a new social studies ARG about Japanese American history during World War II. I'm testing the game as research for a future course I'm designing.

If you or anyone (high school age and above) is interested in participating (no lurkers please), I welcome you to please visit the following page for details: http://www.shoyu.com/arg/v02/default.asp or email me at randall@shoyu.com. I'll be taking new signups for the rest of this week. Thanks!


10th grade Social Studies

Nice to meet you Jess! Right

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Nice to meet you Jess! Right now I'm working to design units around case-studies and moral debates. I'm teaching World History, but I think it could be applied to US History. Case-studies and philosophical/moral debates could be another way, along with all of the above ideas, to make US history interesting.

Here's a Harvard professor I'm listening to a lot at the moment (Michael Sandel). He teaches political philosophy, and I think a lot of his material and ways of teaching could be accessible for high school.


High School history, AP Geography, sociology and psychology teacher from VA

Make it real.

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To engage my students I try to make the subject relevant to them regardless of the activities we are doing. I make sure they know that the basic topics of US History (immigration, big or small government, tax issues, agricultural or industrial economies, human rights) are still a part of our lives and that they are impacted by those topics. For example, when we cover the Progressive era I find current articles about labor disputes and employee benefits so they can compare past and present labor issues.

A Passion for Teaching!

Hands-On Social Studies

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You definitely came to the right place here with the social studies teachers offering their support! I am a former social studies teacher now working for a social studies publisher called TCI. We make materials more popularly known as History Alive. All of our materials are built around a hands-on pedagogy that honors multiple intelligences and spiraled learning. Our programs can be delivered in 1:1 settings as well. I would invite you to try TCI by signing up for a trial at: http://offers.teachtci.com/30-day-trial-sign-up/. I would also invite you to check out our blog: http://blog.teachtci.com where we post free lessons and resources that can help you along the way. If there is anything I can do to support you further, please don't hesitate to contact me at bthomas@teachtci.com or @Brian_ThomasTCI (on Twitter).

Best Wishes on a successful year!

teacher, curriculum writer, author of Teaching in Mind

Hi Jesse- Teachers often feel

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Hi Jesse-
Teachers often feel that they have to provide all the "information" themselves, but you can both enrich your content and pique student interest by giving them more responsibility for their own learning. For example, let's say you're teaching a unit on the Civil War. Provide students with a list of the major content items that you want ALL students to know, focusing on meaningful in-depth concepts rather than the factoids found in so many SS benchmarks. Explain that all students must know and understand this material by the end of the (week, two weeks, whatever time you have to spend on the topic.) Begin by spending one or two class periods viewing a quality documentary or movie on the Civil War. Then turn students loose! Have individual students select any aspect of the Civil War that interests them beyond the material for which they are all responsible, research the topic, and figure out how to present it to the class in an interesting and engaging way. (NO REPORTS!!!) Provide students with research materials and/or suggestions and act as a mentor/resource for individual projects...the guide on the side rather than the TEACHER.

For example, a student might take the class outside and reenact an important battle. Another might tape an "interview" with Lincoln, a general, soldiers, family members, etc. Other students may focus on everyday life (food, clothing, etc), political figures, family relationships...you'd be amazed at what they come up with and the unique ways they think of to "teach" what they've learned. Set a date and time limit to fit in all student presentations (you may wish to have students work in teams if your time is very limited).

Be sure to test students on the required content as part of the wrap-up. However, in addition to the key concepts, you have also provided them with a rich background on the topic that you would never have had time for teaching the "traditional" way. This is project-based, but using projects chosen by the students and then shared with the entire class.

This works for many of the larger topics in History and once the kids realize that you are serious about giving them the responsibility, the content and presentations just keep getting better and better!

StrataLogica and Google Earth Changing Education

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Hi Jesse!

There are so many resources out there for teachers and their students. As Ron mentioned, www.sshcat.ning is a great place! StrataLogica, a revolutionary web-based program from Herff Jones | Nystrom, is reinventing social studies! It's a great hands on program for students as they can collaborate with each other on a smartboard and/or on a laptop. It helps social studies come alive for students and is perfect for project-based learning! Check out the official Google YouTube video http://bit.ly/jfsz9X and go to www.stratalogica.com for a free trial! With the new community space, teachers can share and collaborate with each other-opening the opportunity for a lot more learning and sharing of ideas!

8-12 Social Studies cyber school teacher, Pennsylvania

themantic approaches

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Last school year we tried a thematic approach to our SS curriculum. I was able to take an era and do many comparisons to more recent events and themes. Your initial post mentioned about bringing in your love of science into history. This can easily be done, especially when studying war, is to introduce the science of warfare, putting the power in the students' hands. As you move through the decades, you can start doing comparisons, again, in the students' hands, to make those connections and see the evolution of technology and science, in warfare for example. We used Glogster a lot to make these connections and the use of rubrics in any project will make it clear what you are looking for. Expectations must be clear, but most important, be there to facilitate the process. Use their questions or patterns as a teaching moment to take the reigns to clarify or expand further on a concept. Also, simple and FREE sites like Voki or Blabberize can give the student power(and fun) to learn about a topic, theme, or event in any area that you would want them to, all the while, learning the material that they need.

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