Social studies in the age of Siri
Twenty years ago if I had asked a kid who the 16th president was, I would have likely gotten a blank stare and a shrug of the shoulders. Ditto with stuff like the capital of Idaho, when the 14th Amendment was passed, and where the Treaty of Versailles was signed.
The shrugging of shoulders was mostly my fault. I taught in a very traditional style, with my focus on basic content. This method encouraged the memorization of a few facts just long enough to pass the unit test.
I didn’t know any better – it was the way I was taught and it was the way I was taught to teach. In that sort of classroom, long term retention and actual application of knowledge just weren’t going to happen.
We know better now.
Realistic problems. Collaboration. Analyzing evidence. Creation of authentic products. Integration of fiction and non-fiction. Use of technology. Formative assessment.
This is 21st century social studies.
Several of us on the Kansas state social studies standards writing team met with the state Board of Education yesterday to share final thoughts and answer questions about the revised standards. The board seemed to like the document and we’re hoping for final approval in a month. I think the document will encourage high quality 21st century teaching and learning.
But as forward thinking as I believe the document to be, it could be better. I don’t think we focused enough on technology integration, specifically on how accessible foundational knowledge is for students to collect.
We needed to be more intentional about ways teachers can incorporate strategies that don’t just allow the use of search tools and other technology but that encourage and support their use. (Mmm . . . maybe in the supplementary materials?)
This is the age of Siri and instant access to information. We can’t simply ask questions or provide worksheets or lecture or ask kids to read the textbook anymore. A simple verbal question on a cell phone can pull up more data in a minute than we can supply in a class period.
Class discussions should incorporate the use of cell phones, tablets, and other devices to discover new and supporting materials. if they haven’t already, teachers need to make it clear that they don’t know everything about their subject and encourage kids to learn from many different sources.
All too often, we treat the collection of foundational knowledge as our primary purpose. Having the facts is just the beginning of what our kids should be doing.
We can ignore the brain research and turn a blind eye to technology. We can continue to teach the old way – lecturing and handing out worksheets, assigning chapters and questions from the textbook, and “measuring learning” with multiple choice tests.
And we’d be wasting everyone’s time.
Because with Siri and Google and Bing and Wikipedia, they already have the answers. Rather than limiting access to these sorts of tools, we need to help students use them better.
We need to go beyond collecting data to helping kids organize that data into patterns. We need to go beyond these patterns to helping kids understand what these patterns mean.
That is what learning in the 21st century looks like. Not just data collection. Knowledge creation.
Because now we really do know better.