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Things that suck and your social studies classroom

It’s not what you think. Though I suppose that it is possible that a social studies class could, well . . . be not very good. I’m not talking about history classrooms where learning goes to die. I’m talking about a class that encourages high levels of thinking, connects emotion with content, allows for physical movement, and forces kids to make choices.

I’m talking about Things That Suck.

Things That Suck is the title of a session that almost always appears at #edcamps. (Not sure what an #edcamp is? Head here for a quick overview.) In a nutshell, TTS sessions revolve around presenting a series of topics, one at a time, to session attendees.

They then have to decide whether that topic sucks or doesn’t and move to the side of the room designated for that opinion. For example, the session leader might throw out the topic of cell phones in the classroom or using social media with students. You would decide that either sucks or not and go stand with others who believe the same way you do.

The moderator starts a timer and, for the next five minutes, leads a discussion about why that topic sucks or it doesn’t. You always have the option to move from one side of the room to the other if someone changes your mind. Some TTS sessions also include time for “solving” the problem – fixing it so it doesn’t suck.

It’s a great way to get people talking about a specific topic and I like that they have to vote with their feet by moving from one side of the room or the other.

But I also think it’s a great strategy for the classroom. And, yes, you may need to change the title a bit but this seems like a fun way to engage kids in your content. (What words are those crazy kids using these days to describe something that doesn’t suck? Snaztastic?)

Anyway. Change the title if you want but use the strategy.

Start with stuff that’s easy:

  • Pancakes (Doesn’t suck)
  • Pizza with black olives (Sucks)
  • Kansas City Chiefs (Doesn’t suck)
  • Putin (Sucks)

Then work you’re way up the cognitive ladder by asking kids to think about more serious stuff. It might be a way to introduce a new topic:

  • Nixon impeachment

or review

  • 100 Years War from English perspective

or formative assessment:

  • Three branches of government

You can use one topic or a series of related topics. Perhaps different current events, political candidates, or historical characters. One thing that I guarantee will happen is that many of your kids will want to hang around somewhere in the middle. That’s okay. Use it as an opportunity to explain the topic more fully and to encourage kids to share their thinking or ask questions.

This sort of activity trains our students to use evidence, think logically, respect the opinions of others. and to remain open-minded. All vital skills that are absolutely necessary in a democracy.

And I know some of you are already using similar strategies such as Forced Debate, Four Sides, or Four Corners. Definitely continue using those strategies. But I think renaming the strategy is key – sucks / doesn’t suck or whatever those crazy kids are using these days – because it frames the conversation into a more kid-friendly framework.

Extra resources:


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