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Making connections to the real world

cnn orlando screenshot

I’m spending the day at the KSDE Impact Institute – loving the learning and connecting with teachers from around the state. This afternoon has been spent nerding out with Kim Wahaus, awesome Olathe South HS government teacher. We talked about a ton of stuff but my walkaway?

That as social studies teachers, we need to be deliberate about connecting our social studies content and process with the lives of our students.

Nothing new for most of you, I know. But it was a good reminder of how important this idea really is.

Real world connections are used to help students see that learning is not confined to the school, allows them to apply knowledge and skills in real world situations, and personalizes learning to increase and sustain student engagement.

Kim shared some ideas of what that sort of conversation might look like. She started by showing a New York Times Learning Network clip highlighting the timeline of the recent Orlando shooting. Ask kids to use this clip and article to collect basic information.

Five W’s and H – who, what, where, when, why, and how.

Then she suggests showing a clip from the TV show West Wing from a special episode titled Isaac and Ishmael. The episode aired on October 3, 2001, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks. So you have a pretty good idea of what the conversation is about – West Wing characters talking with a group of middle and high school students about terrorism, the conflict between Islam and Christianity, and appropriate responses.

Now have kids compare and contrast. What’s the same / different about the two events? Why do these events keep happening? Stick with lots of why and why nots. What are possible responses to attacks from Americans? On the LGBT community?

Have students read an op-ed piece from the Times by Op-Ed columnist Frank Bruni who argues that this massacre is “bigger, sadder and scarier than any one group of victims”:

This was no more an attack just on LGBT people than the bloodshed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris was an attack solely on satirists.

Both were attacks on freedom itself. Both took aim at societies that, at their best, integrate and celebrate diverse points of view, diverse systems of belief, diverse ways to love. And to speak of either massacre more narrowly than that is to miss the greater message, the more pervasive danger and the truest stakes.

. . . The threat isn’t only to LGBT Americans, as past acts of terror have shown and as everyone today must recognize. All Americans are under attack, and not exclusively because of whom we drink, dance or sleep with, but because of our bedrock belief that we should not be subservient to any one ideology or any one religion. That offends and inflames the zealots of the world.

Do you agree? How was this an attack on “all of us,” regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, because of who we are as a nation? What are our values? Given our values, what do you think is the best, most fitting way for us to respond?

There may be parents or admins who would rather we not talk about these sorts of controversial topics. But Kim suggests, and I agree, that our job is create a safe place for kids to develop, understand, and articulate their ideas, opinions, and beliefs.

So a few resources to help not just with Orlando and other controversial topics but also some to help connect with current events and contemporary issues:

Other Resources:

Finding real world connections for students is largely a matter of perception. To an adult, the real world means work and economics. To a kid, the real world is the playground when the teacher is looking the other way.

Elementary teacher

We need to be incredibly intentional about what we do and why we do it. It’s not just that our standards ask us to connect social studies content and contemporary issues. It’s about working intentionally to make sure that kids see that school and real life are not two separate worlds.

It’s making sure that we connect social studies content with the actual lives of individual students.


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. My most memorable teachers in school at all levels were the ones who brought their teaching to life. The classes aroused interests and actual created discussions. We as students began to ask who, what, when, where, why and how rather than being told and being bored. Thanks for a good article.

    June 15, 2016
    • glennw #


      I agree! Those are the teachers I remember. It’s all about being intentional and making deliberate choices about how we interact with content and students.

      Thanks for sharing!


      June 16, 2016

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