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Tip of the Week: Six sweet social studies activities for back to school

I spent a few days in Texas last week leading some conversation around the ideas of online civic literacy, fake news, and the power of the 1st Amendment and enjoyed every minute. This week? They’re jumping into the deep end of the pool with kids. So for them, this post is a few days too late. You might be in the same pool.

But I’m hoping that for most of you, you’ve got one more weekend before your first contact day.

And to help jumpstart your first awesome week, here are six great ways to kick off the year. Use what you can. Adapt what you can’t.

What not to do

But before we get too far along with what we know works, it’s probably a good idea to think about what doesn’t. I’ve mentioned Fourteen Things You Should Never Do on the First Day of School before but it’s still a great reminder of what it looks like when we’re doing it wrong. Mark Barnes suggest that your goal should be a very simple one during the first few days of school:

You have many days to assess students’ strengths and weaknesses. You have months to discuss high stakes testing and standards. You’ll spend weeks probing the textbook.

The first day of school should be dedicated to rapport-building and to joy.

Your goal should be that students go home that night and tell their parents: “I’m going to love history class because my teacher is awesome!”

So what should we be doing the first week?

Kids need to be in groups. They need to be solving problems. They need to get a taste of some social studies and play with some social studies tools. They need to know that it’s okay to fail. They should practice a few critical thinking skills. Maybe a little tech here and there. Have fun.

Need some specifics? Start with these six:

1. Boot Camp

Jill Weber teacher middle and high school social studies in Cheney, Kansas and is the 2016 Gilder Lehrman History of the Year. Last year, she decided to kick off her year by holding a week-long social studies Boot Camp that focused on historical thinking skills, types of evidence, problem solving, and collaborative learning.

She wrote a guest post that highlights all of her stuff, including handouts and lesson plans. You know you want to jump in on this cause . . . well, it’s awesome. Get all of the goodness here.

2. Where Are We?

I love Google Earth and all of its bells and whistles. But the following activity is a great way to hook kids using just the basics of GE that is very simple to implement. Heck, you can use Google Maps if it makes things easier.

I call the activity “Where Are We?” and can be used to introduce a variety of history or geography units. Get the walkthrough here.

2A. More Geography Goodness

Head over to this cool list of famous landmarks seen from different perspectives. Do a little bit of the same thing as with Where Are We. This time kids have to guess what landmark we’re looking at. Require them to prove it using other photos that they scavenge from the interwebs. Feel free to have them do some extra research to create their own list.

Have them play either one of these fun, cool, and somewhat educational geo games: Geoguessr and Pursued.

3. Speaking of games and online civic literacy

iCivics. That’s it. iCivics.

4. Memes

Give kids a bare bones scope and sequence of your content for the semester or year. Have kids pick one topic, person, event, or place from that scope and sequence. (Okay to work in groups of two? Absolutely.) Give them 10 minutes to become experts on that topic, person, event, or place.

Their task? Create a super hilarious and historically accurate meme and post it for contest viewing. Print them out (or use a tech tool such as Wakelet, Padlet, or Google Docs) and have kids arrange them chronologically, thematically, or heck . . . .by most super hilariousness.

Perfect for highlighting your content for the next few months. Gets kids up and doing. Solving problems. Cracking wise. Perfect first week activity.

Get some inspiration and specifics here.

5. iPhone from the past

If historical characters would have had access to an iPhone, what would have been on it? And could we use that sort of question with kids to help introduce content or to assess learning?

I’m gonna say yes. So I quickly fashioned a graphic organizer that you can use to help kids brainstorm and discuss historical content. So . . . Abraham Lincoln on the way to the theater:

  • If we looked at Abe’s phone log, who would he have been talking with? Who would he have screened out?
  • Which apps would he use the most?
  • What generals, leaders, or family would he text? What would those conversations look like?
  • What did his contact list look like?

iphone past 1

(Download a PDF version of the graphic organizer here.)

6. Hyperdocs

High school social studies rock stars TJ Warsnak and Derek Schutte have gone whole hog into #buzzworthy instruction. Part of what they use are Google Hyperdocs and activities. Check out this one on escaping a runaway deadly virus. Then head here for 13 ready-to-use activities and five digital breakouts. And . . . then #buzzworthy on over to a list of some of their older #hyperdocs.

And finally, drop them some love on Twitter. Cause they’re awesome.

7. Bonus

Yup. Not six. But seven sweet social studies activities for back to school.

It’s called #FlipHunt. And no, I haven’t used it. I just ran across the idea a few days ago but it looks like pretty sweet so it got added here at the bottom. So what’s a #Fliphunt?  It’s a video-based scavenger hunt that is completely organized and run in the Flipgrid environment.

Get all the details from Kathy.

Have a great week!

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Glenn is a curriculum and tech integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Speaking and Consulting page.

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