One challenge social studies and history teachers face today is making content relevant for our students. With so much information online, it is important that students are able to make connections. As I have said before, the best way for this to happen in my content area would be physical field trips, actually going to the places where events took place. However, in this day and age, that is not possible. You can do virtual field trips, which is a great alternative, but sometimes, I feel that they don’t have the WOW factor.
So, instead of virtual field trips I try to create as many hands-on experiences as I can. One that has worked really well for me is an activity that a student suggested when we were learning about Hunters and Gatherers.
After teaching Ancient Civilizations for five years, I changed up what I was doing. Instead I was teaching more on a regional basis than a chronological time frame. With all that was happening in Europe between the Ukraine and Russia, I wanted my students to have an understanding of this. So was we worked along with the textbook as a guide we covered early European History up through the EU in the first half of the year. Then we changed our focus onto Asia. Instead of starting with the history of the Middle East, we started in East Asia (China, Japan, Taiwan, North and South Korea) because of all the political turmoil going on in the Koreas. As the year got closer to finishing, my students were missing a crucial element in history, Hunters and Gatherers. So to end the year, I found some great resources from the Big History Project that I used in my classroom. However, I got the feeling my students weren't just quiet getting it. I stared the unit my typical way with an inquiry event first (showed a clip of the early life style), then used videos and resources from Big History to help my students learn more about this. However, I was missing the hands-on piece. So luckily our school is on 35 acres of wooded land. As I noticed some of them were not just quite understanding the concept and how hard this life was, one of my students asked if we could go outside and experience the challenges. So we did. We went out to a wooded section of the woods where they usually play capture the flag to keep them more contained in their hunting. The students had 15 minutes to gather up what ever they could find that was edible. Of course the boys tried to make tools and kill squirrels (which I told them at the beginning they could not, but they still tried to convince me) and the girls went right foraging for food. Some worked together in groups, others went on their own, and when time was up, we went inside to see what we had.
Students brought in mushrooms, leaves, grasses, wild onions and carrots, one student even found a frog! Then each group went around to see what everyone else had found. Then we discussed what life would be like for the earliest humans. The light bulbs started going off like crazy in their minds. You could see the connections being made. It was a great day of learning for everyone.
I also realize that not everyone has access to the outdoors like I do. So this got me thinking, how might someone else be able to accomplish a similar activity. I thought you could either create a scavenger hunt around your school and place certain items around the campus or if you are good with Augmented Reality, you could infuse this into the activity to make it more like a game. For instances, if a student found corn and they use AR to read the picture, have it say a little story about corn and they have to keep track of how many days worth of food that item could supply.
I am also wondering if this activity should be during the Explore phase or the Apply phase. What are your thoughts?
George Phillip is a social studies teacher and designer.
Ramsey Musallam - www.cyclesoflearning.com
Karl Lindgren-Streicher -
Josh Stumpenhorst -
Jason Bretzmann -
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