Sunday, July 8, 2012

10 Top Ideas for Social Studies from the Kids #Summerblog12

#5 in the Summer 2012 Blogging Challenge, #Summerblog12

In a previous post, I mentioned that I would be teaching sixth grade social studies next year. Because we are in the midst of writing district social studies curriculum and there was little guidance in the past, the choice of topics is wide open. Of course, I expect to use the History and Social Sciences GEs (Grade Expectations): Grades 5 – 6, but there is far too much in this to do well in two years, let alone one year. The GEs are created in the style of thematic and understanding/doing standards. There is almost nothing in the GEs that suggests what specific topics should be taught, only specific social studies skills, processes, and connections. I like that style of standards much more than the Massachusetts standards that are only about content. As much as I might like the Vermont GEs, they don't tell me what to teach (or do they? More on this in the near future.)

Since I was encouraged by the fifth grade social studies and 5/6 Language Arts teacher to take a fresh look at what we teach (as long as she has time to gather literature to connect with the social studies), I am taking that fresh look. Since I have been preaching the merits of letting students have choices as a form of autonomy (see my post about Drive), I realized that I better put my money where my mouth is. I decided to go to the kids to see what they want to study in sixth grade.

A few days before the end of the school year, I went to speak with the fifth grade (remember at my small school that the fifth grade is a single class) about their sixth grade social studies curriculum. I asked them a simple question, designed to get a simple response. After a moment to think about what interested them, here are the answers I got with my comments in parentheses:

  • Rome (been part of sixth grade recently)

  • Middle Ages (been part of sixth grade recently)

  • Dark Ages (been part of sixth grade recently)

  • Native Americans (covered somewhat in fourth and fifth grades)

  • Greek mythology (been part of sixth grade recently)

  • The Pilgrims (covered in fifth grade)

  • African Americans (hmmm... Could be interesting)

  • 1980's (I resisted the urge to suspend the kid who thinks my childhood is as historical as the Dark Ages)

  • WWI

  • WWII (Wars are always neat to study)

Well, only some of what the kids mentioned is stuff that I like to teach (does that even matter?). How did the kids' interests line up with the old Wolcott Elementary School 6th Grade Social Studies Map? Hmmm...

What to teach? I needed to take a look at what the map called for and what the retiring teacher had been teaching. Stay tuned for more.