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Middle School Social Studies News: June 2013

Middle School Social Studies
We’re making a final push in social studies with a video project called Democracy and the NRA.  It’s a hefty task for the end of the year but I’m optimistic we can pull it off.  The idea is for each student to contribute to one part of the film, using facts, images and his/her voice.  The point is not to make a statement about guns or gun owners, rather the corruption and hypocrisy of our democratic system when shaped by special interest groups like the NRA.  Look for a link to the film sometime before (or even after) school gets out.

Middle School Social Studies News: May 2013

To wrap up our unit on Guatemala, students participated in a very intriguing debate, analyzing the United States’ decision to overthrow Jacobo Arbenz in 1954.  Some dressed like landless Mayan peasants, United Fruit executives, American citizens, CIA operatives and Arbenz himself.  We even had a student dress like a banana in first hour.
We are currently transitioning between units focusing on the role of government.  Students already analyzed the decisions in Guatemala; soon they will begin theorizing what a responsible government should do and whether or not our current government is meeting citizens’ expectations.  We will look at various types of governments, the uniqueness of the American democracy, and finally how special interests play a part in the decision-making process.  This is a completely new unit for me, but one that seems very relevant.

Middle School Social Studies News: April 2013

Our current unit on Guatemala is as much about psychology as it is about history and culture.  I am interested in seeing how students respond to limited information.  My intention is for them to begin to understand that historical – and current – events are often multifaceted and that it’s essential that we, as good citizens, seek out information from a variety of sources in order to understand the event.  To do so, I presented them with a very biased slideshow explaining the United States’ involvement in a coup in Guatemala in 1954.  They had to respond by writing a persuasive essay explaining whether or not they felt the overthrow was justified.  Then they were presented with the other side of the story and had to an opportunity to adjust their opinions.  In addition to getting them thinking about biases, they were required to support their arguments with evidence.  These activities will lead to a debate in the middle of the month – one in which students will take on a role and argue from that perspective.  Look for the essays and videos of the debates at the Curriculum Celebration.

Middle School Social Studies News: March 2013

We have been navigating through the story of the Spanish conquering the Aztec Empire in Social Studies.  The whole process has required a lot of historical work: students have been interpreting primary and secondary sources, analyzing authors’ perspectives, and questioning major Spanish and Aztec leaders’ decisions.  The amount of depth that we cover in this unit is very reflective of my teaching philosophy.  Teaching deep and meaningful lessons allows students to understand key historical figures, decisions, and outcomes, makes the material more engaging, and gives them the knowledge necessary to apply that information to other places and times.
When this unit is over, we will continue covering the Central America region in depth, though we will fast forward to Guatemala in the 20th century.  We will learn how outside forces directed an overthrow of their democratically-elected president, Jacobo Arbenz.

Middle School Social Studies News: February 2013

During this unit we will be journeying side-by-side with Hernan Cortez and other Spanish conquistadors as they approached the Aztec Empire in the early part of the sixteenth century.  The whole unit is designed in an “If you were there…” format where students share what they would have done in particular scenarios, either as Cortes, Montezuma or other major players.  This type of involvement – asking students to put themselves in the position of historical figures – has worked exceptionally well in the past.  It forces them to think and keeps their engagement.  Hindsight is easy, however, and we’re sure not to judge too heavily, at least without as much information as possible.

Throughout the unit students will be analyzing primary and secondary sources, maps, and military strategies.

Middle School Social Studies News: January 2013

In Social Studies, we’re wrapping up our unit on the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs.  Students are working diligently on getting their projects done in time for Curriculum Celebration.  Many will actually be sharing their projects with the community via interactive presentations.  Look for a flyer to come out within the next week.  Please feel free to sit in on one or more of the presentations, even if you don’t have a student in the middle school.  After this unit at about the time of the semester’s end, we’ll do some cleansing of classroom and binder folders and start fresh with a new unit on the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs.  I’ve set it up as sort of a choose-your-own-adventure.  Students will have to theorize on the decisions of the major players when faced with some challenging options.  For example, how does Moctezuma II keep an impending Spanish force from entering his city without an all-out war?  Or should he have started an all-out war before the Spanish arrived?  It’s a fascinating history, one that I really enjoy teaching.

Middle School Social Studies: December 2012

In Social Studies students have been working in “centers” in order to learn about the Mayan civilization.  In general, the classroom is set up with articles, websites and videos for them to view.  They then float around the classroom, reading, watching or researching, as well as utilizing their note-taking skills.  They also have the freedom to stay at each center for as long as they like and to use whichever note-taking style they prefer.  This has worked brilliantly thus far.  My role has been to organize the centers, continue to find them informational and interesting resources, and guide them along as they start planning their project.  We take breaks to learn about various concepts, like Mayan math, play games, like the deadly Mayan ballgame, and watch videos that cover the ancient Mayan writing.
We’re going to pick up with the same approach throughout December, except that we’ll be covering the Incas and Aztecs.

Look for interactive student presentations on these three civilizations at the Curriculum Celebration in January.

Middle School Social Studies News: November 2012

In Social Studies, students have just completed the first unit called Early History of Humans, which culminated with an Agricultural Revolution News Show. Each student chose a role – anchor, weatherperson, interviewer, etc. – wrote a script, rehearsed and recorded their segment. Look for each class’s news show at the Curriculum Celebration in January. Our current unit is on the Incas, Aztecs and  Mayans. The focus of this unit, beyond understanding each civilization’s history, laws, scientific advancements, and hierarchical system, will be on geography and taking notes in a number of different formats. Students will be asked to use their notes in order to put on a very hands-on presentation at the Curriculum Celebration. The presentations will be choice-based and will cover one facet of the three civilizations.

Middle School Social Studies News: October 2012

In Social Studies, students have been studying the early history of humans – how and why they evolved, their migration out of Africa, and how they survived in various environments. We started the year off with a Jeopardy preassessment activity in class, which allowed kids to demonstrate their knowledge in teams. They took a test over that material, which has laid the foundation for what we  will cover in greater depth this first unit. In the next couple of weeks, we will spend some time on the Agricultural Revolution, learn about the  development of towns, cities, kingdoms and empires, and eventually ask the question, “What is progress?” This unit will lead nicely into the next, when we cover some of the first civilizations of North and South America: the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs. Look for student presentations about those empires at the Curriculum Celebration in January.

Middle School Teacher Joe Griffith Receives Education Excellence Award

Joe Griffith, Honey Creek’s middle school Social Studies instructor, has been recognized for his work on Homelessness and Microeconomics with an Education Excellence Award, given by the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) and SET SEG School Insurance Specialists. The Education Excellence Award recognizes original, innovative programs that positively affect student achievement. Homelessness and Microeconomics aims to raise awareness, challenge students’ views on society, alleviate stereotypes and provide an opportunity for students to participate in activities that help to better the community.

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