Trivial Pursuits?

For the past month, my students and I have been in some heated Trivia Crack competitions.  On numerous occasions, they’ve told me how much the stuff we talk about in Social Studies class comes up in the game and it got me thinking…

How much of the content I teach is trivial?  Does it have value and relevance to the futures of my students?

Have you ever felt this way?  Covering our state standards or Common Core can often become our main focus…and the passion and beauty of history get lost in our pursuit of minutiae.  Trivia.  That word has become a source of pride on game nights with friends, watching Jeopardy with family…and is often mistaken for intelligence.  What are we teaching our students?  Why are we teaching them about the Battle of Hastings, the capitals of Asian countries, the definition of GDP?

Don’t get me wrong; I’d argue that knowing each of those things mentioned above can be worthwhile and history teachers have an obligation to explain the value of the subject matter, but there are things worth more.  The people we hope our students will become typically doesn’t address any of those things.  Developing cultural intelligence doesn’t require you to memorize the capital of Mongolia….  Do our classrooms reflect that?

Leave the Googleable (Is that a word?) facts in the past and lets dig into skill development that will assist our students in becoming productive citizens of the globalized world.

 

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Do you DBQ? (Middle School Edition)

DBQ’s…besides being a super cool acronym (Peace Corps forced me to love acronyms otherwise you can’t follow a conversation…), Document Based Questions are one of my favorite things to use in the classroom.

Background Information:  I was an AP World History teacher that recently took a job teaching 7th grade Social Studies in my hometown.  WOW!  Going from AP to grade 7 S.S. has been a culture shock, but it’s also allowed me to set high expectations for my middle schoolers in hopes that one day they’ll have the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills to perform at the AP level.  You’re probably thinking that not every student is an Advanced Placement student, and you’re right.  My high-ability license helps me identify and target gifted students, but I’ve found that ALL students have a gift.  DBQ’s have allowed me to discover some of these gifts, and ALL students can excel at a DBQ-type activity if it’s presented in the correct way.

Using DBQ’s:  Social Studies literacy is very important to me.  I believe all Social Studies teachers are also reading and writing teachers…but at the same time, 7th grade students are not the target audience of many primary source documents or inquiry-based lesson plans.  [This is changing thanks to some amazing teachers dedicating themselves to middle school students!]  Many lessons from SHEG for instance are meant for higher reading levels.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE SHEG!  But the readings are too advanced for most of my students.

As a result, I’ve found ways to engage my students in DBQ activities and empower them to construct content knowledge in their own ways.

  1. QR CODES ARE AWESOME!
  2. CIRCUITS/STATIONS
  3. CLOSE READING/ANNOTATING
    1. Reading Like a Historian
  4. Interdisciplinary Adventure
    1. Social Studies
    2. Science
    3. Language Arts
    4. Math

If you don’t DBQ, I hope you’ll consider giving this challenge a chance!

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