Our Spinning World

Behold, a quick tip for helping students with geography.

In seventh grade social studies in Ohio, there is a significant amount of curricular energy spent helping students wrap their geographically self-centered minds around foreign lands.  Since a lot of what I did with geography was based on different activities with Google Earth, my students were accustomed to manipulating the controls to pan and zoom into different locations.

Inverted globeI began each lesson, however, with a little trick.  Before class, I zoomed out to a world-view level and gave the globe a slow spin.  It was always a cool effect for when I finally pulled the Google Earth application to the front.  It gave it that national-nightly-news-corner-graphic-kind-of-feel.

Then, before I walked away and let the kids teach themselves, I’d give the “earth” a quick spin.  From a cognitive analysis, there is a lot of thinking that goes on for a student to bring a flying globe to a sudden stop, then to rotate, pan, and zoom to a perspective she or he is familiar with.  I loved watching the Social Studies Synapses firing in their brains or listening to the, “No, that’s the southern tip of the Persian Gulf!” heckles coming from the analyzing 12-year-old audience.

Sure, it’s nothing fancy.  But it is a step over Miss Bliss pulling down the wall maps and having Jessie point to Greece.

Click here to see what students see: Spinning Earth

Textbooks? Oh bother.

If you’re a loyal follower (or my mother), you’ll remember that I spent two years teaching seventh grade social studies.  During that time, I was given a ten-year-old textbook and supplemental materials to pass out to my students.  Not exactly knowing how the year was going to unfold, I mistakenly passed the books out to the students.  At the end of the year, I collected them – unused all year long.

They were old, boring, and full of boring stuff like…words.  <Insert snoring sounds here>  Seventh grade social studies in Ohio is all about world history.  The kids didn’t want to read words about them.  They wanted experiences.  Anyhow.

For Christmas, my parents gave me a copy of Time magazine’s “100 Events that Changed the World.” If you’re in a position where you’re charged with getting 21st century minds to wrap around ancient world history, PICK UP A COPY!  This paperback, glossy-covered, 122-page Time magazine on steroids is more than enough to guide learning  for all ancient civilizations.  It starts with “Man’s Prehistoric Breakthroughs”, moves through Minoans and Greeks, hits the Roman Empire, discusses The Renaissance and gets its Enlightenment on!  And that’s all before the “Modern Times” section!

So much of world history isn’t “What they did,” as much as it is “What they influenced.”  This magazine demonstrates outstanding segues from one civilization to another, touching on why it came to be and what we got from it.  Your lesson plans are done (kind of)!

We each have our own teaching styles.  We each balance printed and digital resources with our mind’s knowledge and past experiences.  If your repertoire is lacking some of the former, I’d at least check out a copy of this valuable tool.

No Pronoun Days

As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes we have to spice up our delivery of…well…boring content.  Although the historian jury is still out on the accuracy of what we teach about feudalism, my good friends in Columbus still tell me to teach it and threaten that it may appear on an 8th grade social studies achievement test (should the test ever resurface).  So I teach feudalism.



Feudalism is based on relationships between different groups of people.  So we spend calorie after calorieprocessing these relationships and dissecting the roles of kings, lords, vassals, and peasants.  The students are able to convert the first image on the IWB to the second through oral and written explanations.  By the end, they master it.

Feudalism Explained.mov

Students' Work After

Before we reach that point, however, I find my highest students getting bored with the repetition and are no longer getting anything out of the slightly-varied explanations.  And thus was born, No Pronoun Day.

Need a blast-from-the-past pronoun review?

The idea is really quite simple.  Instead of my students demonstrating their mastery with, “He gives him some land.  Then he hires him to protect the castle from him.  But he doesn’t do this for free so he…,” I watch as even my highest students methodically and meticulously draw arrows and explain, “The king gives the lord some land.  Then the lord hires the vassal to protect the castle from the vikings. But the knight doesn’t do this for free so the lord…”  See the difference?  But that only authentically engages one of the 31 students.  So I added this kink: when the explainer slips up and uses a pronoun, the audience has permission to rudely yell, “Who’s [pronoun]?!”  It looks something like this:

High student brags to table about how easy this challenge will be – gets called on and goes to IWB.

High student: Here’s how feudalism works.  The king owns lots of land and marries the queen.  The king gives some of the land to the king’s friend, a lord.  The lord needs help protecting his cas…

Class: WHO’S HIS?!

High student is frustrated (the good kind) and asks for a second attempt.

High student: Again, feudalism works like this.  The king owns a whole bunch land and marries the queen.  The king has a friend, a lord, and the king gives some of the king’s land to the lord.  The lord needs help protecting the lord’s castle from the vikings because they ar….

Class: WHO’S THEY?!

High student sits down, flustered (again, the good kind) and low student who has been actively watching/listening goes to the IWB.

Low student: Here’s feudalism.  The king has a bunch of land…”

Low student explains feudalism perfectly and “gets past” the high student’s point in our feudalism narrative.  Self-esteem is raised, objectives are met.

Wash, rinse, repeat.