In my second year of teaching seventh grade social studies, I frequently find notes in last year’s lesson plans to correct a mistake on a worksheet or how to teach something better this year. As I was getting ready for “the second stretch of the year,” I came across a very important Note-To-Self from last year.
On my SMARTBoard, I typically use GoogleEarth to show locations of the places we’re studying (The benefits of using it over a wall set of maps are reserved for another entry.). On this particular day, I think I was showing them some of the significant locations from the Persian War, particularly, one of the “escape routes” that was used. I “flew” over an area just west of Athens, Greece. Suddenly, the following conversation broke out:
Student A: “Whoa! What’s that?!”
Me: “What’s what?”
Student A: “Those things in the water.”
Me: “You mean these? Those are ships at the docks on the harbor.”
Student B: “Well what are those lines?!”
Me: “All of the roads between the harbor and the city.”
Student C: “But they didn’t have cars back then.”
Me: “Correct, remember, GoogleEarth is a modern-day picture of locations.”
Student C: “YOU MEAN GREECE IS A REAL PLACE?!”
And there was my Ah-Ha Moment. I had forgotten to tell my students anything about Athens, or Greece, or Egypt or India all being real locations with real people doing real things. I’m sure there is some big adolescent psychology lesson here about ego-centricism and metacognition, but the bottom line is this: my lessons on ancient civilizations were so abstract to my students, that they weren’t studying them as old versions of modern places. Instead, they were memorizing facts about foreign (if not fairytale) lands.
It was a good wakeup call for me, reminding me to teach students from their perspective, not mine. In future years, I hope to incorporate Skype and benefit from the Skype in Schools community to help my students connect to real, modern-day students in the locations we’re studying. Fingers crossed…