The iCivics website is an incredible free resource that I have blogged about in the past. Recently, the site added a downloadable, printable resource called, “My County Works,” for elementary students that gives an overview of the way county governments work here in the United States. There are other links to lesson plans and activities for middle and high school on the “Teach Local” page of iCivics. My 3rd graders, who have been studying Systems Thinking, enjoyed playing the “Counties Work” app, which allows the user to be in charge of a fictional county and make decisions about the appropriate ways to spend the budget. The students had to learn which departments would be assigned particular projects, how spending money and charging taxes would affect their popularity (since they were in an elected office), and the importance of keeping a balanced budget. Although the game is, of course, a bit simplistic, it does give students an idea of many factors that need to be taken into consideration by officials before approving citizen requests.
One of the sessions I attended at TCEA 2018 was presented by a group from Richardson ISD. #4CoresonFire focused on some cross-curricular activities using tools that I’ve used before. However, I got some great integration ideas I hadn’t thought of – which makes the session a success in my book.
One of the teachers described how she had used StoryCorps and Newsela to start a unit about the Civil War. (Here are my previous posts on StoryCorps and Newsela.) I starred my notes wildly as she spoke; this is my secret code for, “USE THIS AS SOON AS YOU GET BACK TO SCHOOL!” My 5th graders were about to read the chapter in The Giver that describes Jonas’ first introduction to the concept of war, and I knew these would be great connections.
In the lesson described at TCEA, the teachers posed the question, “When do the costs of war outweigh the benefits?” Their students discussed this, and then watched, “The Nature of War” on StoryCorps. After a post-video discussion, the students read an article about the Civil War in Newsela (you do need to register for free to read the articles). Then they launched into a study of the Civil War in their history class.
I tweaked the lesson to use with The Giver. I used Pear Deck to give an interactive, student-paced lesson. Here is the link. If you want to use the presentation as intended, you will need to register for Pear Deck. You can find out more about Pear Deck, as well as a link to get a premium code that lasts the rest of this school year, here. Also, the StoryCorps video link is embedded. Do to our district filters, students had to log in to YouTube on a separate tab before they were able to watch the video on their own devices.
I chose to use an article from Newsela about, “Just War Theory.” Student responses at the end of the presentation varied widely from their initial ideas about whether or not war is ever justified. Many of them agreed with the quote I posted at the end about war being banished from the earth – until I brought up The Giver. There is no war anymore in this dystopian world, but there is also no freedom.
Is it possible to banish war without giving up most of our freedom?
That was a discussion that definitely engaged the class!
Did you know that the New York Times has an archive of student crosswords listed by subjects on this page? From American History to Technology, you can find puzzles created by Frank Longo as well as the answers and suggested curriculum links. I found this link when I discovered this page that provides a printable crossword puzzle on how people say thank you around the world. A couple of other timely suggestions are, “Thanksgiving,” “Giving,” and “Holidays Around the World.” These seem to be targeted at the teenage age range, though some upper elementary and middle school students can probably work on them in groups, given the proper resources.
Leslie Fisher (@LeslieFisher) tweeted out this link to Weekly Map yesterday. The concept is similar to the “What’s Going on in this Graph?” feature that appears in the New York Times the second Tuesday of every month – except, of course, that this a weekly challenge. Each Monday brings a new map, and a hint is given each weekday including Friday. A link is also provided on Friday to the answer.
So far, the site has archived 65 Weekly Maps, and they are labeled with difficulty ratings. This is a great way for students to practice deductive reasoning and geography skills, as well as vocabulary. (I had no idea what a choropleth map was until I looked at this site.) The “Lessons” part of the site is under construction, so maybe if we give them lots of love that will happen faster!
The Global Digital Citizen Foundation has a page of resources on its website that includes the free Critical Thinking Cheatsheet. The downloadable PDF has excellent question stems that students can use when trying to analyze a topic more effectively. You can see a sampling of the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions stems in the image below.
You will need to register on the site before you can receive your download. However, there are several other free resources that you can also access once you login, so it is well worth taking 30 seconds to sign up.
I plan to give this sheet to all of my students so they can use it to understand current events better. A great site this could be “smashed” with is Newsela.
In July, I posted about a website, Empatico, which endeavors to match classrooms around the world. The site is now offering free registration for teachers of 8-10 year olds who would like to participate. There are four “Spark” activities to choose from. Empatico provides the lesson plan and downloadable resources for each one. When you register, you select the activities that seem a good fit for your class, as well as the days of the week and times that will work for a live internet chat with another group of students working on the same project. Empatico will e-mail you once the organization finds another classroom with similar interests so that you can then arrange a specific day and time for the students to virtually meet.
To register, visit Empatico, and click on any of the hyperlinks that offer, “Get matched with a class.” It is recommended that you choose more than one activity in order to get matched more quickly. Although this project is just beginning, it has a lot potential for helping students to see other perspectives and develop empathy. According to the site, “As students learn together, they explore their similarities and differences with curiosity and kindness and develop practical communication and leadership skills.” Programs like this can promote more understanding around the world, something that seems to be urgently needed in today’s society.
“What’s Going on in this Graph?” is a new feature from the New York Times that will appear on the second Tuesday monthly for the rest of this school year. Building on the success of a long-running similar activity, “WGOITPicture,” this version posts a graphic that has appeared recently in the NYT, with much of the information removed. Students are encouraged to analyze the image by thinking about these three questions:
- What do you notice?
- What do you wonder?
- What’s going on in this graph?
There is a comment section where students over 13 years old, (or teachers) may post their observations, questions, and extrapolations. A moderator from the American Statistical Association gives online feedback on the day the graphic is posted, and then the actual details are revealed at the end of the week.
The first “What’s Going on in this Graph?” was posted yesterday. According to the caption, it has some connection to Hurricane Harvey – but what, exactly? That is for your students to try to discern. From the comments I have read so far, there are some extremely perceptive students attempting to decipher the graph’s meaning; it will be fun to see the answer on Friday!