Category Archives: Social Studies

Tarr’s Toolbox

I’ve been a huge fan of Russel Tarr’s ClassTools site for a long time.  I particularly like to use the different graphic organizers he offers and the hexagon generator. (Click here to see how the latter can be used.)  I also follow Russel on Twitter (@RusselTarr).  This weekend, I noticed a neat activity he tweeted about called, “Wheel of Life,” which is an excellent way to analyze characters (both fiction and non-fiction).  When I asked Russel where I could find details, he directed me to Tarr’s Toolbox, a treasure that I am embarrassed to say I hadn’t seen yet.

Tarr’s Toolbox is Russel’s blog, and gives wonderful ideas for how to engage students in history class – though you can certainly use most of them in other subject areas.  At the top of the home page, there is this nice breakdown of different categories under which you can find key posts.

Categories on Tarr's Toolbox
Categories on Tarr’s Toolbox

Reading the posts makes me want to be in Russel’s class (why didn’t I ever have a history teacher like him?).  Failing that, I at least want to aspire to be as creative and engaging as he must be for his students.

I haven’t read it yet, but Russel just published a book called, A History Teaching Toolboxwhich I imagine is probably another dynamic resource that teachers in any department would find useful.

How to Disagree

As we watched the Presidential Debate the other night, I thought a lot about the art of disagreement.  So many people allow emotions to control the argument when much more could be accomplished by having a civilized discussion about the facts.  As I tweeted that night, even my dog was discouraged by the evening’s event.

This Debate is Unseemly

(To be fair, he reacts that way whenever anyone dares to disturb his sleep with raised voices.)

I’m sure that it is no coincidence that Kid President recently released a video giving advice on how to politely disagree. Hopefully, some of the people who would benefit the most from watching this video will actually make the time to view it…

Don’t Gross Out the World

Creator of ClassTools.net, @RusselTarr, tweeted this site the other day.  My 1st graders have been studying countries around the world, and we have recently been discussing foods.  They really enjoyed “Don’t Gross Out the World,” from FunBrain because they thought many of the cultural traditions were unbelievable.  For example, how can it be true that some people think that it’s a compliment to burp loudly after a meal? Or, that asking for catsup could possibly be an insult in some countries?  I learned a few new things myself by playing this game with the class 🙂

Don't Gross Out the World game from FunBrain
Don’t Gross Out the World game from FunBrain

SXSWedu 2016 – Smithsonian Learning Lab

One of the interesting new resources I discovered at SXSWedu this year is the Smithsonian Learning Lab.  This ambitious project spearheaded by The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access aims to give unprecedented access to the massive collections that have been digitized at the Smithsonian’s network of museums and research centers.  You can learn more about the Learning Lab’s intended mission here.

The Learning Lab offers images, recordings, and texts that you can, as a free registered member, curate into your own collections.  You can then annotate and make notes in your collection.  Adding your own files to the collection is another noteworthy feature. Collections can be shared, and teachers can assign collections to students in their rosters (similar to Google Classroom).  Here is a link to how teachers can use the Learning Lab.

Students under 13 need special permission to create collections of their own.  However, an elementary teacher could certainly benefit from using the images and other resources to supplement lessons. In a way, this Learning Lab is another type of virtual field trip, allowing students to see high resolution images of objects that might not even be on display at the museum any longer.

Here is a picture I found to place in my “Inventions” collection.  Any guesses as to the purpose of this object?

Image from Smithsonian Learning Lab: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Image from Smithsonian Learning Lab: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

 

Breakout EDU

My daughter turned 13 last month.  To surprise her, I invited a group of her friends to a place in San Antonio called, “The Panic Room.” The hostess set the scene of the “Museum Heist” up by telling about a museum robbery gone wrong.  The 10 girls were given the mission of finding the most valuable item in the room to save their families from the robber who had taken them hostage.  They had one hour.

The parents were able to watch the group as they worked their way through the clues, all contained in the room.  There were mysterious codes, locked boxes, and secret hiding places.

Did I mention that these were eight 13-year-olds and two 20-something-year-olds?  Oh, and they couldn’t bring their phones in with them.

For the entire hour, these 10 girls ransacked the room, collaborated over clues, celebrated when they cracked codes, and laughed.

In other words, they were engaged in the task the entire time.

“I have got to find a way to use this in my classroom,” I thought.  And then I added it to my mental list of a bazillion engaging ideas that I keep in my Index of Innovation.

Lo and behold, I clicked on a Twitter link yesterday, and found that someone else had the same idea – and they followed it through with resources for educators.

I found the link to Breakout EDU in this article by Nicholas Provenzano called, “Re-Energize Your Classroom in the New Year.”  The post has other fabulous suggestions that you should also consider.  Breakout EDU was new to me, so I followed the link to find out more.

Breakout Edu is open beta right now, which means that the project is still in development, but open to the public to test it out.  The site currently provides six games that are free (with several more to come, it looks like), but you will need to register as a beta tester to receive the password that gives you access to the games along with the clues and answers.  You will need to invest in a Breakout Edu Kit, which includes the basic equipment for any of the challenges.  To do this, you have the option of buying a kit for $99, scraping up your own materials, or individually ordering the pieces you need through the provided Amazon links.

The games that are currently on the site inform you of the target age groups and the ideal group sizes.  Some of the topics are: “The Candy Caper” (3rd-5th grades, ideal groups of 4-6 people), “Decoding the War” (14-adult with groups of 6-12 people), and “The Mad Engineer” (for ages 10-14 with groups of 5-10 people).  There is also information for creating your own Breakout EDU game.

Follow this link for information about a Breakout EDU Game Jam that will be happening this week!

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to try this with my students! Fortunately, I have rather small class sizes.  For teachers with a regular, or larger, class load, you may need to get creative on how to give everyone the opportunity to try to “break out.”  Knowing the audience who reads this blog, I don’t think that will be a problem 😉

image from: Breakout EDU
image from: Breakout EDU

 

Pick the Real U.S. States

My 1st graders are learning a little geography at the moment as they program their Dash robot to hunt for treasure amongst the continents.  As I was looking for some supplemental resources, I ran across this brain-twisting quiz from Mental Floss.  It’s deceptively difficult.  The concept is simple: select all of the states from the list without making a mistake.  I was doing good until I accidentally tapped “North York.”

If you want your students to play this in class, you might want to use the Page Eraser Chrome extension to take care of the distracting ads.  If you play it at home all on your own, I would keep the ads so you can blame them every time you mess up 🙂

Pick the Real US States from Mental Floss
Pick the Real US States from Mental Floss

Population.io

Population.io is a site that shows some interesting statistics about the world’s population in relation to the user.  According to the site authors, “Our hope is that people from all walks of life, in all ages and across all countries will explore a new perspective of their own life and find their own place in the world of today and tomorrow.”

Once you input your birth date, country, and gender, you can learn what percentage of the world is younger than you (far too many, in my case), milestones in your life (such as that I was the 5 billionth person to be alive on April 5, 2012), the number of people who share your birthday, and various other facts that can make you feel very old and very small.

Population.io

This seems like it could be a useful site to make your students more aware of how many humans actually share this not-so-large planet. It’s interesting to see how your life expectancy might change depending on where you live (so far, it looks like I probably should make a move to Spain in the near future), and could bring up deep conversations about the reasons for dramatic differences.

I have to admit that I was a bit disturbed by this offer at the bottom of the page:

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 9.38.44 PM

I’m not really sure I want my iPhone (or its future equivalent) ringing an alarm to alert me of my imminent doom.  But maybe it would be nice to be somewhat prepared…