I was thinking ahead to the first days of school, brainstorming new ways to learn about my students and introduce them to the middle school Social Studies ideas we would be exploring this upcoming year. In the past, I’ve had students play various ice-breaker games, but I am not a big fan of them – they feel forced and disingenuous. Sometimes we’ve engaged in activities, such as creating medieval heraldic crests describing our families. Activities can be tricky since there can be a certain amount of pre-learning that needs to occur before getting started.
Today I came up with an activity that is authentic and is, by its nature, addresses pre-learning. Here is a link to the presentation.
Here’s how it works:
I will introduce how our course will work this year. I will explain that generally we will look at a civilization and explore it through various lenses: geography, organization, rules/norms, economy/trade, challenges, and innovations. These loosely reflect the AERO standards that the course is aligned with (Geography, Culture, Government, Production, Distribution and Consumption, Science, Technology and Society, etc.).
Next, I will transition to the idea of how we will begin the school year and the importance of establishing relationships and getting to know one another. Rather than telling students why these steps are important, I will achieve this objective via a whole-group discussion. I will use a discussion in order to ensure that the importance of these concepts, of community building and introductions, are developed, shared, and internalized by the students.
Then, I will bring the course overview and the personal introductory concepts together. Students will be challenged to create a Google Slides presentation about themselves, following the general format I use to share new civilizations with them. Students will, like Ancient Egypt or Medieval Japan, reveal themselves according to the lenses of geography, organization, rules/norms, economy/trade, challenges, and innovations. These lenses do not intuitively align with the lives/experiences of students. What is the geography of a student? What innovations have students created? To ensure students fully understand the expected outcomes, we will discuss the lenses and how they might intersect with our lives. This can be achieved through a whole-group discussion, or through smaller group conversations where students are divided according to a particular lens.
The lens discussion will culminate with a live demonstration by myself. I will present a Google Slides presentation about myself. It will be incomplete – I will leave one section unfinished. I will model the creation/development of that particular section. This modelling is important in terms of showing students how one might struggle, brainstorm solutions, and ultimately overcome challenges to fulfil expectations. The completed teacher presentation will also serve to show students an exemplar, ensuring all students fully understand the activity.
During my modelling session, it is essential that I take the time to show students my name and how it is pronounced. I will also clarify how to address me during class. This is an important step in ensuring all students are understood and appreciated as well as important for avoiding any cringe-worthy moments later in the year. Students will be reminded to include this step in their own presentations.
Following my demonstration/presentation, students will be provided time to work on their presentation. While they work, I will move around and check in with each student to ensure they understand the task and address any concerns or questions.
Once the presentations are complete, students will present their work and provide all of us with a better understanding of who they are.
This activity will also provide students with an understanding of how our upcoming Social Studies course will be constructed. It will also show students a little about how civilizations (and individuals) are complex and multifaceted entities. Understanding and appreciation of complex systems requires social scientists to approach them in a variety of ways – avoiding snap judgements based on incomplete data. The hope is, through activities like this one, that students will develop this discipline as they progress through school and carry it with them through their lives.
I can’t wait to meet my new students – my new partners in exploring the planet we live on and the achievements of our ancestors.