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Social Studies in the 21st century

| November 30, 2015

Facebook, Snapchat, and Match.com do not usually what come to mind when someone mentions a social studies lesson. But in Kathryn Peterson’s 8th grade class, they are the norm. In fact, Peterson says technology has become an integral part of her lesson planning, so much that she rarely uses textbooks.

“The kids have the world at their fingertips and I can take them anywhere with the internet in the classroom,” she says. “I serve as the facilitator, leading them down the path, and the kids experience things first hand.”

An example of an 8th grade social studies lesson using Facebook.

An example of an 8th grade social studies lesson using Facebook.

For example, Peterson uses the popular social media tool Facebook as a way to incorporate technology into her lesson on the progressive era. Students create a Facebook profile based on information they are learning about Theodore Roosevelt, as well as a Match.com profile. Peterson says students take the basic framework of the technology, insert information, and begin to learn about historical figures through means that are relevant to them. Peterson also uses the smartphone app Snapchat to help reach her students in an innovative way. While studying the 1920s and scandals associated with presidencies, students receive an informational chart about specific events. They then must read, interpret, and “send” a snapchat, essentially summarizing the key points associated with that topic.

“I put a lot into the lessons to try and make them interesting. I want to make social studies a class that they like coming to and enjoy.”

Boght Hills third grade students use Zaption to accompany a lesson on the economy.

Boght Hills third grade students use Zaption to accompany a lesson on the economy.

Similar engaging technological practices are going on throughout the North Colonie district in all grade levels. Third grade Boght Hills Elementary teacher, Jennifer Conroy, uses Zaption, an interactive video tool to help enhance her instruction on the economy. The program allows Conroy to choose a five to seven minute video clip on a specific topic, and insert her own open-ended or multiple choice questions throughout. Conroy says it allows students to become in charge of their learning at their own pace, and as a result, become more engaged.

“There are a lot of resources out there, especially for this age, to bring abstract, more complex topics down to their level. I present the lesson to them, but this is another medium for students to explore the topic and get a different perspective.”

“These kids are digital natives,” added sixth grade Loudonville teacher, Sarah Kalinkewicz. “They’re born with these devices in their hands. We’re tailoring our lessons to what they’re comfortable with and what they know.”

Kalinkewicz cites an example of her students writing an essay using a chrome book versus loose leaf paper.

“When my student see a full page typed, they feel so accomplished. When I post an assignment on google classroom, I get ten sentences versus the three or four sentences I would receive on paper. It’s wonderful.”

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