Yesterday, we attempted something new in class and it worked so well I wanted to share. I should start by saying that usually, for social studies, we have our fifth graders working on projects. We have textbooks but primarily use them as reference books. There are two exceptions - chapter 14 and chapter 15.
There are two reasons for this. One is that, by the time we get to these units (government and Westward Expansion of the United States), we are usually way behind the other fifth grade classes. The other reason is that the background information given in the textbook is really laid out very nicely.
This year, we scrapped the government chapter for a PBL unit that took four weeks. Ordinarily, this chapter takes one week to cover. The projects were phenomenal, the children learned a great deal about the Constitution (even recognizing parts of it in President Obama's speech), and the students were quite engaged in social studies. You can see the projects here.
So here we are in January and now we are even further behind than normal. So, before starting our big pioneer simulation (check out Interact for some great simulation projects), we need to give the students the background information in chapter 15. And we need to do it relatively quickly. So I spend some time creating a SmartBoard presentation that will at least give the students more visuals than the textbook and we plan to pull out the textbooks.
Christine (my co-teacher) and I speak everyday on the phone while commuting to school. We use this time to celebrate successes, gripe about failures, plan and revamp lessons. Yesterday morning we talked about how boring the social studies unit was going to be. And we discussed our CoverItLive session we held during the Inauguration. The children were engaged, excited, and learning the whole day. Why couldn't we do that during social studies?
So we created and embedded a quick CoverItLive session on our website, chose three students who did a great job conversing during the inauguration and three more students who weren't bad. We sat them in the back of the room with computers and told them to log on. We instructed the three who were experts to pair up with the other three and teach them how to have a conversation in a chat room. Christine sat in back with them moderating the chat room. I stood in front and ran a teacher directed lesson right out of the text book with the rest of the class.
What happened was amazing. The six students who were blogging were extremely focused on the lesson because they were instructed to capture all the information for our site. The other 16 students were engaged in our discussion because it was a smaller, more intimate group. And they were motivated to be chosen to blog on the second day. The conversation that came out of the blog clearly shows a skill in recapping a lesson and will be useful for any students who missed the lesson or need reinforcement. You can see the conversation here. Scroll to the bottom of the page to find it.
Each time we use technology in a new way, I get excited once again. We have decided that we will use chapter 15 to teach the students how to properly and intelligently use CoverItLive. After that, we can offer computers to students during all our lessons. Some will love to have that "voice" and others, I am sure, will pass, preferring instead the live interaction between teacher and student. Either way, we have introduced one more way students can be successful in class. It was a good day.