Before I get into how edtech enhances social studies lessons, let’s ask a foundational question: What the heck is Social Studies? If you don’t teach in the United States, this might be a term you aren’t familiar with. According to Wikipedia:
“In the United States education system, social studies is the integrated study of multiple fields of social science and the humanities, including history, geography, and political science.”
Merriam Webster offers this definition:
“…the study of social relationships and the functioning of society, usually made up of courses in history, government, economics, civics, sociology, geography, and anthropology”
At primary levels, this includes history, science, and language arts. In MS and HS, it expands to cover science, mathematics, civics, economics, and maybe geography. According to Brookings, roughly nine percent of educators consider themselves social studies teachers. None arrived with a major in social studies though some did have a “Social Studies Teacher Education” degree. About 40 percent majored in history, political science, economics, or sociology with the rest in varied other degrees.
The goal of social studies is to promote civic competence — the knowledge required to be active and engaged participants in public life and the community. In the past decade, technology has become the disruptive tool of choice among teachers to make what traditionally is a droll collection of subjects energizing and inspiring.
Here are five ways edtech can kick up your social studies program:
In my high school teacher forums, as part of the discussion on preparing kids for college and career, we talk a lot about the huge shortfall in applicants for a growing list of tech jobs. Despite robust pay, excellent work conditions, and the value they place on creativity, jobs sit open. How do we get kids excited about careers that traditionally sound boring and math-oriented? Websites like Code.org have a great approach to making coding accessible to all kids but still, too few students think they are smart enough to do these jobs.
Time to reveal a secret I learned over the years. When I let students play Minecraft, Scratch, or a handful of other top-notch games, they eagerly — even happily — complete the programming and coding parts without ever considering it “math” or “smart”. I’ve seen them spend hours building a virtual world exactly the way they want it without getting bored or distracted.
By High School, the choice between college and career is foremost with life-changing consequences based on what the student decides. Often the choice depends upon the student’s goals. This topic could fill volumes but today, I want to focus on the job of building apps. App Developer is listed as number three on ThinkAdvisor’s list of the best jobs of the future, with a projected growth of 57% through 2020 (according to the BLS). There aren’t a lot of jobs where people can make money doing what they love.
Aside from future jobs, there are great reasons why even kids who want to become doctors or lawyers (or farmers) would benefit from learning the lesson of app building:
- Apps teach real-world skills like design, marketing, video production, project management, presentation skills, and special media use.
- The app building process requires creativity, innovation, critical thinking, and problem-solving — all fundamental to success in lots of jobs.
- Good app developers are collaborators, willing to work with others to ensure the app is accomplished on time and according to specs.
- Good app developers are decision makers, not afraid to be risk-takers in building something no one has done before.
As I dug into the background of “app building” to prepare this article, I found that it doesn’t just refer to the little buttons you click to see about today’s weather or add numbers or find your friends (well, find their phones). App developers are the first ones who try out the latest trendy devices. Wouldn’t you love to experiment with 5G on your smartphone or play with Samsung’s foldable phone? Or how about wearable devices like the embedded chips intended to replace employee cards? An app developer used all of these before they ever went on sale. App developers can work for software companies, retailers, in healthcare, in the travel industry, for the entertainment industry, or in financial services. CNN Money has called “app developer” the best job in America.
Once you’ve explained to students what it really means to be on the cutting edge of the high-tech world, let them try one (or more) of these six great app creation tools:
- App Inventor (from MIT)
- Code HS (an app building curriculum)
- Glide (how to create apps from spreadsheets)
- MAD-learn (a beginning to end app development program for K-12)
- Thunkable (a curriculum)
- TinyTap (geared for teachers but fine for the right student group)
Technology is a natural education fit in everything from math to Spanish to literacy. The one corner of K-12 learning that is not so obvious is PE — Physical Education. In that class, we think of physical stuff — not digital — like running and exercising.
But kids love technology’s apps and software. Is there a way to use these to encourage physical fitness? After all, the tie-in between physical conditioning and learning is well-accepted. Here’s what the NY Times reports:
Better fitness proved to be linked to significantly higher achievement scores — a 2013 study reported in PubMed.org.
But, how can teachers use the technology students love to encourage physical education? Here are my favorite websites and apps:
This is a stunningly visual app that takes students right into the human body via virtual reality. Viewers travel down the gastrointestinal tract, the small intestine, the circulatory system, and three other systems. With 360-degree navigation, it is fully interactive, including even tags for important parts. Students can stop and observe while exploring the hotspots. Watch this video—you really won’t believe it.
This is not a topic I’ve thought much about. I have a nice collection of driver’s ed websites and videos for high school students so really should have considered this essential skill. Thanks to Jane Sandwood, Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, for coming up with this article.
U.S. adults consistently perform worse in digital problem solving compared to their counterparts in other nations, according to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics. This nature of affairs is possibly, in part, due to the limited emphasis on teaching problem-solving skills in school. Our lives are inextricably intertwined with cars, and at some point, our kids have to be introduced to concepts of operating and maintaining them. Not all children will grow up to become mechanics, but most of them will likely need to drive a car. Teaching them basic concepts about car maintenance will not only help satisfy their curiosity, but can also help them in the future when they are encountering problems with their cars. Tech tools have simplified the process of diagnosing car problems to the extent that children can be taught this essential aspect of car maintenance.
Start With The Basics
Because car maintenance is not on the curricula for most schools, a car diagnostics project can best be handled as homework, after-school program, or as part of evening/weekend classes. The goal is to help them to improve their problem-solving skills. Before using technology tools to diagnose car problems, it is only fair to teach the child how the different parts of the car work. A demonstration of the location of the engine, battery, breaks, gearbox, and other essential car parts may be a good way to get things started. Then you can explain how the different car parts work together and throw in a lesson on basic car maintenance. This can include demonstrations on how to change car tires and how to replace car fluids like engine oil, radiator coolant, windscreen solutions, and brake fluid.
General Car Diagnostics
The child can now be introduced to the principles of identifying the cause of car problems. To help the child to remember the concepts, it might be useful to state generalized formulas for possible causes for common car problems. For example, you may explain that a car failing to start may indicate a problem with the battery, spark plugs, or the car fuel system. A burning rubber smell may signal a problem with the brakes, oil leak, or an electrical fault. Then, depending on the child’s age and cognitive abilities, you may delve deeper into the peculiar characteristics of each problem.
Next week, February 17-23, 2019, is DiscoverE’s Engineers Week. Their tagline:
“A week-long event, a year-long commitment”
Do you wonder why anyone would be passionate about engineering? Forbes published three good reasons:
- The U.S. has approximately 1.6 million engineering jobs that pay $42 per hour in median.
- Job growth from 2010 to 2014 was in the double digits in several engineering occupations.
- Since 2007, the number of engineering grads nationwide has shot up 33%.
What is Engineers Week?
For those not familiar with DiscoverE, sponsors of Engineers Week, they are a volunteer-driven online coalition of over one-hundred organizations committed to promoting engineering to the K-16 community. This includes the provision of resources, programs, in-person presentations, classroom assistance, training, activities, videos, books, technology programs, and more. The purpose of Engineers Week is as much to celebrate engineers as to increase public dialogue, in that way bringing them to life for kids, educators, and parents. With the national call for STEM resources and the popularity of programs such as Hour of Code, the talented professionals of DiscoverE are more in-demand than ever.
“93% of DiscoverE educators think an engineer’s presence helps STEM students.”
No one who even glances at the news can deny the importance of cybersecurity experts. I know first-hand the dearth of qualified people available to fill these critical positions. If you’re a high school teacher trying to prepare students for a career in this field, Sam Bocetta, a retired cybersecurity analyst currently reporting on trends in cryptography and cybercrime, has some suggestions:
Creating cybersecurity programs for K-12 students is something schools and educations around the world are preparing for due to the rapidly increasing number of career paths in the field.
However, lots of them feel it’s hard to make such a complicated subject understandable at the K-12 level. Luckily there are technology & resources that are helping educations with the task of teaching cybersecurity to K-12 students…meaning that educators don’t have to just rely on the old school techniques like books & whiteboard drawings to teach the complicated subject of cybersecurity. This is not to say that the old methods that instructors may be already using aren’t effective.
Rather, when teaching such a complicated subject such as cybersecurity, it only helps students for them to be learning in an interactive digital environment. And it’s true that every student learns differently, so educators have the additional task of making sure each student learns to his or her strengths.
Next, we will outline some tips that will help educators prepare K-12 students for a career in cybersecurity:
Can’t Teach It If You Don’t Know It
Our first tip for preparing K-12 students for cybersecurity sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s something most don’t give a second thought to. An educator is going to have a very tough time teaching cybersecurity to K-12 students if they themselves don’t know the subject well.
So the first step any educator or educational institution can take to ensure their students learn cybersecurity the right way is to ensure any teacher who is providing instruction on the subject is trained in cybersecurity. The cybersecurity industry is changing all the time, so staying on top of all the new methods and tools can be a huge task.
However, there are boot camps and other training courses that educators or institutions can retain to ensure all teaching staff have the required industry knowledge to not only teach the subject but to teach it well.
The High School technology curriculum prepares students for their college-and-career future not by teaching widgets and programs—though that happens—but by showing them how to use the tech they have acquired throughout their education. How do they decide what program works best for what inquiry? How do they acquire the use of tools they have never before seen? How do they self-assess their knowledge, ensuring they acquired what they need? Don’t expect black-and-white answers. Success is more likely predicated on student transfer of knowledge than their ability to check off boxes on a rubric.
Here’s a quick overview of what you will find in this textbook:
- Scope and Sequence aligned with ISTE and Common Core
- Themed units tied into inquiry
- Experiential learning with real-world applications
- Opportunities for students to express and grow in their creativity
- International mindedness
- Articles on tech pedagogy
Each Unit includes:
- an emphasis on comprehension, problem-solving, critical thinking, to prepare for career and college
- Common Core Standards covered
- ISTE Standards covered
- essential question
- big idea
- materials required
- time required to complete
- domain-specific vocabulary
- problem solving
- steps to accomplish goals
- assessment strategies
- ways to extend learning
- project examples where appropriate
- grading rubrics where appropriate
If you participated in December’s Hour of Code, you may have come to realize the importance of Computer Science to students. Greg Beutler is the Director of Techscool.org, a school devoted to teaching kids this fundamental skill through the lens of robotics, coding, competitions, and more. The school’s tagline is Learn to code; Code to learn. Pretty pithy.
Here’s Greg’s informed perspective on this question:
Beyond job opportunities, why should all K-12 students learn about computer science?
Computer Science is an important subject for all students because it teaches you how to think. The act of writing a computer program requires you to think about how to create sequences which are step by step procedures on how to solve a given problem. CS also teaches the student, what sequences are run, what sequences should run if that sequence fails. CS teaches the student how to present that failure or success of that operation to the user via a GUI, and how the GUI should look and what the next outcome should be of the interactions between the user, the software and the computing device. Computer Science is an integrative subject, not siloed like other subjects taught at school.
Starting children early is best. To illustrate this I’ll use my favorite analogy, which is the baseball analogy. Both the little leaguer and a major leaguer perform the same operations, they catch a ball, throw a ball and hit a ball. But the major leaguer is much more talented and skilled. They have done all of those actions thousands of times in practice and games. They have honed their skill to a very great extent with competition and practice. They have a keen understanding of the game, the rules, and the winning strategies. They know where to hit the ball against a particular team in a particular situation. They know where to throw the ball in a particular situation. They can anticipate the actions of their teammates and opponents and react accordingly. Starting children early
gives them a wide arena of problems and problem-solving skills. The same applies to computer science. At a young age we can solve simple problems such as sorting different colored beads into different cups, then when we are older we can solve more complex problems such as writing a program using sorting algorithms for all sorts of items; including colored beads., which is called abstraction.
Here are the top five skills that most successful computer science students possess.
This December will again host the Hour of Code, a one-hour introduction to programming designed to demystify the subject and show that anyone can be a maker, a creator, and an innovator. Last year, almost 300,000 students (age 4-104) participated from over 180 countries and wrote almost 20 billion lines of code. The 200,000+ teachers involved came away believing that, of all their education tools, coding was the best at teaching children to think. It’s easy to see why when you look at fundamental programming concepts:
- abstraction and symbolism – variables are common in math, but also in education. Tools, toolbars, icons, images all represent something bigger
- creativity – think outside the box
- if-then thinking – actions have consequences
- debugging – write-edit-rewrite; try, fail, try again. When you make a mistake, don’t give up or call an expert. Fix it.
- logic – go through a problem from A to Z
- sequencing – know what happens when
If you’re planning to participate in Hour of Code, here are activities by grade that will kickstart your effort. They can be done individually or in small groups.
We’re hard at work on a high school technology curriculum. We’ve had a lot of requests for this and hope to have it available before the holidays.
If you’d like to be notified when the High School Technology Curriculum is available, click the image below and sign up: