Thinking on Education: The Importance of Project-Based Learning

Studies Weekly collaboration

We all want students to experience authentic, meaningful learning within the classroom.

To that end, project-based learning (PBL) is an effective teaching method.

PBL focuses on what students learn more than what teachers teach, as Diana B. Turk and Stacie Brensilver Berman explained in their January/February 2018 Social Education article, “Learning through Doing: A Project-Based Learning Approach to the American Civil Rights Movement.”

“[W]e see project-based learning as an approach that focuses both on the content of curriculum and what students do with what they learn,” the authors explained. “Organized around real-world challenges that students engage in and ultimately master in their learning, PBL units look and feel very different from traditional classroom learning.”

Most importantly PBL is not a one-and-done lesson — this method usually lasts at least a week or more. Turk and Berman added that PBL is teacher-shaped but student-driven, a key component of engaging students. PBL units must also be authentic and as real as possible — both within the classroom and without.

“It must be minds on as well as being hands on,” Turk and Berman said. “Only by engaging in projects that invite transfer — the extension of learning from one project to another, across and outside the curricular realm — do students truly come to own the material they learn and see the value and meaning of the work they are engaged in. Those are the prerequisites for real learning to take place.”

Studies Weekly How To

Successful PBL units make students think differently about the content they are learning, encourage them to ask questions they didn’t think of before, and engage them within their community, Berman added in a March 2018 National Council for the Social Studies podcast, “Passionate about Project-Based Learning.”

Teachers are often nervous about implementing PBL into their classroom because it can sometimes be loud and messy. But the skills students gain are essential to their future work within a company, the community and their families. Through PBL, students learn how to question and research, how to collaborate and communicate effectively, and how to identify a problem and chase down a solution as part of a team.

Here are some tips — culled from multiple experts and resources — for using PBL in the classroom:

1. Teach team skills.

Many teachers go into PBL without teaching students how to work well with others. But these skills are not instinctive for most students. Teachers should model and teach how to be an active listener, engage in respectful discussion and debate, and share the work.

Mari Venturino shares some good ideas for how to do this in a September 2018 Kids Discover post, “Teaching Teamwork.”

2. Assign roles.

Unique roles within a group makes everyone work together on the project. The type of project will dictate the exact roles needed, but some general roles are: group facilitator, note-taker, progress tracker, teacher liaison and materials manager. In a January 2018 Getting Smart article, Jamie Beck also suggested four roles that work well:

• Head Coach: The one who understands the activity, keeps the team together throughout and understands the final solution well enough to explain it to others.

• Journalist: The one who leads the team in organizing results and creating the final product.

Resource Manager: The one who gets supplies for the team, and is the only person who can ask team questions from the teacher.

• Assistant Coach: The one who ensures everyone shares their ideas and contributes.

You can find further tips and downloadables to help you and your students understand collaborative roles at Teachers Pay Teachers.

3. Track ongoing progress.

Many teachers don’t rely on just one final deadline for the completion of a project, because students need clear measurements for what they should be doing and when. To do this effectively, you could set intermittent deadlines for some or all of the following:

• Identifying and validating the problem

• Gathering data and research

• Organizing and identifying pertinent data

• Creating a presentation plan

• Finalizing the presentation

• Presenting

• Reflecting on the project

4. Teach students how to prepare for a presentation.

project based learning

PBL does not always end in a written research paper. Students can tailor their final presentation to the subject studied. 

For example, a social studies project may result in students creating a newspaper about the event or movement, or even doing a reenactment of the event.

Students can also present their topics in a variety of ways, such as: a TED Talk style speech, a video, a play, a broadcast, a diorama, a hands-on demonstration, a children’s book, etc. You should be open to allowing the students pick their presentation style depending on their subject, rather than choosing one for them.

If students will be presenting their findings outside of the classroom, teachers should also prepare them for this.

5. Grade through rubrics.

Studies Weekly PBL
Courtesy PhilipCummings.com

It is challenging to assign a blanket grade to group work and projects. Rubrics allow you to grade the intended outcome for the project both individually and as a group. Students should see the grading rubrics before starting the project so they know how they will be graded.

Good rubrics don’t just assign points, but also describe the reasoning behind those points. Effective rubrics outline where a group is below a standard, approaching the standard, and completing the standard.

Students should also evaluate themselves and each other through another rubric that details their collaboration skills — including how well they listened, communicated, did their assigned role, kept on task and contributed to the final product.

Find some great rubric ideas at our Pinterest board.

6. Allow time for reflection.

Studies Weekly projects

Students should always have time to reflect on the group’s efforts and the final project. This can be done through a peer/group rubric, but can also be accomplished as a class. Reflection time gives students the opportunity to share the following:

• What worked in their group

• Frustrations they had with the project

• What surprised them about the project, or topic

• What they learned about the subject

• What they learned about themselves

• Further questions they have about the subject

• Possible roles they’d like to try for the next project

Emily Murphy explained that reflection time is important for both the teacher and learner. In her December 2018 Edutopia article, she shared a highly successful PBL experience. But she did not realize how differently her students felt about their project’s outcome than she did until they talked as a class after the project’s completion.

“Had we skipped the step of reflecting the day after the meeting, I would have made many incorrect assumptions. The reflection period prompted teachers to spend time considering student perspective and to ask, ‘Are we following their agenda or ours?’” she said.

PBL is not a new teaching method. According to Education Week, it’s been a part of education for more than 100 years.

But — with so many technological advancements giving students easier access to information and resources — there are many opportunities in classrooms today to thoughtfully and meaningfully implement authentic, real-world project-based learning. This will better prepare students with essential collaborative skills needed for today’s interconnected society.

For further reading, the Buck Institute for Education offers training and resources for teachers who want to learn how to apply PBL in their classroom.

Studies Weekly’s consumable newspapers and magazines work well with PBL. Students can use the print and online editions for primary source research and data gathering, and then turn around and cut up the print edition and/or incorporate Studies Weekly’s videos for their presentations. The possibilities are endless.

Visit https://app.studiesweekly.com//online/pdod to learn more.

Thinking on Education: The Importance of Emotion in Learning

Emotion in Social Studies
Oswiecim, Poland – March 28, 2016: Electrical fences of Auschwitz — the largest German concentration camp built and operated by Nazi Germany during World War II.

As your students analyze and ponder history, are they tapping into the feelings of people in the past?

We do students a disservice when we distance them from historical experiences through detached instruction.

At Studies Weekly, we live by the motto: “Standards Inform, Stories Inspire.” We wholeheartedly believe that sentiment. While all our curriculum is based on rigorous national and state standards, we present that curriculum to students through the power of stories.

Why?

Because we believe, and research proves this, that true learning involves emotion, not rote memorization of facts and figures. As noted in a Psychologist World article, “emotionally charged situations can lead us to create longer lasting memories” of events.

If we want our students to truly learn from the mistakes and triumphs of the past, we need to ensure they experience the emotions of those events.

“The need to belong, the desire to be understood, the instinct to understand — these are all universal human emotions that do not fade with time, vary across generations, or stop just because you’ve got algebra to teach. They lord over a student’s mind constantly, and require more than a little bit of ‘social and emotional learning’ — they require emotion at the core,” said Terry Heick, founder and director of TeachThought, in an October 2017 post.

Just as students need to belong and be understood in the classroom, they can see these basic human needs in the past. Are students delving into these universal emotions as they learn history?

For example, are they discovering the stories behind why an individual fought for the North or the South in the American Civil War? Or are we just emotionlessly requiring them to memorize the dates and locations of battles and their military outcomes?

For those who lived those battles — and the many battles that followed — the dates mattered less than the sights, sounds and smells of gunpowder, smoke and death. Location mattered only in that it was the last place they saw a fellow soldier alive.

This is why Studies Weekly relies so much on primary sources.

Good Primary Sources Draw Students into the Story

“Primary sources allow us to discover important details about horrific events of the past, especially the often-overlooked human response,” Lee Ann Potter, director of educational outreach at Library of Congress, in a 2011 Social Education article.

For many students today, World War II is a distant war fought on a distant land. But for people like Jack Tueller, it was where he lost many friends, but also found a strength within himself he didn’t know was there.

For many students today, the Holocaust was an atrocity that no one can comprehend happening today. For Noemi Mattis, it was an era that ripped family and friends apart.

For many students today, the Civil Rights Movement was a major achievement that struck a major blow to racism. For those who lived that era and fought for equality, it was a time of fear and violence, but also strength and solidarity.

Studies Weekly centers much of its instruction around these and other types of primary sources so students will feel and experience history, not just read about it. So they will understand multiple perspectives of events from those who were there.

So they will see something within themselves in the stories of both ordinary and heroic history makers, and realize their own place in today’s society.

To learn more about teaching with stories and primary sources, visit Teaching with Primary Source in Social Studies.

Teaching Digital Citizenship in a World Full of Technology

We are all part of a digital world, but sometimes internet interactions bring out the uglier side of humanity.

Today, there is a profound need for digital citizenship education.

As part of the social studies curriculum, educators already teach children citizenship in our nation. In prior generations, this teaching included how to function in the public sphere and the local community, and how to fulfill civic duties.

But because the internet now connects our entire globe, we all are also citizens of the world. Thus, instruction today must include digital citizenship.

As Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, explained in a speech last year, digital citizenship is not the same as teaching children online safety.

“Digital citizenship is not a list of don’ts, but a list of dos,” he said at the 2018 ISTE Conference & Expo in Chicago.

Culatta outlined four of those dos, and encouraged educators to incorporate them into their instruction.

1. Digital Citizenship is using technology to make your community better.

We all, hopefully, have seen examples of this. From the teenager in a Utah school who created a social media account to highlight and compliment random students from his school, to the many amazing apps now available to help people with disabilities — many, many people use technology to improve society.

High school teacher Douglas Kiang shared another example of this in an ISTE article. He noticed his students weren’t really connecting as a class, so he created a classroom Minecraft server. He assigned them to play the game together.

Before even tackling this assignment, the class created initial rules to govern their communal gameplay. From this, they learned valuable lessons about translating the citizenship rules that govern face-to-face interactions into a digital community. As the gameplay progressed, students gained in-depth knowledge about how laws and societies work.

“I just realized something. In the beginning, we had a hard time coming up with rules because no one knew what was going to happen. Now I think that laws only exist because someone at some point in the past did something before it was a law,” one student told Kiang after a classroom discussion.

The play encouraged problem-solving, and in-person debate and discussion. Overall, Kiang felt it was a powerful community-building experience.

“The power of Minecraft as a catalyst for learning is in its ability to involve students in creating a shared world together, in all of its intricacies and challenges and difficult conversations. Good teachers are at the heart of this process, not just for providing a powerful learning environment to students, but also for helping them create meaning from the challenges they face and the choices they make. This teaching can take place when the laptops are closed, face to face. As students become better citizens in the virtual world, so will they develop powerful skills for negotiation and compromise that serve them well in the real world,” he concluded.

2. Digital Citizenship is respectfully engaging with people who have different beliefs from ours.

From some reason — possibly because we can hide behind a username — we may find ourselves saying something nastier or meaner online than we would in a face-to-face discussion. This seems especially true in online political discussions and debates.

But through digital citizenship instruction, students learn that those “anonymous” posts have real-world consequences. And arguing with someone online rarely, if ever, changes their mind — all it does is isolate and divide the participants, stymying real solutions.

digital citizenship respectfulCommon Sense Media has some great suggestions for teaching respectful digital citizenship at each grade level.

3. Digital Citizenship can shape public policy.

Culatta shared the power of social media in connecting with government representatives.

“If we only teach students that the way they interact with their elected officials is by writing a letter to the senator, then we should not be surprised when they don’t think to turn to social media as a tool to make sure their voice is heard,” he said. “If we only teach students how to organize people around a good cause in a physical space, we should not be surprised when their devices are used only for entertainment.”

As an example of this, he pointed to No One Eats Alone, a digital inclusion project targeted to bringing middle school students together at lunchtime.

Parkland, Florida, USA – April 25, 2018: The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The school was the site of a school shooting in 2018 which set off mass protests against gun violence.

“And of course, we’ve all seen recently the power of the students from Parkland, Florida, who used their voice to change the conversation. And change a national dialogue, because they knew how to be good digital citizens,” Culatta added.

4. Digital Citizenship is discerning the validity of online resources.

In a world where anyone can put up a website, Culatta said students need skills to distinguish fact and fiction. For example, a professor created a legitimate-looking website with “factual” information about the endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. He did this to see how many students in case study believed the “facts.” Culatta said only one student questioned the validity of the source.

Home page of the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus spoof site.

“Our ability to recognize truth from fiction is essential to our survival as a society,” Culatta said. “We have to evolve and develop new skills for distinguishing truth from fiction. These new skills don’t just happen, they have to be taught.”

Again, Common Sense Media has some great grade-level-appropriate lesson plans for teaching digital literacy.

As our world becomes ever more digitally connected, the need for good digital citizens rises. Parents and educators can lead the way in teaching these skills.

“Teaching digital citizenship means embracing the reality that we’re all interconnected through the Internet, and that we therefore need to understand the responsibilities and risks that come with life online,” said Kristen Hicks in a 2015 Edudemic article.

Digital citizenship both protects and empowers us and our children.

Thinking on Education: Teaching Civil Disobedience

As we teach history, one of the many important ideas from the world’s shared history is the use of civil disobedience to motivate change.

This is sometimes a tricky concept for younger children, because they are so ingrained with rules at home and at school.

“Don’t cross the street without looking both ways.”

“Don’t hit your sister.”

“Don’t touch the hot stove.”

“Don’t jump on the bed.”

“Don’t yell.”

Sometimes we all — not just children — struggle with the nuances of breaking a law because it is a bad one. That very struggle is why we view those who improve society through civil disobedience as heroes.

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote. “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Junior Memorial in Washington DC, USA

As dictionaries define it, civil disobedience is the refusal to comply with certain laws as a peaceful form of political protest. Or, as Emmeline Pankhurst, a late-1800s British suffragist, put it:

Teaching Civil Disobedience“We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.”

For her own acts of civil disobedience, Pankhurst was arrested about 20 times throughout the 40 years she campaigned for women’s right to vote. British women gained that right in 1928, just a few weeks after Pankhurst’s death.

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland was one of many white and black protesters who spent time in prison for their actions during the Civil Rights Movement. Mulholland faced violence and anger when she joined friends at a 1963 Woolworth’s sit-in in Jackson, Mississippi, but didn’t back down or retaliate.

Many others throughout history caused important change through their civil disobedience.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi led the Salt March in 1930 — a peaceful protest of British rule in India and its unfair taxes and production restrictions on Indian salt. As Gandhi made the 240-mile march on foot, villagers along the way gathered to the cause.

Teaching Civil DisobedienceChange did not immediately happen for the Indian people after this, but Gandhi’s act inspired others, and eventually brought great change for his people.

Claudette Colvin

Civil disobedience almost always takes time to be effective, and sometimes multiple people must resolutely rise up before the spark of hope catches. Before Rosa Parks’ quiet but monumental act, one teen did the same in March 1955.

Claudette Colvin
Courtesy PBS

Claudette Colvin was a 15-year-old high school student in Montgomery, Alabama. As she explained in a March 2018 interview with the BBC, when the driver asked her to give up her seat in a full bus, she refused.

“He wanted me to give up my seat for a white person and I would have done it for an elderly person but this was a young white woman,” she said in the interview.

Colvin told the bus driver she’d paid her fare, and had the right to remain where she was. Police arrested her and placed her in an adult cell, not a juvenile detention center, Colvin said. Her mother bailed her out about three hours later.

In 1956, after the ensuing Montgomery Bus Boycotts, Colvin was one of four people to testify to the United States Supreme Court about bus segregation. The court ruled to end segregation on buses.

The Tank Man

1989 was a year of changes — with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the uprising in Romania, and the arrest of Manuel Noriega. But one lone man in China became an emblem of the fight for freedom worldwide.

In Beijing that year, student-led demonstrations protested China’s Communist government, and called for basic human rights. The students stationed their main protest near their “Goddess of Democracy” statue in Tiananmen Square.

China’s government responded with military force, killing many with sprays of gunfire and tanks. One man, known only to history as the Tank Man, symbolized the Chinese government’s suppression of human rights and the students’ protest.

Tank Man
Courtesy Britannica

On the morning of June 5, after massive violence and deaths just the night before, the Tank Man faced down a line of tanks as they rolled into the square. Caught on video by journalists, the man blocked the tanks as they tried multiple times to maneuver around him. Even as gunfire could be heard around him, he alone gestured to the tanks to turn back.

Eventually, the tanks went around him and continued on, but his effort became a symbol to the world.

Teaching Civil Disobedience

These are just a few examples of those who used civil disobedience for the betterment of themselves and others. Brave change-makers of history can inspire students today to be the change they want to see in their own society.

“Whenever people ask me: ‘Why didn’t you get up when the bus driver asked you?’ I say it felt as though Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing me down on the other shoulder. I felt inspired by these women because my teacher taught us about them in so much detail,” Colvin said of her experience.

Even at a young age, students can and should learn the importance of civil disobedience, explained Andrea S. Libresco, professor of Social Studies Education at Hofstra University, in her 2018 National Council for the Social Studies article. Libresco highlighted how two children’s books — “The Little Book of Little Activists,” by Penguin Young Readers, and “The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, by Cynthia Levinson — can show students their own power.

Teaching Civil Disobedience
Youngest Marcher, by Cynthia Levinson

Using these books, Libresco suggested various learning strategies to engage students:

Use primary source images and discuss the freedoms and rights the participants are protesting for.
Dig deep with questions such as:
  • Who has the power to make — and change — rules and laws in society?
  • What are citizens’ responsibilities to their community?
  • What are governments’ responsibilities to its citizens?
  • What situations might call for different kinds of protest?
  • Besides a march, what are other methods of protest?
  • What obstacles do people face in their struggles for change?
  • How do you measure the success of a movement?
  • Are there any issues about which you feel strongly enough to protest?
Create project-based learning where students research issues and represent their research in one of the following ways:
  • Talk to family and friends about an issue
  • Learn or write a song or poem about the topic
  • Write letters to a company or public official
  • Make a mural
  • Post informational signs at school
  • Go to a local meeting or hearing
  • Hold a fund-raiser with an educational component
  • Add an article about the topic in a school newspaper or website
  • Attend a demonstration with their families

“The message is this. The world doesn’t have to be the way the world is. Good people can act, and the world can be better, and so can we.” Freeman Hrabowski III
Children have a keen sense of right and wrong and can be true change-makers in their communities. Freeman Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, witnessed this in his own life. In a PBS broadcast, he described how, at the age of 12, he participated in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963.

That experience was a powerful example to him, to the world at that time, and to others today. Just last year, after learning about the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963, fifth graders from Case Elementary School in Akron, Ohio joined others in the National School Walkout to protest gun violence.

“The message is this. The world doesn’t have to be the way the world is. Good people can act, and the world can be better, and so can we,” Hrabowski said.

Thinking on Education: Using Screens and Print Effectively in the Classroom

Studies show we all read more today than in previous generations. While printed books and magazines are still a part of our lives, much of our reading consumption is digital.

While technology innovation allows education to reach many students more efficiently, some educators worry that it is also limiting some students’ skills. At the forefront of this is reading literacy, comprehension and other critical skills.

Screens vs. PrintDigital reading is changing the way we read, suggested Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at the University of California, Los Angeles, at February’s Learning and the Brain conference in San Francisco.

Wolf postulated “that one of the threats of this shift is that it will hurt humans’ ability for deep reading, which she describes as involving empathy, background knowledge, critical analysis, imagery and reflection,” Sydney Johnson reported Feb. 18, 2019 in “Reading Fuels Empathy. Do Screens Threaten That?”

“The sum of these processes helps prepare citizens to be critical thinkers and empathetic — or not,” Wolf said.

Wolf and others worry that this lack of connection could seriously affect students’ future.

“We are in this moment where ‘other’ is becoming a threat,” Wolf said at the February conference. “The compassionate imagination of childhood begins with understanding that there are others outside of ourselves. We have never needed the role of story more than right now for our children to understand a compassionate sense.”

Studies back up Wolf’s assertions. Geoff F. Kaufman of Carnegie Mellon University and Mary Flanagan of Dartmouth College found that students’ decision processes change when approaching a problem digitally vs. in print.

Utilizing a board game format — or that same game translated to an iPad — they tested subjects’ ability to prevent a health outbreak. Flanagan and Kaufman were surprised when their study showed that analog users  communicated significantly more with their teammates and performed better than digital users.

“[T]he app-game players focused on dealing with immediate, local outbreaks of disease. Those playing the board game were more likely to keep a ‘big picture view’ of which people outside an immediate outbreak might be vulnerable, and they worked together more as a team. Overall, the board game players were better at stopping the outbreak and winning the game,” Kaufman and Flanagan said in May 2016 Education Week report.

This is concerning. Today’s classrooms throughout all levels of education are not ruled by just paper and pencils, but also through keyboard and tablet. Because of this, ultimately the discussion cannot be about “Screens vs. Print,” but where to utilize each more effectively.

Pros and Cons

Flanagan and Kaufman researched further and tested subjects with other tasks either online or in print. They found some pros and cons to both media.

In their studies, digital readers recalled concrete facts and details better than print readers. But print readers scored better when asked to infer meaning and relationships, or ponder abstract concepts.

Other studies found that “students who typed notes on their laptops rather than writing them on paper tended to take down information verbatim rather than summarizing concepts.” Those who summarized the concepts, rather than recording them verbatim, remembered more a week later.

Many educators find digital content is often more engaging for reluctant readers than a sheet of paper or a book. Unfortunately, these same readers tend to skim while reading online, and do not comprehend the text as deeply, or “construct complex arguments, or make connections to their own experiences,” according to a 2014 Education Week article.

Screens vs. PrintWe cannot ban technology from the classroom, though.

“It is fair to say that reading digitally is part and parcel of living and learning in the 21st century .… No matter how complex the question of reading across mediums may be, teachers and students must understand how and when to employ a digital reading device,” said Lauren Singer, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, and Patricia Alexander, a University of Maryland professor, in a 2017 Inside Higher Ed article.

Singer, Alexander, Wolf, Flanagan, Kaufman and other researchers hope more study will lead to ways of helping students develop what Wolf calls a “bi-literate” brain, where they can benefit from the assets of both medium.

For now, these experts suggest teachers use a hybrid approach.

“There are many times when you are trying to get students to compare facts and figures. If you are making a timeline for World War II, it might be really great to have digital technology to optimize comprehension of details like that,” Flanagan said in the 2016 article. “But when you want students to think more analytically about something, especially when you are asking something new — ‘How would you compare what happened in World War II to the Gulf War,’ say — that may require a shift in thinking. You may want to get off the screen for that for a little while.”


Studies Weekly Social Studies and Science materials allow students and teachers to read and complete activities both online and in print. For more information, visit studiesweekly.com.

Tackling the Bard: Teaching Shakespeare to Elementary Students

William Shakespeare’s works may be more than 400 years old, but their messages still resonate today.

Even after all this time, Shakespeare’s characters and themes still live within each of us, as Maggie Trapp, a UC Berkeley Extension instructor pointed out in a January 2018 Berkeley “Voices” blog. And his wordplay and characterization both entertain, but challenge us.

“These plays have managed to speak complicated truths to all manner of audiences and readers for hundreds of years,” Trapp said in the blog post.

Alan Craven, professor emeritus at University of Texas at San Antonio, agreed in a 2013 UTSA article by Cindy Tumiel.

“The language is rich, the characters are complex and many of his basic themes — love, treachery, honor, bravery and political intrigue — still resonate today,” Craven said. “Humans still experience love, loss, betrayal, war, humor and tragedy, which gives Shakespeare a foothold in modern times.”

Teaching Shakespeare, though, can sometimes seem as scary as Macbeth’s fatal vision of a dagger. And with so much violence and innuendo in Shakespeare’s plays, how do we introduce Shakespeare to elementary and middle school students? And really, how do we get beyond the dreaded high school trudge through “Romeo and Juliet”?

Fear no more! As good luck would have it, helpful hints this way come.

Teaching Shakespeare1. All the World’s a Stage

…. And there are many players upon this world who have successfully performed Shakespeare for the masses.

Every Shakespeare unit should begin with a movie or stage viewing of at least a part of the play or scene. Think about it — would you prefer reading the script of the latest Avenger adventure or watching the movie?

Not all full movie or play versions are appropriate for kids, but many parts of these productions are suitable.

2. The Play’s the Thing

Shakespeare’s works were never meant to be “read and deadened behind a desk.” They are plays — meant to be performed and “explored on their feet,” as Mark Powell, artistic director of Prime Theatre said in 2014 article for The Guardian.

At the elementary level, students can use finger puppets, Legos, action figures or simple paper cutouts to discover short Shakespeare scenes and themes.

3. Is This a Book I See Before Me?

( , Undefined, 12

Shakespeare’s language is delicious, but as Brynn Allison points out in her 2017 lesson plan for We Are Teachers, he “was a wordy guy.”

“Cut to the important parts of scenes and summarize the less important parts,” she suggested.

Teachers can summarize the play and its characters for their elementary students, then delve deeper into just one important scene, or even just one important soliloquy or interchange between characters.

4. My Kingdom for a Comic Book?

Teaching Shakespeare
Macbeth

Another option — especially for lower level readers — is Mya Lixian Gosling’s stick figure Shakespeare comics at Good Tickle Brain. She’s created short comics for most of Shakespeare’s plays, and even the gorier ones are quite palpable with her clever drawings. Students can’t help but enjoy pairing her comics with more in-depth scene discussions.


These are but a few of the many ideas to successful sparked student’s interest in Shakespeare. For more ideas, start with the following:

teachingchannel.org/video/approaches-to-teaching-shakespeare

weareteachers.com/best-shakespeare-activities-printables/

readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson1031/terms.pdf

brighthubeducation.com/lesson-plans-grades-3-5/27536-teaching-shakespeare-to-elementary-students/

To view Studies Weekly’s resources on Shakespeare, login to your online account or visit our YouTube page.

Thinking on Education: Women’s Important Contributions to the STEM Fields

As educators all around the nation celebrate women’s roles in history this month, we want to highlight a few unique female contributions as well.

STEM education — or the emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math — is a hot topic in the industry. Tech leaders in every state are working towards coding and computer engineering classes for students all the way down to the elementary level.

Many of these leaders — through SheTech experiences and Girls Who Code events — focus on capturing the imagination of young women and girls. More girls need to realize women have been in every aspect of STEM fields almost since their beginnings.

Chemistry and Physics

Women and STEM
Marie Curie

Marie Curie, 1867-1934, was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, and the only woman to win two Nobel Prizes in two different disciplines: one for chemistry and one for physics.

The Polish-French scientist is most famous for her work on radioactivity with her husband, Pierre Curie. But she also discovered two elements, polonium and radium.

Curie also broke education barriers. After her husband’s death in 1906, she was appointed to his vacant professorship and was the first woman to teach at the Maison de Sorbonne. According to Brittanica, she also founded medical research centers in Paris and Warsaw.

Engineering

Women and STEM
Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke, 1883-1959, earned her master’s degree in electrical engineering at MIT in 1919 — the first such degree awarded to a woman there. One of her job titles was “Computer.” Before the machines we know today, people were the computers of the past.

Clarke worked at AT&T and GE. While at GE, she analyzed and calculated mathematical models for transmission lines, and wrote many research papers on power distribution.

Clarke accomplished a number of firsts in her day. According to the Edison Tech Center, she was the first female electrical engineering professor in the United States. She also was the first woman to present a paper before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and later was the Institute’s first female fellow.

Engineering Design

Women and STEM
Olive Dennis

Olive Dennis, 1885-1957, was the nation’s first service engineer. She is most famous for riding the rails of the B&O railroad, traveling millions of miles in order to improve the rail traveler’s experience.

Dennis earned her master’s degree in civil engineering at Cornell, only the second woman to do so. Dennis started with the railroad as a draftsman, designing bridges. Soon she moved into her design engineering role, where she improved all aspects of rail travel. Through her research, she redesigned the trains’ chairs, windows and sleeping cars; and updated dining cars, restrooms and food offerings.

She was the first woman to become a member of the American Railway Engineering Association.

Mathematics

Before the 2016 movie, “Hidden Figures,” very few people appreciated the contributions of Katherine Johnson, 1939-1956; Dorothy Vaughan, 1910-2008; and Mary Jackson, 1921-2005. But without these women, America might not have even been a contender in that era’s race to space.

Women and STEM
Katherine Johnson, courtesy of NASA

Johnson spent more than 30 years calculating flight paths for America’s spacecraft. She is most famous for calculating the flight path for Freedom 7 in 1961, which sent the first U.S. astronaut into space. According to Brittanica, her calculations were so accurate that John Glenn asked her to verify the electronic computer’s calculations before his own flight orbiting the Earth.

Women and STEM
Dorothy Vaughan, courtesy NASA

Vaughan was NASA’s first African American manager. She oversaw the female computers of the segregated West Area Computing Unit. Their work contributed to the success of the early space program. According to NASA, engineers highly valued her recommendations and often requested that she personally handle challenging assignments.

Women and STEM
Mary Jackson at Work NASA Langley
Courtesy NASA

Early on, Jackson reported to Vaughan as one of her computers. She moved on to work with Kazimierz Czarnecki, conducting experiments in a 60,000 horsepower wind tunnel. After completing engineering courses, she became NASA’s first black female engineer in 1958. She went on to author numerous research reports. She also made a significant impact on the hiring and promotions of the next generation of female scientists.

Space

Women and STEM
Ellen Ochoa

Ellen Ochoa, born in 1958, was the first Hispanic female astronaut. She was also the first Hispanic — and second female — director of the Johnson Space Center. According to NASA, she went to space four times from 1993 to 2002. She logged almost 1,000 hours in orbit.

Ochoa earned NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal. She also earned the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award, as well as many other awards throughout her career. She has six schools named for her.

Discovering More

These are just a few women who made unique contributions to the STEM fields — there are many, many others. Though less prominent in some
textbooks, women are a part of history — from fossils to fission, and disease management to software development.

Students everywhere are lucky to have teachers who help them discover these women throughout history.

To discover a treasure trove of Women’s history videos, visit our Women’s History Playlist at YouTube.

Thinking on Education: Teaching the History of Voting Rights

Students sitting at the desks of today’s classrooms are America’s next voters. They literally will be the deciders of our nation’s future.

To that end, they must understand the importance and power of voting. We educators, in partnership with their parents, are in an important position to help them appreciate this responsibility. Teaching the younger generation about their civic duty has less to do with politics and more to do with freedom of choice.

“For the nation’s democracy to function properly and for government to provide fair representation, all eligible Americans must have the opportunity to vote — and be encouraged to do so. Our collective self-rule is established and fostered through free, fair, accessible, and secure elections through which the voice of every eligible American is heard,” said Danielle Root and Liz Kennedy, of the Center for American Progress, in a July 2018 article.

Teaching the History of Voting Rights

Teaching students the history of voting rights within the United States can help them better understand the weight and sway they have in exercising this right.

Our nation’s democratic process may be an example to others, but it took many protests, movements, and the mobilization of large groups of disenfranchised residents to get where we are today. Education about the history of voting in America expands students’ minds, and gives them a greater appreciation for their own ability to share their voice.

According to research by KQED, when George Washington was elected as our first president in 1789, only 6 percent of the population could vote. This was due to land ownership laws and states’ differing voting regulations. Thus, only white male landowners could vote.

In 1856, land ownership was finally removed from voting requirements, opening the poll doors to all white men.

Black Voters

Studies Weekly vote
African Americans vote for the first time, as depicted in 1867 on the cover of Harper’s magazine. Engraving by Alfred R. Waud.

In 1868, the U.S. passed the 14th Amendment, granting citizenship to former slaves. Legislators followed up with the 15th Amendment in 1870, declaring that the right to vote could not be denied because of race. As citizens, male African Americans could legally vote.

Despite this legislation, some states enacted measures, such as literacy tests and voting taxes to subvert African Americans’ ability to register to vote. In some states, groups used violence and intimidation tactics to keep these same voters away from the polls.

These subversive efforts continued until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was passed. It made it illegal for states to impose discriminatory restrictions on who could vote. This act came after decades of African American bloodshed while exercising their given right.

Female Voters

Studies Weekly vote
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, left, and Susan B. Anthony.

Women had been trying to acquire their own right to vote since 1848. It took them more than 70 years to successfully secure that vote in 1920. Well-known early leaders in this fight — Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth — died before seeing women prevail.

Minority Voters

Despite the 14th and 15th Amendments, many minority groups in America’s history had to forge their own difficult routes to voting.

Native Americans

Though they could be considered America’s first residents, Native Americans had no voting rights within the new republic. In 1876, the Supreme Court ruled that Native Americans were not citizens as defined by the 14th Amendment and had no voting rights.

Their path to polling places took many steps.

Studies Weekly voteAfter the 1887 Dawes Act, Native Americans could obtain citizenship and the right to vote only by giving up their tribal affiliations. The Indian Naturalization Act passed three years later, and Native Americans could apply for citizenship through an application process similar to the process of immigrant naturalization.

Decades later, Native American veterans were granted citizenship after they served in the military during WWI. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 also granted citizenship to Native Americans born in the United States. But, again, many states passed laws and policies during this time to prohibit Native Americans from voting.

Finally in 1947, after Miguel Trujillo — a Native American and former Marine — successfully sued New Mexico denying his right to vote, barriers to voting started to crumble. It still took until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for this right to be guaranteed.

Asian Americans

Though they were an integral part of building America, especially in the West, Asian Americans had no citizenship rights.

Studies Weekly voteThe Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred people of Chinese ancestry from becoming citizens. Then 40 years later, the Supreme Court ruled that people of Japanese heritage were ineligible to become naturalized citizens. A Congressional ruling in 1925 barred Filipino Americans from citizenship unless they served three years in the Navy.

Finally, in 1952, the McCarran-Walter Act granted all people of Asian ancestry the right to become citizens.

Puerto Rico and D.C.
Studies Weekly vote
La Perla, a district in Old San Juan.

Congress passed further voting rights laws in the 1970s and 1990s to guarantee better access to polls and voter registration. But today Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories still do not have full voting representation in the federal government. Stateside, those living in Washington D.C. have the right to vote for president, but do not have any representatives in Congress.

Importance of Voter Turnout

The right to vote in American elections has a long history of conflict, and students need to understand the value of making their voice heard. Voter turnout on election days is one of the most powerful ways citizens can do that. It also can be an effective path to enacting change that strengthens the rights of all citizens.

“It’s essential that all of us turn out to vote. Every vote is a building block in our democracy. The more people who vote, the stronger our system of government becomes. As a nation, we should do much better. We can do much better,” said Linda A. Klein of the American Bar Association in an October 2018 article.

As former President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”

We highlight women’s contributions to our nation’s history, often during Women’s History Month, and the right to vote is an important topic. During March, and throughout the year, voting rights should be a serious study for our students who will be our next generation of leaders.

Example of the Tennessee Social Studies Curriculum

Find more primary sources and articles about voting through your Studies Weekly online platform at studiesweekly.com/online.

 

 

 


For some other great lesson plan ideas, visit NEA.org at: www.nea.org/tools/lessons/informed-voter-education

Further reading:

“Increasing Voter Participation in America,” Center for American Progress, July 11, 2018

“11 Facts about Voting,” DoSomething.org

“Why is Voting Important? — Lesson for Kids,” Chapter 2, Lesson 26, at Study.com

“Key takeaways about Latino voters in the 2018 midterm elections,” Pew Research Center, Nov. 9, 2018

“How Millennials voted this election,” Brookings Institution, Nov. 21, 2016

“Voting: A Privilege, a Duty, and a Path to a Stronger Democracy,” American Bar Association, Oct. 9, 2018

“7 Reasons You Should Vote In This Year’s Elections,” Huffington Post, Feb. 19, 2016

kidsvotingusa.org

www.growingvoters.org

Thinking on Education: Why are Discussions about Equality Flashpoints in the Classroom?

 

Gender equality

Gender Equality.
Feminism.

Racial equalityCivil Rights.
Racial Equality.

Human Rights Issues

These are some of the topics considered “controversial” in society, on social media, and in the classroom.

But why? In today’s society — more than 150 years since the end of America’s Civil War, almost 100 years since women gained voting rights in America, and 55 years since the Civil Rights Act — why are discussions about rights and equality still flashpoints?

Though our society made these important strides forward in decades past, strongly built foundations and beliefs still rumble beneath those issues. And sadly, there are too many people still unwilling to conduct an open dialogue about these uncomfortable truths, even today.

“It’s a conversation no one ever wants to have,” explained Loki Mulholland, Studies Weekly video manager, founding member of the Studies Weekly Diversity Board, Emmy award-winning filmmaker, and speaker on race relations in America, in a February 2018 presentation at Boise State University.

But he advocates having those conversations, because these issues still affect our students and people all over the world.

Global Inequality

Globally, racial and gender equality are still under attack, explained Tendayi Achiume, special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance at the United Nations, in two separate reports to the U.N. in March 2018 and July 2018.

“From crowds of youths marching to neo‑Nazi chants in Charlottesville, Warsaw and Berlin, to the racist and xenophobic attitudes of politicians in the highest levels of office worldwide … the assault on the human dignity of millions around the world has reached alarming proportions,” she said last March.

systemic equality barriers
Mother carrying her baby on her back at the Missira neighborhood in the city of Bissau, Guinea Bissau, Feb. 6, 2018.

That is why we must still talk about equality and rights. Yes, it is sometimes scary, but we — as educators of our nation’s students — need to thoughtfully and purposefully wade into these murky and muddy issues.

“We don’t give our students enough credit. They know what is going on and it’s our job to connect the dots of what is happening today to the past, and how they fit into that picture. We should be empowering our students to make decisions and draw conclusions,” Mulholland said. “If we don’t talk about it and work towards improving inequality, then nothing is going to change. The students play a role in addressing the inequalities they see around them.”

Discussing Inequality in the Classroom

Despite the current shouting matches between current political leaders, discussions on equality and rights do not need to be divisive. And the classroom is one of the most perfect places to have these discussions.

“Young people need to understand equality and know their rights, to understand both how they should be treated, and how they should treat others. Teaching these topics creates a safe place for students to explore, discuss, challenge and form their own opinions and values,” the Equality and Human Rights Commission said in a May 2016 statement.

Beyond Inequality: Systemic Barriers

Even beyond discussions around equality, we should also teach our students about societal equity and the systemic barriers that women, people of color, and other minority groups continue to face. This idea is best defined through this image, originally created by Craig Froehle:equality and equity and systemic barriersThe true history of America includes elements of systemic racism, systemic sexism and other systemic barriers to equality and equity for all. Our society still feels the effects of those today.

Mulholland pointed out just one example of this in his Boise presentation last year. He explained that just one generation ago, African American people — many who are still alive today — received truly inadequate and inaccurate education as a result of segregation. Education — which most of us believe today is the key to opportunity — was not equal or equitable.

Equality of Opportunity

In education, we’ve advanced far since that era of history. Today, educators implement a variety of processes that reach the learner where they are, to give them the best possibly equality of outcome. But we still have more to do, as explained in Stanford University’s “Equality of Opportunity and Education” project.

The Stanford project utilized philosopher Peter Westen’s idea that “opportunity is a three-way relationship between a person, some obstacles, and a desired goal. However, a person only has an opportunity if she has a chance of achieving that goal. One cannot have an opportunity if one faces insurmountable obstacles that make it impossible to secure the goal.”

Further, “for opportunities to be equal within a group, each member of that group must face the same relevant obstacles, none insurmountable, with respect to achieving the same desirable goal.”

It’s Only Us

Just like the fence image above illustrates, ideally all Americans may all be equal under the law, but may not have a true equality of opportunity.

Unfortunately, many American residents face insurmountable obstacles because of their gender, race, religion, culture, geography, socio-economic status or other minority identification. Because of this, they cannot reach the same heights others can.

So, until our we strategically remove these barriers and biases, we must still discuss equality and rights, and listen to and believe others’ experiences.

racial equalityWe need to stop seeing these issues as revolving around “us and them” and simply revolving around “us.”

“You have to be willing to open yourself up, to get uncomfortable and go there,” Mulholland concluded.

On Education: Creating a better Multicultural Curriculum

Multicultural CurriculumHow do you teach today’s culturally and socio-economically diverse students when often their history and literature curricula are predominantly Eurocentric?

That is a question we’ve been grappling with at Studies Weekly. In the past, some of our own publications included this unconscious bias. Recognizing that, we’ve been working diligently to completely revamp and reframe them.

This pivot is reflected in our Guiding Principles, which state, “We will have a minimum of two points of view present about the main topic taught in each weekly unit.” Because we know our students represent a wide swath of skin tones, ancestry, experiences and languages, we try to include multiple perspectives in our publications.

We don’t want to have “other” perspectives — we want all perspectives included to better create a full picture of events, movements and people of history.

We don’t claim to be leaders in this approach, though. Many educators have been calling for diversity in the classroom and multicultural education materials that speak to all learners.

As Samantha Washington explained in her September 2018 article in The Century Foundation, studies show that students in diverse public schools harbor less racial prejudice and more self-confidence. She advocated that “equitable education reform must be invested in diversifying not only classrooms, but lesson plans, too.”

“That students with vastly different backgrounds are still being taught that only one history is worth knowing reveals what has always been a deeper question in American education: whose history is essential, and what are we teaching students when we tell them that theirs is not? In the fight for racial equity in the classroom, we must stress the importance of students learning from a curriculum which reinforces that their own histories, and, by extension, their own identities, matter,” she concluded.

But how can educators value the histories of all their students?

“As our country and schools become more ethically and culturally diverse, elementary teachers must have tools to help them plan for broadening the perspectives of the children they teach,” said professors Joyce H. Burstein and Lisa Hutton in Social Studies and the Young Learner in 2005.

Recognizing that some textbooks don’t provide multiple perspectives, they shared a fabulous teaching strategy for elementary educators: a Multiple Perspectives Planning Guide for tackling historical events that have multiple viewpoints. Of course, most of history has at least two sides to it — if not more — so this guide works well for any social studies classroom.

The guide focuses on a historical event, and takes students through its context and the major players there. Students delve into both primary and secondary sources from the event, looking for different viewpoints and perspectives. Burstein and Hutton also suggest using historical fiction trade books as sources, especially at the elementary level, because many are written by authors who hail from unique perspectives not always included in textbooks.

Multiple Perspectives Planning GuideThis learning strategy validates different cultural experiences, allows children the chance to identify with histories that truly reflect their own and others’ heritage, while also teaching them important critical thinking and analysis skills, and an ability to recognize complex situations.
In explaining the guide, Burstein and Hutton gave the example of children playing and resolving disputes in school yard. When problems happen at recess, “Children naturally want to tell their side of a story …. Students are burning to report their version of what happened.”

“Teachers need to capitalize on this natural inclination to have ‘their story told’ when teaching history,” they continued. “Historians are like a person who suddenly comes upon the scene of the playground dispute. The historian hunts for different accounts, artifacts, evidence and viewpoints of time periods in history.”

Looking at the bigger picture, today’s textbooks and lesson materials need to include these varied accounts and viewpoints. They cannot include token remarks highlighting important contributions from women, minorities and other cultures. Instead, these perspectives must be fully integrated into the curriculum, as Paul C. Gorski explains at EdChange.org.

Gorski encourages true curriculum reform. In his listing of “Key Characteristics of a Multicultural Curriculum,” Gorski explains that creating a truly multicultural curriculum includes changes to the following within the classroom:

Teacher delivery must address different learning styles and perspectives and challenge typical power dynamics in the classroom.

Content must accurately represent the contributions and perspectives of all groups, while avoiding stereotypes and language that represents a bias or one perspective.

Educators should incorporate diversity in learning materials — both in language and perspective — and also type, i.e: texts, newspapers, videos, images, games, etc.

Present content, events and movements from a variety of lenses, and through more than just a few “heroic characters.”

Include the perspectives and experiences of your students and their heritage, and encourage ways to connect these with relevant historical events.

Hold honest discussions about racism, sexism and other forms of oppression, and connect students to their local and global community.

Constantly evaluate and assess curriculum “for completeness, accuracy, and bias.”

As Burstein and Hutton explain, “Providing options in perspective helps children understand that history and the social sciences are made up of many different sources and points of view.”

Today’s students hail from a diversity of experiences, and social studies are a great way for them to explore those perspectives and their place in the world.

To see how Studies Weekly incorporates multiple perspectives in our publications, request a free sample.