As a social studies teacher in an urban school, I find that one of my most challenging tasks is engaging my students in world history. I find that my students often complain of history being too boring, and as Heafner states, “Students tend to equate uninteresting with unimportant; thus, students are not motivated to learn social studies content due to the lack of value of the content.” (Heafner, 2004). Coupled with lack of interest, I find that many of the traditional social studies resources have lost their ability to connect students to the events. According to research, “The average person today consumes almost three times as much information as what the typical person consumed in 1960” (NPR, 2010). With this drastic increase in the amount of information that each person consumes, a textbook containing facts and pictures of events no longer captivates students. As students become less interested and more apathetic towards world history, I feel there is an active role teachers can take in modifying the delivery of content to a more relate-able and engaging medium.
In my urban school, the majority of my students come from low socio-economic homes and African American heritage. One of the main reasons I believe so many students are uninterested in world history is because they do not feel a clear connection to the events, people or locations of the lesson. When trying to teach a unit on the events of World War II and its impact on foreign relations, my students find themselves being introduced to key figures that are of a different heritage, from different a socio-economic background, in a part of the world they have never seen nor are from and fighting in a war with which they are unaware of any historical connection to them personally. Given these obstacles, the Illinois Social Studies Standards states that students should be able to, “Analyze and report historical events to determine cause and-effect relationships”. However, the majority of my students find that they can survive through rote memorization of a few key names and places.
The wicked problem that I am facing is that my students do not feel any sort of connection with significant historical events, and therefore are either unable or uninterested in understanding their impact on history. As information becomes more accessible to students, a traditional textbook will not be enough to engage their attention in the subject. In a world where social media and blogs give universal access to in depth information, students have become bored with single model resources. When content is delivered this way to students, they simple use rote memorization, and as Shulman stated, then the students knowledge isn’t necessarily wrong or forgotten, but instead is not stored in a way in which it can be useful beyond just being remembered (Shulman, 2000).
In this ever-changing digital age, ability for my students to connect with each other, and with the greater web community, would be an invaluable resource for scaffolding my students’ long-term understanding and skills. There are many machines that fit the description for these needs, but when considering cost, ease of use and life span of the technology, the most appropriate devices would be iPads and MacBook laptops from Apple Computers. Allowing for fifteen of each of these devices to be available in a classroom would ensure every student had a device available two them, as well as being exposed to various technologies and relating them to the content. These devices would allow the students to have individual access to the web, as well as several useful media editing resources that would be essential for my lessons.
The Apple iPads are a rather new product, but have rapidly developed a very useful reputation in the education arena. One of the first positives of the iPad is that it is extremely user friendly and has a very adoptable operating system. Even if a student has had no previous experience with an iPad, the amount of time needed to become proficient with the device would be rather short, especially when compared to other tablets. As with any piece of technology, the longevity of the machine is also a very serious concern. As with most Apple devices, the iPad will be capable of wireless software updates and can stay relatively up to date with the changing generation of available software. The mobility of the devices are also ideal, as they can be easily carried around a room, shared with other students and extremely portable. This would create an atmosphere of greater collaboration as well as easier classroom management. Also, the iPads come equipped with dual cameras that can replace the need for video recording equipment, while still allowing students to create and edit photo and video projects.
The fifteen MacBook laptops would complement the iPads in the classroom as they are very similar, but offer certain tools that an iPad cannot. They are more substantial, so they would be able to hold larger content and have a more powerful processor, allowing for longer and more complex medias to be formatted and edited. They are also easier to use for word processing, as the use of a full keyboard and mouse can be a necessary option for some students. They still come equipped with all of the essential software as the iPad, but even offer more features in these applications due to the devices processing capabilities. The variation between the iPads and the MacBook’s would allow for the students to become skilled at creating media, word documents, projects and assessments using various tools, which is something they will be required to master once they reach the contemporary work force.
One obvious obstacle is ensuring that the student’s material remains private, secure and only edited or created by those who have the proper authority to do so. To combat this, and continue to ensure that students have the exposure to multiple devices, a cloud-based server would be offered to them. This could either be housed inside the school, or could be contracted out to a company who specializes in information technology. This would allow students to use Google Docs, iMovie, Garage Band and a host of other applications, but the information could be accessed from any device and in any room in the building. This server would also ensure that they school has the information under its control, so as to monitor projects, student content and archive materials to be used and shared with colleagues. This server could be updated and adapted to the needs of the school, and provide all the students and faculty with space to collaborate and share information.
Through the introduction of these laptops and iPads, I would be able to connect my students with the content through the use of more interactive and engaging lessons. These lessons will appeal to visual and kinesthetic learners because they will be able to actually interact with the content, through creating various videos and digital projects. In the past, the amount of physical interaction with my content would have been restricted to drawing or creating collages on poster board during my class time. However, with these iPads and laptops, my students could create their own videos with all of the available editing and producing software at their fingertips. I could have students organize into teams, recreating past events, conducting interviews, recording commercials or building advertisements with their machines, then collaborating with each other through the server. This would allow them to physically take the content and mold it to their creative desire, and would also allow me to assess their understanding on an individual basis, with much looser guidelines on what needed to be created.
The cart of iPads and MacBook’s will also allow for me to create lessons with a more linguistic or intrapersonal objective, and this can be done through blogging or podcast creation. One area of my content that I think could be exponentially improved with these devices is the relation of information from one area of my content to another. By students creating blogs, they would be posting their findings, research, thoughts and creations on a blog that would archive them. They would then be able to tag them, which would organize them on that space based on the content of their post. This would allow for me to pull from the various posts common themes, ideas, connections the students shared between each other or shared with other units we have discussed previously in class. This concrete connection would serve as a means of connecting the content, and making it last as opposed to turning in hard copies only to be thrown away immediately upon their return to the students.
I would also be better able to assess my students lasting knowledge of the content with access to these devices. Through mediums such as digital portfolios and web basted collaborative resources, my assessments would be individualized and unique to the student. Through the introduction of these devices, I would have the opportunity to not only offer more diverse lessons and units, but also be able to ensure my students were attaining the information and the long-term understanding.
Several ways that I could accomplish this would be to ensure that my assessments had alternative options for students to choose from that would best meet their learning styles. If I am trying to assess my students understanding of the implications the Second World War had on the expansion of the United States economic and military influence, I would be limited to a paper or test to universally assign my students. However, with these devices, I can create options that appeal to the individual student, and I can also manage them in a timely, organized manner for assessing them. I could offer the visual learners a chance to create a video that looks back at the transformation during hat time. This would allow them to break the material into chunks and analyze it while creating their own medium. An option for a linguistic learner would be having them create an infograph that analyzes the average income and expenditures on military during the time period. Students could also replicate old music, or perhaps remix older music and create a modern representation of the music with the audio editing capabilities.
A chance to incorporate both a students visual learning style and address their lack of interest in the content would be to use video game software to teach enduring understanding about certain criteria. The use of a video game to simulate the influence and effect of events would allow the student to be placed into the situation. These historical simulations allow the students a chance to become familiar with political process, historical facts, international relations and economic relationships (Squire and Barab, 2004). An example of this would be to use the game Make History, where students could control the fate of a nation during the Second World War. Being faced with these key decisions in the context of a game would engage the students while still addressing the content necessary. Below are the slides from a presentation I gave outlining this use of Making History in a class.
With these options, the classroom would be a more individual learning environment. As the instructor, I am always trying to find a way to allow my students the freedom to express their understanding of the content. Since most of my students have not had positive experiences with history, a chance to explore it creatively through an iPad or laptop would be a new and exciting alternative for them. The content could be related closer to their lives and give them the intrinsic understanding of why it is important for them to retain the skills for their future endeavors.