Spent two days this last week working with two groups of social studies teachers. The first group was made up of middle school and high school teachers, the second made up of elementary teachers.

We talked about how kids learn and what kinds of things teachers can do that are based on current brain research. “Traditional” social studies instruction has for so long been lecture, readings from the textbook, and paper and pencil worksheets. We know that type of instruction does not work well to encourage long term learning at deep levels. The trick is to figure out what we as social studies teachers can do based on research that still meets state standards.

It was a good two days! We shared ideas and strategies. We also “practiced” different activities that work with kids. A couple of my favorites include having kids work with documents to determine accuracy, etc and an activity that forces kids to figure out a mystery involving the 1991 Italian Iceman death.

There was some great discussion concerning the use of music as a way to engage students at an emotional level with the content. We also discussed how to “hook” kids into wanting to learn what we want them to learn. Visuals are a great way to do this!

Basically, we need to have students be the ones tranforming data into knowledge rather than just simply having them memorize the answers. Data equals information that is organized into patterns which kids then wrestle into some sort of knowledge.

When kids are doing the thinking themselves and solving the mysteries of history, that’s when learning happens!