During my time in my social studies class this summer session, I have learned a great deal about what it means to be an effective and innovative social studies teacher. Before this summer, when I thought of social studies in elementary school, I remembered very little besides reading textbook chapters and recalling history facts. But wow has my mind been blown by this class. Social studies in elementary school is a subject where the possibilities are endless. Lessons can be made in any social studies domain such as civics, political science, sociology, history, economics, citizenship and let's definitely not forget the Arts. It is incredibly important that we teach our students content from each of these domains so that they can grow up to be active citizens in our democratic republic. Lessons in any of these domains can be integrative with other subject objectives and content as well. For example, in a fifth grade lesson plan that I created this summer, the students are learning about state representation in the House of Representatives. In doing so, they will be also making graphs to show correlation between state size, state population and state representation. I think I am able to speak for my class when saying it is extremely easy to plan an integrative lesson that includes content and objectives from a social studies domain.
Another huge takeaway from this class is learning the importance and effectiveness of Backward Design. Backward Design is a helpful strategy for curriculum and unit planning. Successful teaching is able to occur when there is clarity about desired learning outcomes, both short term and long term, and the evidence that will show that learning has occurred. When planning lessons and units, the Backward Design process requires teachers to first identify desired results for students establishing essential questions and established goals for understanding. Next teachers are to consider the performances and products that will reveal evidence of meaning-making and transfer. The third and final step for teachers is to plan lessons and learning experiences accordingly. While this process may seem unorthodox at first to some teachers, it is one that allows the teacher to be a 'coach of understanding' through units rather than a lecturer through a textbook. To me personally, Backward Design is how I have always planned lessons. Before creating an activity or learning experience, I consider what I want the students to learn and how I can tell if learning is actually taking place. If teachers consider adopting this unit design, they will find that with every lesson that they create they are able to answer the question of 'why they are doing what they are doing'.
My favorite part of this class was visiting the NC Museum of History and the NC Museum of Art. It was incredibly beneficial to tour these museums with my professor in order to envision how a field trip could be made to either one of these sites. I had never considered before just how lucky we are to have these resources right in our backyard! Surprisingly, I had the best time at the NC Museum of Art. Our docent was extremely helpful, and I could easily picture using this museum as an integrative resource in my units. I was astonished with how much this museum has to offer. It features a Rodin exhibit with thirty sculptures and one of two Judaic exhibits in the whole country!! To not use these museums as field trips would be a waste. I personally can not wait to plan lessons and trips to each of these museums for my first grade students this coming Fall!