A socially inclined, 21st Century middle school student, sitting in a classroom designed for 20th Century learning, may have trouble focusing. Music, friends, and popular culture beckon them from their smart phones and laptops with the promise of social connections and fast moving information. Their world is far removed from the events and places they are hearing about in a history lesson… and the disconnect that creates can be a big problem.
Seventh grade social studies teachers tend to be very creative people. They have to be! They are competing with so much these days for their tech savvy students’ attention. We know how important it is that students learn history and geography, but convincing them of it is a different story!
Kansans already know that their state isn’t “vacation central” in the eyes of the world. We are okay with that, and wouldn’t attempt to convince you otherwise, but there are countless Kansans who can totally identify with Dorothy, as she clicks her ruby red heels and says, “There’s no place like home!” And, the teachers of some very lucky 7th grade students in Kansas are proving that fact by some very creative means!
Mary Myers teaches history to 7th and 8th graders at Council Grove Middle School in Council Grove, Kansas. She told me,
"In our district, we study Kansas history the entire last semester at the 7th grade level. For Kansas Day, I [Mary] had the kids write a letter about the town of Council Grove and what they liked or disliked about Kansas. They wrote the letters to people living outside of Council Grove. We mailed them on Kansas Day, Jan. 29th, all over our state. The goal was to get back letters we could read (primary sources) and learn about other places as an enrichment project. As letters came in, we read them, put little flags on a map of the towns we were hearing from, and hung brochures/pictures/stuff that people included with their letters on the classroom wall. As the letters poured in, some girls in my 11th hour period kept begging me to start a Facebook page."
Many teachers might have brushed it off as something that could never happen but Mrs. Myers challenged the students to find a way to use the page for learning. They did, and she obtained permission, experimented with the security settings on the site, and published the page for her students.
They named it, “Where on Earth is Kansas?”
They instructed visitors to their page to comment with the location of where they are currently living in Kansas and hoped to get at least 250 likes from different Kansas cities, towns, and townships.
"When we left school that day we had 3 likes. By 5pm that night we had 40 likes, and by the next morning we had over 250 likes. Our goal was 250 likes and we were already past that goal. We tried to remain anonymous but when the Wichita Eagle wanted an interview, we knew we would soon be figured out. Being anonymous generated 7,000 inbox messages. EVERYONE wanted to know who we were!
The students wanted to comment on every picture and that was very important to them. I would pull students in during the mornings before school, during their study halls, lunch times, and in the classroom if they were finished; it became more of an enrichment project.
The first few days, people just told us where they were from, which is what the instructions said to do. However, then people started adding a few interesting details about their towns and photos. We were hearing from people all over the world and from every U.S. state numerous times. People found long lost relatives on the page. It was just crazy.
People were begging us to post lists of towns we needed. When we finally did, we only needed 74 towns. It was crazy to see how quickly people passed us on and wanted people they knew living in those towns to help us. In one hour, 12,000 people would view our posts on the busy days up to 70,000 views on one post!"
The total list of cities, towns and townships on their checklist numbered 631 and on February 27th, every town had checked in by someone currently living there!
They are now looking at the data that Facebook has provided them. A group of the students prepared a presentation using Prezi, that they presented to the school board in March.
This is what some of Mrs. Myers' students are saying about the project:
Madison says, "I learned that Kansas has the world's largest ball of twine and Kansas isn't boring. There are so many things to do here! I liked all of the pictures and how many people responded because it felt like everyone loved us and our page!"
Brittney says, "I liked how the things Mrs. Myers couldn't teach us outside of our classroom people taught us about by posting pictures and told us facts about towns in Kansas. Since Mrs. Myers can't take us there — it really helps us learn about the state that we live in and should love."
Marcus says, "We get to see to cool pictures and things about Kansas that we would not have gotten to see otherwise. Plus, we got to use Facebook at school."
I think that sums it all up pretty nicely!
Sarah Forster is a 7th grade Social Studies teacher at Jardine Middle School in Wichita, Kansas. She is in the middle of a Kansas project and about to embark on her own Kansas adventure, specially planned for her by her students.
Sarah hoped her students would become more aquainted with Kansas and what it has to offer.
"The students were asked to create 'The Ultimate 3 Day Kansas Road Trip' using travel brochures and Kansas road maps (all given to us by various travel groups in Kansas). The students chose a region in Kansas, narrowed their trip down to three cities in that region, and then began researching the various attractions in that area. There were guidelines. For example, two of the five attractions had to be historical, however, I [Sarah] tried to keep it fairly loose, and let the students get creative.
After researching and creating their travel brochure advertising their trip, I collected the brochures and chose the best one from each region based on a rubric the students had received at the beginning of the project. We then put the six finalists to a vote. Then all of the students got the chance to cast their vote, and we even invited the staff at our school to participate, also!
The brochure with the most votes won the competition, but the fun doesn't end there. As part of the project, I will spend three days of my Spring Break taking the 'Ultimate Road Trip' laid out by the winning team. My plan is to vlog and take pictures, so that the students can see all that I did. I can't wait to take the trip! The students knew this piece of the project from the start and it motivated them in ways unknown! I am proud to say, I haven't heard one kid say that Kansas is boring since this project began!"
Sarah and Mary have the right idea. Make learning relevant and authentic and the boredom starts to melt away without taking learning with it!
These projects are happening here in Kansas but the concept can be adapted to whatever and wherever you happen to teach with the same enthusiasm and interest!