Our social studies department rarely has elective courses to offer our junior high students. I don’t know why, but ever since I’ve been at my school, most of the “unique” elective courses go to other content areas, such as phy. ed and language arts. This year was different, however. All departments were asked to submit ideas for new elective courses. Since I’m always looking for more ways to incorporate technology, increase student engagement, and because I myself enjoy video games, I proposed a class titled: Civilization 5: A History of Empire Building. Here is the description I wrote for our school’s course catalog:
Why do countries make the decisions they make? How do nations relate to each other? What types of resources does a country need to achieve its goals? These are essential questions all nations face to varying degrees. The answers to these ideas and others will be explored using the video game Civilization 5. This class will use Civ 5 as a way to look at common issues all nations face. In addition, students will look at primary source documents and interpret statistical data from around the world. Projects and assignments will be posted on blogs, forums, and class websites.
Every year I try to fit in a Native American unit into my eighth grade U.S. History curriculum. If I were to follow the prepared curriculum out of our mammoth sized textbooks, this would probably never happen. But, I think it’s important to recognize the uniqueness of Native American history and culture alongside the expansion if the United States history, so I make time for it.
Previous years I’ve tried to allow students to work to their strengths and create a final assessment for me that not only demonstrates their understanding and comprehension of the material, but affords them the opportunity to stretch themselves creatively. Students have turned in dioramas, movies, created songs, written reports, and other types of projects, all on a specific tribe they research. While it was very interesting to see what the students came up with, I felt they were placing more emphasis on the finished product, and not as much on the learning objectives. A sort of teaching to the diorama, if you will.
This year I was intent to reverse that trend, by limiting the projects students would do in favor of having them spend more time on research, analysis, and application. Rather than allow students to choose anything they wished, I narrowed the focus and required each group (3 or 4) of students to:
Research a Native American tribe.
Summarize their information in the form of a Google Doc they create and edit together.
Apply that information to a Google Map they create.
Students started out by first researching a specific Native American tribe they were assigned at random. There was a pool of about 20 different tribes I gathered ahead of time to ensure enough quality information could be found by each group. Their research packet was split into three categories: Geography, Society/Culture, and Economy/Resources.
After they had done their research and filled out their packet, they had to choose one of the aforementioned categories and summarize their research in paragraph form on a shared Google Doc. Since all of the groups information was on one Google Doc, it became incredibly easy for me to give them feedback in the form of comments, and, it allowed them to peer edit each others work.
With their research analyzed and summarized in paragraph form, they could now easily create their Google Map. I created a rubric for students to follow, and also provided some simple instructions on how to get started. What was surprising was how quickly most students picked it up. After reading through the directions, the majority of students would shoo me away and finish the map on their own. Each group had to insert Placemarks of the three categories, insert relevant pictures that would help explain their paragraph, draw the area the tribe lived in and, for extra credit, they could insert a YouTube video about their tribe.
So..did it work?
Compared to years past, this project was much more successful at having students meet learning objectives. Not only did they have fun and use their creative energy to create a Google Map, but after giving them a reflective final assessment, it was clear to me that they had a better grasp not only on their tribe, but on the histories and cultures of Native American tribes across the U.S. during the 19th century. If you’ve ever thought about using Google Maps with your students, I highly recommend you dive right in and try it out. Especially, if your district uses Google Apps for Education, as mine does.
Here’s how you can insert YouTube video clips into a Placemark.