Posts Tagged ‘ social studies ’
One of the best ways to ensure students retain and comprehend historical information is to draw on what they already know. This includes using references from their prior experiences and pop culture. Students may be surprised to see the historical connections in things that are a part of their everyday lives. One great resource to draw from is the stories of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss has penned numerous books, cartoons, and animated stories that have deep historical meaning and applications and they can be tied directly to the social studies curriculum. Below is a sampling of how Dr. Seuss can be included in the social studies classroom. While these activities are designed with social studies in mind, many of them can be adapted for use in the language arts classroom as well.
Political Cartoons: Dr. Seuss Goes to War
Throughout World War II Dr. Seuss inked hundreds of editorial cartoons about the war and American involvement, including scathing depictions of Hitler, Mussolini and other Axis enemies. (Warning: there are numerous stereotypical and racist depictions of non-American combatants that may require a separate lesson or explanation). One method that that would engage students would be to pick out a real life character depicted in the political cartoon and list and describe the character traits Dr. Seuss assigns to him. This asks the students to identify the person in the cartoon and to combine their knowledge of history and understanding of symbolism.
Mutual Assured Destruction: The Butter Battle Book
This story is a satirical look at the Cold War arms race that nearly led to nuclear annihilation, using the Yooks and Zooks as stand ins for the United States and the Soviet Union. The songs, rhyming, and Dr. Seuss style will keep the kids interested, even as they are watching a children’s cartoon from the 1980s. The students will simultaneously follow the story and find parallels to the Cold War, so a Story Map will help them keep track of the action as they watch. This particular organizer also asks the students come up with a solution or ending to the cliffhanger, adding to the interpretive nature of the activity. Another engaging activity uses the Boxes and Bullets graphic organizer which asks the students to write an overriding connection between the Butter Battle and the Cold War, then give three examples to back up their connections, and lastly, to add specific events from history or the story to give depth to their examples.
Psychology: The Cat in the Hat
Every student and teacher knows of The Cat in the Hat, but its uses in Psychology classes may not be as well known. The main characters of the children, the Cat, and the fish each display different characteristics of Freud’s personality components of id, ego, and superego. Teachers can use the Narrative Procedure organizer to chart the examples of each appearance of id, ego, and superego throughout the story. Another method would be to use the Plot Diagram to chart the action of the story as it relates to Freud’s theory.
These cartoons and stories are not just for Social Studies class. The skills that Seuss instills and reinforces travel across curricula, and can be used to meet Common Core Standards. Check out Top Ten Ways to Teach the Common Core ELA Standards for more ways to integrate a great resource like Seuss. However you utilize Dr. Seuss in your Social Studies classroom, it’s clear he will be having an impact on children’s education long after their days of bedtime stories are over.
Hollywood movies pose a unique set of problems for social studies teachers: How often should I show films, how much of the film should I be showing, and which films are appropriate to show? The short answer is film is an essential part of the social studies classroom that, if used in the proper manner, can be a pedagogical tool that enhances your students’ understanding of historical events and themes.
How often should I show films?
You should show films as often as your curriculum calls for it. Movies give the students the unique ability to see history happen in a modern medium with special effects and a cultural significance that you cannot recreate in your classroom. The key to using movies well is to use them wisely. They should serve as a complement to your more traditional methods of conveying information.
For example, a primary source about the modernization by the Meiji government of Japan in the late 1800s gives the students the ability to visualize history while improving their skill of interpreting text. But if that source is followed by a clip of the Tom Cruise film “The Last Samurai”, the students see their vision come to life. The students can make a T chart of the traditional and modern aspects of Japan they see in the clip. Think of all of the skills used in this ten minute activity: drawing upon prior knowledge that was gained through reading a first hand account, comparing and contrasting two vastly different eras in Japan, and interpreting the film not as a Hollywood production but as a secondary source.
Don’t let the stigma of showing films alter your best judgment as a professional. Cops still eat doughnuts despite the public’s negative connotation. Teachers should still show movies despite the public’s misconception as to why we show them.
How much of the film should I be showing?
I have worked with teachers who earned nicknames such as “Lights Out” and “Matinee” for their use of movies in the classroom. It wasn’t their frequent use of film that earned them these monikers; it was their reliance on showing FULL LENGTH Hollywood movies on a regular basis. This is not a pedagogically sound practice on any level. Movies are more useful in the social studies class through a series of short clips, not when they are shown in their entirety. The few exceptions to this rule include Glory, Schindler’s List and Hotel Rwanda because these are stories that more completely tell of the emotions and individuals that make history happen and make it special. These stories cannot be properly told in ten minute clips.
When I was in high school, my tenth grade teacher showed the class the film “Gandhi”. The entire 191 minute movie. Today, I use three specially selected clips from the movie (less than thirty minutes in total) to illustrate the themes of human rights violations, collapse of imperialism, and the importance of the individual.
Which films are appropriate to show?
There is no one right answer to this question so I recommend you ask your school’s administration before showing any movie – even just a clip! – that is rated above the age of your class. Some districts have an approved movie list that is constantly reviewed and updated.
Below is an abbreviated list of films that would be ideal to show in the social studies classroom. Again, I advise that you view the film and find clips that apply to your lesson and reinforce the themes and concepts that you are trying to deliver to your students.
1492: Conquest of Paradise (Exploration)
The Crucible (Salem Witch Trials) – worksheet
The Last of the Mohicans (French and Indian War)
1776 (Revolutionary War)
Amistad (Slavery) – worksheet
Glory (Civil War)
Gettysburg (Civil War)
Lincoln (Civil War)
The Godfather Part II (Immigration)
The Grapes of Wrath (Depression) – worksheet
Saving Private Ryan (Invasion of Normandy/World War II)
We Were Soldiers (Vietnam War)
Gladiator (Bread and Circus/Roman Empire) – worksheet
Luther (Reformation/Diet of Worms)
The Last Samurai (Japanese Imperialism) – worksheet
The Last Emperor (Qing Dynasty)
Flyboys (World War I)
All Quiet on the Western Front (World War I) – worksheet
The Lost Battalion (World War I)
Gandhi (Indian Independence)
Schindler’s List (Holocaust) – worksheet
Thirteen Days (Cuban Missile Crisis)
Hotel Rwanda (Collapse of Imperialism/Genocide) – worksheet
Not only can watching films enhance students’ understanding and interest in a topic, having your class make a movie is an excellent method for assessment that asks the kids to interpret and analyze material to make an organized and accurate representation of history. With smartphones and almost every pocket and programs such as Windows Moviemaker becoming available to more districts, the ability to use film as a tool for assessment is more relevant than ever. Students can create a documentary or newscast that discusses history as it happens. This makes set design and wardrobe very easy. A more detailed project can be to have them act out history as it happens. Posting these projects on YouTube is another way to view films and share them with other classes. There are numerous examples of similar projects online, enabling you to show students both good and poor examples of what you would like them to do.
Don’t let parents, administrators, or colleagues shame you into ignoring such a popular and effective medium. Hollywood films can be used as an effective tool for learning if they are used in the proper manner. Follow the tips above for maximum impact on your students and check out our post Teaching with Movies in the ELA classroom post for more ideas.
The impact of Martin Luther King, Jr. on American society and politics is immeasurable. His efforts to bring equality to all races living in America led to lasting change and still hold an important place in all American history curricula. As we celebrate the legacy of Dr. King on the third Monday of January every year, it is important to find fresh ways to teach our students about his life, while still incorporating some of the essential reading, writing, and thinking skills students need.
Let’s look at Dr. King’s most memorable speech with a focus on historical thinking skills.
Close reading asks students to determine a source’s point of view and purpose. For example, Dr. King’s famous I Have a Dream speech includes the sections:
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Students can break down each line to determine the vision that Dr. King had for his country. They can then summarize the entire section by analyzing the interpretation for each line.
To help students see the speech from an ELA perspective, Presentation Magazine offers a compositional analysis of the speech.
Contextualizing is the skill that asks students to look at the facts and events surrounding a particular document that may have influenced its creator. To fully understand the context of Dr. King’s message we must look at race relations and segregation in America in 1963. Teaching Tolerance offers a five lesson teacher’s guide to their film A Time for Justice: America’s Civil Rights Movement which chronicles the civil rights movement from the 1954 ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education to the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act. The guide includes primary sources, interactive activities, and the background information that give Dr. King’s words context.
For upper elementary students, Scholastic provides a brief overview of the same era. It provides context for Dr. King’s speech, but does not require a lot of class time to convey much of the same information.
Corroborating a source’s content is when students locate other sources that back up or contradict the source being analyzed. In trying to corroborate Dr. King’s words, students can be presented with various speeches.
Here are two examples:
The first is by Alabama governor George Wallace, that says, in part,
and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.
The second example is from President John Kennedy, which says:
This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama. That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified young Alabama residents who happened to have been born Negro.
Students should use excerpts of these speeches to corroborate Dr. King’s characterization of a country that is divided and unequal. Students can also use these speeches to make a claim about American society in the 1960s.
To properly source a document, students must determine if the who, when, and where of a document makes it more or less reliable. All three of our speeches were given in 1963. We know from our contextualizing, that America was in a state of racial turmoil at the time. In our corroborating, we learn that the speeches by President Kennedy and Governor Wallace highlight the issues stated by Dr. King. All sources seem to be a reliable source of history of the time they were created.
Dr. Martin Luther King is a monumental figure in American history. His contributions cannot be overlooked. With some of the sources and activities above, you can honor his work and memory, while still integrating the skills our students need. To learn more about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have students listen to the Read-Aloud: Martin Luther King, Jr. which offers a short overview of his life. Also, you may enjoy our free Martin Luther King, Jr. printables. For more on historical thinking skills, check out Help Teaching’s Online Self Paced Lessons on Sourcing and Corroboration, and well as two different lessons on Contextualizing.
The Social Studies classroom is built around primary source exploration. The use of primary sources can lead to incredible analysis, discussion, and higher level thinking. Use the five sources below in your classroom to engage your students and to explore new and exciting methods of critical thinking and active learning.
1. Magna Carta
The theme of revolution is very apparent in today’s world. The causes of these revolutions reflect the very same issues that have faced people for centuries: equality and protection of rights. While the Magna Carta was not written with regular folks in mind, it certainly has been used that way throughout history. American revolutionaries used this document from 1215 to reinforce their rights as citizens and subjects of the British crown.
Excerpts of the Magna Carta can be used to analyze modern international and national incidents. Two standout sections that can be used in a modern discussion about Ferguson, Missouri, the Assad regime in Syria, or a historical analysis of Stalinist Russia are:
“No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”
“To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice.”
Help Teaching’s library of printable worksheets includes a quiz on the English Monarchy that would serve as an apt companion to a Magna Carta discussion.
The rights granted to Americans in the first ten amendments to the Constitution are so influential that they can be used across disciplines. These rights are the basis for so many other successful governments across the world that activities related to this document are easy to find and engaging to teach. The Bill of Rights can be analyzed to help your students think beyond the basics and improve their higher level thinking. Another resource offered by Help Teaching is an application of the liberties offered in the Bill of Rights.
As he left office, President George Washington was able to encapsulate the conflicts that would soon bubble over in the country he helped to build and protect. This speech gives the students a glimpse into the future of the united States, while also allowing them to engage in critical thinking activities. Students can make inferences and draw conclusions about what may happen next in American history based on Washington’s speech. Help Teaching offers a worksheet that analyzes this historic speech and asks students to compare it to a modern speech given by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
This document ended a world war and started another. It is directly responsible for the anger and desperation that allowed Adolph Hitler to gain power. The Treaty of Versailles can lead to an engaging lesson on long and short term effects or the spoils of war, and allow students to hypothesize and experiment with historical events. These activities would be greatly enhanced with a graphic organizer or a KWL chart that organizes their knowledge base and learning objectives into manageable chunks.
The struggle for women’s equality does not garner the same attention as other mistreated groups in many Social studies curricula, but covering the 19th amendment assists the females in the class to take more ownership of the content and exposes the students to women’s issues that still plague the country and the world today. The 19th Amendment can also be used in a larger unit on women’s history. Help Teaching offers a worksheet that can help you to map the unit.
These documents not only had an impact on a specific era, they also connect to so many more events, people, and themes that play a major role in the world today. They also assist teachers in engaging students with critical thinking and higher learning activities. Help Teaching’s library of informational text analysis worksheets will help further your successful implementation of engaging documents in the classroom, For more tips on using graphic organizers with documents, check out Graphic Organizers in the Social Studies Classroom.
Geography Awareness Week, also known as GeoWeek, is celebrated every year during the third week of November. The goal of the week is to get people excited about geography and help them learn more about the world around them. Every year, we present fun facts to help you get excited about Geography Awareness Week. This year is no exception. In honor of Geography Awareness Week, we have rounded up 10 fun facts about one of the most majestic and awe-inspiring geographical features on Earth – mountains!
What is a Mountain?
Did you know that there are no universally agreed upon rules for what makes a mountain a mountain?
The general agreement is that a mountain is a landform that is taller than the surrounding area and bigger than a hill. Of course, there is also no agreed upon definition of a hill either.
Because there is not an official definition of a mountain, countries define what a mountain is in different ways. For example, Ireland and the United Kingdom require a mountain to be over two thousand feet tall to be considered a mountain, while the United States has determined that mountains only have to be over one thousand feet tall. This means that a mountain in one country might be considered a hill in another.
Mountains are found all over the world. Each of the seven continents have its own maintains. Here are some fun facts about the mountains on each of the continents.
1.) North America: Oldest Mountains
The Appalachians are over 480 million years old. They were formed during the Ordovician period when the North American plate crashed into another plate during the creation of the super-continent of Pangaea. Once as tall as the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachians have been worn down over the many millions of years to the low peaks seen today.
2.) South America: Longest Mountain Range
The Andes extend over forty three hundred miles through Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. The mountains were pushed up when to the Nazca and Antarctic plates started slipping under the South American Plate. The highest volcanoes in the world, and the highest mountains outside of Asia, are located the Andes mountain range.
3.) Asia: Highest Mountains
With over ten mountains over 8000 meters tall, the Himalayas are the tallest mountains in the world. Mount Everest, with an elevation over twenty nine thousand feet, is officially the tallest mountain in the world and is located in the Himalayas.
There is, though, some dispute over whether or not Mount Everest is actually the tallest mountain. Mountain height is measured by how high the peak of a mountain is above sea level, not how tall the slopes of the mountain are. The base of Mount Everest sits in the Tibetan Plateau, which is over thirteen thousand feet above sea level, meaning that the slopes are around fifteen thousand feet. Denali in Alaska, on the other hand, has a base that is less than three thousand feet above sea level and slopes that are almost nineteen thousand feet.
The mountains are also only about 70 million years old, which means that they are also among the world’s youngest mountains. The Indian continental plate moves sixty-seven millimeters per year, which means that that the Himalayas are growing, albeit very slowly, each year.
4.) Africa: Tallest Free-Standing Mountain
Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is a volcano that is not part of any mountain range. The mountain has three distinct volcanic cones, two of which are extinct, but the third is only dormant and could erupt again at some point. It is unclear when Mt. Kilimanjaro last erupted, but it is suspected to have been during the 19th century. Because of its height, Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the only mountains in Africa to have a permanent snowcap.
5.) Australia: Smallest Mountain
Not every continent has tall mountains. Mount Wycheproof in Australia is officially the smallest mountain in the world. To most of the world Mount Wycheproof would barely be considered a hill. The mountain measures in at a staggering 486 ft above sea level. You would have to stack up almost sixty Mount Wycheproofs to reach the height of Mount Everest.
6.) Europe: Most Photographed Mountain
Though it is impossible to accurately verify, residents of the town of Zermatt, Switzerland claim that the nearby Matterhorn is the most photographed mountain in the world. Even if it is not the world’s most photographed mountain, the Matterhorn is an extremely popular tourist attraction and its image has become a symbol of Switzerland.
7.) Antarctica: Mountains Covered in the Most Snow
Did you know that even Antarctica has mountains? They might not be the highest or the longest mountains in the world, but the Gamburtsev Mountains are the only mountains that are completely covered with snow. No one has actually seen the mountains because they are currently buried under two thousand feet of snow and ice. From 2007 to 2009, scientists used ice penetrating radar to survey mountain range. From their findings it has been determined that the mountains probably are around 6,500 feet tall and resemble the Alps in Europe.
Do you have any fun mountain facts to share? If so, share them in the comments. For more fun geography facts, check out 10 Fun Facts for Geography Awareness Week and 10 More Fun Facts for Geography Awareness Week, and be sure to check back next year for even more facts!
Every day at school, teachers and administrators remind students to behave properly and follow the rules. However, instead of simply telling students how to behave, schools should focus on modeling the right behavior and helping students see that negative behaviors not only break school rules, but they could have an impact on themselves and others in the future. When students begin to see their negative behavior in light of how it effects others and how it could effect them in the future, they are more likely to think twice before breaking another rule. Unfortunately, the school schedule does not often include much time for lessons in character education. That’s where classes like social studies come into play. Social studies content allows for character exploration as a reasonable tangent, making it the social studies teacher’s responsibility to incorporate it when possible.
If you’re looking for new ways to incorporate character into the social studies classroom, consider some of the following options:
Teaching about the Holocaust
One unit that is a perfect complement to this discussion is the Holocaust as there are many lesson plans available to assist you in making your point. The Anti-Defamation League has put together a lesson using the pyramid of hate to illustrate how simple stereotyping and bullying can lead to harassment and violence. The lesson asks students to examine personal experiences with violence, anger, and prejudice, and later, analyze the experiences of Holocaust survivors to see how prejudices can lead to greater hate.
To express the notion that allowing hate to spewed without taking a stand is just as wrong as spewing hate yourself, you can discuss the quote by Martin Niemöller that says:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”
To further this notion, use “The Hangman” by Maurice Ogden, or if your students are visual learners, there is a psychedelic cartoon version is available on YouTube. Books such as The Diary of a Young Girl and The Kite Runner can also be good to use while teaching about the Holocaust.
Teaching about Colonization and Imperialism
The European colonization of Africa was another moment of historical greed and brutality that can be used as a character lesson for students. Independence leader Jomo Kenyatta penned a fable that exposes the European nations as animal bullies who pretend to help the technologically weak Africans, while stealing their land and resources. The moral is not to take advantage of those weaker than you or it may come back to haunt you later. There is sexual imagery and advanced concepts, so this may not be suitable for all student populations.
The concept of imperialism, Social Darwinism, and the “White man’s Burden”, has a connection to bullying. There are many resources available to educate students about the effects of bullying and places to get help. The film “Bully” follows five students who face torment every day. Anderson Cooper followed up on the movie with a town hall meeting on the matter. The tragic consequences of online bullying, which students often consider harmless because it is not physical or face to face, is briefly examined in the PBS Frontline episode “Growing Up Online.”
Sometimes we get caught up in making better students and forget we also have to mold better people. Character education is a worthy venture, even when high stakes test preparation dominates much of our class time. We must teach kids to be kind, have integrity, and bring goodness and love into the world.
Do you know any great character lessons to incorporate in the social studies classroom? If so, we’d love for you to share them in the comments.
About the Author
William Campione began his career in the New York City public school system before moving to a diverse suburban New York public school district. He teaches high school Social Studies. In his fourteen years in the classroom William has filled a variety of roles, including working with a co-teacher, in a consultant teacher model, and in a self contained classroom. He has taught all four high school grades, dealing with the stress of an impending New York State Regents Exam with freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, and the year-long battle with Senior-itis while teaching twelfth graders.
The United States Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787, an event that is commemorated each year as Constitution and Citizenship Day. Americans are reminded of the opportunities provided to them as citizens, and the responsibilities of citizens participating in a democracy. This is a terrific opportunity to discuss civics and citizenship with students, while recognizing the living document that governs the nation. Here are some ways to commemorate this day with your class.
1. Scholastic provides numerous lesson plans surrounding Constitution and Citizenship, including asking students to analyze the impact of civic involvement. Students are also asked to critically view the Constitution, an essential skill for success.
2. iCivics uses role playing and real life scenarios to teach students about their responsibilities in government, while analyzing the role of the citizenry in maintaining democracy. Founded and led by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the free resources provided by iCivics include lesson plans, printables, and digital interactives.
3. Patriotic songs are a great way to introduce students to the tenets of democracy and citizenship. Use Help Teaching’s Character Traits graphic organizer after reading lyrics and/or listening to songs about America to chronicle the roles of a citizen in America.
4. Start with Help Teaching’s KWL chart, and then use Constitution Facts for a Treasure Hunt of the history and details behind the Constitution. Encourage students to find out more about the living document to fill in the pieces of information they would like to find out.
Middle/High School Students:
5. Quiz students on major American historical documents using Help Teaching’s pre-made worksheets, including Creating the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. This enables them to review the history behind the creation of these seminal American documents.
6. Utilize the National Archives’ interactive Docs Teach, which provides various activities that allow student collaboration and creativity, all surrounding the Constitution. Each activity can be printed for desk work or completed online with terrific graphics and methods for student understanding. Docs Teach also allows teachers to create their own interactive work to better meet the varied needs of their students.
7. The Bill of Rights Institute provides lessons, resources, and videos for use in the classroom. One activity asks students to interpret which Founding Fathers were proponents for ratification of the Constitution and which were critics. Use Help Teaching’s Fact or Opinion organizer to group their responses and thoughts.
8. The National Constitution Center has an interactive Constitution that allows students to choose the section of the Constitution they’d like to view. Breaking down the document into smaller chunks makes it easier for students to comprehend each section, and allows for the teacher to use various strategies for analysis. Teachers may choose to participate in a Think, Pair, Share with the different sections, chunking the information even more. The National Constitution Center also provides a series of videos that explain the different branches of government and their role in supporting the Constitution.
9. Constitution Day isn’t just for history class. Use Help Teaching activities on the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence to reinforce important skills of vocabulary, context clues, and rhetoric. Cross curricular activities like these not only inform about facts and history, but can be a friend to the ELA teacher, as well.
For all students:
10. Constitution Facts is sponsoring a poster contest open to all K – 12. Previous winners are posted for inspiration. Good luck!
Constitution and Citizenship Day is a reminder of what makes America great. It also gives teachers the ability to use primary source documents to reinforce common core skills and activities. For more creative, patriotic activities check out Creative Ways to Teach about US Presidents.
It’s that time of year again! That’s right, it’s Geography Awareness Week. The time of year when students clamor for scintillating information about our world and features that make it special. You’ve probably read our first feature, Ten Fun Facts for Geography Awareness Week, and you’ve been waiting for a brand new installment to share with your friends. Well, your wait is finally over. Get a load of these fresh facts about our world.
- The wettest city in America (that is, the city with the most annual rainfall) is Mobile, AL, with an average of 67 inches. The notoriously rainy Pacific Northwest does not appear until 24th on the wettest list, but Olympia, WA is credited with having the most rainy days in the country, averaging 63 per year. The wettest inhabited city in the world is Buenaventira, Colombia, which receives 267” of rain per year!
- Africa is the only continent located in all four hemispheres. It is, therefore, the only continent to have land on the prime meridian and the equator.
- Alaska is clearly the northernmost and westernmost US state, but it’s also the easternmost! The Alaskan Aleutian Islands just barely cross the 180 degree meridian of longitude, placing them in the Eastern Hemisphere.
- China shares its international borders with an incredible 16 nations!
Well, some will argue that it is only 14 bordering nations. China attains its title of Border Nations King only when you include Hong Kong and Macau, “Special Administrative Regions” of China that are not exactly autonomous. If you do not count those two regions as independent nations that border China (and many in Hong Kong do not feel independent), then Russia ties China, as they also have 14 bordering nations.
- The largest pyramid in the world is located in…Mexico! The Great Pyramid of Cholula is located in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico and was believed to be dedicated to the god Quetzalcoatl.
- We typically think of deserts as sand covered, barren areas with ridiculously high temperatures. But a desert is actually defined by its (lack of) rainfall amounts. The largest desert on Earth is the Antarctic Desert at 5.5 million square miles. This region averages less than two inches of rainfall per year. The largest hot desert in the world is the Sahara Desert at 3.1 million square miles.
- According to the most recent US census, 192 different languages are spoken in New York City, making it the most linguistically diverse city in the country. New York barely beat out Los Angeles, who came in at 185 languages. The title of most languages spoken in one country belongs to Papua New Guinea with 820! The island has been inhabited for 40,000 years, so many languages have evolved and differentiated themselves from other. Also, Papua New Guinea has many natural barriers, leaving its people very fragmented. Cultural diffusion is minimal and many of these tiny groups have retained their own languages.
- Mount Everest is the world’s tallest mountain…when measured above sea level. When measured from the sea floor, Mauna Kea in Hawaii measures at over 32,000 feet, making it over 3,000 feet higher than Everest. Mauna Kea is less than 14,000 feet high when measured from above sea level.
- The Falkland Islands house 500,000 sheep and only 3,000 people. There are numerous countries whose sheep population outnumbers the human population including New Zealand,Mongolia, and Australia.
- If you don’t like your neighbors, move to Mongolia. It is the least densely populated country in the world with four people per square mile. Monaco is the most densely populated country in the world at 49,236 people per square mile. Though, some would argue that Monaco’s reign as most densely populated country is unfair. The nebulous nature of the aforementioned Macau puts Monaco’s title in danger, as the “Special Administrative Region” of China has a population density of 55,301 per square mile.
Leave any fun geography facts that you discover in the comments section. We’ll be sure to have our third annual Geography Extravaganza next year.
Everything Your Students Always Wanted to Know About Electing the President (But Were Too Afraid to Ask)
A lot goes into electing a president. The 24 hour news cycle has certainly improved the public consciousness about campaigning and each political party’s convention, but there is still much undiscovered territory for students, especially the role of the Electoral College in electing the 45th chief executive. As the 2016 presidential election nears, here are some terrific resources for teaching students of all ages how the next president will be chosen.
How did we get here?
Scholastic provides the “Road to the White House” that chronicles the journey from campaign to convention and through the election in an entertaining and illustrative interactive tour. Students of all ages will appreciate this journey as a refresher of how the United States narrowed a long list of candidates down to just two major party contenders in the last 12 months.
What are “blue and red states”?
When discussing an historical topic, teachers often rely on textbooks or handouts to explain common vocabulary terms in advance to avoid student confusion. But when discussing current events or “general knowledge” topics, we sometimes forgo a primer on the jargon necessary for understanding. Scholastic has provided a concise list of need to know terms as you discuss the electoral process to ensure no one is left behind when you reference “GOP” or a party’s “platform”.
What is the Electoral College?
Here is where your electoral adventure takes a turn toward surprise, and maybe even befuddlement. Many students may not know what the Electoral College is and why it determines the next president.
One way to explain this system is to use music. Musical Media for Education has a song about the Electoral College, which includes a lyrics list so your students can follow along with the song.
Or, if you’re old school like I am, Schoolhouse Rock has an excellent Electoral College song for use in your class ($) that covers the electoral system in their typical entertaining manner.
Does my vote even count?
Once your students understand the role of the Electoral College, they may wonder if their votes even count. Show them this Ted-Ed video about the electoral college and importance of voting, particularly in certain states.
Is this the best way to determine the leader of the free world?
This all may be a bit jarring for your students. They may have valid questions about whether this is the best, most democratic way to choose a leader. Go over the history of the Electoral College from the House of Representatives website. This History Channel video also gives more background on why the founding fathers implemented this system.
There are some detractors of this system. The major arguments are chronicled by Scholastic. This is a great opportunity to hold a debate or to ask students to write a claim about the validity of this system using a selection of documents from this post.
What do the electors do when they meet?
The meeting of the Electoral College is not a clandestine event. C-SPAN has video of the 2008 meeting of the electors from Illinois and Arizona. This is a terrific primary source that gives the students a glimpse into our democratic process.
How can a candidate win the election?
The best way to understand how an election is won is top ask the students to win an election themselves. Scholastic provides a hands on activity where students create a platform and run a campaign to victory.
Students can also track the race to 270 electoral votes with an interactive electoral map. This would also be handy for a research project that asks the students to predict the results of the election by tracking each state’s past voting habits.
The Washington Post has an Electoral College curriculum that encompasses all of the above questions in one handy document with numerous resources. In addition, Help Teaching offers numerous free election worksheets, including a presidential election quiz and electoral vote activities for both the 2008 and 2012 elections.
With so much attention paid to the popular vote and so much polling data on all of the major networks, it can be easy for students to be unfamiliar with the electoral process. Don’t let this election pass without giving them a primer on one of the most important components of our democratic system!
The first day of a new school year is right around the corner! Ease back into learning mode with these social studies book offerings that will be sure to spark interest and prepare your elementary or middle schooler for another school year.
Geography is an oft overlooked, but essential component of learning. It crosses over into other subject areas, and provides a basis for learning about historical and modern events, particularly relating to their causes and effects.
The 50 States by Gabrielle Balkan (grades 2 – 5)
This fact filled atlas devotes an entire spread to each state, including an oversize map and tons of trivia. It even has an accompanying activity book that includes stickers and games!
When on Earth? (grades 3 – 7)
This compilation uses illustrated and annotated maps from around the world to explain major historical events across four distinct and chronological eras. The bright colors, historical facts, and connections across places and time makes this a wonderful primer for the impact of geography on history across time.
Every social studies classroom uses primary sources to teach about historical events, while integrating the thinking skills of interpretation and analysis. Primary sources come in many different forms, as indicated by the list below.
A Primary Source History of the American Revolution by Sarah Powers Webb (grades 3 – 4)
This books uses newspaper articles, personal accounts, and other primary sources to put the reader in America as they fight for their freedom from the British in the late 18th century.
Dreams of Freedom: In Words and Pictures by Amnesty International (grades 2 – 6)
This collection lists basic freedoms that all should enjoy, accompanied by a quote from famous human rights champions, such as Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai. There is also an illustration depicting the freedom and the quote. Pairing words and accessible art is a terrific way to encourage analysis and thoughtfulness in young adults.
Accessible biographies are not always easy to come by, but those that integrate learning with easy to read text engross young readers in magical stories of those who dared to make a difference.
Heroes of History by Anita Ganeri (grades 2 – 4)
More than a simple retelling of history’s fascinating figures, this book aims to educate though entertaining. Fictionalized diary entries combined with important historical facts take young readers on an adventure with every page.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hammer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford (grades 6 – 12)
Hammer’s fascinating struggle is told in verse and in the first person. A seminal civil rights figure, her story should be read by many, and the unique storytelling model used in this book will surely hook young readers.
Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History by Don Brown (grades K – 4)
For students aware of the Hamilton craze gripping the country, this picture book gives some further historical meaning to Alexander Hamilton and a score that was settled many years ago.
The social studies classroom aims to not only teach about the people and cultures of the world, but also to ingrain a sense of community among our students. Building better citizens is just as, if not more important than the facts, years, and events that so many of us cling to. The books below enlighten students to those who go above and beyond to help others, and hopefully, will encourage them to embrace service and good deeds.
Can We Help? Kids Volunteering to Help Their Communities by George Ancona (grades 1 – 4)
Many schools are instituting service learning requirements, while other encourage students to be more community minded. This book chronicles real life kids helping the less fortunate in their own communities. An inspiring and educational look at those who make our world a better place.
The Great Depression for Kids: Hardship and Hope in the 1930s by Cheryl Mullenbach (grades 4 – 7)
Well organized account of the Great Depression with a special focus on how neighbors helped each other through extremely difficult conditions. This puts a historical spin on community service and service based learning.
As the beach and vacation filled days of August come upon kids, it’s important to subtly integrate learning into their lives. Finding the right way to do that is often a fool’s errand, but the books above will grease the wheels of learning as September approaches without destroying the joy of the last days of summer.