Sunday, October 11, 2015

Bring History Alive with Art and Drama

          Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. (Abraham Lincoln) Three years and one and a half months ago I began teaching in a 12:1:1 classroom. I had twelve little faces and three aides staring up at me day after day, all day, to improve their skill and knowledge in: ELA. math, reading, science, social studies, and life skills. I had an eclectic group of children with multiple disabilities with a wonderful common strength...They all wanted to learn! They didn't know what a continent was, or a state, they couldn't tell me what their own state capital was. They did know who Abraham Lincoln was but only as the President with the tall hat. I quickly learned that teaching them was a balancing act of knowing when they were best at doing seat work, when they needed to get up and move, when they needed a brain break or a snack. I planned each lesson accordingly. I rarely heard moans and groans from kids who didn't want to learn. My runners stopped running from class. The kids quickly learned that their classroom was their safe place where they could be themselves but did have to follow the parameters of our "point system". There was only one part of the day where "my kids" lost interest...Social Studies"! Social Studies came right after lunch. My kids just wanted to chill out but I had to teach them social studies!
     Social Studies became my biggest challenge! Social Studies kept me up at night! Social Studies was my tempest in a teapot! I tried teaching map skills but even my aide moaned! We did a study of New York State which was beneficial but was not part of the regular curriculum. So during the holidays, we tried "Christmas Around the World." My idea was at least they will learn about different countries! We made paper suitcases. I gave each student a passport with their picture in it. I had different stamps for each country. Sounds like fun, right? It was, but phenomenal and memorable it was not! My kids still couldn't differentiate between a continent, country, state,! We did activities to rectify this but it only helped short term.
    So, I went back to the beginning. I triple checked the NY standards for their grades (6th and 7th). I decided to find a way for them to learn American History. Sixth graders were suppose to learn Global History but how can they learn Global  History when they can't even tell me that Albany is the capital of New York State! I decided to teach American History and tie Global History inasmuch as possible. 
     It was mid-school year when we got started.  I taught my students how to write two column, guided notes. We began by studying explorers which definitely included Global History. We made a growing timeline along the wall.  Each student did a report on an a assigned reporter. They loved going to the library to do their research. They felt important because just like their peers they had a research project.
     There are two best parts to my story, the first one is coming now. Both best parts are important because it is me that learned the lesson!  When we got to the colonies, I decided that we shall make a model of Jamestown with popsicle sticks. The clouds that had hung over my social studies class all year floated away and the sun appeared! My kids loved building Jamestown! They used milk cartons from lunch covered in pretzel sticks  for buildings. They used Quaker round oatmeal boxes to build the bulwarks. They even landscaped their structure. Best of all because of their intense hands-on learning, they could name the buildings and sections of the fort!
Snowing at Jamestown by using microwaved Ivory soap from our science experiment!
     It's currently year three with my kiddos! We now love social studies! Let me tell you why! This is my second best part! We have recently been learning about the "French and Indian" War. I continue to use two-column, guided notes with blanks with the first letter of the word. The kids love to try to be the first one to guess what goes in the blank! When they do, they get extra points. I read the "stories" from their actual history textbook.  I very simply act out the lesson and then repeat it for the kids to act out! I then do very rudimentary drawings on my whiteboard to bring history to life!  The kids laugh at my lack of artistic talent, as I joke that I draw better than the art teacher! All information taught is straight from their history book, broken down in simpler language. The kids get it! They can repeat the stories! Just ask them why it wasn't a good idea for the British to wear red coats! They can tell you that and more! Social Studies  (History) has become a game where we all win!