Saving Social Studies
As a fifth grade teacher, in New York State, I have felt the pressure of ‘fitting in’ Social Studies into my daily schedule. Language Arts and Math ‘block times’ have eaten away at the available time each day to teach the subject that is the most important.
I worry that NY’s new Social Studies Framework linked to the Common Core will effectively erode the curriculum into a series of tasks that have very little to do with learning about our past. Sites such as those provided by Putnam/ Northern Westchester BOCES are already watering down the curriculum. They have reduced learning about Europeans encountering Native Americans down to a 2 day lesson.
Imagine that! Two days!!
(I have included that 2 day lesson at the end of this posting)
Talk about watering down a curriculum.
Over the past several years I have seen the time I have spent teaching Social Studies dwindle. I tried incorporating it into my ELA Block but, unfortunately I have had students leave my room during my ELA Block because they may have an Individualized Education Plan that mandates they receive ELA instruction in a smaller setting. So if I combined Science or Social Studies into my ELA Block they would lose out.
I scheduled Social Studies in my plans but often those plans were interrupted. I was frustrated and was counseled that teaching Social Studies three days a week was just fine.Well it may be fine with my administrators, bit it certainly was not fine with me!
I love teaching fifth grade Social Studies. It’s focus is on the Western Hemisphere. It should be taught as a timeline, starting with how indigenous peoples settled into new lands and developed advanced civilizations that amazed European explorers. It should be focused on the “Peoples” struggles and advances.
Social Studies should not be taught in topics that are isolated from each other. In order for students to really understand what they are being exposed to, we as teachers must carefully build their schema.
This year I am taking a stand, in my classroom. I make sure I teach Social Studies every day.
I use various sources, including a wonderful series of books by Joy Hakim. I use videos, audio recordings, and even Howard Zinn’s People History of the United States. I’ve read stories about Sitting Bull, and I am currently reading the biography of Chief Joseph Medicine Crow, Counting Coup. So far my students have learned about the great civilizations of the Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, Mississipeans, Makahs, Iroquios, Anasazi, and more. We have learned about European exploration and conquest. We discussed the lust for gold, riches, and power that have shaped our historic background.
Currently we have begun to explore the formation of the English colonies and we will be analyzing the differences between them and how they interacted with Native Americans.
This week we began a new project. Using Legos my students will create their own Utopian civilization. Before they are allowed to use any resources ( Legos) they have been charged to develop a plan for their civilization. So far they have chosen a leader, established rules for discussions and began the process of deciding just what their civilization will contain. They are discussing whether or not their economy will be based on farming,defense, healthcare, education, religion, tolerance and more.
This project is providing wonderful opportunities for me to teach. For example, one student stated that she wants to provide housing for the homeless. I used that as a catalyst to ask them to think of ways to ensure there are no homeless in their civilization.
At this point, my class is also writing individual essays on what they really want their civilization to be all about. Tomorrow I will be asking them to share their thoughts and to compromise on a shared solution.
Eventually they will be using the available resources to build their civilization.
In the meantime, we will read about the Puritans, Ann Hutchinson, William Penn and others and perhaps that may lead us in another direction.
In the meantime, I will post periodic updates of my class Utopia as I thumb my nose at lessons like these from BOCES.
Lesson 2: Europeans Encounter Native Americans
- Students will examine how the Native Americans viewed the Europeans, and then look at two case studies involving the interaction of the Native Americans and the Europeans.
Suggested time allowance: 2 class periods
Unifying Themes: (based on the National Council for the Social Studies)
- Geography, Humans and the Environment
- Development, Movement, and Interaction of Cultures
- Time, Continuity, and Change
- Global Connections and Exchange
New York State Social Studies Framework
- Social Studies Standards
- 1: United States and New York
- 2: World History
- 3: Geography
- Key Ideas and Conceptual Understandings
- 5.3 European Exploration and Its Effects: Various European powers explored and eventually colonized the Western Hemisphere. This had a profound impact on Native Americans and led to the transatlantic slave trade.
- 5.3b Europeans encountered and interacted with Native Americans in a variety of ways.
- Social Studies Practices:
- Gathering, Using and Interpreting Evidence
- Recognize and use different forms of evidence used to making meaning in social studies (including sources such as art and photographs, artifacts, oral histories, maps, and graphs).
- Comparison and Contextualization
- Categorize divergent perspectives of an individual historical event.
- Identify how the relationship among geography, economics, and history helps to define a context for events in the study of the Western Hemisphere.
Common Core Learning Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies
- RH.5-8.9: Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic
- RL.5.1: Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
- RL.5.2: Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
- RL.5.6: Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described
- WHST.5-7.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
- WHST.5-8.6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.
- WHST.5-8.8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
Unit Essential Question:
- Do interactions between peoples always lead to positive results?
1. Read excerpts from Morning Girl and its parallel text, Journal Entry by Christopher Columbus.Teachers can find both excerpts in Primary Sources and Literature Readings, or use the book Morning Girl by Michael Dorris and the Journal entry included here. If you wish, use Encounter instead of Morning Girl.
2. Have students consider the ways the young girl and Columbus viewed one another and their respective cultural groups. What were each group’s impressions and intentions? Students will make a T chart or a Venn diagram to record the similarities and differences of the perspectives of the two groups/
3. Project “Images and Descriptions Columbus and the Taino.” (included) Discuss the images and excerpts from the diaries and journal. How do these images and description add to what we already know?
1. Introduce or review the definition of “turning point” and note that the class will analyze what happened to the Aztec when they encountered the Europeans as an example of a turning point. Explain that the Spanish conquistador, Cortez led an army against the Aztecs in 1521 and conquered them.
2. Distribute the “Compare and Contrast Chart for the Aztec” (included) and have students cover the “after” column when discussing the “before” column.
3. Ask guiding questions that will require the students to read and extract information from the compare/contrast chart such as
- Where did the Aztec live before the Spanish Conquest?
- What were some of their technological achievements before the Spanish Conquest?
4. Teacher can utilize a map of Mexico and Central America when discussing the geographic location category, by pointing, or asking a student to point to the areas that were inhabited by the Aztecs. Teacher should ask questions about location and ask students to hypothesize about why the Spanish would be interested in this area (Example: resources, land, treasure, etc.)
5. At the end of the discussion for the “before” column, students will be asked to read to themselves the information presented in the “after” column.
6. The class as a whole will do a verbal compare and contrast of the Aztecs before and after the Spanish Conquest. Teacher will direct discussion by using guiding questions if necessary.
- What is the difference/similarities pre- and post- Spanish Conquest in language?
- What do you think is the biggest difference in Aztec life after the Spanish Conquest?
- How was the Conquest a turning point in Aztec life?
7. For homework: students will create a double–sided playing card to illustrate the turning point for Aztec life.
- Completed T-Chart
- Trading Card
Vocabulary (See Glossary for definitions)
- turning point
- indigenous population