Updated: Jun 28, 2020
Social Studies: We Teach all the Things
My departments likes to joke about how social studies teaches everything! How we bring all the subject areas together under one house. Of course, we stick to our main topics, which in and of itself is broad and far reaching (history, psychology, economics, geography, government and civics, sociology, anthropology, law, archaeology, etc…). However, within our discipline, we have to teach from the other subject so our students will fully learn and understand what we are trying to get across.
Social Studies and English
I have felt that I am secretly an English teacher with a specific story to tell, depending on the class. I teach writing and reading strategies throughout the year. If the students do not understand a reading, then the lesson is lost. Furthermore, as someone who assigns writing often (could be a short response at the end of class or a longer expository essay), I find myself spending weeks over the course of the year going over thesis statements, writing effective body paragraphs with solid evidence and analysis, and writing a snappy conclusion where the thesis is once again brought back to the reader’s attention.
I also love to assign books for my students to truly know what it was like to live through the time period. Although I am focused a lot on the historical topic, I also am paying attention to the writing style and will spend time talking about metaphors used in the text. Covering similar information in my class as they do in English helps them see how disciplines overlap and equips them with transferable knowledge.
Math & Science
As a psychology teacher, I have had to become friends with statistics, biology, and anatomy. Each year, I dive into statistics for two weeks solid and then move onto the brain and nervous system for a month in October. I feel like I am a teacher teaching in a foreign country as the content is not as familiar to me as history, geography, or government; however, I have really learned to love these units, especially the brain unit as my students can really dive into it.
In my history classes I talk a lot about the environment, so much so that a couple of years ago a student came to me and said he didn’t need to really “read” his AP Environmental Science homework that week as thoroughly since I had already covered it in my class. Now I will admit, I took AP Environmental Science as a senior in high school, so I know the content from a student’s perspective, but I also add information to my class so students really understand how the environment causes historical change. I thoroughly go over desertification and water issues as it is so important to so many areas of the world historically and presently.
When I teach economics (I am at a small school, so I also have a lot of preps), math again comes creeping into the classroom. I mean, the whole supply and demand section is math with again, a specific topic!
Throughout the rest of the year I am constantly making references to math and science. When I cover the Greeks, math and science is there. The Scientific Revolution is full of math and science and I like to explain some of the equations to help them understand heliocentric theory. I could simply mention the people and the achievement, but by spending another 5-10 minutes diving into the “what it was” helps it stick in the student’s mind and also shows why the achievement made the history books. Furthermore, I get to go over a WHOLE bunch of diseases when teaching World History or AP European History.
I LOVE to play music that represents the culture of the time period or of an area of the world today. Music speaks so loudly! When I teach my “America’s War in Vietnam,” we dive into the music constantly. Every year my students are surprised to hear, “Okie from Muskogee,” as they are more use to hearing, “Fortunate Son.” These songs help me teach the era like nothing else.
I also include a lot of images and art in my classes. In fact, I have activities specifically targeted at looking at art or photograph for my students to learn how to find historical context through images. I also have a creative project where students can make anything to depict an era. My Ancient Greece creative project has always impressed me as students will come in with mosaics and their own pottery. They will paint beautiful paintings when we do the same project for World War I or write moving poetry. The ability to have students do cross-curricular projects really opens the door to learning. Better yet, they write similar artist statements in my class as they do in art as their teacher shared her project sheets with me!
I am married to a German, so including languages in my class is important so students can learn about culture via language. I have him come into one of my courses to specifically talk about words that do not exist in English or vice versa. He also talks about what it is like to live in America as someone who did not grow up here (He grew up in East Germany and speaks at school across the USA). I also bring in guest speakers for my Minnesota History course to talk about Ojibwe language, culture, and history. Utilize guest speakers!!!! They are so impacting!
My school has three symposium courses during the school year. One of mine is called, “Historic Battles,” and it is a beloved course at the school. My students make cardboard shields, read Sun Tzu, and then go outside to reenact battles. Try to imagine fourteen through eighteen year old students running at each other, full battle cries, with a cardboard shield, then run into each other and do all the choreography of the battle. Of course some of them have to lie on the ground for quite some time playing dead. I’ll tell ya, takes work to coordinate the Battle of Cannae, but they do it and LOVE it. They also love marching practice (again utilize your music teachers for this!). When I was out on maternity leave, they asked my sub if they could still do the course. They couldn’t. So the next year I had 36 in my course. I teach at a school of 235 students, so that is a large class. It is great to see students get really involved in your course and its content.
We Teach it All
Social Studies teachers need to have a wide breadth of knowledge as they cover their content while constantly relating it to other disciplines. It is an important factor in education that is far too often overlooked. However, those weird and wacky social studies teachers know it as they do it every day! They teach kids how to be citizens and inform them how the the government works and how they can be a part of the process. They teach them to analyze information and to learn how to better the present by looking at the past. Social Studies teachers open the world to their students and help them to see the diverse culture of the planet. They also equip them with transferable knowledge that they will be able to use in multiple facets as they eventually become the leaders of tomorrow.