Thursday, September 2, 2010

So Pretty Much My Students are the Bomb Dot Com

As you are probably not aware, social studies is not a tested subject in the elementary grades. Because of that, it often gets forgotten or overlooked by teachers. Math matters. Science matters. Heaven knows reading and writing matter. But social studies? Eh.

Personally I feel strongly about the importance of social studies. That's where you learn how to live in this lil world of ours. It provides a lot of the 'social' learning in school, if you will. Through social studies, kids learn how to be citizens of, well, life. It's pertinent, mmmkay?

But the fact remains that it is not tested and there's barely enough time to cover the stuff that is. I mean, school's been in session for a week and I'm already behind (ssh, don't tell). So what do you do? Integration, integration, integration. Anywhere you can integrate social studies into the curriculum, you do. Need to teach geometry? Use Native American tribal art. Looking for a quality book for a guided reading group? Historical fiction comes in all reading levels. Trying to develop class rules at the start of the year? Create class rights and responsibilities, just like old pros known as our Founding Fathers did.

I started the year with the goal of integration already in mind. I was very fortunate to be placed on a team of teachers who all make a concerted effort to integrate socials studies into the other subjects. As the school year began, I felt reasonably prepared to integrate social studies.

I was less prepared, however, for a class that accepted my integration efforts so easily and smoothly. I've been explicit with them about how we're studying American history and government this year so we are going to base a lot of things off of that. And my students, my fabulous, phenomenal, fifth graders not only accepted that as a way of life (of class?), but they welcomed it, embraced it, and improved upon it.

In an effort to make my class a democratic one, I've encouraged a lot of class discussion and even debate on various things throughout class. I feel like I've been successful with this. My students have responded well. One even pointed out that what we were doing was
Iike what the founding fathers did and what our lawmakers do all the time (albeit perhaps more civilly). Point one for integration.

Earlier this week, my students asked if they could hold elections for a class representative. I told them I would think about it. And then they just wore me down with their incessant and remarkably fantastic arguments about why they should hold these elections. So I told them everyone who was interested in running for the position could submit to me a report detailing what they would do as class representative and I would pick two students to run (we'll vote for a new representative each month).

In the reports I was expecting things like, "I should be class representative because I'm awesome and it I was we would have recess all day and parties [this is a very pro party class] and so you should pick me.". What I got were well thought out reports, full of reasonable and really quite good ideas for improving our class.

It was incredibly hard to pick the students to run for the position. Each of the reports submitted was quality. I only selected the students I did because they both had ideas that I'd like to see implemented at the beginning of the year. The next step was for each of them to give a speech convincing their peers to vote for them.

Again I had just average expectations. Again, they were exceeded. I wish, I wish I could post the videos I took of their speeches. They were so good. One girl gave a speech about how we are a team and used a really great football analogy to illustrate her point. The other wrote a big long poem about her ideas, read from a Santa's list-length scroll. Awesome. Just awesome.

Two other students sacrificed their recess to make a voting booth so that everyone could cast their ballots privately, and a representative was elected in a fair and valid manner. The whole thing was so incredible and I am beyond proud of all my students.

I met with my new representative and vice representative today to talk about ideas and implementation. One of the first ones they brought up? Integrating service projects and class social events into our curriculum. Bless them.
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