Thursday, February 07, 2019

An example of workflow in SS10

Recently, a teacher asked for some suggestions for setting up a BC Social Studies 10 course. I thought I'd preserve the content of our exchange in this blog post... with a few minor edits and of course the caveat that there as many ways to frame a course as there are teachers.

Resources to get started:
Pacific Slope Consortium resource pages:
Pacific Slope dropbox share folder:
Thielmann's Web River SS10 page:

On this SS10 page, the files from a a few years ago -- still a good fit for the new SS10 although they are quite dependent on the textbook (Counterpoints 2nd Edition). The approach is more linear than thematic, and is oriented more to a critical understanding of content than it is to the curricular competencies of the revised curriculum. Still, these could be the basis of a foray into the new curriculum.

I use Pages and Keynote rather than Word and Powerpoint, so posting my original files would not be of much use to most teachers. For my website, I convert everything to pdf and will be updating the later units as I find the time.

Although I've done these in multiple orders and configurations, in a typical 18-19 week course with classes every day, here's how I usually break down my topics:
  1. Canada from the end of WWI to the end of the Great Depression (2-3 weeks)
  2. Canada and WWII (2-3 weeks)
  3. Canadian Politics and Government (2-3 weeks)
  4. Postwar Canada 1946-1984 (3 weeks)
  5. Modern Canada 1984-present (2-3 weeks)
  6. Environment Issues (3-4 weeks)
  7. Project time and presentation time (2 weeks)
It's a tight squeeze. I think it is better to drop some topics rather than push faster to get through them all.  Note: the topic of global development and population issues is absent from the list above -- along with many other teachers, I feel this should be an anchor unit for the new course Social Studies 11 Explorations. Taking a thematic approach, or moving around based on the competencies, would naturally look different, but I consider a certain amount of fidelity to some intentional content to be a basic structure that has to be present for a course to work. In other words, take any approach to setting up a course, but the content needs to be appropriate, deliberate (even if it is simply a protocol for following current events) and paired up with everything that takes place in the classroom.

I usually break my lessons into the following routine:
  1. Some kind of provocative source or image or question to start the class, even just something on screen for them to think about
  2. A handout with questions related to the lesson (these are the files I've posted on my website) -- generally these are overkill and I do not collect them or mark them although they are the basis for the unit test and they can use them as open notes on tests.
  3. A lecturette or chalk-and-talk through the main ideas of the lesson. Many of these are accompanied by a slideshow. These are anywhere from 10-50 minutes depending on the topic, use of media, amount of questions & discussion, tangents, etc.
  4. Some media, either during the lecturette or after, or to finish class: usually short clips from documentaries, e.g. a single scene from the Canada's History series (many of which are available on youtube) or something interesting found online. I avoid the funny/cartoony summary videos that might grab attention but usually lack depth and accuracy. I avoid showing anything longer than about 10 minutes... at any rate I don't show more than a few minutes before stopping and discussing.
  5. I try to build in at least one discussion question or group activity or such to shift the lesson from me to them. Using "manipulatives" is a good way to do this (copies of primary sources related to the topic that they can move around at their desks and make judgments, assess significance, cause & effect, etc.).
  6. I build in some time for students to complete questions -- I don't assign homework but I do suggest they use home time for review and working on long-tern projects.
There are some other things that happen along the way but that's my basic old-school method. Some of my lessons span two or even three classes -- the longer the lesson, the greater the chance I'll use multiple media clips and design a real group activity rather than just wing it with discussion questions.

The use of questions is very important for the Social Studies teacher.  There are so many sliding scales to consider: wait time, level of difficulty, expectations for responses (including how responses are gathered), questions for clarification and keeping a line of inquiry moving vs questions that are meant to slow things down for thought, discussion, or action. Questions can be open or closed, have pre-conceived answers or not, verbal, written, graphic etc.  Some questions can just be thrown out, while others will benefit from structured activities using organizers, stickies, pair/shares, group/shares, journalling, debate, and so on.  Developing techniques to ask good questions, to manage good discussions, and involve as many students as possible takes time and will depend on context (including the identity of the teacher and students).

 usually intend to start each class with a current events item (usually a video clip from an online news source), but sometimes I forget or I'm anxious to get into the main lesson. Current events are picked either at random (because they are interesting) or because they tie in in some way to the lesson. I also use maps allot, and give students blank maps of Canada and the World that they bring out regularly to jot things down, like another place to record notes and orient them to where stuff is actually happening in the world.

Depending on the group of students and your design goals, you may want to propose an essential question or two to guide the course, perhaps something based on the Big Ideas or maybe something that stretches a little further and connects with concepts from beyond the course (that's what distinguishes an essential question from other types of questions).

One that can be used with SS10 is "Why Canada?" -- in other words, how has our political, social, cultural, economic, and environmental identity been formed and changed over time and at home & abroad, what makes us Canadian, is there actually one vision of what it means to be Canadian, how to we move into new ways of understanding this (e.g. reconciliation), how are we different than other countries, etc. etc. -- why Canada?

Another one I've used for SS10 is "Why Bother Voting?" -- in other words why should we bother to learn about our past and present, and care about the future, what are the issues of our time, and what agency do we have in affecting change; how does our government work, how do the other institutions (trade orgs, levels of gov't, education, health care, indigenous & northern affairs, treaties, climate agreements, etc) affect our way of life and future in Canada, what do the parties want, how do know who to vote for, whose voices are left out of the process, how do we include them, in what way should we live such that our beliefs are made real in the world, etc., etc. -- why bother voting?

There are others, of course.  In any case a good essential question is unpacked over time, does not have a simple answer, and lends itself to cycles of inquiry. If you try this route, try to get the students to develop the sub-questions (the "driving questions") and consider the idea of a multi-modal response to the essential question as a summative project or alternate to a final exam. Take a look at this teacher's use of essential questions to guide her Psych 11 class: 

For summative assessments (unit tests), I normally allow open notes. I typically have a few matching and multiple choice questions to cover the basics (essential content) and then short answers to cover most main ideas, often accompanied by prompts like an image or quote. I often have some map questions, or a longer written response based on a set of prompts (sources) or a guiding question from the unit. Sometimes I just use 11x17 paper and have students "map" out their response to an essential question using any info they want from the unit. It's not perfect but usually tells me what I want to know. Obviously, I don't post the tests online but I can send some to you if you wish. I'm a busy guy, but sometimes I get back to folks in a timely manner!

For formative assessment, I sometimes have them put together reactions, interpretations, etc to primary sources either on their own or in groups, and then I provide whole-class feedback and project some exemplary responses (or even typical ones) -- with their permission -- using a document camera. I also move around and read their question responses and give them individual feedback -- mostly if they ask for it.

Lots of other stuff going on in a class, for sure, but I thought you might be interested in my workflow. I have a few longer assignments and projects I've done over the years, but the Echo Project was my favourite <>.