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Three ways social studies teachers use tech

Increased access to devices and digital tools makes it easier for social studies teachers to integrate technology into their teaching

social-studiesSocial studies lessons are becoming more engaging and interactive, thanks to a variety of classroom technology tools and resources. Here are a few examples.

OER in the classroom

Shannon Blake, an eighth grade social studies teacher at the Charleston Catholic School in Charleston, S.C., uses Net Texts, a free open educational resources (OER) content management and delivery platform, to access and create information, organize it by chapter or subject, and make it available to her students.

Teachers can select existing courses or combine items from the OER library with their own resources to create new courses.

Students access courses via an iPad, Android device, or web app. Courses include videos, eBooks, audio books, and more. Once they are accessed, resources download to student devices so students can access them even without an internet connection. Students also can suggest new resources or materials, and Blake said that a few of her former students sent her relevant course materials over the summer for inclusion in future classes.

“Having resources on a tablet, as opposed to in a book, is great,” Blake said. “If something changes …, I can update our resources and information.”

Net Texts lets students choose from among five different activities, each tailored to different learning preferences but all covering the same concept, which Blake said has helped her differentiate instruction in her classes.

QR codes boost engagement

QR codes are finding their way into social studies classrooms as a means of engaging students. QR codes are square black-and-white images that—when scanned with a smart phone, tablet, or other web-enabled device—direct users to a specified website.

Amanda Fox, a sixth grade social studies teacher at STEM Academy @Bartlett in Georgia, uses visual QR codes from Visualead to engage her students and make learning more interactive. Visualead lets users combine QR codes with pictures or images.

“Students who attend STEM schools have a keen understanding of technology, and I’m always looking for new, innovative ways to keep learning exciting and cutting-edge for them,” Fox said.

“I’ve had great success using Visual QR codes in the classroom, and next I plan to create a portfolio wall turning images of my students into Visual QR Codes that link to a portfolio of their school work,” she said.

In her class, Fox breaks up a unit of study into separate chunks, so that students work in different groups. Fox’s students create QR-coded videos to tell stories and teach other students about their assigned unit. Students travel around the room to different “stations” and scan the QR codes to watch presentations created by their peers.

Fox’s sixth grade students use iPads as part of the school’s one-to-one program, and grades seven and eight follow a “bring your own device” model.

“There’s more of a discovery element to lessons, and students wonder where a specific QR code will lead them,” Fox said. She also uses the QR codes to flip her classroom. Students receive a QR code for every lecture, learning and reviewing at their own pace—and Fox receives feedback via formative assessments.

Deeper interaction with content

Dennis Mehall, a seventh grade teacher at Mooresville Middle School in Mooresville, N.C., uses Discovery Education’s Techbook, which features videos, assessments, and other interactive elements, regularly in his social studies instruction.

“The teachers love it,” he said. “It goes right along with our curriculum, and the first thing we do when we meet to talk about our next instructional unit is look to the Techbook for guidance.”

The Techbook’s customization options let teachers cater to students’ individual needs. For instance, teachers can alter the difficulty of the text or can tailor information delivery to different learning styles.

“We have visual learners, audio learners, and the Techbook gives us more opportunities to help those students absorb information,” Mehall said.

Because students can work individually, they can spend time analyzing learning materials to gain a deeper understanding of the social studies content they’re studying. Mehall’s social studies department teams up with its language arts department for active reading, in which students analyze paragraphs to gain deeper understanding.

The Techbook enables students to add sticky notes, highlight portions, and even ask the text questions, so they can engage with the content to go past “just reading,” Mehall said.

“It’s definitely an asset to have,” he concluded.

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Laura Ascione

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