I’m writing this blog post on a cool, rainy, Chicago, October Saturday night. The setting here is important. Outside in my backyard are my 7th grade son and three of his friends. Despite the periodic rain, wind, and cooler temperatures, they are all sitting around a fire. About an hour ago they began searching for a big rock. I watched and said nothing because I learned long ago that trying to make sense of what 7th graders do is nearly impossible. They found one and asked if they could put in the fire. Since they actually asked, I couldn’t really ignored this one. I asked why, and was shocked by the answer. “In our social studies class we learned about how Neolithic farmers made hardtack with their grain on stones in the fire. We want to try it.”

They’ve been heating the dough for about 45 minutes as I write this, and according to them, it’s still not hard enough.

7th graders making hardtack because their teacher told them about it.

I’ve tried to leave them alone for the most part, but I go outside every now and then to listen to them. Like all 7th graders, they talk about all sorts of gossip: who likes who, what happened in lunch the other day, and all of the rest. But there are also conversations about their classes. They talk about what they’re learning in classes (specifically social studies), which of their teachers is the best, and why they actually like school.

I’m coming off of two days of parent-teacher conferences that were, well, excellent. Our geography curriculum has become a global studies one and it’s changed everything I do. I’ve talked about the dangers of a single story, solving problems with geography, and the Global Goals. But what amazed me were the parents who came to conferences knowing about all of these things. Their students came home excited about social studies. It was part of their nightly routine – to talk about what they had learned in social studies. And like we learned in the #worldslargestlesson, our job is to make the Global Goals famous, and by having these discussions at home – we have!

I had parents ask me about opportunities for their students to be real world problem solvers. Parents who suggested that someone start a leadership program so that their student could continue the sense of empowerment that they feel this year. Parents who asked how they could bring in real life experts on the problems we are investigating this year.

Social studies is a joy as long as you make it one. If you demand students to read, memorize, and answer “right there” questions, you’re going to lose their interest and eventually, them. But if you make things interesting, if you let students know why what they are learning matters, you’ll have kids talking about your class with their families and friends, and maybe even kids in the backyard making hardtack.

Update: after an hour of cooking on a rock, they dropped their hardtack in the fire. And now they are starting again.

2 thoughts on “The joys of social studies

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