Social Asian Studies

For the last 5 years the grade 9 Asian Studies teaching team at my school has closely collaborated in building the curriculum, content, and common assessments in the course. We feel that we’ve created a relevant, challenging, and authentic social studies course that not only prepares the students for the social studies courses ahead of them in high school, but also for life in the 21st century.

We are constantly evolving lessons and assessments to be more relevant. For example, in the last unit (Power & Conflict), we did two major assessments– formal oral presentation and timed writing. For the oral presentation assessment, the students did a 5-6 minute presentation with support slides in front of their class of grade 9 peers. They chose one of five broad topics that they then narrowed down so they could go into more depth rather skim across historical detail. They also had the option to create their own topic for their presentation if they came across something interesting in their content research throughout the unit. This year we kept the same topic options as we did last year. What we changed, however, was our approach in educating the students in how to prepare for and use effective visual support in a presentation.

In the past, we encouraged the students to use images in their slides, but we still ended up with students presenting with mostly bulletted, text-based slides, which caused the slides to drive the presentation in many cases. If you follow the world of presentations, you may have heard of this type of presentation as “Death by Power Point” (of course, there are other presentation qualities that ‘kill’ the audience along with bad slides). This year, we chose to take the Presentation Zen approach in educating the students. Presentation Zen is a book written by Garr Reynolds where he emphasizes strong preparation and design princlples in both creating the presentation and the slides that support. We used some of his suggestions for preparation, but we really took inspiration from his design emphasis on slides.

On my class wiki, I put excellent examples of Presentation Zen-type slideshows from SlideShare that the students could view. I also found examples of great presentations from YouTube, made them into a playlist, and embedded a playlist player into the wiki so students could watch those, as well. The students were required to view the videos prior to practice presentations and respond to some guiding questions on the discussion tab of the respective wiki page. I also did an activity called “Extreme Slide Makeover” where the students took poorly designed slides about the life of Gandhi and made them more ‘Zen’ like. They produced some fabulous results! In their final presentations, almost all of the students produced wonderfully designed, visually oriented slides that truly supported their presentation. The content and other presentation skills will very strong, as well. Of course, presenting is a skill, so the students are still developing some qualities, but overall they showed vast improvement, and the audience was usually engaged during each of the final presentations. No more Death by Powerpoint! All the students said they feel more confident as public speakers now and understand how to better engage an audience with the interaction of their content and slides.

The other assessment was a timed writing. In the past, we did a traditional pen to paper multiple paragraph essay in 45 minutes for this assessment. We had largely done this as a foreshadowing to IB expectations they would have in a couple of years. This year we decided not to think about tests like the IB any more as motivation for what we do. Instead, we decided to focus more on information fluency/literacy, strengthening the students’ online research skills and emphasizing how video sources can be just as valid as text-based sources. Over the course of the unit, we introduced the students to Google Scholar and Books as more reliable sources to search before a ‘normal’ Google search. We also showed them how to use YouTube and other video sites like AcademicEarth for educational purposes. Our school just got a subscription to Safari Montage, so that was heavily used in the process of learning. Lastly we showed them iTunes U for all the great video and audio podcasts it stores for educational uses. It was amazing how many of them did not know about iTunes U despite being iTunes users!

For the written assessment that replaced the timed writing, we gave the students a prompt relating to the content they had studied throughout the unit. With a laptop in hand, they then had an open Internet they would use to find evidence to support the points they would write and explain over two paragraphs. No more rote memorization and regurgitation here. They had to properly parenthetically cite any information used from the web along with providing a full MLA formatted source entry at the end of their writing (we’ve been practicing this citation process the whole year). They also had to explain how they found each source and why they felt it was valid and reliable for the task. The students were challenged in this assessment, but they completed it well. This skill of information fluency is something they will always need in their life.

For our next unit (Change and Modern Society) we will be bring together all grade 9 students together in cyberspace. There are 9 sections of Asian Studies spread over four teachers. The wonderful world of Web 2.0 will allow us to break the walls of time and space so we can get the students collaborating and communicating with their other peers that are not in the same class section. We’ve been doing this the past two years on a wiki. We will continue to use this same wiki for discussion, sharing of research, and presenting of various activities. All of this work will culminate in a group discussion on topics the students will have chosen. In the discussion they will support and debate one side of their topic, after which the group will work on solutions to the problem within the topic.

This year we will be adding the use of Diigo to the research and collabortive process. As a social bookmarking Web 2.0 tool, Diigo will make it easier for students to share resources with each other since they will be members of an Asian Studies Diigo group. They will also be able to use some great features of Diigo like the highlighting and commenting functions which will allow them to highlight pertinent information in a source along with with having discussions right on the webpage. We will also show and explain how Diigo can be used as a search engine to find sources that other Diigo members found as pertinent, valid, and reliable to topics they follow. They will continue to learn the importance of tagging. We’ve also gotten the librarian to be a contributing member of both our wiki and Diigo group, so between the Web 2.0 tools, all grade 9 students, the teachers, and the librarian, the students will be part of collaborative research powerhouse! We look forward to using these tools during this last unit. I’m sure the students will understand the great benefit it will bring them as 21st century learners.

Asian Studies has been a great course to teach. It’s wonderful to work with flexible and forward-thinking educators in making the course what it is today. Having the wonderful social tools of Web make it even greater. Of course, the students are the ones who make it really happen in the end.They are great.

About togalearning

Technology Learning Coach, High School Social Studies and online IB Psychology teacher

Posted on April 5, 2009, in Education, Social Studies, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. very impressive Tom. You give me a model to work towards in ways to rethink curriculum. I am with you in rethinking teaching to IB standards which at times feel like they come from the 20th not 21st century needs.

  2. Great post, Thomas. I’ve checked out your class wiki, watched the example slides and visited the links that were introduced on the pages. Very informative, indeed! It’s amazing how great a course you’ve got there. Your class is a good example of 21st century class that utilizes Web 2.0 tools to enrich the students’ learning experience. You wrote you’ll be adding Diigo to your web tool arsenal and I agree that it will be very useful for the collaborative learning platform.

  3. This sounds like a great class. In your next months class, you will also be using presentation zen to make better presentations. Another good comparison is Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

  1. Pingback: Understanding Educational Ideologies that Create Conflict |

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