Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why I Love/Teach Social Studies

To all of my students: I hope you are all enjoying your time off.

To all of the people that live with my students: I hope it's enjoyable for you as well.

I've had a couple people email me and ask if there would be extra credit given over break.  Yes, there will be, but I'll probably only post once or twice.

Here's a quote by Rudyard Kipling: "How can you do anything until you have seen everything, or as much as you can?"

Sometimes I think my students (and students in general) have a hard time grasping the purpose of "non-essential" lessons.  I'm sure at one point or another most of us have either heard, or said: "when am I ever going to use that?"

Who knows?

In making decisions, you want to be informed.  And how many decisions do you have to make in life?  How do you even know what decisions will be presented?

What are the essentials?  What do we need to know to get by in life?

I'm guessing basic math facts and enough of a common language to be understood.

But what kind of life is that?

I love, LOVE Social Studies because it is all about the richness of life - the essential non-essentials.  Diversity of language, history, culture.  Conflict and conflict resolution.  Politics and religion and relationships.  Countries that are in petty arguments that mirror the arguments I hear in the hallway everyday.

It's about authority and corruption.  Greed and sacrifice.

The way I see it, people have one of three reasons for not loving social studies:

  • They don't understand it/ can't see how it relates (or)
  • They're boring
  • They do like it, but they just don't realize it
(Correct me if I'm wrong on that...)

Here are some lyrics from a song I like (All I Can See, by Brendan James):

"I want to learn a completely new language,/ one I don't understand./ I want to help someone lost, someone helpless,/ with the strength of my hand."

Here are some more:

"Those who journey can easily understand,/ the more they see the more they'll learn,/ the more that they will be./ So this I swear to you, and this I swear to me,/ I'll never rest till I've seen all I can see./ No, I'll never rest till I've seen all I can see."

Here's the song, it's pretty good:

To get the extra credit from this blog, discuss it with an adult. Discuss some of the following questions:

  • Do you agree with the three reasons Mr. Habecker gives for people not loving social studies?
  • What would you say are the essential things you need to learn?
  • Is it important to learn more than that?  If so, what's important?  If not, why not?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the Kipling quote at the beginning?  Why?
  • If you could travel anywhere in the world that you've never been, where would you go?  Why?

Then, write down at least 5 sentences giving your thoughts on this post. Have the person you discussed it with sign the paper.

Happy Extra Credit.  I'll probably post one more before break's over.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Humans Hunger Hammurabi

Here's a quote from a book I'm reading:

 “...when children’s families are involved in school, the children earn higher grades, attend school more regularly, complete more homework, demonstrate more positive attitudes and behaviors, graduate from high school at higher rates, and are more likely to enroll in higher education than students with less involved families.”

It comes from the book: Bridging Multiple Worlds: Case Studies in Diverse Educational Communities.  (page 47)

I give that quote because I had a couple students who said to me today, "Geez, Mr. Habecker... my mom was wondering why you keep that blog in the first place.  It's basically what we did in class."

You're right.  And I want to say "THANK YOU" to all the moms and dads and step-moms and step-dads, grandparents, and uncles and aunts that are reading this thing.  It is what we're talking about in class.  The more we partner together, and talk about what we're doing in class - the better.  This way, too, you get to see what we're talking about - and if you disagree with what I'm saying you can say, "man, your teacher is wrong on this account!"  As a social studies teacher, I teach some pretty controversial topics.  I work hard to keep bias out of my presentation, as well as my writing on here.  But even then, it might creep in a little bit.  This way, you can read it and continue to instill your beliefs and values into your child.  I don't want to hide behind a classroom door.  I want to work with you to give your child the best education possible.  I know that's what you want too, so again I say thanks for reading.

That said, two hour delays REALLY shorten classes.  We did a paper today for bellwork comparing the Capitol of The Hunger Games to Pyongyang in North Korea.  We compared their governments, standard of living, the fear they used to stay in power.  ...  I'm going to see if I can attach it for the students that weren't in school today...

For the bellwork, they read an excerpt from a CNN article.  You can read it by clicking THIS LINK.

We also looked a picture that was posted on NPR's website.  Here's the picture: 

Article found HERE

Then (in some classes... stupid two hour delay...) we tied it all together by comparing Hammurabi, The Hunger Games, North Korea, and The USA... (I'm not going to have you discuss this with your kid though because we didn't get to it in every class...)

To get the extra credit, discuss the following questions with your family:
1.  What type of government do they have in both North Korea and The Hunger Games?
2.  How else are North Korea and The Hunger Games similar?
3.  What is the picture I posted on the blog depicting or showing?
4.  Why might North Korea want to limit the contact that their citizens have with other countries?

To get the extra credit for reading the blog, write the following quote on a piece of scrap paper: "I am no bird, and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will."  Students: have the adult you read this with sign the piece of scrap paper.  Adults: by signing the paper you are stating that you really did read the blog and discuss this stuff.

An interesting side note: a student asked me, how do you know that the students really are reading and discussing the blog?  I said because there's a different code word or phrase at the bottom of it every day.  He asked if the parents could just write that down and sign off on it.  I said, I supposed that they could.  Ultimately though, I believe that people want what's best for their kid.  Maybe there are a couple parents out there that are teaching your kids that cheating pays off, but I don't believe it.  I believe the majority of you are hard-working, dedicated people who want their kids (and step-kids, and grand kids, and nephews and nieces...) to succeed.  Again, I say thanks for all you do. 


Monday, December 19, 2011

Is the Capitol Actually North Korea?

First off all, I’d like to remind everyone that I post what we do every day.  Students can receive extra credit by reading the blog and discussing it with the adult they live with.  (Or in some cases some other adult.)  It’s five points a day… I think it’s worth it.

Please notice the polls at the top of the blog.  If you haven’t yet voted on them, do so now.  We’re going to discuss them in class tomorrow.  You will also have time to finish up your Hammurabi power point while we read The Hunger Games. 

We compared Islam and Judaism at the beginning of class, and then we spent the rest of the day in the book.

An excerpt from page 80:

“Electricity in District 12 comes and goes, usually we only have it a few hours a day.  Often the evenings are spent in candlelight.  The only time we can count on it is when they’re airing the Games or some important government message on television that it’s mandatory to watch.  But here there would be no shortage.  Ever.”

An excerpt from page 83-4:

“’I’d leave here,’ Peeta blurts out.  Then he looks around nervously.  It was loud enough to hear above the chimes.  He laughs.  ‘I’d go home now if they let me.  But you have to admit, the food’s prime.’
                He’s covered again.  If that’s all you heard it would just sound like the words of a scared tribute, not someone contemplating the unquestionable goodness of the Capitol.”
(Emphasis mine.)

We’ve discussed standard-of-living multiple times because of this book, but here it comes up again.  This time, though, it’s a little bit different.  We see that the people in District 12 have a low standard of living because the money gets funneled into the government.  We also see examples of government propaganda.

One of the countries we study in this class is North Korea.  The Capitol and North Korea share some striking similarities: dictator, food shortages, and government sponsored propaganda.  In the first quote above Katniss mentions important government TV messages that are mandatory to watch.  North Korea has state sponsored radio in every house.  You can turn it down, but you can’t turn it off.  (I learned that from THIS MOVIE, by the way.  It’s pretty good.)

In the second quote, Peeta is scared to speak out against (or even appear to speak out against) the Capitol.  Kim Jong Il just died.  (If you haven’t seen this on the news, go ahead and check for yourself…)  Here’s aline from one of the CNN articles: “There will be the compulsory large crowds of mourners in the streets of Pyongyang to honor Kim Jong Il.” (article by Scott Snyder)  Of course there will be.  Will there be people who refuse to go?  Will there be North Koreans who “contemplate the unquestionable goodness of Our Dear Leader?”

So, today we hit standards 7.1.2 – dealing with theocracy  - Kim Jong Il is revered as a deity and his dead father Kim Il Sung even more so.  He actually maintained the role of President after his death… his position according to their constitution is “Eternal President of the Republic.”

7.1.18 – deals with recent political conflicts.  The state gives North and South Korea as an example.

7.2.2 – identify and compare contemporary governments in Japan, Korea, China, etc…

I’m hoping to discuss this more in depth tomorrow, but we’ll see.  We also have to discuss historical context, and Hammurabi…

In order to get the credit for the homework, vote on the polls at the top.  Then, read the blog and discuss it with an adult.  Discuss the following questions: what were the similarities between Islam and Judaism that I gave at the beginning of class today?  Will people attend Kim Jong Il’s funeral because they want to, or because they were coerced?  Will there be any exceptions?  Why?  What makes you think that?  What’s happening right now in The Hunger Games?

Like usual, it’s not enough to read and discuss the blog.  Write the following on a piece of scrap paper:  “I wish we could learn B about chess P during social studies.”  Have the adult you read this with sign the piece of paper.  Adults, by signing the paper you are signifying that you did indeed read the blog and discuss the questions with whoever is in my class.  Please don’t sign it unless this is true.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Judge and Jury

Hopefully you noticed the polls I put up at the top of the blog.  As a class, we finished up the webquest and powerpoint about Hammurabi yesterday.  Most of them looked really good.  There were a couple kids who didn't get done, but the majority did.

I don't know if you can access them from home or not.  The students that read the blog Thursday said they couldn't get them to open up from home.  I'm going to look into that because... I mean... what's the point of having all this technology if you can't access it?

The project reviewed a lot of what we covered in class - reasons ancient civilizations were found near rivers, what it took to be an ancient civilization, ethnocentrism, as well as some of the specifics about Mesopotamia.

It really introduced historical context though.  We haven't had discussions about this before.  Good teachers are always trying to include higher level questioning and Bloom's Taxonomy into their lessons:

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy (revised)

(Image courtesy of: dkuropatwa)

This lesson, and the question of historical context really nails the upper levels of Bloom's.

Oftentimes social studies is memorizing facts: ancient civilizations are found near rivers for silt, transportation, drinking water, and irrigation...  But to answer the questions of which legal system is more just, and whether or not it's even fair to ask that question take critical thinking skills like analyzing and evaluating both sets of laws and coming to a personal conclusion.

And, lets face it... the question of historical context and justification of the past is tough.  Maybe we say we shouldn't judge Hammurabi according to today.  Being beat 60 times with an ox whip for hitting someone of a higher rank seemed like a just punishment at the time...  But then can we apply that to other areas of history?  Slavery? Nazism/Fascism?  Child sacrifice to Moloch?  If we went back in time, would we say... "well... when in Rome...?"

The opposite, to me seems equally distasteful.  If we come down too hard against the past, how will we be judged based on the lives we're leading?  What if in the future, the world is overpopulated and people are upset at the "selfishness" of families in the past that had more than one child?

We'll be wrapping up this discussion on Monday in class.  We'll see what everyone thinks.

Like I mentioned at the top of the blog, I hope you noticed the polls.  In order to get the extra credit, first have your kid vote on them.  Then, discuss why they voted the way they did.  Ask them about the two laws we looked at as a class.  What were the punishments doled out under each legal system?  Ask them if there are ever any exceptions to their views.

In order to get the extra credit, vote on the polls and discuss those questions directly above the bold text.  Once you have done that, write the following phrase on a scrap of paper: "Four more days until a little break."  Finally, adult: sign your name.  By signing, you're saying that you really did read the blog and discuss it with whoever is turning in that paper.

Friday, December 16, 2011


There will be an extra credit post for the weekend.  I just won't have time to put it up until later on tonight or tomorrow.  I'm going to try to get the "Five Pillars of Faith" papers graded.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Since we use the blog as a jumping off point to get to the webquest, here it is: CLICK ON THIS.

To my class: Please work hard.  You need to be finished with the power point presentation by the end of the day.

We're still looking at Hammurabi and comparing his legal system to our own.  Overall, this has gone very well.  The biggest problem has been with cutting and pasting.  I don't think 7th graders fully understand what "in your own words" means.  A list of clever loopholes:
  • Cut and paste, and ignore the rule
  • Cut and paste full paragraphs, but put "Information taken from:____________" at the bottom of the slide
  • Instead of cutting and pasting, type the individual words from the source, changing nothing
  • Cut and paste, and change 3 to 5 words in the paragraph, therefore making it "your own."
Well, plagiarism is a lot like stealing...  When a two year old does it, it's cute... cookies smeared all over his face, claiming he didn't take any...  at three and four he should know better - maybe he gets a time out.  Stealing gum from a convenience store prompts mom to drag his butt back in there, apologize, pay for it, and offer to landscape the place for the next two weeks... the 19 year old who holds up the same convenience store gets carted away with his name in the paper.

These kids aren't going to get kicked out of school for plagiarism.  Most of the time, they just don't know what they're doing.  But they need to learn.  If they've copied and pasted huge swaths of text for this assignment, they're going to fail it.  They won't receive a zero, but they'll most likely fail.

Well, sorry to turn the blog into a soap box, but that's how my day went... going around from desk to desk looking at students work, and pointing out how I knew they copied and pasted:
  • hyperlinks still in text
  • contained words they couldn't pronounce, let alone define
  • contained exact wording of phrases
We are getting better.  Most students realized what I was looking for about half-way through the period.  Read the passage, and then without looking at it, write down what was important.  If you had to explain it to someone who was in third grade, what would you say to them?

(It seems like the soap box is still underneath me... sorry... sorry.  For real this time: I'm done.)

If you want your kid/step-kid/grand kid/ foster kid/ whoever to get extra credit for this, access her school work folder from home and see how far she is on the power point.  Have her explain the slides to you.  To get the extra credit, write me a note that contains at least 10 words on the 3rd slide of their presentation.  Then, ask her if she put everything in her own words - and how she went about doing this.  If you can't access their presentation for some reason or another, write me a note that lets me know that you tried, that you really did seriously try to look at it - but alas to no avail.  (Please at least discuss it for me...)  Then, adult-ish person sign the slip.  By signing it you're saying you really did read this thing, and discuss it with said student.  Please don't sell your soul for 5 extra credit points.  *emoticon smiley*

In case you're wondering where Mesopotamia is/was... I made a map this afternoon.  Here it is:

Not bad, huh?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

High Schoolers Are Scary

I'm just getting back from the high school.  I went over because there were a couple of kids who have brothers or sisters over there, and I thought maybe they could help out with some stuff.  (Reading...)  I was really encouraged by how it went, but man the high schoolers have changed so much since junior high!  Parents, get ready.

Over here, when they're in the classroom they're generally well behaved.  I almost see them as high schoolers instead of junior highers - I'm not just blowing smoke.  I think of these kids as young adults - but going to the high school?  *Phwew*  Those kids aren't kids.  They're monsters.  They're huge.  They're scary.  And quite nice.  A lot of them said hi.

Sorry if you're reading this and thinking, "geez... what does that have to do with social studies?"  The answer is: nothing.  Although, it might point out that I care.  A lot.  About reading, and making sure that every kid has every opportunity to succeed.  Also, thinking outside the box...

As for social studies, we're still working on that webquest.  We'll be doing that until Friday - it's a big deal, a lot of points.  We also worked on the three monotheistic religions, and.... AND... we had a little time to read The Hunger Games. 

We labeled a chart on the three monotheistic religions... here it is. 

I wish I could figure out a way to attach documents to this blog.  If I could do that, then anytime a student was absent, they could get the work right away.  How awesome would that be?  ("Uggg... not very awesome," come the collective groans of the students used to not making up their work from absences...)

If anybody knows how to attach documents to this thing, comment on the blog and let me know.  Or you could send in how to do it with your kids extra credit slip.

Speaking of extra credit, if you want it discuss the following nonsense:
How far are you on the webquest?  Did you compare any of the laws yet?  What happened in today's reading of The Hunger Games?  How well do you know the basics about the three monotheistic religions?  Quiz each other using the chart - you can click on it to make it bigger.

To receive extra credit, write the following phrase on a scrap of paper: "What impact did the potential energy have on the kinetic energy of the sleigh?"  Whichever adult read and discussed the blog, sign that piece of paper.  ONLY SIGN THIS IF YOU DISCUSSED THE QUESTIONS AT THE END OF THE BLOG!  Sorry for all CAPs.  I'm not shouting at you, but when I've already bolded and italicized this whole thing, I didn't know what else I could do to draw attention to it.  For a bonus high five tell who came up with the code/phrase/question of the day and why it's today's question.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Time and Tutoring

I don't have a lot of time to write today, since I am going to help with tutoring after school.  Our school really does offer a lot of opportunities to help our students succeed.

We worked on our Five Pillars of Faith drawings today.  We also watched a little video of the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site.  Here's the video:

We compared it to the Ark of the Covenant for Judaism.


After that we worked on the webquest.  I think it went pretty well.  We'll see how they turn out.

To get the extra credit for reading the blog, discuss the following questions:

Are your pictures finished?  (Ask to take a look at them, ask what they each mean...)

How did the webquest about Hammurabi go?  How far did you get?

In order to get the extra credit for reading today's blog, write the following phrase on a scrap of paper: "If I go to China, I'm not going to go to the Nike store."  Have the adult that you read the blog with sign the paper.  Adult, by signing the paper you are signifying that you really did read the blog and discuss the questions with the kid from my class...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Online Maps

We've basically finished up the 3 monotheistic religions.  We'll come back to it next week to see how they all relate, but for the most part we're finished.

Today we looked at the Middle East.  The Middle East is predominately Islamic, so it fits right in.  (And of course it ties in with multiple standards.  Because of the continuing Reading and Math Push my students are frightfully behind on basic map skills.  The online games we played in class are a great way to help them with spacial recognition.  Don't forget, I give extra credit for every five games they play.  They can play the Middle East game right here
Tomorrow we're going to review Mesopotamia and Hammurabi.  I'm pretty excited about that.  I've been waiting to try out this webquest I made up.  You can take a sneak peak by clicking on Mesopotamia and Hammurabi.  ...Either one.

If you didn't do the homework over the weekend - which was to visit this blog and discuss the questions, make sure you do that.  (Friday's blog entry...)  Turn in the sheet before 8:00 AM if you want to get credit for it on your progress report.

If you want to get extra credit for reading and discussing todays blog here's what you have to do:
Click on the Middle East game link.  Challenge whoever you're reading/discussing this with to a best 2 out of three games Middle East Countries (middle column) level one.  Student goes first.

When you're finished, write the following on a piece of scrap paper: Computers are our friends.  Have the adult that played the game with you sign the paper.  Adult, by signing the paper you are stating that you really did play at least the best 2 out of 3 games.  If you got smoked and played more - bravo.

Love this one... where's the Middle East?  And Where's the Mid-West?

map of the world from xkcd
If you like this comic, and want to see more of this type of humor, feel free to check out xkcd here.  Enter at your own risk.  I haven't read all of the comics.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Progress Reports - This Blog is Homework

Progress reports will be coming out soon.  In fact, half of the reason for this blog entry is to bring this to your attention. 
With that said, it’d probably be a good idea to check if you’re missing any assignments.  So, go do that right now.  When you’re finished, come back and read this post.

The students here at Concord Junior High are great.  They’re respectful and hard working.  They’re intelligent – my class averages range from a low of 80% to 91%.   The students have developed a sense of empathy towards the plights of others.  I love it here.  All day running through my mind is, “I have the best job in the world.”
The problem is, sometimes teachers and kids don’t see eye-to-eye.  (I bet this happens with some of you out there as well…)  Case in point – the other day when we took the test there were some kids that were talking – good kids, mind you… I shushed the entire class and reminded them that it was, after all, a test and that the rule is if you talk you receive a zero.  A couple seconds later, I reminded the class again.  At the third reminder I went over and took ten points off their scores.  Honestly, I don’t think these kids were cheating.  Apparently, one kid needed a pencil and was asking the other – which sparked the conversation. 
At the end of the test, they asked if they could have their points back, and I declined.  It was tough; I’m not a stickler for the rules – but if you need a pencil ask me – not the person sitting close to you.  If I get sidetracked and start helping someone else, ask me again.  Your job during a test is to work on the test.  (At any rate, since then both of these students have done tons of extra credit – making up that 10 points and quite a bit more… also one loaned me his Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Cabin Fever… Greg Heffly’s a riot.)
I’m telling you this story because inevitably right before progress reports, a bunch of students will check their grades, notice a missing assignment, and claim that they turned it in – be it my class, Mr. Ogle’s, Mrs. Gowdy’s, etc…   They may have, but before anybody gets too upset, let me suggest a couple things that may have happened:
-It was turned in with no name – most common cause
-It was turned in incorrectly – wrong tray, wrong spot, etc…
-The wrong assignment was turned in
-It was thought to be turned in, but is actually still in your binder/locker/floor under your bed…
If it was an assignment from a long time ago, it may be gone.  If it is a more recent no-name, it may still be around.  Whatever the case, I suggest you look into it and quickly - grades are due Tues. morning.  More than that, though, I would ask you to look into it respectfully.  ALL of your teachers here want you to succeed.
Normally, you can get extra credit by looking at this blog.  Today, I assigned it as homework because I want you all to look at your grades.  The stakes are a little higher this year with the Student Accountability Plan, and you need to make sure you’re keeping up.  (Most of you are.  Kudos to you!)
To get credit for doing this homework assignment, discuss the following question with the adult that read this blog:
How are you keeping up with your school work?  Is there anything you’re struggling in?
Are you missing any assignments?  What are you going to do to make up the points you lost?
How do you feel about the Student Accountability Plan?
Was this a fair homework assignment?  (Adults this is directed more at you… I know everybody’s busy, but I wanted to try it out once to see how it goes.)
After you’ve discussed those questions, write the following phrase down on a scrap of paper: “I’m glad I don’t have any missing assignments.”  Have the adult you discussed this with sign the paper.  Adults, by signing the paper, you are signifying that you really did read the blog and discuss it with your child.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Natural Barriers II

We had shortened classes today because of the writing prompt: "Instant Riches."

Yesterday we discussed natural barriers a little bit.  It's interesting to me because most of the class was actually dominated by a discussion of Islam and reading The Hunger Games, yet when I wrote the blog I only really discussed natural barriers.  (That's not that interesting, you say...)  What I mean is, I spent the majority of yesterday's blog discussing something that was discussed for maybe... 10 minutes.  I just figure, we do SO much in class it'd bore you all half-to-death (or closer) to get my full lesson in text form.  Or maybe it wouldn't bore you, but who has time to read all that?

So, today we went more in depth on the whole "natural barrier" thing.  Students had to circle four of China's natural barriers, and one (I bet you can guess what it is) of China's man-made barriers.  Then they went to the board and showed us where those barriers were.  (You'll notice this ties in much nicer with the actual standard: 7.3.10: Describe the limitations that climate and land forms place on land or people in regions of Africa, Asia and the Southwest Pacific.  China, being in Asia... Panem, of course, is in a fictional dystopic North America... 

Last year I emailed a website and received permission to use a map I found online.  I'm not sure if that includes posting it to my blog, so I emailed them again this year.  If they ask me to take it down, I will... but I can't imagine them doing that.  They seemed so nice.  *EDIT: They emailed and said I could post it on here.  Thanks*END EDIT*  Anyway, here is what it looked like when the students finished showing the natural barriers:
The map came from THIS website.  It wouldn't hurt to check them out.  In case you want to see this map without all the writing on it, you can find it HERE.

Officially, we're still studying religions, but everything overlaps so much, it made sense to do this now.  Tomorrow, back to Islam.

If you want extra credit, discuss the following questions with an adult: How did you do on the writing prompt?  What did you write about?  So, natural barriers, huh?  Those are pretty crazy.  That's not a question.  I know... ummm... can you make it into one?  Some question about China and natural barriers, and how it affects the people and surrounding cultures.  BAM!  In order to get the extra credit points, write the following phrase on a scrap of paper: If I get murdered in the city, don't go revenging in my name.  One person dead from such is plenty, no need to go get locked away.  Adults, by signing the paper, you're saying that you really did discuss those ummm... "questions" with whoever's in my class.  ...I realize they're not all questions today... sorry about that.  : )

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Natural Barriers

Oh, Katniss Everdeen, how you tie in to social studies - let me count the ways:
Governments, standard of living, culture, customs, civil disobedience, economic systems, ...  Today, in most classes, we got to the part where... (dang it... I don't want to give away what's happening in the book...)  Ok, some people have to travel through some mountains.  This is what is said:

 "I realize we must be in the tunnel that runs up through the mountains into the Capitol.  The mountains form a natural barrier between the Capitol and the eastern districts.  It's almost impossible to enter from the east except through the tunnels.  This geographical advantage was a major factor in the districts losing the war..."

Man, that hits so many standards.  (Granted, the standards apply to Asia, Africa and Australia - but I'm more concerned with the concepts they're teaching rather than the facts about places themselves...)

For instance:  "7.3.10: Describe the limitations that climate and land forms place on land or people in regions of Africa, Asia and the Southwest Pacific.

Example: Deserts in Africa, Saudi Arabia and China; the islands of Japan; mountains of Iran and Afghanistan; northern regions of China."

Yes, that deals with those specific places, but the concepts are the same for all of them.  I took a break from reading to discuss this with the kids - the difference between natural and man-made barriers.  My hands were the cow people and the lettuce people, separated by the Adidas Mountain range.  ...

It looked something like this:
We talked about why having a mountain range between these two groups of people might be beneficial - if the lettuce people try to attack the cow people, they have to cross the natural barrier - the Adidas Mountains.  That would make it more difficult.  Of course, if the lettuce people wanted to trade with the cow people, that would be more difficult as well. ...  I kept mixing up my voices... I couldn't keep them straight - which voice went with cow, which one went with lettuce... 

Anyway, we then discussed other forms of natural barriers, and types of man-made barriers as well.  Every class came up with the Great Wall of China as a man-made barrier.

Of course, we're still studying religions.  (You remember, standard 7.1.4 - which I mentioned in an earlier post.  I can't see how you can adequately teach a religion in a meaningful way - a way the kids will remember it, connect it with other religions, understand it in a way that is relevant to them and their world -  in less than a week.  (Classes are 45 minutes...)  The idealist in me says 3 days per religion...

We did go a little cross-curricular in one class today and use some algebra to figure out what year we're in on the Muslim calendar...

At any rate, it was a good day today.  If you're in my class and want extra credit - or if you're reading this and you want your kid (the one that's in my class) to receive extra credit, discuss the following questions:

1. What is a natural barrier?  What might be some positives and negatives from natural barriers?
2.  What does "standard of living" mean?  Can you give any examples from today's reading that Katniss had a relatively low standard of living in district 12?
3.  What is Islam?  What do you know about it so far?  Is there anything you don't understand about it?

When you're done discussing those, write the following phrase on a slip of paper: "It looks like you were ready for a flood in that picture Mr. Habecker..."  In order to get the extra credit points, the paper must be signed by the adult that discussed this stuff with you.  Adults, by signing it, you're saying that yes, so-and-so really did discuss those questions with you last night.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Video Days

Sometimes I think social studies classes are misrepresented, or at least common perception of them is off.  I think people picture us setting up a DVD player (some parents probably imagine us setting up a film strip projector...) on day one, pressing play, then kicking our feet up the rest of the year while getting paid a modest salary for relatively little work.

Hopefully this blog will help dispel some of those rumors.  We watch very few movies in here.  We do usually hit a couple big ones - Gandhi and Promises - but other than that they are rare.  (Even the big ones we usually trim down to fit into a week or two...)

Well, today was an exception - and I may add an exception that didn't take up the entire period.  We watched the last of the monotheistic religions videos today.  Each one lasts about 20 minutes and gives some insight into the religions we're studying.  Obviously, at 20 minutes there's only so much that can get covered, but they're a nice way to introduce the religion.

I don't think students get a whole lot of the video itself.  They get far more from the discussions that follow.  Tomorrow we'll go over the sheets that they were to fill out during the movie.  Honestly, it's a way for them to get some free points.  It helps them stay focused and follow along, but it's not a big deal if they miss an answer because we go over it together in class later.

The beginning of class was taken up with a discussion of religious extremism.  I thought it went pretty well.  I would love to show a 2 minute summary video about that to all my classes, but there are no good ones out there.  Go ahead and search youtube for yourself.  They either have an anti-religion bias, or they have an anti-religion-that-isn't-Christian bias.  I don't really feel comfortable showing either of those in class.  (If you do find one, please attach it to this blog as a comment.)

For today, discuss the following questions after reading the blog: what is religious extremism?  Do you think Islam gets a bad rap?  Give some instances of religious extremism other than Islamic Extremism?  We talked about people willing to kill or die for their faith.  Is there anything you're willing to die for?  If so, what?  Would that make you an extremist?  Why or why not?

To get the extra credit, write the following on a piece of paper: I'm an extremist when it comes to skateboarding.  Backside 50/50 baby.  Parents/Adult signing paper... (oh yeah, kids... you still have to get it signed...) by signing that scrap of paper you're saying your kid really did read and discuss the blog and questions with you.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

On to Islam

Today we took our pop quiz.  I think most students did pretty well on it.

We're moving into Islam over the next couple of days.  The students have now finished filling out their chart.  By the end of the week they should be able to explain everything that's on it.  They usually have some trouble with the founders.  Because all three monotheistic religions trace their roots back to Abraham, they often list him as the founder of the religion on the test.  They are not the same thing...  I gave the example today of a billionaire grandfather who started a car business.  If he gave some money to two of his grandchildren to start their own businesses, he would still only be the founder of his business.  His grandchildren would be the founders of their respective businesses, even though we could trace the money back to the grandfather.

Here's the chart in case your kid forgot it, lost it, or loaned it out to a friend.

We wait until this week to study extremism.  Students often associate extremism with Islam, so that's a separate lesson as well.  We take the time to define religious extremism, and point out that there are extremists in every religion.

For the extra credit, discuss the following questions:

How did you do on the pop quiz?
How much of the chart do you think you'll be able to explain?

In order to get the extra credit today, write a question you have about the blog or about class in general.  The question can come from student or adult.  The paper must be signed.  Adults, by signing the paper, you are signifying that you really did discuss those two questions with the student in my class.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pop Quiz

I was planning on giving the kids a pop quiz today...  I didn't go through with it.  So sue me.  ...They were happy.  I told them to count on having a pop quiz on Monday.  I realize that takes a little bit of the "pop" out of it.  I told them what it would cover... less and less like a "pop" quiz, right?  More and more like a regular, old, boring quiz.

In case you're wondering, here's some stuff that will be on it:

Hopefully they can explain that...  If not, well... good luck on the pop quiz.  There'll also be this:
Today for bellwork, we discussed The Hunger Games.  I can't stress enough how much I care about reading comprehension.  It's one thing to read the book.  It's another to make sure they're getting what we're reading.  I understand that this isn't a language arts class, but the book ties in so well with the curriculum.  I'm only worried that it's taking too much time away from the fact memorization we need to do for testing...

Here's the thing though, if this helps increase reading comprehension, it's going to help all areas of testing anyway.  All parts of the test require reading skills.

So, to get the extra credit today (well, Monday...) ask your kid what's going on in the book.  Ask them who their favorite characters are, and why.  Ask them if they would have taken Prim's place, or is there someone whose place they would have taken.  Ask them if they'd be courageous or fearful if they were in Katniss's place.  Ask them how they feel about the hunger games in general - the games themselves, not the book.  There's plenty more you could ask... and actually, as I'm reading over this, that might be a lot.  Maybe just pick a couple of those.

You know, every time I write this, I picture a loving parent with their child at home reading over the blog together, laughing, reminiscing about a scene from The Hunger Games, politely discussing politics, religion, or whatever topic we're studying...  Sometimes I snap out of my reverie though, picturing a mother glaring: "SO-AND-SO!  YOU GET OVER HERE RIGHT NOW!  YOU WILL READ THIS BLOG ENTRY!"  The daughter rolling her eyes, wishing she could be texting her bff about some cute boy three lockers down.  Uggg... social studies is such a drag.  "O.M.W.," she'll cry, texting her friend "ttyl, brb" at the exact same moment.  Apologies if your life mirrors the latter rather than the former.

Also, you could study for the quiz.  One more question that will be on it is: define monotheism.

So, if you want the extra credit make sure you bring in a piece of paper that has the following phrase: Thanks for reading and discussing the blog with me.  It's been so much fun.

In order to get the extra credit, it must be signed by the adult you discussed it with.  If you didn't have a heart-warming chat about social studies with some adult in your life, don't tell me.  Let me live in my imagination.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Books Are In

The Hunger Games were dropped off this afternoon.  I'm so excited!  We've been reading a little bit here, a little bit there, but we haven't had enough for every kid.  Needless to say, sharing is not the forte of every student...  I think tomorrow will be a Hunger Games day.  I want to be done by break so the other teachers can get to it before the movie comes out.

Class today went well.  We're still comparing Judaism and Christianity.  Next week we'll start on Islam.

One thing that came up in class today was the benefits of television.  We talked about strength in unity, and the importance of having a homogeneous culture.  This came up both in studying Judaism/Christianity, as well as today's reading in The Hunger Games.

It's late, and I have to put in a bunch of grades (video viewing guide)... so I'll save you from reading and discussing a ton.

Question of the day: Why did I say TV is a good thing?  We talked about Sponge Bob in most classes.  Do you remember?

One more question:  In studying religion, I asked the question: "Have you ever played a game with the kid, only to have the kid change the rules on you in the middle?  (I think I used the example of a kid making a "new base" in the middle of a game of tag...)  What did that question have to do with the religions we're studying?

In order to get the extra credit, discuss those two questions and bring in a sheet of paper signed by the adult you discussed them with.  Include the phrase: Bakers bake bread for Prim.  Adults, by signing the paper, you're saying you really did discuss this with your kid.  : )

I've been enjoying getting the extra credit slips of paper.