Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What middle school could have been like?

This week I chose to tap into a subject area that, for me, was never one of my strong points.  The subject was often dry and taught primarily through lectures once I got to middle school.  After elementary school, the only distinct memories I have from the subject are writing position papers and writing definitions in extreme detail.  In elementary school I can remember being assigned multiple projects, which forced students to take a hands-on approach to understanding the subject material.  I will never forget the tri-fold I created about the state of Georgia in 3rd grade or the permanent burn my mom now has on her hand from helping me hot glue the model together.  What happened to that hands-on approach to Social Studies and History after elementary school, I will never know.  The subject became completely unengaging.  However, “the inclusion of technology may help make this subject more engaging, authentic, interactive, and relevant to the learners” (as cited in Schrum & Levin, 2009, p.71). The authors mention computer games like Carmen San Diego and SimsCity; both games that I loved to play as a child.  I never thought of these games as educational; they were simply fun.  I never played them in school and when I reflect on the reasons why I have to wonder how much of an effort my teachers put into finding out about our interests.  Or was it because they were not familiar with these types of games? Did they think because they were “games” they were not educational?  I think it would be interesting to interview a veteran teacher and get their perspective on the use of technology in the classroom.


            As I was reading through the different ideas for integrating technology in Schrum & Levin’s chapter on “Other Technology Tools to Consider” I often caught myself thinking, “Wow, that would be so cool!”  I was engaged with just reading about WebQuests and virtual field trips that I never knew existed.  The most surprising thing to read was finding out that WebQuests originated in the mid-90s.  It is now 2011 and this is the first time I have ever heard about a WebQuest.  It is disappointing to find out these technologies were available to my elementary and middle school teachers and never implemented into lessons.  Personally, if these digital tools were integrated into Social Studies lessons, I may have had a completely different opinion about the subject area. 
            Schrum and Levin again educate teachers on the ability to expand the classroom walls; a common theme that I think has been evident throughout all of our course readings on the needs of a 21st century classroom.  We have also discussed the unfortunate budget cuts that have hit our school districts and are making it difficult to fund educational workshops on implementing technology.  Yet,  “the cost [of WebQuests] is only the time it takes teachers to locate and design a lesson plan and a trip guide for their students” and a computer (Schrum & Levin, 2009).  This dedication of time can take a boring and ineffective lesson and make it an innovative, engaging, and significant lesson that asks students to critically analyze and develop higher order thinking skills.  It would be quite the transformation and I think it is definitely something to highly consider!  I know I will!
 Happy Spring Everyone! 


  1. Christina,
    I have had exactly the same experience with social studies and history growing up. I remember doing really awesome hands-on projects in elementary school, but nothing teacher directed after that. I sometimes made projects more complex and creative because I needed to engage myself in the history, because it was so boring to me. I remember creating Abe Lincoln's log cabin out of pretzel rods and melted chocolate as glue. My teacher was extremely impressed, but continued to teach the lecture styled lessons I am sure he had been teaching for 20+ years.

    I think, as a new teacher, that it is going to be totally worthwhile to take that extra time you mentioned, to create engaging lessons so that all the students have the opportunity to find something fascinating about all the different subject areas. I think I liked English and Science so much more because we did things that I was more interested in.

    You mentioned a few games that could be played to enhance the students' skills in social studies and science. The only game I remember, because I loved it, was Oregon Trail. You can download a free trial of the game at or buy it on Amazon for $5.99.

  2. I totally can relate to this. I have such a small attention span. Although I never "hated" Social Studies or History, I really disliked math. The only positive experience I can actually remember from Geometry was making this math creative project. I was so proud of it. Honestly, the only decent thing that I did in math. But... it was because it was hands on & held my interest more than numbers did.
    I love that you mention the budget being a problem, especially when we have been told all year to think about technology in the classroom. Teachers can only do so much, if the school does not supply the sufficient funds. Games and the use of computers is more practical, at least for now, while we are dealing with harsh economic times. I think your suggestions are not only valid, but beneficial to students. Nobody is too old to enjoy themselves!

  3. It is interesting that you mention that you had a much more hands-on experience to learning in elementary school. I feel the same way! Is it because when students are young they automatically think there needs to be an element of play or game in school, yet the second you hit middle school...NO MORE FUN. All I know is the desire to have fun and enjoy school never's grad school and I still get excited when we play a game in class or create a group project. I also wish I had the opportunity to learn through would have been such a great experience.

  4. I, too, often wonder what it would have been like to go to school in today's world. I got to do so many creative and engaging lessons in my student teaching, all of which I wish I had the chance to do when I was in middle school. Although there are many games and interesting ways of incorporating student interest, there are definitely things about going to school now that I don't envy. With all the technology in our society, students can sometimes look overwhelmed and burnt out. They are so use to immediate responses, that patience and inquiry are hard ideas to follow through on. Overall, giving students the chance to use technology in and educational way that interests them is always a positive step forward in the learning process.

  5. Great question... Why does the curriculum stop being fun when we get to the higher grades?

    You mention SimCity in your post. I got The SimCity Box with five games in it. My students have found SimCity Societies to be an excellent way to explore how the kind of city that is created has a huge impact on resource consumption and sustainability. They think like engineers and have a lot of fun.

    Creating engaging lessons that are meaningful does take a lot of time. In many nations that outperformed us on the 2009 PISA, their teachers were/are given more time for planning.

    You mention budget cuts and limited funding for our teacher professional development. I feel like our society's priorities need to be sorted out.

    Two big issues (which are related) are 1. finding time to explore, learn, and create engaging lessons AND 2. getting the resources to create those engaging lesson without having to spend my own money.

  6. I think these are all excellent insights. I have often wondered if the "fun" and "games" stop in the upper grades because of 1) the teacher training at those levels; and 2) the belief that at the middle school level you are "preparing kids for high school," and high school is 'serious' and 'hard' and 'intense'; and that in high school you are "preparing kids for college" which is "impersonal," "lecture-oriented" and "hard." Sometimes I feel teaching can focus too much on preparing students "for next year" than preparing them for the future in the long-term.