Enhancing Social Studies Through The Use Of Technology

Micah Shippee, Ph.D., Google Innovator Trainer, and teacher at Liverpool CSD, Syracuse, NY sat down to discuss the advantages of technology in his social studies classroom. Shippee shares his experiential approach to learning through technology that has greatly benefited his students. In addition, professional development is examined by Shippee as he adds insight into the success of Google For Education Summits and the enthusiasm shared by colleagues like himself.

Rod Berger: Well, Micah, I have to tell you, knowing that you teach seventh-grade social studies takes me far, far back. If I date myself, the seventh grade, was 1990 or something like that, right around there. I'm wondering how seventh-grade social studies have changed since 1990? Let's start with that.

Micah Shippee: The content hasn't changed too much although there are few, you know, revisionist reviews of how it should be taught, methodologically, we have technology that makes it way more immersive.

RB: Yes.

MS: Instead of just showing students two-dimensional spaces historically I can share with them three-dimensional and sometimes four-dimensional objects and places through applications like Google Earth making it more real and allowing the students to comprehend concepts like geographic influence and world cultures better.

RB: What is that like to be working on a subject where sadly, you could in theory rest on your laurels and teach Social Studies concepts similarly to what was experienced in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, but instead you have chosen the opportunity with technology to explore what's out there in a way that is engaging?

MS: Personally I wasn't a very good student. Social Studies was probably my least favorite class for many reasons. But I always fell in love the content of history. My grandparents would tell me anecdotal stories that made history more personal to me as a child. When I became I teacher, I honestly wanted my students to come close to my love for history.

I figured my maximum level of motivation might be the max for many of them. If I'm pretty excited about what I'm teaching, then I'm going to bring them that to at least that level. That was my intent.

It's changed, I think each teacher customizes the way that we learn. And being a non-academic child, things that attracted me were video games simulation, in short, experiential knowledge.

So, for my classroom, my focus is providing an experience that students can take and say, "Okay, well, I can empathize in the way that this content is being taught. I can empathize with the people of the past."

RB: So, in your self-auditing of your teaching and comparing other social studies teachers that are using technology, how have we made significant strides? Engaging the "young Micah," thinking back, would this environment have made a big difference for you? How do you now reflect back and respond to your students?

MS: Honestly, I don't know if it would have changed things academically. But in terms of my engagement in the class, things that are experiential, hands-on and tangible, I believe it would have brought me in as a learner.

RB: Yes, I think that's interesting. I appreciate you going down that path of me.

One of the things I'm fascinated with is looking at teachers in different subjects, different grade levels that are integrating technology and then connecting it their colleague's work in other classrooms. What is it like from your perspective to tie in projects that you're working on with your students to other skills and abilities in other classrooms? If students are learning another subject and you're able to integrate the chapter or the section that you're working and technology is the bridge?

MS: Yes, yes. You're touching on a ginormous issue if that's the word. (laugh) The issue of educational silos, for instance, that is social studies is inside of this room, and ELA is inside of that room, and math is inside of a different room, and never the twain shall meet.

That is a scary and dangerous thing in education, and it is easily one of my greatest soapboxes. I feel if I were teaching about Abraham Lincoln then in my opinion, "Oh captain, my captain" would be perfect for an ELA class.

That's of course, content-centric, I'm talking from a social studies perspective. I've had the privilege of working with colleagues that embrace that ideology as well. We've been trying to bridge that gap. I think it's a little harder to do in secondary education, ages 12 and up. In elementary, the teacher has a little bit more control over content and interdisciplinary work. But at the secondary level, it's a matter of people talking about their turf and how can our turf be the same turf?

blue connected globeDoes technology help with that? We've been using learning management platforms like Google Classroom that has allowed teachers to share a class so that we can share one class and the students see content together. That's one possible way that it gets done. I think we're still on the front end of that. I believe we have a ways to go in education to unite curricular content. I think that's the way to go. It's natural to learn about the multifaceted approach to content instead of a classroom, four walls approach.

RB: Doesn't that, Micah, speak to the world that young people live? They don't live in blocks of time. They weave it all together through technology, in communities and friends. It's all over the world through social media. That's just the world that they live in.

MS: Yes, if we're going to prepare a well-rounded learner, give a child a rich educational experience, we're going to have to help them in problem-solving ways from many different aspects. How was this problem solved historically, for instance? How can I approach this problem from an English perspective? What's the scientific theory behind this problem? What's the mathematical equation about supporting this problem? It's one problem with many different approaches and insights to what's going on. We can no longer have a scientist with a white lab coat that is in a box and never interacts.

RB: Are you saying your lab coat is hanging outside the frame of this interview? (laugh)

MS: (laugh) Yes. Well, they don't give me a lab coat it turns out. At least a smock, right?

RB: A smock, there we go (laugh). Micah, you've been working with EdTech team, and I hear such passion from people and commentary around the Google for Education Summits. It's a great opportunity for local teachers to test out, see and explore technology. Tell me about your work with them and how that has impacted your teaching?

MS: Yes. I travel to these events and people; they'll tweet; they'll stop me in the hall, and they'll say how much I'm benefiting them, and I tell them honestly, "You're helping me." One of the things I'm getting from it as an educator is the energy. I leave the drone of the school day, and I go on a weekend to a summit and the people who are there want to be there. It's their choice. They're very excited, eager and sponging, anything, it's incredibly positive. I talked to someone in Canada two weeks ago about the War of 1812 and how I teach that. I don't get in the content but just as a reference. Another man raised his hand, and says, "Oh, I teach that too from the Canadian perspective." (laugh) So we traded war stories, (laugh) but that's a bad example. (laugh)

We traded content ideas. It was cool, and he was excited about my suggestion of how he could incorporate technology through Augmented Reality to teach the war of 1812. It's just incredibly powerful, and you can't plan for these things.

RB: But what advice would you have for someone who's contemplating going to one for the first time? The energy and all these other things, how would they prepare? What would be in store?

MS: I would just say drink a lot of coffee and go. (laugh) I think we have many people who were thinking whether or not they wanted to give up their weekend. Wondering if they wanted to do it. But by the end of the second day, they were all saying how glad they were to be there and how they felt rejuvenated to turn around and go to their classroom.

RB: Isn't it ironic when you think about it? The general public thinks education and time. There's not enough time in a day, and we see a lot of sort of chirping about all the stuff that impacts the school day and people's time, yet you're talking about people saying, "Look, I'm worried about giving up my weekend." And when they do it, they say, "Absolutely, when is the next one?" (laugh) If it's done correctly, I guess what I'm saying is time is not the big part. It's how do we create community and opportunity for people to enhance what they're doing in the classroom, that's exciting.

MS: Yes. We consistently hear, "I wish my normal PD was like this." This is not the kind of professional development I've ever had before. Why can't I always have it this way? That's the mantra after the summits.

RB: So, listen up PD companies, right? (laugh)

MS: Yes. It's very powerful and, to the credit of in-house institutions, we're doing our best to provide in-house, in-school district professional development. But if you can get the best of the best from around the world to come and do those with all the energy that goes with it, it's probably going be a better experience.

RB: Well, Micah, I've got to say that if I had to travel back to 1990, or whenever it was when I was in seventh grade for social studies, I would want to be in your class.

MS: Yes, cool. Thank you.

RB: Thanks so much, Micah.

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Author
Micah Shippee, Liverpool CSD, Teacher & Technology Trainer, Syracuse, NY is an innovative 'ideas' person who thinks outside the box. Micah wears many hats as a 7th grade Social Studies teacher and turnkey technology trainer. He regularly explores ways to improve motivation in the classroom and leverages emergent technology to achieve educational goals. Very early in his career, Micah discovered the secret to increased student motivation, a more productive learning environment, a better fit for future job preparedness, all while achieving his mandated content objectives and goals... the secret? Effective and Efficient Technology Integration.
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