Saturday, May 17, 2014

A first model


As I mentioned in my previous post, I am thinking about how modeling might be used in a social studies class. I am using the visual above as a potential starting point for some of the modeling that might be done during the first few days of a social studies class.

Most of our students walk in on day one assuming that in a  social studies class they will study the past. And studying the past means learning facts about the past. And doing well in a social studies class is about little more than remembering the facts that the teacher, textbook, and videos say are important. This is what many social studies classes have and continue to look like.

This first model, then, has to get students to unpack and examine these assumptions. If these assumptions are left unchallenged, or, worse, perpetuated, then we are missing an opportunity to teach our students how to think critically about the past and present.

Notice that the arrow flows from the classroom to the past. We need to get students thinking about the idea of the past. What is the past? An easy place to begin a reflection about the nature of the past is to think about our own memories. Human beings do not and cannot remember everything about the past. The memories we store and the artifacts we keep help us to hold on to aspects of the past. Other people who experienced the events we recall also connect us to the past. 

Memories, we know, are not recorded the same way photos or videos of past events are recorded. This has huge implications for accounts of the past based on people's memories. Students need to explore this idea and revisit it every time they encounter first hand accounts of past events. These accounts cannot be treated as inherently accurate. So many factors influence what and how we remember the events we experience. 

The course I teach is Western Civilization. So, for this class, the arrow in the diagram is headed towards Europe's past. Students, who by default are used to be being passive recipients of facts about the past, are more than willing to let their teacher jump right in and start teaching the facts. Resist this urge! I think that the time spent working with models, especially early in the opening days of the course, will pay off as the course progresses. 

There is much more than can be explored and connected to the above model.  



  1. You might just as productively spend time exploring a model that unpacks the nature of social studies using current events. I will blog about this soon!

  2. I like the idea, although I'm still thinking through what sort of provocative questions I'd ask to get students really working with this sort of model. Do you go with questions like "how do we know about the past?" etc?