For Social Studies there are no textbooks. For the first several months of school I didn’t have a map in my room. It’s difficult to make history engaging – especially 7th grade American History which, for my students, isn’t actually their history. Why does this matter? This isn’t their ancestors. Even slavery is fairly irrelevant to them. There were no Hispanic people at the Constitutional Convention or the Continental Congress. No Hispanic people signed the Declaration of Independence or fought in the Revolutionary war. They weren’t even really discriminated against, as their presence in this country is relatively new.
With ancient Greece and Rome it’s equally difficult, though the ancient civilizations are exotic enough to be enticing to the 6th graders – and their attention span in general surpasses that of the 7th graders. The only maps I do have are of the United States, and the location of these ancient civilizations is mysterious to the students. How do you ‘make history come alive’ if you have nothing to show the kids? It’s been a challenge which I’ve basically only attempted to conquer through the pathetic use of my overhead projector. But sadly, there’s only so much excitement that can be conveyed through the use of a green overhead marker.
For months I have been thinking of ways to get a computer projector, which would allow me to use PowerPoint, and maybe one day even project relevant movies and tv clips. I had all but given up hope when today my principal stopped me as I entered school to tell me that he had gotten me one.
I set it up – a task which the students were all too eager to help me with, always ready to show off their electronics expertise. As soon as the requests to go on MySpace and YouTube died down and they were able to concentrate on the images projected from my jazzy PowerPoint presentations onto the screen, it was amazing what a difference it made. Maybe it was just the presence of something new, or my threats to call home if they touched the equipment, but the class seemed to settle into the type of lull that one associates with hours spent in front of a television or playstation.
In a time when kids, even those like my students who tend to live at or below the poverty line, are inundated with technology, it’s hard to believe that teaching without technology is even considered to be an option. Teachers are surprised that the kids don’t sit in silence and complete their work and aren’t filled to the brim with intrinsic motivation. But seeing them relax into the familiarity of a glowing computer screen, it all made sense. School is always expecting students to conform to its expectations, without taking them time to bend to the students. Perhaps it is the result of having so many senior, tenure teachers who are set in their ways without any real motivation to change. Obviously there are budgetary restraints as well. But it’s a change worth investing in if you are really talking about investing in kids’ futures.