Activity – Mapping Ideologies

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An important skill for any student of social studies, and geography in particular, is mapping. This doesn’t have to be terribly complicated, because I know most of my students will not go on to become professional geographers or cartographers, but an awareness of the world around them (whether physical, human, cultural, or political) will help then make sense of the many people, events, and ideas they will meet in their adult lives.

One way I’ve tried to add to my students’ general knowledge of the world is through mapping activities. These can range from identifying mountain ranges, cities, nation states, or other geographic features on a map to creating their own by hand or using digital software to do so. Again, this can be as complex as desired. I prefer to scaffold learning, so beginning with something a little less involved may be best.

In Geography 3211, my class and I have just begun a unit on geopolitics, which itself can be a daunting subject. The goal at this point in the unit is to help students understand what nation states are and appreciate differences in ideology among them with the eventual goal of understanding how these ideologies can lead to cooperation or conflict on the global stage. Below is a short mapping activity I created to help students make sense of the differences between democratic, authoritarian, and communist states:

Students begin by identifying the locations of nations and colour coding them by type. They then make inferences about connections between location, level of development/globalization, and ideology. Finally, with a little research, students consider strengths and limitations of these ideologies.

This activity can be easily completed within an hour long class, and this includes some upfront introductory instruction. My class had a ball doing this and it got them thinking about some geopolitical issues we will be continuing with after the Easter break.

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Scientific Revolution Research Foldable

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In Social Studies 2211 (History), we are completing a research activity on significant contributions to the Scientific Revolution during the 16th-18th centuries. It’s a way to get students practicing research skills and working collaboratively to not only learn about a scientist, but also discovery why certain developments were “big deals” at the time.

Here’s the activity:

I’ve adapted this from one used by Gonzaga High School in St. John’s, as I worked with teachers from that school when teaching an early version of this unit on innovation and change.

Students start by choosing a scientist and researching aspects of that person’s life, family background, social status, education, etc. Secondly, they move on to detailing the notable discoveries and achievements of their subject. Thirdly, they suggest how the discoveries of this individual helped change the worldview of people at the time. Finally, they consider the lasting impacts of this person’s work and its relevance for the present day.

I’ve requested that students document at least 3 sources of information that they used during their research and these will be presented in an APA citation format, something the Social Studies Department at Gander Collegiate is working on incorporating into all such activities. Being able to properly cite sources and document their research is a vital academic skill, especially for those students who wish to pursue post-secondary studies.

Here are a couple of samples of work I’ve already received from some very creative students:

Books to School

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This morning I read an article by Alison Flood at The Guardian called “Books That Send Me Back To School”, in which she discusses the literary works that she remembers from her school days and what part they played in her education. This is a topic that causes me both joy and disappointment. The former is obvious since I’m a reader and writer myself with an interest in literature, but the latter is another matter.

When I think back over my own English education it’s true that much of what my classes covered in high school has been lost to memory (like so many other parts of that strange time in life). The works I clearly remember covering are:

  • A Christmas Carol
  • The Old Man and The Sea
  • Julius Caesar
  • MacBeth
  • Lord of the Flies
  • The Lure of the Labrador Wild
  • Antigone
  • The Pearl

When I move beyond this list it becomes much harder to remember any novels or other works that school English classes had made available to me. I don’t doubt that there may be a couple beyond this, but I just don’t remember them. When I think about the classics that’s about it.

Now looking back on my education, this is a rather paltry selection. Thousands of years of the literary arts and this was what was deemed worthy study? Sure Piggy, Simon and the other unfortunates in Golding’s work were entertaining and compelling; the struggle between Santiago and the marlin in Hemingway’s novella is masterful and illustrates an incredible perception into human character; Shakespeare’s works are timeless in their relevance (though this is being challenged by those who question the Bard’s place in a modern canon); and I would take any opportunity to read of the twisted familial relations of ancient Greek texts.

But where are the other classics? When I was younger I wondered why Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird weren’t covered in my classes (these are currently taught in the school in which I work). I read no Mark Twain, no Hardy, Austen, Orwell, Vonnegut, Wilde, Bronte, any Russian authors, anything medieval in nature, Beowulf, Shelley, and the list goes on and on. There was so much more out there I could read, I knew it, but had no idea where to start. As a teacher today, I know there is a limited amount of time and flexibility in English courses and other learning outcomes must be achieved, but when I think of the vast store of great literary works out there, I feel a little cheated with the ones presented to me as important. Book clubs would have been a welcome alternative, but were a wholly alien concept to me growing up in a small, outport community.

In more recent years, I’ve become a bit self-conscious about the gaps in my reading of the classics and have been attempting to plug them. I can’t place this concern solely at the feet of the education system here and nor would I want to: perhaps I should have been asking my teachers more questions about other authors, other novels they found gripping, perhaps I should have widened my own reading. My point is to question the current canon of suggested and required texts for school courses, not for the exclusion of those currently present, but to consider ways of getting kids to read more, even if it is on their own time. Making use of school libraries as places where students can find entertaining and valuable reads (and time to read them), rather than what seems their primary role as sources of internet access and the ills of misdirected surfing. This trend I’ve seen developing quite freely since becoming a teacher.