What’s loud in your SS buds?

 When the iPad and iPhone first made it big a decade ago, podcasts were all the rage. Didyaknow – the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary selected “podcast” as the “Word of the Year” for 2005? Podcasting seemed to lose some of its luster for a while, but it recently experienced a renaissance due to some very popular shows. Serial, anyone?  This American Life?

The power of podcasting is not lost on educators, as we continue to take advantage of the personalized power of following podcasts and creating our own. Podcasts for professional development come in all shapes and sizes, and the social studies is full of podcasting love. You can dig into a certain area of content, find out about digital technology, and listen to discussions about innovative methods for instruction. Current events are also common fodder on podcasts, allowing you (and students) to examine various perspectives. Podcasters tend to be very active on social media, so the conversation can become a two-way street (or more). Many of the podcasts have a corresponding website that extends the conversation. Most educational podcasts also come with valuable show notes, in which the authors provide details and links to the various topics they have referenced in the cast. Finding time can be personalized as well. I carve out some podcasting time when I walk my dog every morning and night, spend time on the elliptical, and in the car.  Podcasts are free fifty free (my favorite flavor) and available for your phone or computer.

How can you personalize your podcasts?  Simple – choose the ones about your interests and goals as a teacher. (That’s not rocket science, right?) Here’s my own list, for example:

  • Talking Social Studies – Four awesome educators chat about the world of social studies education, and a whole lot of other topics. You can’t beat this crew!
  • Middle School Matters – Two middle school teachers share a litany of ideas, platforms, links, advisory ideas, and bad jokes that can be used in various middle school classrooms.
  • Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers – Angela offers insight on a litany of ed topics, all in bite sized ten minute pieces.
  • Pritzker Military Museum and Library – I love listening to the presenters and speakers, both for content and also inspirational stories I can relate to students.
  • Civil War Talk Radio Civil War Talk Radio – My go to every year I teach the Civil War, and Gerry Prokopowicz gives me the latest on Civil War historical works, interviewing historians, authors, and Civil War guides.
  • Gilder Lehrman has an insane (in a good way) collection of audio and video casts about  pretty much everything you can think of when it comes to American history.  Leading historians, fresh faces and viewpoints, and a wide variety of topics make these a standard on my playlist.
  • History of the Constitutional Convention – Every September, I listen to many of Ned Ryun’s @nedryun casts on one of my favorite historical topics.  He weaves primary sources and cool trivial information to bring these old men to life … which is what I try to do with my students when we reenact the convention.
  • Speaking of lectures … I use iTunes U a lot to search for specific content based discussions, especially in areas that I need a refresher (hello, Gilded Age).  Head to iTunes and search the iTunesU directory – there has to be something that you don’t know (or remember from college).
Looking for more ideas for general edcuation?  Betty Ray from Edutopia has a listFusion Yearbooks compiled quite a collection, and the catalogue from TeachThought is quite impressive.  Take a look, and see if you can find a few for you.

Of course, the next step is developing your own ed podcast.  Talk about personalizing your professional development! Maybe that could be a winter goal!

Got a favorite podcast? Tweet about it on #sschat and #sstlap!  Got your OWN podcast!  TOTALLY tweet about it!

Start the school year with gusto!

It’s the start of the school year, and you have the ultimate opening class for your students. You begin by having students get into their seating charts so you can learn their names, then hand out a paper copy of the class syllabus and go through it word by word, making sure you don’t miss anything. You establish and reinforce the rules that will guid class, then demonstrate the proper way to utilize the textbook. You end with a quick quiz on the summer reading and then assign the first chapter of the text.

It’s a perfect opener – perfect if you want to immediately suck the life out of your class, set the stage for boredom and monotony, and open the year with a whimper. You know your students will come home to the question “How was your first day of school?” You don’t want the answer to be “Well, Mrs./Mr. So-and-so’s classes is going to be worse than dental surgery.” As teachers, we need to remember that we only have chance at a first impression, so those first days of school are incredibly important. We want to demonstrate what’s going to go on in our class, possibly highlight different aspects of our curriculum, learn about the students as individuals and as a collective group, let kids know a little bit about us, and have kids and be active right away after not being in school for a couple of months. Most importantly, we want them coming back for more – right?

There are a ton of great first day activities that people post online – Glenn Wiebe has a few here, and  Peter Pappas wrote about a mystery idea a while back,. My favorite of the last 25 years has been a back to back combination of a collaborative Breakout and an individual Pop-Up Museum. These two activities set the stage for our (Laurie Walczak an me) combined American Studies curriculum, let us know a lot about how our students interact with each other, allows us to get to know our students as individuals, writers, and presenters, opens up involvement for parents and families, and hooks kids for an exciting year-long dive into America’s story.

Our breakout is actually a break in – a launch of our curriculum, some major highlights of the years, and an introduction to us and our style of teaching. We divide students into two groups, split them into our two rooms (connected by a central door), and have the teams compete to open a box with six locks. The clues all deal with aspects of our curriculum in American studies – a historical timeline, a literary timeline, our Washington DC trip, and more. Once one of the groups has opened the locks, it leads them to another set of clues in which both groups will collaborate. Those clues continue with the American studies theme. Once the entire large class cracks the code, we celebrate and then debrief about what they learned and experienced. It’s a great way to open, as the activity gives us an idea of which students are leaders, who likes to stay on the sidelines, and a little bit about the culture of the class. Plus, it’s challenging, requires risks, and is simply fun. And … it gets loud!

Once the break in is complete and debriefed, we demonstrate our second class activity – our America’s Story Pop-Up Museum. The museum has become a staple since I first saw it presented at NCSS in 2014. It is an incredibly versatile, easy and potent experience for us as teachers and for our entire eighth grade. Students bring in artifacts that help them tell their view of America’s story – either something about them or something they feel is important about American history. The students are in combined classes with larger numbers, and we set it up as a gallery walk with student presenters in front of their work. The entire activity offers us an immediate glimpse of how each students writes, presents, interacts, and thinks, and we also get some great stories that we can refer to throughout the school year. We give parents advance notice in an email the week prior to school in order to get the ideas generated at home, but also to invite them. Opening the doors to our class so early in the year reaps great benefits!

We will post massive amounts of images and some video on Monday and Tuesday and update this post as well. Please make sure to check out @drlwalczak and @chucktaft for some snapshots of each activity!

Side note #1 – I/we do have a syllabus for our course, and I do have classroom principles (not rules) that are guidelines for behavior. Students can read the syllabus on their own, as I don’t want to insult their intelligence. If they don’t read it, it’s their loss, because it’s kind of fun! In reality, the syllabus is more for parents – students will be in class every day! As for classroom principles and rules, those are embedded within the activities that we do early in the school year. Since I’m fortunate to discuss law and government at the beginning of the year, I can throw in the difference between rules and principles pretty quickly. I’m pretty sure that no student wants to hear a lecture about classroom rules first thing after over two months “freedom”. Plus, if you treat kids with respect, they’re going to treat others with respect.

Side note #2 – We do not use a textbook … I haven’t used one for seven years, and I don’t see myself ever returning to the dark side.

Side note #3 – I do similar activities to open my methods class as well. Check out some tweets in the next few weeks for examples. College students love these experiences too!

Digital Breakouts in the SS

It’s time for some heartfelt honesty – I have an addiction … to BreakoutEDU.  I continuously try to think of or look for new clues, shop for every different lock I can find, hit craft stores for cool ways to hide information, and scour Groupon for deals to local Escape Rooms.  I love creating them and my students love solving them (Breakouts were one of the top memories in my end of the year survey). I posted about Breakouts before, and I am excited to be presenting BREAKOUT! at the annual NCSS Conference in San Francisco in November. In my first BreakoutEDU post, I mentioned my thirst for digital breakouts and insinuated a follow up post … so here it is!

Similar to the classroom version, digital breakouts involve challenging students with a series of locks that must be opened, centered around a theme and clues tied to the curriculum. Instead of having physical clues in a classroom space, digital breakouts are housed on a website, with clues available directly (or hidden) on the website and/or through various digital platforms. Kids can learn a ton about the selected content and develop specific skills if desired as they complete the breakouts.  Once participants solve the clues, they unlock a new webpage with a congratulatory message. Most importantly, students experience the thrill of the chase, leading to increased engagement!

In my mind, digital breakouts have a few advantages over the classroom counterparts. Video,  audio, and online resources can easily be used to challenge students as well as convey curricular content. Also, digital breakouts can be completed asynchronously by students. Of course, students lose some of the collaboration that is a hallmark of classroom breakouts, but the digital variety can be completed in unison through various online means like messenger and Face Time.  Digital  breakouts unfortunately lack the physical movement that I enjoy in class and with classroom breakouts, but you can’t win them all – RIGHT?.

Digital breakouts are AWESOME for social studies content. Think of the available materials online regarding the content you teach – video, audio of speeches, maps, primary sources galore, images, cartoons, current events … the possibilities are endless.  Combine that with amazing digital tools that fit perfectly with the social studies and you have an awesome method of introducing content and skills to your students.

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Want some examples?  I created a digital breakout to introduce the major themes of the 1920s, and my students enjoyed it as a class activity. I also created a homework assignment to have studnets get the basic content of the early years of the Cold War, using the spy theme to make it “Operation Crypto”.  The kids loved finding a fake spy name and posting their spy image when they cracked the code.

Amanda Sandoval (@historysandoval) is my digital breakout muse, as she blows me away with her combination of history, challenging thinking, creative clues, beautiful design, and plain old fun.  Her Suffering for Suffrage is by far my favorite BreakoutEDU  of all time – physical or digital!  It is a must try, and also one to use as a model for awesomeness.

How do you go about creating a digital breakout? My first suggestion is to try to complete one of the many digital breakouts available online. The best place to start is BreakoutEDU’s digital site, as these creators have it DOWN to a science. Besides incredible tutorials and a litany of awesome online platforms for fantastic clues, the site has multiple examples of breakouts in all curricular areas from fantastically creative educators across the globe.  From there, you can determine what you want your students to learn and develop your clues. You’re not limited by the constraints of specific physical locks, because in digital breakouts locks can have any key you desire – a series of numbers, letters, words, directions, colors, dates, you name it!

I always consider the purpose of my breakouts,  Is it an introduction? Content delivery? Skill development?  All of the above?   For my content-based digital breakouts, I have students utilize a note taking device so that they can extract and record important info and also note any questions they may have. A breakout is not a substitute for a discussion, but it offers a great base of knowledge and gets kids excited about the content.

If you have the time to tinker this summer, I suggest creating a digital breakout for your class.  It can be a great opener, or maybe an awesome activity for that area of curriculum that you find tedious and want to spice up a bit. The best way to go about it is to play play play, but I warn you … they are addicting.

Join the BreakoutEDU History Teachers Facebook group to share ideas, collaborate, and find awesome social studies Breakouts – and join the #sstlap chat at 8:00 CST on June 29 as we explore breakouts in the social studies!

#SUMMERSSPD – WHO IS WITH ME?

It’s official (for me) – summer has arrived!  Closing activities completed, comments written, an awesome Summer Spark conference in the books, Wisconsin temperatures actually in the 70s … so now it’s on to #SummerSSPD! What’s my plan? What’s your plan? Can we plan together?

In my mind, summer is the best time for personalized professional development, as I can really dig in to the topics and tools I want to examine without worrying about the next class, the after school meeting, the massive email chains, and more.  There are outstanding PD offerings available for all teachers, and the litany of possibilities for social studies is amazing.  Here’s what I hope to do – hopefully some of these ideas can offer a little inspiration and collaboration:

READ – It’s something I never have time to do during the school year – and there are so many amazing titles that we can choose from!  Anyone want to start a #summersspd book chat? I will definitely consume a few of my favorite terrorism CIA espionage guy-that-can-kill-you-with-a–spoon thrillers, but I also want to dive into some books for content and pedagogy.  I plan on opening with A History Teacher’s Toolbox by Russel Tarr (@russelltarr), then re-examining Explore Like a Pirate and Play Like a Pirate from my pals Michael Matera (@mrmatera) and Quinn Rollins (@jedikermit), coming up with additional ways to incorporate their awesome ideas into my class (they are both SS teachers, of course!) For content, I plan on digging in to American and WWI much more … which goes along with one of my later plans!

WATCH – Who has time to watch all of the awesome documentaries that are available on various channels and online? Now is the time – and since they can be streamed, I can enjoy many of them wherever I am.  My planned SSPD viewing pleasures include multiple titles from American Experience – The Race Underground, Last Days in Vietnam, The Boys of 36, and re-watching The Great War.  I’m also hoping to watch some great docs on Netflix, including 13th and Reel Injun. And I will watch a ton of 30 for 30 – my favorite kind of docs! Of course, all of this will get me ready for Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War in September – it will be epic.

LISTEN – The power of podcasts is amplified in the summer, with walking the dog, driving kids to and from activities, hanging at the pool or beach, thinking about exercising, or just relaxing on the hammock in the backyard.  Here’s what plays out of my earbuds …

  • Talking Social Studies – Four awesome educators chat about the world of social studies education, and a whole lot of other topics.
  • Civil War Talk Radio – Gerry Prokopowicz of East Carolina University hosts an interview session with leading Civil War historians every week – (pretty great, considering he is a leading CW historian himself).
  • The Pritzker Military Library has podcasts of speakers, interviews with historians, and an awesome collection of discussions with veterans.  I have been led to many invaluable books and authors simply by listening to these presentations.
  • Gilder Lehrman has an insane (in a good way) collection of audio and video casts about  pretty much everything you can think of when it comes to American history.  Leading historians, fresh faces and viewpoints, and a wide variety of topics make these a standard on my playlist.
  • Lectures … I use iTunes U a lot to search for specific content based discussions, especially in areas that I need a refresher (hello, Gilded Age).  Head to iTunes and search the iTunesU directory – there has to be something that you don’t know (or remember from college).

TRAVEL – Social studies is everywhere – that’s one of the bazillion reasons why it is such an essential topic.  There are some great sites you can visit in your own area, and it’s just a google search away.  If you are heading out of town, check out a historical site or a new musuem at your destination.  If have big plans this summer – heading to Kansas City, Belgium and France to experience American involvement in WWI.  I will share my travels online – stay tuned!

CHAT – We have so many incredible social studies teachers that are connected in an amazing PLN – and now we have more time to communicate over the next two months! Of course, the awesome #sschat on Monday nights and #sstlap chat on Thursday highs are the places to be online for social studies pros.  I hope to have a few open Google hangouts with anyone interested in a virtual SSPD chat.  Please join me!

CREATE – You know that blog you wanted to start, that classroom website you wanted to develop, those flipped videos and podcasts you wanted to produce, those cool posters and images you wanted to create, those awesome tech platforms that you wanted to experiment with, and that lesson or unit you wanted to blow up and turn into something magical?  Now is the time, because now you hopefully have time! I hope to add more to this blog as June and July progresses (but doing it outside on my patio). I plan on changing my approach to the organization and timing of our National History Day project experience, offering more guidance on checkpoints and gamifying the process to add evening more engagement.  I also hope to create a few more Breakouts for my class – live and digital!

There are multiple conferences and programs for incredible summer PD for social studies teachers, like Gilder Lehrman,  the WWII Memeorial Teachers Conference, the CWPT Teacher Institute , and some great NCSS workshops.  Many require advance application, but it never hurts to take a stab.

I’d love to have everyone share their summer social studies PD experiences using a common hashtag (#summersspd).  Please let me know if you are interested in organizing some hangouts, specific chats or slow chats, or meeting F2F!

With me? Who will come with me? Let’s get loud together this summer (and beyond)!

 

 

 

TECH YOUR SS ROAD TRIP!

One of the great aspects of teaching social studies is that your curriculum is everywhere – historical site, a market, museums, a bank, government buildings, courtrooms .. you name it, it probably has something to do with social studies.  Taking your kids on the road is always a great way to get the social studies to come alive, set the stage for inquiry and discussion, differentiate your curriculum, and offer something new by getting out of the classroom.  How can we make these trips even more engaging and informative?  Go tech!

The typical field trip is often accompanied by worksheets for students to fill out as they visit a museum, science center, or fine arts location. Also, reflection usually takes place after the trip, sometimes when students have already forgot what they’ve seen. Are you looking for ways to innovate on your next field trip, allowing students to be more interactive, integrate technology, ditch the clipboards and paper, and get real-time reflection and feedback? Here’s a couple of ideas to supercharge your next social studies odyssey with your students.

Of course, when integrating technology at any point in education, there needs to be one disclaimer – you need to have access to technology. The ideas below will work with mobile devices and tablets, but for much of it there will need to be cellular connectivity or access to the Internet. Many museums that you visit will have wifi access, but it’s always good to check before you go. Also, you may need a advance reconnaissance trip in order to plan out your awesome new visit. Just a note to remind you!

You probably already know it – Nearpod is a great engager and formative assessment tool in your classroom. However, it also has a lot of power when you take it on the road. You can create a Nearpod presentation that guides students as they proceed through a visit, or you can have them control the slides themselves. You can integrate visual cues of places and items to look for, specific instructions for the visit, and links to additional information that they may want to consult. You can also get feedback from them through Nearpod’s multiple assessment tools and solicit reflections as they travel through a site. The information you collect will be great for debriefing when you get back to school or in a common area at the location. They can even draw something from their experience!

Nearpod trip
Teach led, student paced interfaces for Nearpod

The assessment tools also keep students on their toes and give them some responsibility for their own successful learning experience outside of the classroom – without the clipboard. If you control the slide show, you can also ask questions on the fly – and have the responses collected for later use. Here’s an example from a recent trip to Gettysburg – take a look! (The code to join the student paced presentation is PMGZT – give it a whirl).

 

Looking to crowd source student photos on your trip? There’s a ton of ways to do that with mobile devices. You could have students utilize a social media hashtag for your trip to document the experience from their eyes. You can also have students airdrop you their photos or upload them to a common dropbox or Google Drive folder when they return to school. It takes the camera work off of your shoulders – it certainly helped me in DC last year!

Another way to solicit feedback and collected in one platform is using Poll Everywhere. Ask students a pointed question about the visit or solicit some general feedback about the trip. Their responses will be collected in one single poll that can be private only for you or can be published for others to see. You can use it as questioning platform or get student reflections from a trip – just a few ideas!

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If you want to record student observations on the trip in real time and have them available for others to hear, try Ipadio. Ipadio is a mobile podcasting platform that allows you to record audio from your cell phone and upload it to a media player. It’s super easy to do … so easy that I sometimes forget to do it! By posting the media player on the classroom website or learning management system, parents and colleagues can follow along on your trip. Combining the audio with images allows visitors to feel like they’re virtually going along on the trip.

You could also experiment with live streaming video platforms. Periscope, Facebook live, and Ustream are all methods of sharing live video to people online. If privacy is a concern, just check your privacy settings and limit the publicity of any link.  You should also check your schools media policy for sharing student images.

IMG_1959Looking to keep kids engaged as they ride a bus to and from your location (or any other time)? If they have mobile devices with cellular connectivity, give Quizziz a whirl. You can create your own that deal with the location that you were visiting, or use it as a time to review class material. It’s also a good way to balance curriculum if you’re taking kids out of a different class in order to see a site in your subject. You can have them play a couple quizzes of the subject are missing. Prizes are always a great motivator, but the simple competition of the quiz usually does the job. Want to try your hand at some Constitutional questions? (If the game is active try 575335 for a code – it may need to be monitored!)

If you are taking a longer journey and want to collect everything in one happy place, a trip website is easy to use, especially if you front load it with essential info, pages, and embedded material.  I have used both Blogger and Weebly to a great deal of success. Parents love keeping up with the group, and it also serves as a chronicle of the trip after the fact.  Here’s our recent tour of DC – great times!

Of course, all of these ideas can be scaled for younger students by giving the instructor more control.  A discussion of positive digital citizenship should proceed any souped up field trip – but you would probably talk about behavior expectations anyway, right? And, you can scale the amount to cater to how much you want your students on screens.  It’s all up to the head traveler.

Have any other ideas about using tech on a field trip?  I’d love to hear and see it.  Please comment below or share with me (and others) on Twitter. Have fun the next time you hit the road!

BREAKING OUT in the Social Studies!

Every teacher has been there – the dog days of March, when your class is getting a little squirrely waiting for Spring Break and struggling with the routine of school. You want to light a fire in your kids with an awesome activity that will engage the students, push their problem solving and critical thinking, strengthen their collaboration, and also present some content in a challenging way.  As you comb the Internet and get on social media, you find a bazillion ideas, but nothing seems to work perfectly for your goals and your class. You feel the need to design your own opening experience when you stumble across a very intriguing idea on your favorite social studies blog. You now know what you’re going to do – BREAKOUT!

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We’re not talking about the early Atari video game or the constellations of acne that appear on a teenager’s  face – we’re talking about Breakout EDU.  The concept of a Breakout EDU is similar to a scavenger hunt or escape chamber activity. A scenario is presented, various clues are scattered in a room or location, and participants work together to solve clues and unlock a box, a door, or a something else using a combination of numbers or letters or a secret clue. Scavenger hunts have been used by teachers far and wide, along with Amazing Race type experiences – but Breakout EDU takes these games to the next level with physical items in their creative kits and prepackaged games. 

Classroom Breakouts are incredibly engaging, especially when two groups are pitted against each other (and the clock). They involve collaboration and team building, and it’s fascinating to see how participants work together to solve problems. The commercial Breakout EDU games are fun, challenging, and easy to set up. Many of their pre-made breakouts deal with the social studies – but you do need to be a subscriber to access them.  However, you can create your own breakouts using their products and/or inexpensive store-bought materials. Physical items that you can purchase yourself include simple combination locks, key locks, and boxes with pass keys. Breakouts can be all-tech, high-tech, low-tech, or no–tech – it’s up to you and the technology available to your students. Rachel Porter has a great Smore overview of Breakout EDU – check it out!

Why do I break out in the social studies classroom? The harder question answer is “why not”? These types of experiences are perfect for social studies. You have themes and scenarios galore in every content area. It’s simple to put together a storyline for any sort of Breakout.  Code breaking in World War II, escaping an Egyptian tomb, breaking into the National Archives vault – situations that go beyond Hollywood.  It’s very easy to use a Breakout to introduce content in an engaging and interactive way. I love using breakouts as previews for a unit or an introduction into an era. It’s much more exciting for the kids then just pushing play on an overview video. It’s also simple to integrate primary sources and have students complete a close analysis of a document, speech, or artifact. Depending on the design, students will have to utilize search skills as well, something we try to develop in all of our classes. Finally, the best reason to use breakouts and the social studies is simple – they are social (and can get LOUD!) Students work together and find their own method of collaborating, recording answers, and problem-solving.  Three letters – FUN!

The best way to approach developing a classroom Breakout experience is to start with the beginning and the end – what are your curricular or content goals, and what is the ending apparatus that will eventually be opened?  From there, you can meet in the middle as you design your clues based on the content or curriculum in order to lead to the numbers or letters for the breakout. I use a planning document to organize my original breakouts.

Creativity is the key for developing the clues to a successful and challenging Breakout. Ideas for Breakout clues include …

  • Content or school based ciphers or cryptograms, hidden messages in word searches, double puzzles, and fallen phrases (easy to create at Discovery Education’s Puzzlemaker)
  • Map puzzles, with locations leading to certain locations, numbers, and letters
  • Jigsaw puzzles or block puzzles that lead to a clue when assembled
  • Remember that letters can easily be turned into numbers through a telephone keypad or any sort of cipher or code (which, of course could be another clue).
  • Rebuses, word mazes, using the first letter of a series of images, colors, timelines …
  • Examining the commercially created Breakouts and doing a quick search of Breakouts on YouTube will give you countless clue ideas as well!

While Breakouts can be no tech / low tech, I love integrating various digital platforms into the experience. Some ideas for tech integration in a Breakout include …

  • Utilizing QR codes placed in an area to lead students to text, images, audio, and video
  • Various augmented reality apps, including Aurasma and WallaMe
  • Leading students to a pre-made online document or google slide, with a shortened URL using bitly or tinyurl
  • Creating a google form that sends participants to specific pages when a certain code or series of numbers or letters are entered
  • Challenging student search skills by having them find various data or info online
  • Utilizing Google maps and Google Earth to have students search for locations
  • Using Classroom Timers to add to the engagement and excitement!
  • The INCREDIBLE crowd sourced list of digital platforms available from Breakout EDU – some of my faves are Snotes, Match the Memory, GeoGreetings, and making a Word Maze.

The debriefing aspect of the Breakout is powerful as well.  You can not only discuss the content presented in the challenge, but also ask students about their observations on collaboration, problem solving, and creative thinking.  And, you will hear them plead for you to plan another one. Better yet – have them design their own BreakoutEDU!

Breakouts can also be entirely digital – but we will save that for another post.

What are you waiting for?  Get started by going small – maybe one code or lock on a small box – and build from there.  You will love the engagement as you watch the kids work together to solve problems and get excited to be in your classroom.

 

 

Smash Up the Social Studies!

We’re a family of games, especially with my youngest son who loves playing every type of game out there – video games, board games, card games, you name it. Games are social, so they’re perfect for the social studies classroom in for social studies teachers. And, if you’re lucky enough to know Michael Matera and call him a pal, you can find out about any game in existence – the guy is incredible. My family’s current infatuation is with an awesome card game called Smash Up from Paul Peterson and Alderac.

We were introduced to it by our game nut nephews and my brother in law Rick, and it now is a nighttime staple! Not only do I love the game for it’s flexibility, gameplay, and creativity, but I also think it would be an awesome game to repurpose for the social studies classroom. So … here goes …

If you’ve played it before, skip down to the next paragraph. If you haven’t, here’s a brief description of Smash Up – the rules are pretty easy to follow.  In the game, there are multiple sets or factions of cards linked to a specific topic, genre, or concept.  Players take two different factions and mix them together – smashing them up. Each faction has a set of minions any set of actions. Each turn, you can play a minion on a base and then play an action. The abilities of each minion and the actions are thematic – for example, Pirates are able to move from base to base, Dinosaurs have a great deal of numerical power, Killer Plants keep growing and growing, and Elder Things make opponents mad by having them draw certain cards.  Your goal is to total enough points to score a base and add to your overall tally. It is cleverly written game, because each deck has certain powers, making it on par with every other deck. The creativity that went into the development of the game is astounding, in my mind, and that’s something I’d like to tap into when he comes to my students.

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Smash Up involves long term and short term strategy, thinking well ahead of your turn, but also the ability to make decisions instantly.  No two games are the same, since the various factions mix to make combinations with different powers and actions.   It’s great head to head, but the more the merrier in Smash Up.  I could easily see students partnering with a deck and discussing their next move – what great collaborative thinking!

So, I have gushed about this awesome game, but where am I going with this in the world of social studies? Simple – students can create their own Smash Up  decks based on historical eras, geographical locations, political systems, or anything else that involves people (or animals, or weather, or geographic features … there is no limit!) The game already includes one truly historical faction, Mythic Greeks, so I can’t be too crazy with my idea (and I guess I’m not very original either, but bear with me.) Smash Up minions each have a printed point value and an action or talent that goes along with them. Students could take a historical era and create minions for real or representative individuals.

For example, for a Civil War Smash Up, the theme could be moving up in rank and building larger armies to wear out the opponent. A simple Private in the army could have the full value of one, but played with another Private, this value could increase.  A Major could have a higher value, while a General could have the highest value and the ability to move around any subordinate officers to different battlefields (bases, in the game). The actions can be historically based and involve some sort of thematic element from the time period, location or topic. For the Civil War, a Spy action would could allow a player to look at an opponent’s cards and discard one, while a Hospital action could allow a player to revive a minion from their discard pile. As students create the deck, they are digging into the content, developing a theme for the deck, and creating minions, actions, talents, and bases that match the theme curricular area.  The challenge, critical and creative thinking, and fun would explode – especially when they get to play their deck!  How cool is that?

Here are some examples I developed for the Civil War.  Could it work, maybe for that creative gamer that doesn’t like playing the game of school?  I think so!

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I made some templates for minions, actions, and bases.  Let me know if they help out!

Some possible ideas for Social Studies Smash Up sets:

World History: The Roman Empire, Chinese Dynasties, Ancient Egypt, the Middle Ages, the French Revolution (think of the actions – “Off With Their Heads”, “Let Them Eat Cake”, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”), The Cold War, The Age of Exploration, Barbarians, Greek Philosophers, Aztec Warriors, Enlightenment Thinkers, the Industrial Revolution

American History: Colonial America, the American Revolution, Manifest Destiny, Civil War, the Women’s Rights Movement, the AEF in WWI, the Roaring 20s, Captains of Industry (I can see the minions – Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan), the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement

Geography: general geography, any specific area of the globe, environmental challenges (Global Warming would be a high powered minion)

Government and Civics: political systems, the Constitution, citizenship (the actions could all be ones of civic duty)

Economics: The Stock Market, Comparative Economics, International Trade

This could totally work for other curricular areas t00.  How about factions for Shakespeare, the Periodic Table,  or great Mathematicians?

You can print the cards on heavy card stock at home or at school.  If you want a more professional card set, try MakePlayingCards.com or TheGameCrafter.com.

Of course, to understand the repurposing of the game, you have to play it – and I encourage you to do so.  After a few times through, you will be nodding your head, thinking “Michael and Chuck are right, this is a totally fun game” and “Chuck is onto something here with the repurposing of Smash Up.  Has he ever written about repurposing other games?” Actually, I did! Check it out, please!

Hopefully you get the chance to play this awesome game at home and with your students. It’s addictive to social studies nuts and gamers! And, when you have your students make a deck, send a copy my way – I need to beat my son with some great social studies factions!