Peggy (the grade 6 social studies teacher) and I are just about to start a new integrated IT/social studies project on sub-saharan Africa from 500-1700CE. At the same time, I’m completing an Ed Leadership certificate and right now we’re working on the ideas presented in Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design.

Since I am learning all this “good stuff” on the weekends, I wanted to try to apply it to my teaching. So Peggy (being ever so flexible and willing to try anything) and I are following the UbD model for designing our unit. I am posting about this with three ulterior motives:

  1. I would love to hear feedback about the unit. I certainly would not consider myself to be “experienced” with UbD, even though I’ve taken a lot of PD about the model. Any feedback, especially about the essential questions, would be greatly appreciated. We are taking a lot of time to make this unit as perfect as we can, but just as 2 heads are better than one, all of the heads online are much better than our 2.
  2. Ideally, we would like our students to be actually teaching and learning with other students around the world about African history, but neither Peggy nor I actually know anyone that teaches that particular unit. So, if you actually teach this topic, or something that would fit with this topic, and are interested in getting our students communicating, please let me know. We would love to work with you! It would be especially amazing to work with a class in a school in Africa…
  3. Have you ever seen an interactive animation time-lining (is that a verb?) the development of civilizations in Africa? I was thinking of trying to actually get some of the more advanced students to create one, but I’m thinking that might be a little too difficult for our sixth graders.

Here is our idea (.pdf version here):
(please keep in mind that this is a work in progress)

We need to meet the following standards:

Standard 1: Students will understand patterns of change and continuity, relationships between people and events through time, and various interpretations of those relationships. Benchmark 1.2: Identify and use primary and secondary sources in historical research.
Standard 3: Students will understand the concepts of geography and demography and how geography and demography influence and are influenced by human history. Benchmark 3.7: Describe ways that human events have influenced, and been influenced by, physical and human geographic conditions in local, regional, national, and global settings.
Standard 4: Students will understand cultural and intellectual developments and interactions among and within societies. Benchmark 4.1: Understand ways that social and environmental factors and culture are related. Benchmark 4.9: Identify patterns of social and cultural continuity in various societies and analyze ways in which people maintained traditions and resisted external challenges. Benchmark 4.10: Draw inferences from archeological evidence.

We want students to be able to grasp these essential understandings:

  • Students will understand how to evaluate and analyze primary and secondary sources.
  • Students will understand that communities are influenced by geography.
  • Students will understand how culture defines human identity.

and therefore, answer these essential questions:

  • How can we find out about the world around us?
  • How does geography affect our lives?
  • Why do civilizations rise and fall?
  • How are civilization and culture related?
  • To what extent does culture change?
  • How does culture define us?

In order to integrate technology, we have decided that students will create a wikispace following the GRASPS model:

Goal: Your task is to create an interactive, multimedia wikispace documenting the history and culture of sub-Saharan Africa from 500-1700CE
Role: You are archeological specialists in charge of researching sub-Saharan Africa
Audience: The world (via the Internet)!
Situation: You must collaborate together to produce an interactive, informative, technology-rich wikispace that is appropriate for middle school students around the world.
Product/Performance: To inform people around the world (including your parents and classmates) about the history of sub-Saharan Africa

We would like students to work in 2 large groups (based on the regions defined in our text, History Alive) and then split into smaller groups based on the different kingdoms within each region. Each student in each group will have a specific responsibility.

We were also thinking of ways to use the 6 facets of understanding to lead students to their final GRASPS project:

Apply: Information Literacy:

  • Proper research techniques from various sources – collate research and compile works cited
  • Create RSS aggregator for news sources on ancient Africa

Create personal learning networks with students around the world learning about ancient Africa
Utilize digital resources to create multimedia presentations that visually represent aspects of African civilizations

  • Use Flickr to geotag map of Africa with images and captions describing the specifics of their assigned region of Africa
  • Make a timeline of the development of your civilization for your GRASPS groupings

Explain Extension:
Flash animation charting the rise and fall of individual African nations
Write a journal reflection on your blog in the voice of a sub-Saharan African during the time period stated (each student writing from a different voice about the same issue). Comment on another student’s blog from your perspective to begin a role-play style dialogue with different members of the society.

Obviously there’s lots of work to be done still, but I would love to hear your thoughts! What works? What are we missing? What’s over the top? I don’t want to be too gung-ho with the tech side of the project, but I’m very excited to be able to put into practice some of the things I have been reading about lately…

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3 thoughts on “Embarking on a new project (and I need your help!)

  1. Kim, You are really pulling in a ton of ed theory here. It is making for a rich mixture of learning activities. I haven’t had the chance to read the PDF yet, but what you have here sounds engaging and challenging and worthwhile. That already places it ahead of so many history units I’ve seen.

  2. Thank you so much for the positive feedback Susan! I’m really looking forward to starting the unit. However, it did take ages to really plan everything out. Peggy and I meet every other day for an hour and a half. We’re not 100% focused on this specific unit 100% of the time, but it has taken at least 3 blocks to plan this. Now I know why teachers don’t do this kind of stuff unless they’re forced to! But, I have learned a lot and I think the unit is planned much more thoroughly and focuses much more clearly on the standards because of all this planning. We just need time… (the mantra of all teachers)

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