Have you ever asked your kids or grandkids the question, “How was school today?” There answer is almost always, “BORING!” Here’s an idea that just might change that answer. A lot has been written recently about the importance of getting your students to do critical thinking. Whether you are reading TeachThought, Edutopia, or We are Teachers it all calls for students to take the next step in learning. The goal of this article is to help teachers understand the process of critical thinking with some very practical suggestions. It was early in my social studies teaching career that I realized that it was important to get students to see that every major decision in history was done through this process. That nothing they were studying is really set in stone and can still be changed or debated today. In order to do this my feeling was to introduce them to these very controversial topics, which are found in every subject, and allow them to discuss and decide who why what when and where and what were the reasons for these decisions at that time. How did these decisions impact societies and how are they still impacting them today.
In order to do these it is important to find controversial subjects that do not have a right answer. With today’s tools to help find the information students can find almost any answer to use in the discussion. These critical tools will help them understand and learn the ideas of: fake news, how to argue or disagree, how to come to a decision, long/short term effects, and how to compromise to get at least part of what your community needs at the time.
Here are some simple example of these controversial topics for social studies: the revolutionary war, the creation of the constitution, the decision on what type of country we should have agricultural or industrial, immigration, manifest destiny, slavery, the civil war, reconstruction, states’ rights, industrialization, the movement westward, rise of corporate powers, world power, world war, depression politics, social security, cold war, birth control, microchips, robotics, virtual worlds and more. These are just a few of the topics that are available to any teacher in any class that can be incorporated into a simple curriculum. In world history and government there are such a plethora of materials it is hard to imagine.
The important thing is that students understand that their responses have to be centered on fact as well as opinion. Supplying them with 2 or more points of view and then setting the table to allow them to present their ideas and change their minds is critical. One of the most important lessons is for them to understand that there are not two sides to every argument but many sides to it. That in the end they have come to a final vote and make a decisions to what should have been done or can be done about it. Their arguments need to determine the long and short term effects of their ideas on society or their community.
Of course there are all ways to do this, from role play, simulation, to presenting it to other classes or creating podcasts and tv shows, a what if series of lessons and ideas for kids….So when you ask your kids….”How was school today?”…well certainly it’s not boring!