Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Top 10 Digital Tips for Teaching Social Studies

Kari Catanzaro has been teaching Social Studies using laptop computers in the classroom for the past 6 years. All Maconaquah Middle School students have their own laptop. Google Classroom is the platform that connects students digitally throughout the school grades 6-8. Follow her class page on Facebook at and her tweets on Twitter at She is also a SMART Exemplary Educator who has created many SMARTboard digital lessons and activities that can be found through the SMART Exchange at by searching for "catanhistory." In a nod to Indiana's own David Letterman, here is Kari's “Top 10 Digital Tips for Teaching Social Studies.” Primary Source Documents

Documents are great tools in Social Studies class. You can put the text on the interactive whiteboard and do close reading activities as a whole group, or give students digital access to read independently on their own. Primary sources also help address those Common Core or College Career Readiness standards about literacy.

Here’s a great site with 75 different lesson plans and activities that teach students how to “Read like a Historian.” Some are more challenging reading levels and require scaffolding, but you can make accessible to students with teacher support. (I’ve used several with 6th graders.)

#9 Online Classrooms

Lots of generous teachers out there have shared their online classroom with the world, posting resources that other teachers may freely use and adapt. Be careful not to violate copyright laws, but there are lots of people who intend for others to learn from their experiences and use their materials (a good rule of thumb is if you aren’t sure, contact the teacher first- most sites have email links).

One of my favorites is, an innovative history teacher who has found ways to make Common Core literacy standards fun and engaging for his middle school students.

#8 International Resources

I have found that education in Canada and England has transitioned to digital classrooms at the same time as the United States, and they have some great uses in social studies because we share a common world curriculum (though we often see different viewpoints on events, which can be interesting too). For example, just like the History Channel has done in the U.S., the BBC has a lot of great resources for classrooms, from videos to interactives to simulations to games- all accessible to students. Dig deep -- there’s a lot to explore!
#7 PBS

Besides great videos and programing guides, PBS has lesson plans, interactives, and teacher collaboration to offer educators. Don’t be afraid to look around for related sites outside of the social studies- I’ve found great things from the science program Nova, such as this engineering simulation for Roman aqueducts.

#6 Pinterest

Yes, you actually have to go back and implement the ideas you pin, but I can search while I’m waiting to pick up my kids and look things up later when I have time to use them. Every so often, I go through my boards and email myself ideas to use in class so I don’t forget them.

#5 Online Assessment Platforms

Education is a culture of tests and measures, but who says they can’t be fun? “Gamify” the quiz or assessment by using memes, avatars, graphics, visuals, and color. Too bad we can’t take standardized tests this way. I know students would score higher because the assessment would engage them as digital natives. A few of my favorites: Quizziz (like a private Kahoot game for each student, with avatars and memes) Quia (free 30 day trial then reasonable subscription price- games & quizzes both) Socrative (quizzes and games like Space Race) Formative (very interactive- lots of data for teachers to use) Quizalize Ditch That Textbook

A Spanish teacher from Indiana authored this book (he’s working on another one, Ditch That Homework) about how he learned to teach digitally. It’s a great book and worth purchasing, but he also has a free companion website that’s a gem! It’s great for all grade levels and all subjects. You can subscribe for daily emails about techie teaching ideas that help students learn 21st century skills and help engage them in learning in ways that a textbook alone can’t do. The site is very teacher friendly, with tons of screen shots and step-by-step instructions on how to use new Google and other tech tools with students. You also can participate and comment on the ideas, gaining knowledge from other teachers.

#3 Twitter

Lots of great #hashtags and handles to follow. Again, something I can tap into when I’m doing Mom’s Taxi and Meals on Wheels, then implement later in class. I recommend that you search for Teach Like a Pirate, a group of passionate educators who are willing to be bold in their quest to reach students. They even have a subgroup just for social studies teachers. I collaborate online with teachers all around the world. We cheer each other on, share ideas and websites, and just have a wacky good time in general. I highly recommend Twitter chats, too. Spend an hour “tweeting” in discussion - the best authentic (and free) PD there is!
#tlap Teach Like a Pirate
#sstlap Social Studies Teach Like a Pirate
Twitter chats for education - lots of “how to” and schedules here: Interactive Maps

There’s still value in colored pencils and handmade student maps, but there is a LOT to be offered by interactive maps online. Animations bring maps to life for students, incorporating movement and color in ways that a paper map just can’t. I find them by using Google to search for “interactive map” + a topic. Many have comprehension questions that go along with the map so students can document what they saw. I’ve even used them as a skills assessment. Here’s one I found on the Age of Exploration, much clearer than any worksheet showing exploration routes that I’ve ever used on paper.
Lots of Civil War animated maps here (Gettysburg, for example): Learning Games and Simulations

Gamify the classroom -- realistic life experiences that work on a big screen interactive whiteboard as a class or a small laptop/I-pad screen as individuals. Teacher is the “guide on the side” or facilitator as the technology leads students on learning adventures! You can help students travel the Underground Railroad to escape slavery, joust as knights in a medieval tournament, fight in a WWI trench, trade spices on the Silk Road, visit with Gandhi, or run the US government. All from the safety of your classroom or their home. (They will love these games so much that sometimes they will play at home to beat them.) Perfect for digital eLearning days, too; an assignment that students will actually complete! Many of these sites have upped their game as well, adding lesson plans and additional research links and quizzes so students can learn more than just gaming skills from the experience. I try to find at least one game or simulation a unit (again, use a Google search) because students enjoy and learn so much from playing with a purpose.

I love teaching Social Studies with my computer, interactive SMART board, student laptops, iPads, and the Internet. After 22 years in the classroom, I look back and wonder how I ever existed before modern technology came along to engage students, with just my word processor and textbook and roll-down maps to bring it all to life. And most days I have lots of fun learning and teaching alongside my students. 21st century teaching + technology in the Social Studies classroom = great learning for all.

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