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Infusing Technology into Social Studies to Stimulate the Brain

Infusing Technology into Social Studies to Stimulate the Brain

I was on a long road trip recently and had quite a bit of time for teacher PD. I have loved listening and learning from Zaretta Hammond, the author behind Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. This video is about 20 minutes, but is so worth taking a moment to tune in. So much great info packed in!

Something she shared really stood out to me.

“Only the learner learns…We have to create environments that are stimulating to children, that allows them to use play as their learning because that's what the brain wants to do.”

I don't know about you, but as a young student, I really didn't find much value in learning social studies. I recall looking at the daily schedule on the white board and dreading the upcoming time set aside for social studies. But something changed for me, because I eventually came to truly love the subject. For me, it was making connections, having time for inquiry, and finding value in what I was learning.

Infusing Video Technology

I was a kid of the 90's so most of my dial-up internet time was spent on Myspace (remember that?). But technology today has provided so many new ways to present information in the classroom. Sometimes a short video clip can share the same information that might be presented in a lecture, but in an engaging and meaningful way and in half the time.

Let's be honest, our students are on YouTube, Tick Tock, and other social media platforms that integrate audio-visuals, so why not bring that into the classroom? There are lots of reputable organizations that are adding content to their own YouTube channels, and this is just one new way that we can infuse technology in the classroom.

When integrating video into your social studies lessons, I recommend sticking to videos that are 10 minutes and under. I have found some really meaningful videos that are 20 minutes in length, but video shouldn't take up an entire class period. Sometimes video can be used as an anticipatory set or introduction, or can enhance a lesson by providing a deeper look at something specific. I also steer away from having students complete fill-in-the blank questions during the video. Instead, I want students to focus on what they learned, or if there was new information that challenged or supported their prior knowledge.

Stimulating the Brain & Google Earth™

One platform that I have found especially powerful is Google Earth™. If you haven't explored this free site yet, you have to check it out. This has been a complete game changer for me. Google Earth™ renders 3D representations of the Earth using satellite images. You can have your students view cities and landscapes up-close and personal from various angles through the technology of satellite images, aerial photography, and GIS data onto a 3D globe.

There are so many fantastic images and panoramic views on Google Earth™, where students can essentially "look around" or even "walk" on the Great Wall of China, for example. We can incorporate an aspect of "play" by allowing time for students to explore and experience geography and history up close through this technology.

Great Wall of China Virtual Field Trip Activity for Digital Learning

Let Students Lead Their Own Learning with Virtual Field Trips

With social studies, we need to create a learning environment that sparks curiosity, provides an opportunity for students to lead their own learning, and also allows the brain time to “play." As Zaretta Hammond says, “let's get kids brains on fire!” To do this, I have found that virtual field trips provide an engaging and stimulating learning experience where students can navigate the trip experience on their own.

Simple is key! I have created virtual field trips that are structured, provide all of the video links, and specific Google Earth™ exploration links within the trip. Drag and drop map skills, informational text, and critical thinking response questions are also integrated.

Virtual Field Trips for Google Slides

What teachers are saying:

"This was an amazing digital resource for students to take a virtual field trip to the Taj Mahal. They loved how they got to explore different parts of the complex. I loved how they were asked if they had questions before they started and it circled back at the end to see if any were answered. While many were during their exploration, almost all students had more questions when they completed their tour! I highly recommend, particularly if students are familiar with Google Earth. I will be looking for more lessons like this." - Sarah D.

"My students loved using this resource! Total engagement across the board (even on a Friday right before a break!). My students were so excited to get to go on a "field trip" and learn about the Great Wall of China." -Amanda Q.

"This was a great intro to the geography and areas of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. The kids really enjoyed going on a "field trip" to see the places. I appreciated being able to follow the Google Earth links right there." - Felicity P.

If you are new to virtual field trips and want to see if adding these digital activities would be a good fit for your class, here are few helpful blog posts.


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