I spent the last two weeks observing and eventually participating in a middle school social studies classroom. I worried, well in advance of course, that I wouldn’t know what was going on. I knew that I had to teach my own lesson at the end and I already felt inadequately prepared and clearly lacking in the requisite knowledge base. I grumbled at the thought of reading chapters of the dry textbook just to catch up.
Much to my surprise, there was no textbook in sight in the sixth grade social studies classroom. Mr. G. used videos, websites, handouts, and graphic organizers for his unit study on the Bill of Rights. The students got into small groups and each discussed a Supreme Court case which focused on a specific issue protected by the 4th or 5th amendment. Later in the week, students compared how their rights were different in school and out in the real world. Introduction of concept, comparisons, discussion—just as it should be. No one was asking for a textbook.
Even though I was never a boy scout, I always like to feel prepared. So I thought about the best way to bone up on my rights. Luckily I remembered Kathleen Krull’s book, A Kid’s Guide to America’s Bill of Rights. Curfews, Censorship and the 100-pound Giant. I had read it before but I reread it again over dinner during the first week. Concise, funny, and packed full of information, it was exactly what I needed.
So I couldn’t resist. I had to share. I brought the book in to show Mr. G and suggested it would be a great read for some of his students who wanted to know more. It turns out Mr. G. himself wanted to know more. He was enthusiastic and asked to borrow it; he said he’d read it during his free period. He taught the same class six times a day. I was skeptical that he’d really give up his free period to read more about the same topic. Indeed he did and he said he found some great stuff to incorporate into his lessons.
My lesson turned out to be on the basic setup of a courtroom. Easy peasy for this law school graduate. No review required. But, still, if anyone knows a good book on the subject, I’d like to read it. Because once you try to explain something to someone else, you naturally want to learn more yourself. And then to pass it on.