My lesson is on the causes and consequences of the current civil war in Syria and I will be using interactive maps to help guide the lecture and discussion.
Since school is out for the summer and I am in the US for the summer (my school is in Shanghai, China), I decided to involve my family in implementing this lesson plan. I asked my wife and parents to indulge me and they were happy to help. It will definitely be different implementing this lesson plan with high school students in China this Fall. Some of the differences are that my students do not have the same level of proficiency in English, so I will have to move slower through some of the explanations and interactive features, as well as provide definitions for key terms. The class will be bigger than three, obviously, so I will have to be cognizant of getting all students involved and engaged. But one positive difference is that the students will be used to my classes and teaching style, so they will know my expectations and be more likely to be motivated to learn and participate. It was difficult for my family to “go back to school”. Another difference will be using my desktop PC with the projector at school, versus using my Macbook Pro on my parents’ 55” HDTV.
The lesson with my family only took about 30 minutes, but we were able to move through the reading sections (timeline, interactive map features) fairly quickly and our discussion was pretty simple and short. In a larger classroom, I will have to move slower to involve many students and allow time for everything to process the information. Also, I can push my students to go deeper in the discussion issues, particularly about the reasons and motives of war, as well as the courses of action which might lead to peaceful situations in Syria and in the region. My family was not that interested in discussing these issues in depth and I did not want to push them too hard since they were helping me out. The technology was pretty simple to use and interact with for me, especially since I had practiced with all the interactive maps prior to the lesson. To prepare for the lesson, I brought up all the websites I needed into separate tabs in order of my need for them, so it was easy to assess them when I was in the midst of the lesson. My original intent was to let the students to interact with the maps, either giving them control of the computer or by telling them what they wanted to see next. But when I did the lesson with my family they had no interest in telling what to do next, nor did they feel confident in choosing things to view, especially on the map of Syria. It was easier to suggest certain countries on the CNN map, but it was still hard to get them to offer me a suggestion or an opinion.
Last year I tried to teach my students about the war in Syria on the tail end of our Conflict and Peace unit, and it did not go very well. I used an article about refugees in Turkey to start, because we had been talking about war refugees in the days before. I found that most students not only had no clue about the civil war in Syria, but that most students did not even know where Syria was on the map. We had not talked about the Arab Spring either, which would have been appropriate background context to understand the larger geopolitical movements. That day I showed a few maps on the projector to show them where Syria is, including the major conflict areas, the Turkish border that was discussed in the refugee article, and other neighboring countries. I did most of the talking and demonstrating, and the students probably did not remember much from that lesson. I hope next year that preparing better to give the students more background knowledge and using the interactive map technology will make the lesson more engaging and memorable. I would like to use this current event to discuss larger issues of governance and war. Most Chinese students have not heard of the Arab Spring because that type of media content is censored in China, along with the subsequent Chinese “Jasmine Revolution” in 2011 following on the heels of the Arab Spring. I don’t want to make revolutionaries of my students, but I do think it is valuable for them to consider just causes of revolutionary war by citizens against an unjust government.
In regard to the technology I used, I do feel like maps (whether interactive or not) are great tools to teach social studies topics. When discussing places, it is imperative that students have the proper context. I like to use Google Earth to zoom quickly from our current location (Shanghai) to the location we are discussing (Syria) so that students get a feel for where on the globe we are in relation to the place we are currently studying. The use of detailed maps is useful for presenting information in an interesting and precise way. Additionally, the use of interactive maps adds another dimension of intrigue, leading to greater anticipation and engagement in the students. Today’s students are so used to clicking on everything to discover more about it, so maps that are not interactive are less interesting. Students love the concept that we can discover more and go deeper simply by clicking the mouse on the object we are curious about. I think that is an appropriate technology for this lesson that will both enhance the content as well as student engagement, and it is free and easy to use. I plan on sharing the links to these maps with the students on our class website (edmodo) and possibly assigning so more homework that requires them all to personally interact with the maps even more.