Innovation in Middle School Social Studies
Tim Lehman tests new curriculum using maps
Bethany Christian Schools' social studies teacher Tim Lehman is helping test an innovative curriculum developed by National Geographic Society (NGS) that uses maps to teach middle school geography students in a new way.
Selected by Geography Educators Network of Indiana (GENI) as its representative, Lehman met July 12-18, 2008, at NGS headquarters in Washington, D.C., with educators from across the United States and Canada to begin a two-year process of evaluating this curriculum called "Beyond Borders: Maps to Understand European Physical and Cultural Landscapes." They listened to lectures on human and physical geography, met in regional groups to review the curriculum developed by NGS, and discussed how they would incorporate the curriculum into their classes in 2008-09.
The curriculum goes beyond simply identifying places or features on a map but focuses on developing students' thought processes. "Students synthesize information on a map to come up with something new," says Lehman. For example, in one lesson he taught this year, students drew their own national boundaries into a map of an actual, but undisclosed, land mass based on information gleaned from other maps that showed physical features and concentrations of religious groups and languages in that land. They then compared their conclusions with actual national boundaries.
"In this lesson students discovered from using maps that not all areas of France speak French or all areas of Germany speak German," says Lehman. "But more importantly, the lesson helped students better understand why some national boundaries exist as they do and why they can lead to conflict. They are not always formed along ethnic, religious, or linguistic lines."
Lehman is excited about his involvement in testing the curriculum and the possibilities of extending the ideas and concepts to the study of other geographic regions. He says, "This approach has affected how I think about the movement of people, ideas, and conflict around the world. National boundaries in Africa were largely decided by European politics and not based on ethnic, religious, or language factors. Using such maps students too can understand and discuss why social differences and conflicts in African countries exist today."
Lehman, whom GENI named Indiana's social studies teacher of the year in 2005, continues to search for innovative ideas to enhance his teaching. So it is no surprise that, in addition to testing this new curriculum, Lehman valued the summer institute as a way to establish new connections with other top educators from across the country. He says, "I spent eight intense days networking with other people who share my passion for teaching and geography. We spent even our free time discussing and sharing ideas." From these conversations, Leham has incorporated other innovative strategies and ideas into his classroom this year.
From one colleague he brought the idea of asking three questions during his current events discussions: "Who there, why there, why care" which is a succinct way of asking students to discuss an event in the context of who is involved, how they came to be involved, and why it is important to understand what is happening. And from another colleague he borrowed the concept of assigning a geographical term to each student and then referring to students by their associated terms. So, for example, if "Caucus Mountains" were assigned to John, Lehman might ask in class, "Caucus Mountains, can you tell us ..." Lehman says, "The idea is to use the terms we are studying more frequently so that students become more familiar with them."
Now that Lehman has completed the first two steps of the evaluation process-attending the summer institute and using the curriculum in class-he and the evaluation group continue to support each other via email and internet. They will gather as a group July 20-25, 2009, to further evaluate the curriculum based on their experiences this school year and then lead seminars in their home states to introduce the curriculum to colleagues.