Review foundational knowledge about Online Interactions in K-12 Blended Teaching (Volume 1).
Social studies classrooms thrive on interactions with and between students. Both in-person and online interactions provide students with ways to share and support their positions, give and receive feedback, and present both written and spoken opinions and positions with both civility and evidence. Online interactions also allow social studies students to interact with community members and organizations well beyond the classroom. Studies suggest that these interactions often result in internal interactions as students think about their personal beliefs and knowledge in the context of sharing them with others. As students engage with others and with social studies content, their understanding of concepts, lived experiences, and contemporary issues will also be impacted. Opportunities to process and reflect upon changes to their world view are best done through intentionally designed interactions. In this chapter we will explore strategies and tools for facilitating students' online interactions with their content, teacher, peers, and community.
Reading, asking questions, researching, writing, discussing, sharing, and applying knowledge and skills are at the heart of social studies courses. Designing learning activities that ask students to discuss social studies content supports students' development of their skills and dispositions. Furthermore, students can collaborate on tasks with other students to practice critical thinking skills, express themselves, and listen and respond with civility. Discussion and collaboration therefore empower students to revise their opinions, develop writing and speaking techniques, and construct their understanding with peers.
There are many technologies (digital tools) that support online discussions and collaboration. Here are a few of them and how they can be used in social studies. You might want to become proficient with one technology then branch out to another one. Technologies are like a box of chocolates—best not to try too many at once!
It's not all that difficult to find online communication tools. The challenge comes in pairing the technology with the discussion activity. Doing this intentionally helps students learn to dialogue respectfully and thoughtfully, while developing and maintaining relationships. In the following video Ashley shares some of the tools that she is using to engage her students in discussions. She shares examples of the discussion activities that she tends to use with each tool. This is a nice segue to the next section that will focus on discussion strategies and activities.
Reflection Question: What tools might work well in your classroom? How can you teach digital citizenship in a way that helps students when they speak in person as well as online?
Technologies are important, but in the end what really matters are the outcomes that the technologies enable. There are endless ways that students can engage with each other online. Just like in-person discussions and interactions, online interactions can become stale if they do not include variety and choice, which invite students to think deeply and creatively. The following table and Teacher Talk boxes present some ideas that are relevant to a social studies classroom.
Online Discussion Ideas
|Online and Blended Examples
|Students are assigned or select a position to defend regarding a contemporary or historical question. Team members are assigned roles in the process being used (opening statement, closing statement, evidence example, researcher, etc,). NOTE: we strongly discourage assigning students to defend a morally questionable stance or one that would go against their ethical stance. Process description from Street Law
|In-person deliberations can be a powerful experience. However, as the deliberations go on students can rely more on emotion and less on evidence. As a result, teachers may choose to have the closing statements online so that students can have the time to process what was said and form statements supported by evidence.
|Social studies teachers commonly present two people, events, or things and ask students to compare and contrast them.
|First, in a full-class explanation (with video backup) explain what it means to compare and contrast two items. Second, divide the class into small groups (4–6 people). Give each group two things to compare and contrast. For instance, students in a Western Civilization course may be asked to compare and contrast the city-states of Athens and Sparta. Give each student time to individually record their initial thoughts on paper. Then provide the each group with a Jamboard template with a Venn Diagram and allow them to collaboratively discuss statements as they place them on the Jamboard.
|Fish Bowl Debate
|Students seated inside the “fishbowl” actively participate in a discussion by asking questions and sharing their opinions, while students standing outside listen carefully to the ideas presented. Students take turns in these roles, so that they practice being both contributors and listeners in a group discussion. This strategy is especially useful when you want to make sure all students participate in a discussion, when you want to help students reflect on what a good discussion looks like, and when you need a structure for discussing controversial or difficult topics. Full Process description from Facing History and Ourselves
|A Fishbowl activity can be blended by introducing the topic in person before students discuss or debate in an asynchronous discussion board. In the online space, students can take turns being in the fishbowl (commenting) and observing. The teacher can then help to wrap up the experience in person.
|In a Socratic Seminar activity, students help each other understand the ideas, issues, and values reflected in a text through a group discussion format. Students are responsible for facilitating their group discussion around the ideas in the text; they shouldn’t use the discussion to assert their opinions or prove an argument. Through this type of discussion, students practice how to listen to one another, make meaning, and find common ground while participating in a conversation. Full Process description from Facing History and Ourselves.
|Often Socratic seminars can be blended by starting the discussion in-person, moving the seminar online where all students have equal opportunity to participate, and then finishing the seminar in person.
|Narrative Creation: Connecting to an Image or Text
|Narrative is a disciplinary skill for social studies. It emphasizes the ability to make, evaluate, and revise stories about the past and analyze the meanings they convey. This concept is especially powerful as it asks students to tap into their lived experiences and background knowledge as a valuable source.
|Students can collaborate to create a cause and effect example or design for their own using online technologies for classmates to engage with. A sample narrative task graphic organizer is provided here. A blank template is available here.
|Periodization is a disciplinary connect for social studies. It emphasizes the ability to explain & evaluate existing timelines and to create new ones of the past in order to know the present better. Students can structure and modify their work by labeling the event a starting point, end point, or turning point for their timeline.
|Students can collaborate using online technologies to create a cause and effect example or design their own for classmates to engage with. A sample Periodization task graphic organizer is provided here. A blank template is available here.
|Cause and Effect
|Cause and Effect is a disciplinary concept for social studies. Asking students to work in pairs or groups to research short and long term causes and effects gets students involved in deeper learning. You can structure the exercise by using categories like "political", "economic", and "social" cause and effects.
|Students can use online technologies to collaborate to create a cause-and-effect example or design their own for classmates to engage with. A sample Cause and Effect task graphic organizer is provided here. A blank template is available here.
|Continuity and Change Over Time (CCOT)
|CCOT is a disciplinary concept for social studies. Students identify a current idea, event, group, process, system etc. and describe how it has changed over time. Setting the number of antecedents and a timeline help structure the task.
|Students can collaborate using online technologies to create a CCOT example or design their own for classmates to engage with. A sample CCOT task using a "2 Event" graphic organizer is provided here. A blank template is available here.
|Students use a printed world map to identify how people, ideas, things, and events are connected or related. A key can be made with notations describing the connections.
|Students use a digital world map to identify how people, ideas, things, and events are connected or related. Hyperlinked posts on the map are used to describe the connections.
Online discussions give my students the opportunity to participate. I think they actually communicate better online. The top five or six students in my class prefer in-person, but the rest feel nervous to speak in front of others. So, I like to start many of my discussions online. Then my kids can see other people's ideas, take time to think of their own ideas, and bring them back to the classroom. Kids who might not have had an opinion or a thought or a question beforehand now feel like they can add to the discussion that's happening in class. I also use nearpod. I might ask my students to put up three things that Dr. Martin Luther King said. Some students can’t think of anything, but now they can see what everyone else has written, and even if they just copy it, they remember more than if they were in an in-person discussion and just stopped listening because they didn’t have to participate. For those classroom teachers who are saying, “Well, it's better in person,” I think they're going to find that when they do it online, it gives more opportunity for more kids to actually go back and feel more confident about speaking in their in-person discussions.
A good online discussion requires good preparation. Here Mark Stevens shares with us several ideas for facilitating online interactions as well as benefits he sees in his classroom.
Reflection Questions: What are the greatest benefits Mark sees from having his students interact online? What benefits might you see in your classroom?
The Big List of Class Discussion Strategies, compiled by Jennifer Gonzalez, is a longer list of ideas that could be done online, include Socratic seminars, gallery walks, affinity mapping, etc. Use your creativity to modify them for use in both the online and in-person space.
An online discussion is most effective when the instructions are clear. For a review of how to create an effective discussion board post, see 5.2.2 in Building Community and Setting Expectations K-12 Blended Teaching (Volume 1).
In addition to discussions, you can engage students in collaborative activities. Often these collaborations will occur in class using technology, but online technologies also afford students the opportunity to continue their collaborative work from home.
Reflection Questions: How did Merinda Davis use blended learning to make difficult content more accessible to her students? For what content could you do something similar?
In your Blended Teaching Workbook create an online discussion prompt for the lesson/content area that you are addressing with your problem of practice. How will you make it engaging for the students? How will you target your problem of practice?
If you haven't already opened and saved your workbook, you can access it here.
Not all online interaction has to take place in a discussion. In the video below Ashley discusses some of the tools and methods she uses to help students interact in other online spaces.
Reflection Question: How you could use one of these tools to help students meet a learning objective?
Online interaction can build relationships among students as they reach out to each other and help one another. Online technology can provide students with a platform that facilitates those types of interactions. Mark Stevens describes how he sees this happening in his classroom.
Reflection Question: In what ways did students in Mark's class support each other using online affordances?
Blended teaching allows student to student interactions to expand beyond the classroom to the school, other schools, and even to the world. For example, Merinda Davis has facilitated several virtual exchanges where students can connect using video conferencing tools. In the following she describes a recent exchange:
One year we were able to share current events with students in a school in Pakistan. Each week students would look up a current issue or current event and share it with their peers in Pakistan. The students in Pakistan did the same. They talked about the event and reflected on it. But the interesting thing is what it did to our in-person class. Students were coming up to me in the hallways, so excited and telling me about these different current events and current stories that they had learned. Their activitiy in the online space increased the engagement and excitements of our inperson activities and interactions.
In the next two videos, Merinda Davis shares the excitement and insight her students experienced her students as they interacted with students from other cultures.
Reflection Questions: Why were these students so excited to share current events with other students in another country? How can you incorporate something similar in your classroom?
Reflection Question: How can you facilitate interactions between other classrooms in your school, your state, the nation, and the world?
International exchanges can be a wonderful experience for students, but you can also facilitate exchanges closer to home. For instance, Janet Babic and Patrick O’Brien taught the same course in the same school district but in different schools. During a unit on immigration, Janet and Patrick teamed up and had their students collaboratively create a website to share digital stories of immigrants. Using Google Documents, students collaborated to create interview questions as well as tips for conducting interviews and editing the video recordings. Once the videos were edited, they placed them on a Google Map using placemarkers showing the countries of origin.
In another example, two social studies teachers, Ahlam Yassin in New Jersey and Jessica Culver in Arkansas, used a shared Padlet to engage their students in a conversation on how Covid-19 had impacted their lives. However, their conversations soon turned to other topics, including politics and free time activities. Interestingly, each group believed that their daily lives were uninteresting but enjoyed learning about other group's lives. The activity went so well that following this exchange, Ahlam facilitated new exchanges with other teachers around the world.
For a number of years now, I have collaborated with another professor at my undergraduate alma mater. Her students mentor my students, and there's a constant back and forth, exchanging advice and ideas. The students don't know each other, but they do get some good support. To study the 1920s, one project they worked on together was preparing a two-minute radio script for a 1920s radio show. They wrote the show and included an ad. They did a lot of online research and also received coaching from these university students. This year a bunch of them decided to take the project a step further and actually record it. They already had the content, but they loved taking it to the next level. And they were so engaged. It was fun to see.
Not only can students interact with other students outside their class, blended teachers can use online technology to facilitate interactions with guest speakers. Guest speakers can have a powerful impact on students. However, they can be difficult to arrange. Live video communication tools allow you to broaden your search to those who live outside of your area. However, coordinating schedules can still be difficult, especially if you have multiple classes. One solution is for students to interact with others asynchronously using a tool such as VoiceThread. In this example, Halerin Ferrier's 4th grade students wrote letters as if they were living in a Japanese internment camp. They then recorded their letters on VoiceThread. Finally, actual Japanese internment camp survivors responded to some of their letters.
Don't know how to get started with an exchange? Check out the following resources:
Pen Pal Schools: Quick, simple, and easy. This site includes hundreds of lesson plans in a variety of content areas for all ages. It has built-in assessment and tracking tools for teachers. They have asynchronous and synchronous options.
Global Nomads Group: Synchronous exchange with multiple projects to choose from; some may have a fee involved if you don't follow through with your commitments. There are also some amazing non-exchange projects your students can do, especially if you're looking for PBL ideas.
Generation Global: Dialogue is at the heart of the program. They offer flexible and easy to use teaching resources on a range of global issues. Through facilitated video conferences and online community, students interact directly with their peers around the world, engaging in dialogue on issues of culture, identity, beliefs, values, and attitudes. All resources and video conferences are free for educators and young people.
JDO Foundation: This is a year-long synchronous exchange that requires an application and interview. Classes are matched up on projects and age groups.
The Stevens Initiative: The Stevens Initiative is an international effort to build global competence and career readiness skills for young people in the United States, Middle East, and North Africa by growing and enhancing the field of virtual exchange.
iEarn: iEARN empowers teachers and young people to work together online using the Internet and other new communications technologies. Over 2,000,000 students each day are engaged in collaborative project work worldwide.
Digital Exchange Program: The first-ever youth-
Keep your eyes and ears open. Develop a network of teachers. Use social media (Instagram, twitter) to connect with other teachers. Even communicating with other social science students in another part of your own country can be very instructive for your students.
I feel like I give a ton more feedback now than I used to, because it’s just so much faster and easier. I can easily type feedback, or I can give them a red, yellow, or green checkpoint. Before I blended my classroom, all they saw was a checkmark, which showed that I had read it. But now they’re getting a “Yep, you're good.” Or, “Hey, this is something you want to look at.” Even if I'm being lazy in my feedback, it's still more feedback than I would have given before. And I can very quickly give really in depth feedback if I want to.
What are some ways teachers can foster these interactions?
Interactions between students and teachers are also important in a social studies course. Teachers often report that their interactions with students online have strengthened relationships and contributed to student growth.
Reflection Question: How can you use the online space to foster relationships with your students?
LeNina Wimmer and Mary Catherine Keating both found that online communications helped them build relationships with their students and improve learning outcomes.
Being able to interact online has allowed me to interact more with kids that are seen as just the average kind of kid. You have some kids that are super smart and are going to always ask questions in class. So, they're always going to get my attention. And then you have the kids who are going to goof off in class. So, they already have my attention, too. And then there's that middle group of kids. They’re just going to do whatever they're told to do, but they're never going to raise their hand and let the class know that they didn't understand something
Now those kids have a forum where they can interact with me. I often tell them when they submit something, if there's something they want me to look at, let me know. “I might be just looking at the argumentative claim here, but if you want me to look at something else, let me know.” They’ll email me and say, “I didn't really understand how to do this. Will you please take a look at it for me?” Or “Will you please look at the rest of my paragraph, because I went ahead?” Those middle students get a lot more instruction and interaction with me because they can do it online.
When I first started teaching, I never knew what the kids didn't get until they handed in their final work. But in blended teaching, I can monitor and guide the students in the process. I can see the way they are thinking about concepts. I can give immediate and formative feedback. I can open up their documents or assignments while they are still working on them and leave comments for them: “Hey, you need to address this” or “You missed this.” “What about these generals?” Even something as simple as vocabulary I can address early on. Then when the kids go back to their work, the first thing they see is my feedback and they can make corrections or rethink their approach while they still have time to work on it. I love looking at their papers and seeing that they totally got that Charles the Second was the best thing ever. When I see a misunderstanding or gap in their learning, I can address it as a whole class or in groups. I'm able to direct them because I can see what they're doing. I don't have to wait until they turn the paper in. I'm there every step of the way.
The online space significantly increases opportunities for interaction between students and content, students and other students, and students and teachers. Students who never or rarely speak in class may find themselves suddenly communicating on a regular basis. The results of learning through a combination of content, interactions, instruction, and feedback can improve student outcomes, investment, and engagement with the subject matter. You don't have to start all at once. Just choose one interaction that looks promising to you--and begin.
Online interactions provide another opportunity for my students to interact. Students have strengths and weaknesses, and they may be more willing to speak in one class or situation than in another. So I like to vary what I do. In the in-person space I don’t just use one method. I don’t just use cold call or raising hands. I mix it up. I might have them share peer-to-peer or participate in a small group or large group discussion. Online discussion is another format and opportunity for students to communicate with each other and share their thoughts. It’s also a unique way to build relationships in your class. I know, even in some of the classes I’ve taken, I get to know people I wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise because we communicate in the online space.
One of my students was literally non-verbal. She would not talk in class. When I started to make online questions and online work documents and stuff like that available, she started communicating. The online space gives students like that the chance to participate. I understand that shyness aspect, and being able to give this girl a voice was really great.
Digital history projects can be defined as "an approach to examining and representing the past that works with the new communication technologies of the computer, the internet network, and software systems” (Source). Furthermore, they draw "on essential features of the digital realm, such as databases, hypertextualization, and networks, to create and share historical knowledge” (Source). In short, we live in an era where students and teachers can learn from and interact with digital content. Moreover, this content exists in a range of formats including:
The list below is only a few of the digital projects that exist. We encourage you to use these in your class and to continue your search for more. Like any content, the most important aspect to their value is the teaching and learning experiences you design for your students.
This content is provided to you freely by BYU Open Learning Network.
Access it online or download it at https://open.byu.edu/k12blended_socialscience/ss_olint.