A Passive Generation

Brooke Stock
Rider University

As United States citizens we are given the right to vote. This opportunity allows our country to be a democracy and gives people a voice in the government. As a young adult, one would think that our generation would choose to voice their opinions for the future, since it will affect our lives immensely. Unfortunately, many individuals among my generation do not see this as a priority. Young adults, from the ages eighteen to twenty-four have the lowest voting participation rates out of everyone who is eligible to vote. This is due to the Presidential Election in 2016 between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Young adults share their voice and opinions on politics, but when it comes to the polls, they do not vote. Many young adults also believe that they do not have to go and vote because they believe that their voices will not be heard. In this article, I discuss the reasons behind this lack of commitment to the polls. What is the reason that young adults right out of high school do not vote? Is it the lack of teaching politics in social studies classrooms? Or, is the focus of social studies classrooms too dedicated to teaching the same past events? Furthermore, could this turn out be evidence that social studies needs to be renovated? Maybe there needs to be a class that is dedicated to current events and individual responsibility as a citizen that all students must take. I can recall when I was a student in high school, my teachers never fully expressed the importance of voting because we were not old enough to vote at that point in our lives. The presidential election of 2016 should be a warning for adolescents and young adults that our votes, in fact, do matter. All votes matter, but when it comes to the future of the United States, the younger Americans need to vote so our concerns can be handled properly.

            I remember, too, when I was in high school four years ago and all my social studies teachers never emphasized the importance of voting. Teachers always briefly stated the importance of the rights that we have, one being the right to vote. Before the 2016 election, there was not a recent election where the younger generation believed that they had to vote. Since the outcome of the election, this was a wakeup call to many people. Many people just believed that the person that they wanted to win, would. When the outcome was the presidential candidate that they did not want, they were the first people to complain all over social media. How can someone complain if they did not actively practice their right to vote? From my past experiences in the field at Ewing High School, my cooperating teacher expressed to the students how important it is to vote. We collaborated on a lesson about Andrew Jackson and tracing his presidency from his actions as a common man to his actions as having “king-like qualities”. Our students were curious on our views on the past election and what we believed. Together, we were honest with them. We expressed how significant it is to do your research, hear everyone’s side, and develop your own beliefs. We discussed the voter turnout and why their vote will matter someday. It is important for students to be taught that when they are of age to go out and make their voices heard.

            After researching why, it is that the younger generation does not vote, I found out that the average age that voted in the 2016 election was fifty-seven (Strauss, 2018). These means that all the reforms and laws that the younger generation wants to be passed, will not. All new laws, reforms, acts, will be towards what the older generation needs. Carolyn DeWitt and Maureen Costello state that, “If there is one thing we believe in America, we believe in government of the people, by the people, for the people.” and later explain that American citizens, “…haven’t learned how to register to vote. They haven’t learned the best way to influence their elected representatives. They haven’t learned that they have power.” (Strauss, 2018). How can we be a democracy that countries want to mimic if we cannot get our own to get up and vote? Have Americans stopped caring or are we too lazy to vote?  Joel Stein explains the millennial turnout and states that he, “calls millennials the “narcissistic generation,” and Jean Twenge says they are the “me generation,” stuck to their phones and uninterested in politics.” (Dalton, 2016). I do believe that millennials and people who are younger are addicted to their phones. Social media overtakes people’s lives, day to day. Instead of going out to make sure their vote counts, they will voice their opinions on Twitter or Facebook hoping that by posting their opinion it will help the vote. I agree, it is essential to voice your opinions, but if you are not going to act, then why are you choosing to not vote?

            I always ask my peers why they do not bother to go vote because I understood the importance of this aspect my whole life. The answer I frequently receive is, “Because my vote won’t make a difference”. This answer, I personally feel is a selfish statement. Every vote matters no matter who you are or what you believe. If everyone who did not believe in their vote, voted, then the voter turnout would be completely different. Health care is so prominent because it is what most older people want for themselves. If the younger generation would go out and vote we could help our education systems and our futures. Caroline Beaton expresses that, “In 2016, we view engaging in politics as a personal choice, not a civic obligation.” (Beaton, 2016). This is accurate because many younger people see voting as an option and not an obligation. They believe it is not their civic duty to express what they want. If people were educated more on voting and constantly informed on the importance of it, I believe that they would go out and exercise their right to vote.

            I have hope for my generation in the 2020 election. The past election was, without a doubt, a wakeup call. This article is not intended to bash the younger generation, however, to express my aspiration for them to be more active participants in the future of our country. We are the future and I believe that we will come together as one fighting for what we believe.

References

Beaton, C. (2016) The science behind why millennials don’t vote. Retrieved from  https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolinebeaton/2016/11/04/whymillennialsarentvoting/#34fb382e89c2

Dalton R. (2016). Why don’t millennials vote? Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/03/22/why-dont-millennials-vote/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.9e68bea2c2ec

Strauss, V. (2018, September 20). Many young people don’t vote because they never learned how. Here’s a free class now in schools trying to change that. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2018/09/20/many-young-people-dont-vote-because-they-never-learned-how-heres-free-class-now-schools-trying-change-that/?utm_term=.b355d8c66fc0

The Other Facets of Sputnik: Not Just a Satellite

Matthew Maul
Rider University

On the night of October 4, 1957, Americans could tune in on their radios to hear a small sphere floating in orbit sounding off beeps as it goes along. Sputnik was the first human-made object to go into an orbit around Earth, and thus start something called the Space Race. For such a breakthrough technological achievement, however, it was somewhat limited in its own performance.  It could orbit and transmit radio signals back to earth, but beyond that, Sputnik was practically useless except for its role in Cold War Symbolism. It is this symbolism that is thought more often than not, then the education reform that comes after it. The launch of Sputnik is much more than the start of the Space Race; it was a catalyst for education reform and by my calculations, it will take another Sputnik to launch another wave of widely accepted reforms instead of the patchwork introduction of fixes like SGOs, Common Core, and PARCC.


            “It is essential to examine the America school system before the launch of Sputnik in 1957. Before 1947 and stemming out of World War Two American schools were still primarily influenced by Progressivist school of ideas and practices from John Dewey. Progressivism emphasized the concept that students could only learn when they had “internalized what they had gained through experience and practiced in their own lives.” (Olson, 2000) In the mid-1940s, a new group called the ‘Life-Adjusters’ began to challenge the progressivist idea and thus began to change them. The main reason being that progressive education failed the majority. This so-called failure along with these new ideas for education and its purpose were based in the 1918 study titled Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education. The goal of this new educational philosophy entitled ‘Life-Adjustment’ was to change the fundamental practices of the school. What fundamental practices did this study mean, it was no other than the core academic classes. By disregarding traditional academics, this meant that history, languages, science, and mathematics were less valued to instead focus on the concept of ‘fundamental processes.’ The fundamental process was the curricula and activities for the general student and would thus be the considerations for vocational education, use of leisure time, and other wholesome topics that would improve the capability of a student to live a good and productive life. What supported this study was a national education conference in 1945. From its findings, the committee has found that no more than 20% of students could be reasonably expected to ever attend college, with another 20% destined for a vocational program.  This means that only 40 percent of students can further their education and contribute to society; the other problem becomes the other 60%. The obvious recommendation was the adoption of the previously mentioned Life Adjustment education model. It, however, was not going to be all in favor of the Life Adjusters, as these beliefs were incorporated with some progressive concepts. The most important being the concept of tracking students by ability level on every topic. This meant that higher achieving college-and vocational school-bound kids could still get the same education while the other students can get a more general track in which they can succeed. In 1951 the Life Adjustment approach was formalized in the Educational Policy Commission’s report, Education for All American Children. (Bybee, 1997) Life-adjustment education was more utilitarian when compared to the previous progressive practices of earlier education models. The reason for this utilitarian nature is that schools were failing in preparing a majority of its student population for its future so this model instead focused on the needs of the general student. Its proposed curriculum was on functional experiences in areas such as arts, family living, and civic participation.  This kind of curriculum was more about preparing an active citizen instead of an educated academic. 

   
Now, when you examine these tracks based on the ability for the student you can draw a comparison to the modern day with Special Education with the process of inclusion and mainstreaming. The method of mainstreaming and inclusion is the result of placing students in the Least Restrictive Environment as a part of the requirements of the IDEA act. (Morin) Mainstreaming is the process of taking your kids with disabilities and putting them in a general classroom, hence the mainstream. This typically comes with some form of help for the student or that the student spends time in special education or resource classes. Without the IDEA act, special education would not have advanced as quickly as it did which thus leads us to why Sputnik was so important.


            The National Defense Education Act was spurred into creation off the impact of the Sputnik launch. The overall goal of this specific legislation was to change the country’s educational system to meet the standards of the national government concerning the nation’s defense. Regarding the national defense that meant the subject thought and focused on would have a direct benefit to those job fields. Thus, by increasing the standards of education, the United States hoped the changes would help them either compete or pass the Soviet Union. The importance of the NDEA, much like IDEA, is in the acceleration for reform it caused. The overall effects of NDEA are grants and federal aid for higher education and also a restructuring of school curriculum around that funding. Because of the scientific nature and international significance of Sputnik, the course requirements for students became aligned toward national security and jobs of that nature. Thus, the standard course load stiffened away from Life-Adjustment and added more Math and Science classes. If The Association of American Universities described the NDEA as “inspiring generations of U.S. students to pursue study in fields vital to national security and aide.” (American Association of Universities, 2006) Then it was effective in changing education as they knew it. And when you examine education curricula today, you see that the impact clear as day as almost every high school student for graduation shall have four years of math and 2-3 years of science by the time they do so.

The apparent result of Sputnik is not just in the historical context of historians of Devine and Dickson who propose a situation of American paranoia in retrospect to their calm leader, but rather the impact on education reform that we can see in the foundation of today’s schools. (Divine, 1993; Dickson, 2001) In an interesting article by a psychologist, he recognizes that there is a problem with modern educational reform. At the national level, the federal government spending on education has skyrocketed, with no comparable improvement in educational outcomes in such programs like Head Start, New Math, Nation at Risk, Goals 2000, Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, charter schools, Next Generation Science Standards, and Common Core? (Klemm). We have had little to show in terms of the results of these programs as we keep trying to create better-standardized tests and are even thinking of replacing the common core in many states even though it only came out in 2009. The problem with modern education reform may not be with the program, but with the implementation. If states are allowed to pick and choose on adopting or adapting these reforms based on the fear of losing government spending, then the speed and acceptance rate would be relatively minor and too late before it impacted most of the nation. Klemm later states in the previous article “I think the real problem is that students generally lack learning competencies. Amazingly, schools tell students more about what to learn than how to learn” (Klemm, 2014). This is something that can have a much more lasting impact because it is on the level of teacher adaptation. If we are teaching these competencies instead of solely content, we can make sure that students can turn into these lifelong learners. It is effortless for a teacher to teach Organization, Understanding, Synthesis, Memory, Application, Creativity because it involves no money, but instead an adaptation of a lesson plan. Organization can be as simple as upgrading our technology to a cohesive system like Google Classroom where students can access all work and assignments and the same can be said for teachers. Creativity can be new ways to teach a lesson or new activities.

It’s important to touch on memory, which is commonly related to tests. Instead of teaching kids to take these tests, let’s make them create better mental connections for better learning. If students can connect historical themes to present day events than they can more easily recall this knowledge for other subjects. The problem with social studies is the idea that we teach to one test, and then the student can forget that knowledge. If we work on creating these connections, they can easily recall this knowledge in other classes or everyday life. Instead of a focus on a national reform movement that is bogged down by politics, let’s do something that only teachers have control over, which is how we teach students.


            If we want to change education before national reform is ever sufficient, we as teachers must be proactive and as Social Studies teacher that may be the essential part of our jobs. If we can get tour students to transfer the Think like a Historian skill to other subjects, we can change their mind on the value of history.  So until we have another Sputnik, we are stuck in the process of revolution. (Kuhn 1962) We had Sputnik in 1957, We had The Nation at Risk in 1983, what is the next event to revolutionize education? The next logical step is the quick improvement in technology, which may drastically change how and where we teach. Whatever the next Sputnik is, to make sure it is a more effective reform like NDEA it takes us as Teachers to be open-minded and accepting to the changes. Because, whatever reform or new ideas are thrown our way, we still need to be ready to change for the sake of our students.

References:

American Association of Universities. (2006). A National Defense Education Act for the 21st century: Renewing our commitment to U.S. students, science, scholarship, and security.

Bybee, R. (1997).  The Sputnik era: Why is this educational reform different from all the others? Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education Symposium “Reflecting on Sputnik: Linking the Past, Present, and Future of Educational Reform.” Washington, DC.

Dickson, P. (2001). Sputnik: Shock of the Century. New York, NY: Walker Publishers.

Divine, R.A. (1993). The Sputnik Challenge. New York: Oxford University Press.

Klemm, W. R. (2014). Educational Reform and Why It Is Not Working. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/memory-medic/201407/educational-reform-and-why-it-is-not-working

Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Morin, A. (2014).  Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): What you need to know. Understood. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/special-education-basics/least-restrictive-environment-lre-what-you-need-to-know

Olson, L. (2000). Tugging at tradition. In V. Edwards (Ed.), Lessons of a Century: A Nation’s Schools Come of Age (94-118). Bethesda, MD: Editorial Projects in Education.

Joe Louis: A Multifarious Historical Figure

Gino Fluri
Rider University

Instead of looking at a history textbook, or studying an event like the Great Depression, one could look through the lens of the great boxer, Joe Louis, to get an invaluable historical experience. Louis’ career undermined some of the major problems in America at the time, and also highlights how sports ties into everyday life in America. ‘The Brown Bomber’ becomes the second ever, African American heavyweight champion when he dismantles the German, Max Schmeling, in less than two minutes. The implications of the ring becomes more than just a symbol of two men imposing their will on one another. It became an international struggle for power: in politics, culture, and society. Joe Louis and boxing came to represent something far greater than just sports. Ultimately, White America used boxing and Joe Louis as a tool for political and cultural manipulation; and Joe Louis’ career exposes the racism so deeply embedded in American society.

            The discussion of using Joe Louis in the high school social studies classroom is one you would not anticipate as being part of a history lesson. Despite this common thought, the boxer’s career is in the backdrop of World War I, fascism, Nazism, Jim Crow laws, the Great Depression, socioeconomic status, World War II, all leading up to the Civil Rights era in the U.S. Analyzing sport and race in America is a huge topic that I feel many history teachers glaze over rather precariously. This goes back to education in America and the current system that we are in; many professionals believe that teaching controversial topics is part of the job. For example, Matt Soley, who is a senior program officer in the Education and Training Division at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., gave a strong outlook on teaching controversial topics in the classroom (Soley, 2006, 10). His article, “If It’s Controversial, Why Teach It?”, presents the idea that there are many positive benefits with bringing controversial topics to the forefront of the classroom. The same can be said about Joe Louis and his career. Although it is controversial in terms of how you could show the facts, aside from that, the historical themes are vast: the discrimination he faced, racism in America that is infused by the dominant culture, and how much sports can connect to society at the time. 

I propose that the historical value provided in a boxing fight between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, or the rise of sports in America during the 1920s, can be an exciting and unique resource for students to learn. At the high school many students are involved with extracurricular activities or sports. Providing several lessons about Joe Louis and his boxing career, or examining along the lines of race and sport in America, can be a refreshing topic of discussion. When you think back to high school, and covering U.S history in the 20th century, students often conceive of the following: World 1, the stock market crash, Great Depression, World War II, Civil Rights, and Cold War. It is a stagnant chronological order that may provide a few lessons that generate excitement from students, but presents little else. If one were to sit back and question how a lesson about Joe Louis and boxing does not fit into this agenda, you may want to reconsider.

Historians have often examined Joe Louis’ fights with Max Schmeling in a way that could generate awesome classroom lessons, divergent discussions, projects, presentations, and create a refreshing new way to teach the 1920s, 30s, and 40s in America. Lewis Erenberg’s The Greatest Fight of Our Generation: Louis vs Schmeling argues that “the boxers carried some of the deepest political and social tensions of a period wracked by political, racial, and national conflicts. They moved the racial basis of American and German nationalism to the forefront of American politics and national identity” (2006, 10). David Margolick, another historian, has stated that “The fight implicated both the future of race relations and the prestige of two powerful nations. Each fighter was bearing his shoulders more than any athlete ever had” (2005, 6).

Gathering these arguments, a teacher can discuss the importance of sport in America during the 1930s, and show how sport and race were deeply embedded in our country. This is a very intense study, but it can be simplified for any high school grade level because you can draw parallels to sports today in America and look at how certain issues about race or culture in America have been brought up through the nation’s best athletes. For example, years later with Muhammed Ali refusing to go into the draft, or even more recent, Colin Kaepernick’s decision to not stand for the national anthem. The career of Joe Louis, and boxers even earlier than his time can highlight the impact sports have on race, and the people of this country.

Using Joe Louis as a topic for classroom discussion does not only relate to the struggle African Americans had with gaining equal opportunity, or his giant fights with Max Schmeling; you can look at print culture from the time period to also identify with different concepts. To further students’ engagement, you can look at various cartoons and pictures of Joe Louis to help elicit more of a response from your class. Analyzing pictures from World War II and how Joe Louis fought in the war, becoming known as “G.I Joe” Louis is a great way to talk about how he was portrayed during the time period, what American culture was really looking at with these images, and how this may relate to the Civil Rights era. There are so many different ways to use Joe Louis and sports in the 20th century for your classroom benefit. This multifarious figure pulls out both controversial and very important lessons that students should know. For example, Rebecca Sklaroff, another historian who studied Louis’ career, said it is important to understand why Joe Louis—as the predominant black figure in all sectors of war propaganda—held such meaning both for those who developed the iconography and for those who received it” (2002, 963). This notion goes back to how Joe Louis and the pictures or cartoons constructed of him, can be seen as a defining moment in American culture during this time. This would be a very cool and interactive way of getting students engaged and to think critically.

Louis’ career also represents the Civil Rights movement, in which he is leader for his time period. For the topic of race in America, a social studies class should know what type of black figures were present during the early 20th century. Joe Louis is absolutely one of them, for his dominance in the ring expressed equality that did not promote a violent response (Margolick, 2005, 81). Going back to my high school experience, seldom was their ever discussions about key black leaders during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, it is not until the Civil Rights era that we got into black history more critically. Using Joe Louis’ career and sports in America before his time, as well as print culture from the period, you can dig very deep into so many themes that tie into the Civil Rights discussion. The foundation of Jim Crow laws, as well as the way dominant culture, who is predominantly white men, actively controlled the narrative in society, is something that students should know. Whether his story, and sports, connects to race may be controversial or an intense discussion, it is something students need to know when covering the 20th century in American history.

To be considered a successful teacher, you must get your students engaged, asking questions, problem solving, and being able to critically think. Joe Louis, who represents a multifarious figure in American history, can hit all of these aspects of getting your students to critically think and ask questions. The historical significance of his career is like walking into a minefield, everywhere you step you are hitting material that can be excellent for your classroom! What are you waiting for as a teacher? You have to go out and find historically relevant material for your class, no student is going to want to discuss the Great Depression via PowerPoint, just so you can outline all of the hardships. Rather, discuss the rise of urbanization through the lens of sports, celebrities, and race in America. Instead of showing some of the hardships outlined in a PowerPoint, you can dive into cartoons and images that the popular culture embraced from the time. History can be exposed in the most subtle ways. The career of Joe Louis provides a wealth of significance topics in the high school social studies classroom: Jim Crow, Americanism with sports and race, print culture, and what a African American leader looked like at the time. There are so many options to choose from, digging deeper into the career of Joe Louis would be a valuable topic for examining 20th century America.

References:

Erenberg, L. (2006). The greatest fight of our generation: Louis v. Schmeling. Oxford University Press.

Margolick, D. (2006). Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink. New York: First Vintage Books Edition.

Sklaroff, L.R. (2002. Constructing G.I. Joe Louis: Cultural Solutions to the “Negro Problem” during World War II, Journal of American History, 89 (3), 958-983.

Soley, M. (1996). If It Is Controversial, Why Teach It. National Council for the Social Studies. Social Education 60 (1). 

Teaching About Crimea

Ryan Ciaccio
Rider University

For most students social studies may never be the most exciting topic in this day and age, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to engage them with new material. It seems that most of the content in European and World History classes focuses on broad themes over a significant amount of time. Issues like the French Revolution and imperialism take up large portions of curricula, and there is little time left to look into more specific events that could be just as valuable in affecting the learning experience of students. In my middle and high school experience Russia and the states it governed before and during the Soviet era were rarely ever touched upon. By giving students the opportunity to examine the history of Crimea and its relationship to Russia they could learn about the impact a relatively small area could still have on a nation’s sense of history.

            Crimea is a peninsula along the northern coast of the Black Sea in Eastern Europe, roughly 200 miles from where the 2014 Olympic games took place, and is home to a variety of multi-ethnic groups. Currently the area is under Russian authority but the relationship Russia has with Crimea has not always been clear. To put it mildly, Crimea has a rich history and has bounced around in terms of who governs the territory a multitude of times. In 2014, Russia forcibly took back the Crimea under the direction of President Vladimir Putin, an event that sparked widespread criticism in the Western press for a few years. Students normally would have no understanding of an event like this and why Russia would take such swift action. However, by explaining the significance Crimea has in the hearts of Russian people, students gain the ability to make their own observations on the situation and other events down the road.

            The Crimean Tatar Khanate, a break off from the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan’s empire was a predominate power for nearly 300 years in European affairs, but even most secondary level students have never heard anything about it. They were vastly successful in trading goods with Italians and raided Russia for years without any consequences. The Khanate existed under the authority of the Ottoman Empire until Russia went to war against the Ottomans in 1768 and subsequently defeated them six years later. The 1774 Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainardzhi did not immediately hand over the Crimean Tatar Khanate to Russia, but rather gave them a chance for independence. The independence would be short lived however.

            Catherine II, the Tsarina of the Russian state upon the signing of Kuchuk-Kainardzhi, took the opportunity of the Crimean Tatar Khanate’s independence to place a ruler of her choosing on the throne. It may be confusing for students to see how a state could be independent but still have their ruler chosen from the outside. However, the ruler Catherine II chose was Sahin Giray, a well-educated Muslim man who descended from the Giray dynasty that had ruled over the area for prior centuries. Catherine thought she gave Crimea the best shot it could have at independence by picking Giray, however he could not keep stability among the various groups of people living under his reign. Crimean independence lasted a brief nine years before it was time for big brother Russia to step back in the picture again.

            In 1783 Russia officially annexed the territory known as the Crimea. Alan Fisher, a historian from Michigan State University, asserts that “It was only after every possible means of establishing Sahin Giray as an autocratic and independent sovereign had been exhausted that Catherine carried out “the final solution” to the Tatar Problem” (Fisher, 1967). Of course, the “final solution” that Fisher was alluding to is that Russia takes over predominant control and authority of Crimea. It is important for students to have the background on the time that Crimea was not under Russian authority to see that maybe there was a slight chance for independence prior to Catherine the Great’s annexation.

            Students should also get to see how important the Crimea was to the Russian state as a whole to further explain their annexation effort. While traveling through the Crimea in 1787 Catherine referred to the area as “Paradise on Earth” (Schonle, 2001). Catherine was enthralled by the beauty of the peninsula and made it an effort to rebuild the war-torn parts of Crimea into Russia’s own personal Garden of Eden. This wasn’t an effort overtly forced on the Crimean people because she enlisted the help of the local nobles and princes in reforming the land.

            One major area of study for world history students at the secondary level is the Enlightenment. They could connect that to the Crimean issue as well. Catherine the Great considered herself a significant contributor the Enlightenment and wrote over hundreds of pieces and exchanged correspondence with great minds of the period like Voltaire. The Enlightenment connects with Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 1783 because it was considered (still is by some) to be an act of enlightened despotism. Was Catherine trying to do what she thought was generally right for the people of the Crimea or was she acting in her own self-interests? These are the kinds of procedural knowledge questions that force students to think critically about issues and come up with their own responses.

            Studying a specific area rather than a large general theme allows students the opportunity to examine cultural aspects that are too often overlooked. The Crimea became so enriched in the hearts of Russians for a number of religious and nationalistic claims. Vladimir, a Kyivan Prince was supposedly baptised around Crimea in the area of Chersonesos. This notion was later supported by the touring of the Crimea and respects paid to these sights by Tsar Alexander I (Kozelsky, 2014). Russians also have strong ties to the Crimean peninsula because of Sevastopol, the largest city. In a 2014 address Vladimir Putin stated “This is also Sevastopol-a legendary city with an outstanding history, a fortress that serves as the birthplace of Russia’s black sea fleet” (Putin 2014). Sevastopol is home to Russia’s main fleet along the Black Sea as Putin stated, so they feel a sense of pride in knowing that this area belongs to them.

            Knowing how valuable the Crimea is to the people of Russia is important for students to understand because they’ll see the effect losing a meaningful territory can have. In February of 1954 the colorful Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was concerned with the heavy amount of suffering placed on the people of Ukraine by World War II. He took it upon himself to gift the territory of Crimea to the Ukraine as a penance for their sacrifices. Although authority was transferred to Ukraine, Russians still accessed the Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol and most citizens consider themselves part of the Russian state. There was no real need for Russians to get involved until 2014 when massive protests over a corrupt regime under Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych emerged. In February of 2014 “little green men” or disguised Russian soldiers infiltrated Crimea and forcibly seized the territory back as their own. The swift re-annexation of the Crimea can seem harsh, but referendums were put out that consistently approved of Russian authority in Crimea. These kinds of quick turbulent political events can be hard to grasp without a detailed background.

            So where does this leave Crimea today and why is it important for students to have the opportunity to learn about it in a social studies classroom? Russia has split Crimea into two separate entities consisting of the Republic of Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol. Investments in schools and hospitals and the creation of the world’s second longest bridge have all been started in the time since re-annexation. The five-year anniversary of the re-annexation will be approaching within the next few months (February 2019). This means that the event will probably pick up speed in the media again and give students background on current events that tie in to history.

Studying the Crimea can be difficult because of the many shifts in leadership that occurred over the past few centuries, however it is worth the effort to take on a difficult task to challenge students to form their own opinions. I would love to have a class and teach them about the rich history of a smaller part of a much broader region because it’s something even most historians could overlook. Teaching students about the Crimea gives them insight into a rich history, geographical issues, culture, and aids in the development of their critical thinking skills.

References

Address by the President of the Russian Federation. (2014). Retrieved from http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/20603

Fisher, A.W. (1967). “Sahin Giray, the Reformer Khan, and the Russian Annexation of the Crimea.” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas.

Kozelsky, M. (2014). “Religion and the Crisis in Ukraine.” International Study for the Study of the Christian Church.

Schonle, A. (2001). “Garden of Empire:  Catherine’s Appropriation of the Crimea.” Slavic Review.

Diversity and Integration

Rafael Angeles
Rider University

Integration is still sought out and remains a goal of the educational system. Diversity is something that schools want because of its positive outcomes. New Jersey is one of the most diverse states but also one of the most segregated in the nation (Clark, 2018). So how is it possible that integration is not achieved? Matt Delmont’s book titled Why Busing Failed gives a general clue as to why integration hasn’t been achieved. Many may argue that busing failed, the argument has been made repeatedly, each time looking at different reasons, typically political. However, the first proponents of busing desired it because they believed it was their moral duty and that it would improve the condition of predominantly black schools. The opponents of integration through busing believe that it is not necessary and ineffective and as a result continue to uphold segregation.

            To this day opinions of busing are mixed. There are individuals who wished more would be done about the situation; some think that there is unfinished business. Then there are those that are happy that it got done away with in the 1990s beginning with the Missouri v. Jenkins case. The primary result of this case was that the court ruled that a unitary education system had been achieved, therefore the state did not need to fund programs that were typically used to achieve integration. The attitude shifted due to “a lack of rising test scores” (Missouri v. Jenkins, 2018). The test scores not increasing meant that the integrated schools had done all that they could. This court decision would act as a domino effect around the country Busing was the primary method of integration in the past. It became nationally accepted in 1971 with the Supreme Court ruling that districts do indeed have the right to bus students to different schools to achieve racial integration. Despite that the decision, years later it became acceptable to take away funding from busing and integration programs once “unitary status” had been achieved. This is where busing began to be seen as a failure. Delmont argues: “Anti bussers and politicians succeeded in stopping full scale busing” (Cornish, 2016). Others were upset that busing had been done away with because they thought it was a great cause. “Busing was a major success” (Lang, Erdman, & Handley, 2016). a quote by Arthur Griffin, a former superintendent of Charlotte schools in North Carolina. He said in a documentary that he was one of the students that experienced integration and that he was thankful for it. People like him are not rare cases. There are as many people who speak fondly of busing as there are those who opposed it. The truth is that the causes for failed busing are strongly linked to people’s opinions. There are many opinions that will continue to be studied by historians to provide different narratives as to why true integration failed. “Society in general expected school desegregation to solve too many things” (Tilove, 1992).

            Based on research from busing and integration in the 1970s, this paper focuses on how in the modern United States, specifically New Jersey, there are still examples of segregation. It is common knowledge that the United States values equality, especially in education. This means that there should be equal opportunity. After all, in America if you work hard enough you can succeed. This belief however was not always around. It became cemented into American society when with a set of court decisions in the twentieth century. The most recognizable decision is Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS. The decision most remembered for stating that schools cannot be separate but equal.

The most memorable piece of legislation when it comes to integration of the school system is Brown v. Board of Education, it was the foundation of the values of education in America and the first proponent of integration. Its importance cannot be denied when discussing reform to the schools. It laid down the foundation for what would be motivation to improve all schools (Wraga, 2006). The Supreme Court’s reasoning for ruling the way it did also established a set of beliefs about the American education system that would serve for the coming years as goals to be achieved and beliefs to live by. It would take many years before the nation would collectively start working to end segregation. After the civil rights act, and five more court cases, the government issued an ultimatum due to the delay in desegregation plans. The importance is that this could not have been possible without Brown v. Board of Education. The values were summarized by a Princeton newspaper article written in the twilight of busing, “It put forth a vision based on the highest principles and ideals this nation had to offer. These aimed to create a better America, a better society, by improving education for all children and by relieving both whites and blacks of their senses of guilt and inferiority, respectively” (Adieh, 1993).

Brown’s decision created values and from that point on the goals of reformers would be drawn to not only change the school system, but society. We first must look at the beginning of the movement towards school integration. Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka; It is an argument in the historiography that has been beaten on society over and over, but nonetheless will forever hold importance in our nation, and especially in education. This court decision was truly meaningful to society. It was just supposed to be about reform, about education, but the court’s decision on the issue led to values and implications that changed the nation. If the schools were not to be segregated then why would anything have to be segregated? William G. Wraga wrote a short excerpt titled The Heightened Significance of Brown v. Board of Education in our Time. In this he argued what most historians have been arguing for the sixty plus years since the ruling; that Brown v. Board of Education was more than just a school ruling. “By insisting that all students attend school under the same roof, the high court affirmed both the importance of the concept of equal educational opportunity and, implicitly, the unifying function of public education in a Democracy” (Wraga, 2006). This was indeed the start of an affirmation by the government of the value of equality in which education was seen in many areas of the world throughout history to carry.

            From the time between Brown v. Board of Education and the court decision of Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education there were other decisions in the fifteen year span. It wasn’t until the Alexander v. Holme’s decision that the government called for immediate action (Lang, Erdman, & Handley, 2016). There would be no more stalling.  The Supreme Court having to make decisions after Brown proved that the latter was not enough to fix the segregation problem. The cases had to be brought to court by people who were demanding their rights since the court themselves can’t create cases. The opposition to integrated schools was prevalent throughout the twentieth century.

            Busing was opposed even by presidents, Nixon was a key example. “the integration of schools, so that they will be racially balanced. This is a policy that requires busing, and it is this policy that Mr. Nixon and the Republican platform oppose when they oppose busing” (Bickel, 1972, p. 21).  The Republican party gained a lot of support because of their open disapproval of busing. This meant that there was a large number of individuals out there that was not for having black and white students go to school together. The reasons varied, but generally they believed the government was wrong for imposing integration on the people. “Forced busing is depriving 90% of the American people of their civil rights and its unconstitutional” (Ruffra, 1974, p. 122).  

            White Americans do not support busing or school reforms that involve integration to this day. The source What Americans Think about Their Schools is a compilation of research that was put together through surveys. The survey would ask different Americans of various backgrounds questions on what they thought about the school system and the schools their children attended. What was found was that Americans generally wanted change in education. Americans both care about their schools and want them to improve. Though adults give the nation’s public schools only mediocre grades—a plurality confer a “C”—they are willing to invest more money in public education and they are reasonably confident that doing so will improve student learning” (Howell, 2017). Everyone seems to want the education system to improve, and are willing to pay to make those changes.

            There is a reform that is being proposed to improve the education of low income students. Since typically low income students come from schools that are typically minorities, the schools that are generally attended by a majority of white students have higher incomes, thus better opportunities, and as a result better education.  An example of this is Hopewell Valley Central High School which is ninety percent white as opposed to Trenton Central High school which was majority black with a very small white population. The reform calls for, “proposals to enable parents, especially low-income parents, to exercise greater choice over their children’s education through school vouchers, tax credits, charter schools, or home schooling” (New Jersey Department of Education, 2017). These reforms are trying to be introduced with the goal of creating equal opportunities for all students despite their background. Reforms like this have the values of Brown v. Board of Education in mind.

            It seems that a lot of Americans, especially white Americans, still don’t want reforms that include the government intermingling the races. This attitude is the same as it was when busing first began in the 1990s. One argument against busing that many would probably still agree with today, from a Kentucky organization in the 1970s to oppose busing:  “It is true, some districts are rich in children, but poor with poverty, but because some of our children must suffer from poverty–should we insist the rest suffer along with them?” (Ruffra, 1974, p. 122). Integration and plans that involve the education system being equitable. Are often seen as negative by White Americans, because they feel that their children’s level of education should not be reduced to aid the education of others. This has not changed, and is evident that it has not changed when going back to look at the research data on what parents think about education reform. “A plurality of the general public supports choice initiatives. African Americans and Hispanics express more support for school choice than do white Americans”. The fact that the African American and Hispanic population are more willing to reform the system means that they are not content with it. A majority of white Americans however want to keep things the same. This means that they think their educational system should not be tampered with as they are satisfied. “Few education reforms inspire as much debate as do proposals to provide low-income families with vouchers that would allow them to send their children to private schools” (Howell, 2017). This is yet another example of a group of privileged individuals wanting to keep others out.

            Since the early days where the government proposed desegregation there had been individuals that were against the idea. When there was no more legally mandated segregation but instead segregation by the people, the idea of integration was introduced. Though integration became enforced by law, many found ways to oppose it. “Forced busing has created an economic segregation…Parents who could afford to have enrolled their c0hildren in private schools to avoid crosstown busing, thereby segregating the underprivileged from the more affluent” (Ruffra, 1972, p. 122). This then becomes an issue that is beyond the power of the government. Private schools are not illegal, but they’re existence harms the cause of integration. That is one reason why New Jersey is still very segregated. Most of the schools in America are as well, but there is one example of reintroduced busing in Boston that might spark a movement to busing a second chance. “But while integration is still a process, METCO has made a big difference in education. The most recent research of the program shows that nearly 90 percent of METCO’s black and Latino students graduate from high school on time, and they score higher on state achievement tests than their peers in Boston Public Schools” (Cornish, 2016).   The METCO program acts much in the same way that busing did. It takes students away from schools in their neighborhood and sends them to majority white schools in a different area. The program cites success in improving the education of minority students and thus fulfilling the values of educational equality of Brown v. Board of Education. We are still nowhere near an equal educational state but perhaps we can give integration a second chance and change that.


References:

Adieh, B. (1993). Princeton periodicals. Daily Princetonian. Retrieved from https://lapa.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/fellow_ahdieh_cv.pdf.

Bickel, A.M. (1972). Busing: What’s to be done? New Republic, 167 (12), 21.

Clark, A. (2018, May 17).  “N.J. schools are among the most segregated in U.S. This lawsuit could change that.” NJ.com. Retrieved from  https://www.nj.com/education/2018/05/lawsuit_calls_for_statewide_desegregation_of_nj_sc.html

Cornish, A. (2016). Why busing didn’t end school segregation. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/10/06/496411024/why-busing-didnt-end-school-segregation

Howell, W.G. (2017). What Americans think about their schools. Education Next. Retrieved from https://www.educationnext.org/what-americans-think-about-their-schools/

Lang, D., Erdman, A., and Handley, M. (2016). “‘Lion leadership lessons video series: Delivering engineering leadership lessons to a broad audience. 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings. Retrieved from https://www.asee.org/public/conferences/64/papers/15222/view

Missouri v. Jenkins Case summary and case brief.(2018).  Legal Dictionary. Retrieved from https://legaldictionary.net/missouri-v-jenkins/.

New Jersey Department of Education. (2017). Performance reports. Retrieved from https://rc.doe.state.nj.us/

Ruffra, J. (1974). Should Congress curtail the use of busing for school desegregation? Congressional Digest, 53 (4), 122.

Tilove, J. (1992). True integration, educational parity prove elusive. The Times. Retrieved from https://jonathantilove.com/achievement-ga/

Wraga, W.G. (2006). The heightened significance of Brown v. Board of Education in our time. Phi Delta Kappan, 6, 424.

Learning Global Citizenship through UN Sustainable Development Goals

Jiwon Kim and Christine Grabowski
Monmouth University

We live in one world. What we do affects others, and what others do affects us, now more than ever. To recognize that we are all members of a world community and that we all have responsibilities to each other is not romantic rhetoric, but modern economic and social reality (McNulty, Davies, and Maddoux, 2010). If our neighborhoods and nations are both affecting and being affected by the world, then our political consciousness must be world-minded (Merryfield and Duty, 2008). A sense of global mindedness or global awareness must also be promoted in elementary school, but many educators still find it challenging. The purpose of this article is to explore how we engage elementary students in learning global issues and to examine how introducing United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to the elementary classroom helps young students develop their interest and understanding of current issues in the world and become active citizens.

Global Citizenship Education and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Scholarship on globalization suggests that new forms of democratic citizenship and politics are emerging (Andreotti, 2011; Davies, 2006; Gaudelli, 2016; Myers, 2006; Oxley & Morris, 2010; Parker, 2011; Schattle, 2008), and this demands critical and active global citizenship education. As Myers (2006) indicates, however, “while a global perspective is often incorporated into the curriculum and courses, the concept of global citizenship, suggesting a commitment and responsibility to the global community based in human rights, is less coherent” (p. 389).  

Citizenship is a verb – learning about our nation and the world, thinking about dilemmas of equality and equity, and acting on issues of collective concern (Boyle-Base and Zevin, 2009). Therefore, Global citizenship relates to important concepts such as awareness, responsibility, participation, cross-cultural empathy, international mobility, and achievement (Schattle, 2008). From this perspective, global education should be global citizenship education. Understanding and concern for such issues should lead to action, and local, state, and global studies should be used as a “springboard for deliberation, problem-solving, and community action” (Boyle-Base, et al. 2011). Boyle-Base and Zevin (2009) propose a three-part framework of citizenship: Young citizens of the world (and their teachers) should be informed, reflective, and active. This model means (1) becoming informed (about ideas, events, and issues); (2) thinking it through (presenting fair and balanced views), and (3) taking action (teaching deliberation, decision-making, and civic action) (Boyle-Base, et al., 2011).

We adopted this model in order to engage elementary students in global issues, by introducing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) to an elementary classroom. The Model United Nations is well known with many students participating in this program, but few realize that the UN SDGs are designed to educate our society and transform the world.  The UN SDGs, officially known as ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ is a set of 17 Global Goals around world issues. On September 2015, countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In 2016, the Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force, addressing the need to limit the rise of global temperatures. Governments, businesses, and civil society together with the United Nations, are mobilizing efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Agenda by 2030. Universal, inclusive and indivisible, the agenda calls for action by all countries to improve the lives of people everywhere. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved. The 17 goals are as follows:

The UN and UNESCO explicitly support these goals and resources that are useful materials for global citizenship education. While global citizenship is geared towards older students, there are many ways that elementary school teachers can apply these goals and resources within their classroom. For example, the World’s Largest Lesson, which is a website created in partnership with UNICEF and UNESCO, introduces the Sustainable Development Goals to children and young people everywhere and unites them in action through various projects. If educators are planning an assembly or a lesson to introduce the Global Goals, there are a lot of resources listed on the website and educators can choose them based on the specific goal (http://worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org/). These resources include training courses, activities, books, films, games, lesson plans for each grade level, decorations and posters, as well as support for students’ action and change project. Materials are available in English and nine other languages. Students can share their work online and help create a map of the world, for instance, that reflects why Goal 5, Gender Equality, is so relevant worldwide today.

Context

Mrs. G, an elementary school teacher leads a multi grade third and fourth grade class of sixteen students. This unique style of teaching embodies project-based learning with one to one Chromebooks for the students.  They are not seated at traditional desks; instead students are seated at whiteboard tables with rolling chairs for flexible collaboration and learning. Self-driven students who take initiative in their own learning, had become integral parts of how this exciting project about the UN SDGs had grown and developed. 

The UN SDGs lessons started out as requirement for the preservice teachers of Monmouth University that were presented in the third and fourth grade classroom. As the interest piqued in the classroom, Mrs. G decided to capitalize on students’ enthusiasm and design classroom activities to address the UN SDGs at their developmental level. The goal was for the students to become more globally aware about issues in the world, while honing their reading, writing, research, and presentation skills. This unit project addressed multiple NCSS standards and C3 Framework.

Table 1: Social Studies Standards Addressed in This Unit Project

Social Studies Standards
Addressed in This Unit Project
         NJCSS C3 Framework
1. CULTURE



2. PEOPLE, PLACES, AND
ENVIRONEMNTS




3. INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT
AND IDENTITY



4. INDIVIDUALS, GROUPS, AND
INSTITUTIONS






5. POWER, AUTHORITY, AND
GOVERNANCE





6. PRODUCTION, DISTRIBUTION,
AND CONSUMPTION




7. GLOBAL CONNECTION





8. CIVIC IDEALS AND PRACTICES  
D1.2.3-5. Identify disciplinary
concepts and ideas associated with a compelling question that are
open to different interpretations.
D2.Civ.2.3-5. Explain how a
democracy relies on people’s
responsible participation, and
draw implications for how
individuals should participate.
D2.Civ.6.3-5. Describe ways in
which people benefit from and are challenged by working together,
including through government,
workplaces, voluntary
organizations, and families.
D2.Civ.7.3-5. Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school
settings.
D2.Civ.10.3-5. Identify the beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and
values that underlie their own and others’ points of view about civic
issues.
D2.Soc.3.9-12. Identify how social context influences individuals.
D2.Soc.6.9-12. Identify the major components of culture.
D2.Soc.7.9-12. Cite examples of how culture influences the individuals
in it.
D2.Soc.13.9-12. Identify
characteristics of groups, as well as the effects groups have on
individuals and society, and the
effects of individuals and societies on groups.
D2.Soc.16.9-12. Interpret the effects of inequality on groups and
individuals.
D2.Soc.18.9-12. Propose and
evaluate alternative responses to
inequality.
D4.3.3-5. Present a summary of
arguments and explanations to
others outside the classroom using print and oral technologies
(e.g., posters, essays, letters,
debates, speeches, and reports) and digital technologies (e.g., Internet, social media, and digital documentary)
D4.6.3-5. Draw on disciplinary
concepts to explain the challenges people have faced and
opportunities they have created, in addressing local, regional, and
global problems at various times
and places.
D4.7.3-5.Explain different strategies and approaches students and others could take in working alone and
together to address local, regional, and global problems, and predict
possible results of their actions.
D4.8.3-5. Use a range of deliberative and democratic procedures to make decisions about and act on civic
problems in their classrooms and
schools.

This was accomplished through a multifaceted project that included learning about the UN Sustainable Development Goals through reading, research, presenting a goal, and sharing. Additionally, there was discussing information through a class blog, and leading and participating in service projects. This project continued in the successive school year due to the success and interest in the project.

Part I: Becoming Informed

Reading and Research

While introducing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, one challenge was to ensure that elementary students could understand these complex concepts. In the beginning, students were introduced to two brief videos that gave an overview of the UN Goals in terminology that was easier for them to understand. Next, each of the sixteen students was assigned one of the goals to research in depth. They were given a rubric with specific items that needed to be included in their presentation. The students were required to include: the name of the goal, the definition of the goal, why the goal is important, and three interesting facts.     

The next step was to research the goals to truly understand the meaning, decide why it would be an important goal for citizens to be aware of and potentially take action. The UN website offers articles, video clips, facts and a plethora of additional information about the goals, but can be difficult for elementary students at various reading levels. The paraprofessional and teacher engaged individual conferences for each student to ensure that there was an understanding of what the student was reading, as well as recommendations of particular parts of the site to focus on for their research. The seventeenth goal, which was not assigned to a student, was completed together as a group. Using the classroom SMART board, Mrs. G led the class in modeling how to find appropriate research, navigate the United Nations website, and make decisions about information that was pertinent to present on the visual document.  

To further develop their reading and research skills, Mrs. G used Newsela, a large database of current events articles that are written at specific Lexile levels. Articles that related to the UN Goals were assigned to the students. They decided which articles to read to assist in gaining more knowledge and understanding of their specific goal. This platform worked well, because it is tailored to the student’s independent reading level, which aids in comprehension of the material. Some students worked with partners to help mitigate difficulties in reading articles and participated in discussions together, in order to better understand the topic of study. Individual conferences with partners and the teacher or paraprofessional were essential in supporting the students in tackling very advanced concepts.  Goal 9- Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure was an especially challenging concept for a young elementary student and required a good deal of discussion with the teacher to ensure understanding of a complicated topic. 

Reading informational text in social studies is the perfect way to enhance learning. However, when the vocabulary and content was above level for many of the students involved in the project, the teacher and paraprofessional met individually to read with students to ensure comprehension of the literature regarding the goals on the UN website. This one on one time was helpful in making sure the elementary school students understood their goal, and were equipped with the knowledge to become experts and explain it to others.                      

Part II: Thinking It Through

Presenting, Sharing and Discussing Information about the Goals

Next the students created a visual product to communicate the required information about their goal using what they have learned through reading and researching their assigned goal. The students created posters in the first year when the project was implemented, and in the next year they used Google Slides to present information about the goal. The expectations on the rubric were the same for both the poster and the digital presentation.

Figure 2: Sample Article from Newsela Website- www.newsela.com 

Table 2: UN SDGs Google Slides Rubric

Please include the following on your slide:

  • Name of goal                                         
  • Definition of goal
  • Why important
  • 3 Interesting facts

UN SDGs Google Slides Rubric

  3 2 1
Name &
Definition
The correct
name and an
accurate
definition is
present
The name or
definition may
be correct
The name and
definition are
not correct
Why Important A clear and
accurate
explanation of why the goal is
important in the world
Attempts to
write an
explanation of why the goal is
important in the word.  May have some ideas that are correct
Does not include why it is
important or it
does not make
sense
3 Interesting
Facts
3 appropriate
facts about the
topic are
present
3 facts that are
not relevant or
just 2 facts are
present
Did not include three facts
Design of Slide The pictures
and design are
related to and
represent the
goal.  Is well
organized
The pictures
make an
attempt to
represent the
goal. Shows
some
organization
The design does not relate to the goal, is
disorganized

The students reflected upon their presentations and completed the rubric self-assessing their work. The expectation was to either draw or find photos that represented the theme of the goal. When making posters, the required information was verbally presented in a recording that eventually was combined with other students using the DoInk app. They used the green screen to record and uploaded the recordings to the app to create a video. The other option was to use a shared Google Slides presentation where each student created one slide to represent their goal and provided the required information. 

Figure 3: Examples of Posters


Figure 4: Examples of Google Slide Presentation

Each student took a turn presenting their visual poster or Google Slide to explain and teach the class about their specific goal. They utilized speaking and listening skills to effectively communicate the information that they researched and engaged in question and answers from their classmates. Mrs. G could also further assess their learning by observing how well they could answer questions about their assigned goal. 


Deliberation through Blog Session 

Next, the students participated in blog sessions to further discuss the goals, their thoughts and opinions.  The blog is an effective tool and another way of assessing the students’ critical thinking skills, knowledge of content, and how they communicate. Google Classroom has a feature to “Create a Question” that allows students to respond to each other. These questions were posed to the sessions:

  • List your goal and write an interesting fact that you learned about your goal.
  • Explain something that surprised you about the goals. Why did it surprise you?
  • What can you do to help achieve the UN goals? 

The explanation of something surprising from the students was enlightening in providing a student perspective at their developmental level. The following is a sample entry with responses:

Student “O”: 

1. My goal is Quality Education. One interesting fact about my goal is more than half of children that have not enrolled in school live in sub Saharan-Africa.

2. Something surprising I learned from this lesson is that, Goal 16 Peace, Justice, and Institutions is that people all over the world do not have the freedom of speech for their rights. I feel that is devastating to live under rules that are hardly even thought about just made a law. They live under circumstances that are very sad, and that is very careless of people.

3. To help these goals we need to supply things that are needed. Americans can provide books all over the world for Quality Education, We can provide vaccines to needed, we can give food and vitamins needed to people in need.

Student “C”:  Also, for every 100 boys enrolled in school in Sub-Saharan Africa, there’s only 74 girls!

Student “A”:  Where is Saharan-Africa? What is it?                       

Student “J”:  Who tells them that they can’t go to school and why don’t they?

Student “O”:  Saharan is basically all the countries of Africa except the three at the top.

Student “O”:  They can’t’ go to school because some people (dictators, presidents, kings or queens) think that school is a waste of time. They rather kids go and work the fields and harvest crops

Student “J”:  Thanks for the answer

Student “S”:  It is very sad that people don’t get to go to school, but at the same time it might be fun to not go to school for a couple of days but never going to school would be hard. But everybody needs education.

Student “C”:  It’s not fun. The reason they avoid school is to make the kids do work. And they have to work on the fields, harvesting, growing, and taking care of crops ALL DAY, until night!

Student “E”: How many school houses are in Africa?

Student “O”:  Would it really be fun not to be able to read, write, and say the right words in a sentence? What would you do if you couldn’t read or anything? Would you ask your mom to teach you? What if you don’t have a mom? Put yourself in other people’s shoes.

Student “C”:  It wouldn’t be fun at all not to be able to read or write. If we couldn’t read or write, we couldn’t blog now!

Reading the responses of the students allowed Mrs. G to capture a conversation that the students might have in a group discussion in the classroom. It was determined that Student “O” understood that students in Africa and other parts of the world do not have the same opportunity for education that children in the United States are afforded.  The student expressed empathy for children who cannot attend school, and Student “C” even responds stating that they would not be able to blog if they did not have an education.  When the students blogged, there was silence in the classroom because they were all actively engaged using the technology in a meaningful manner. Mrs. G expected the students to answer the three questions and then thoughtfully responded to at least five students in the class with comments and insight. She accessed all of this and could comment on Google Classroom to leave feedback for students.  The use of technology like Google Classroom allowed the class activity to become more student-focused. By assigning students different UN goals, the students were able to take ownership of their own topic and became the class expert who is accountable for discussion on the goal. This enabled the teachers to see the student’s ability to comprehend the UN goals as well as to apply that knowledge gained to form a discussion with their fellow peers. This deliberation process helped students think about higher-order thinking questions beyond immediately noticeable facts. Students sometimes left with some simplistic and self-oriented/US-centric views of the world. Therefore, it was important for Mrs. G. to capture a troubled conversation and follow up as a group discussion in the classroom.

Part III: Taking Action

Leading and Participating in Service Project

Each year of implementation of this project has led to the students taking action to address the UN SDGs. In the first year, the class was saddened and upset to see the prevalence of poverty and hunger in the world. Through a class discussion, they decided to take action and have a food drive to support a local food pantry. Mrs. G led a discussion on local organizations that helped the poor, and ultimately the students decided to support St. Vincent de Paul Pantry at a church that some students attend. They gathered information from the church bulletin, organized a collection based on the pantry’s needs, created flyers and made announcements daily to the school promoting the food drive and giving the school community facts about hunger and poverty. The students used Google Sheets to collect data and provided updates to the school community about the number of items collected. The young learners took ownership of the whole project and completed it to its final steps of packing the donations and sending thank you notes to the St. Vincent de Paul members for their service to the poor. The class felt proud of themselves for spearheading this project that would align with the UN SDGs.

In the following school year, the service project that the class decided to organize was related to recycling and saving the environment. The students collected plastic film to be sent to the Trex Company, which uses recycled materials to make composite lumber. Many schools compete against each other to recycle the most plastic film and Mrs. G’s multi grade class took a leadership role with this contest. The students created a Google Slides presentation, developed flyers to be sent home with students in the school, and visited all of the classes in the school to explain what can be recycled, where the collection bins were placed and all of the details about the project. They weighed and packaged the plastic, as well as recording the data for the competition. The students were proud of their contribution to the UN SDGs and helping the environment. 

Service projects such as these were a wonderful way for students to feel empowered as elementary students.  It started with one student stating in class, “People are hungry, we have to do something to help!” Through this experience, they realized that their small contribution to helping the poor and hungry, or recycling to help the environment were ways that they could join people all over the world to obtain the UN SDGs. They were able to recognize their power as citizens of a global community. It was important to reflect and determine if there was a lasting impression made by studying the UN Goals.

Results: Impact of the Project on the Students

Mrs. G polled her students with Google Forms at the end of the school year to assess the impact that this project had on the students. There were seven questions ranging from how important are the goals to written responses about how they can be global citizens. One student wrote, “The food drive helps the people that are starving and have no money so they get food that is donated from other people. Then they can have food to fill their stomachs.”  Another student commented, “Doing Trex made us global citizens because we helped by recycling. So the world won’t be filled with plastic. Also because we can reuse it.”  Some even commented about the Marker Recycling Program that was underway in the school, or about the garden at their school. They were applying the knowledge that they had gained from the project and analyzing how activities conducted by other organizations relate to the UN SDGs. 

By exposing the elementary students to the UN SDGs, they were given an awareness of the world around them, beyond their community, state, and country. While engaged in this project, most of the students were shocked to hear some of the statistics. Student “S” wrote in her blog post that some people in the world live on $1.25 a day and it elicited quite a discussion. One response from Student “G” was that “People in North Korea and most of Africa live a daily life of poverty.” The class discussion was facilitated by the teacher to assist in explaining different cultures, religions, governments and such in terms that were on the developmental level of the children, including censoring material that would not be appropriate for discussion at their age. Students were more interested and empathetic towards the issues that were associated with their age group children, such as not going to school, than other issues, like living with little money and resources. Also, their understanding of those problems and causes were sometimes limited. This confirms that the blog session is a good tool to promote students’ learning, to assess their understanding, and to inform teachers what they need for the next instruction.

These UN SDGs are global objectives that are being addressed by corporations, governments and even students.  By teaching the children as young as elementary school, they are being provided with information, facts and statistics that reach beyond “their world”.  One young lady wrote a very impactful statement, “We can make our world a better place to be by making these small donations and commitments, but in reality, that can make a lifetime difference.” Empowering young children to believe that they can have an impact will cultivate adults and forward thinking global citizens. 

Conclusion                                                       

The project can be easily adaptable for multiple grade levels to provide elementary school students a creative and interesting way to learn about global issues and give them a lens into other countries and ways of life. Any classroom with Internet access and devices to utilize Google Classroom or other online program such as Otus, Kiddom, or Edmoto can apply the principles of this multifaceted project.  

The three-part framework: (1) becoming informed (about ideas, events, issues); (2) thinking it through (presenting fair and balanced views); and (3) taking action (teaching deliberation, decision-making, and civic action) effectively engaged elementary students in learning global issues. The UN SDGs were a good source and tool in carrying out this model.

While there are few studies and practices of teaching the United Nations and global issues in elementary level, this classroom practice provides a good example of how it can be successfully done and build young learners’ global awareness and active citizenship. ELA, science, math, and the arts can be integrated in addition to Social Studies as well as the skills of reading, interpreting, and presenting can be taught in this unit project learning. Because it deals with subject matter that is of immediate interest and bridges school learning with life outside school, it is highly motivating to critically think and take action. It provides elementary school students with information that they have not been exposed to and helps them build a knowledge base for understanding current and future problems.

References 

Andreotti, V. O. (2011). (Towards) decoloniality and diversality in global citizenship education, Globalisation, Societies and Education, 9(3-4), 381-397.

Boyle-Base, M. & Zevin, J. (2009). Young citizens of the world: Teaching elementary social studies through civic engagement. New York, NY: Routledge.

Boyle-Base, M., Bernens-Kinkead, D., Coake, W., Loudermilk, L., Lukasik, D. & Podany, W. (2011). Citizenship as a verb teaching students to become informed, think it through, and take action, Social Studies and The Young Learner, 24(1), 5-9.

Davies, L. (2006). Global citizenship: Abstraction or framework for action?, Educational Review, 58(1), 5-25.

Gaudelli, W. (2016). Global citizenship education: Everyday transcendence, New York, NY: Routledge.

Mcnulty, C. P., Davies, M. & Maddoux, M. (2010). Living in the global village: Strategies for teaching mental flexibility, Social Studies and The Young Learner, 23(2), 21-24.

Merryfield, M. M. & Duty, L. (2008). Globalization. In J. Arthur, I. Davies, & C. Hahn (Eds.), The sage handbook of education for citizenship and democracy (pp. 80-91). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Myers, M. P. (2006). Rethinking the social studies curriculum in the context of globalization: Education for global citizenship in the U.S., Theory & Research in Social Education, 34(3), 370-394.

Oxley, L. & Morris, P. (2013). Global citizenship: A typology for distinguishing its multiple conceptions, British Journal of Educational Studies, 61(3), 301-325.

Parker, W.C. (2011). ‘International education’ in US public schools, Globalisation, Societies and Education, 9(3-4), 487-501.

Schattle, H.  (2008). The practices of global citizenship, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Teaching and Learning Medievalism in Popular Culture as History Education

Mark Helmsing and Andrew Vardas-Doane
George Mason University, Fairfax VA

Although the period in human history we call the medieval period ended around the year 1500 CE, we are surrounded by medievalism in our lives today. For most history and social studies educators, a claim such as this does not make sense. We accept the end of the medieval period with the Renaissance, ushering in what we teach our students as the early modern period in our human history. Historians and educators position the medieval period, as a “middle” period used to demarcate Western history, occurs after the end of ancient history and before the period in which we currently live (Arnold, 2008). And yet, as we explain in this paper, medievalism—the icons, images, tropes, and representations of how humans think of that time period—permeates our lives today. Learning to understand medievalism in relation to the broadly defined medieval period and from the specific construct of the European Middle Ages enables our students to develop a sharper sense of periodization and significance within their broader historical thinking.

Because of the elision between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, history and social studies educators should take seriously the need to point out medievalism with their students and strive to make more visible and explicit the historical inspiration for such representations. In the first half of this article we provide some ways of thinking about medievalism. In the second half of this article we take these aspects of historical thinking related to medievalism and examine how they work in a popular video game and film franchise, Assassin’s Creed, a form of medieval world building that is popular amongst adolescents and young adults (Gilbert, 2017; Hammar, 2017). Our aim with this article to encourage educators to consider some implications for history and social studies educators related to the intersections of popular culture and medievalism as history education.

Approaching Medievalism for Historical Thinking

To assume that the medieval is irrelevant or antiquated, or to discount how medievalism effects our contemporary thought and shapes so many images and ideas in popular culture, is to neglect the significance of properly understanding and accounting for historical periodization (Cole & Smith, 2010). One may think that historical periodization is cut-and-dry as a commonplace of historical thinking. Say “medieval” and we think of courtly love, knights in shining armor, kings and queens residing in large castles (often with moats and drawbridges). My (Author 1) thinking about medievalism as an issue worthy of considering in relation to historical thinking occurred in early 2017 when I spent a semester away from my university duties teaching 7th graders. The topic of the HBO television series Game of Thrones came up in conversation one day and a student remarked that he thought “it must have been awful living back then.” It took me a few seconds to realize that he was engaging in two aspects of historical thinking. First, he assumed that the time period in which the Game of Thrones world is set was a long time ago, ostensibly linking it to the history of the Middle Ages. Secondly, and more importantly (or pressingly, depending on how you look at it), the student was conflating the imaginary fantasy world of Game of Thrones—and entirely fictional world and text—with ‘actually existing’ medieval history from real life. When I pressed him on the matter he said that of course he knew the dragons and White Walkers were not real, but that he assumed what he saw on the television series was what life was like “back then, with all of the kings and stuff.” This conversation set me about to think about what it is we may need to be more explicit about in our curriculum and pedagogy to help students not only to separate fact from fiction, works of fantasy from works of history, but also to help our students be more perspicacious and attentive to when, how, and why aspects of medievalism appear to us throughout art, literature, music, film, theater, and popular culture at large. In this section we offer some reasons for why history and social studies educators should investigate (both professionally for their own historical thinking and with their students) aspects of medievalism and the medieval world.

Examples of Encountering Medievalism in Popular Culture

            First, we need to help our students see that we engage with medievalism when we consume media about actually existing persons and events from the medieval period, as in Kingdom of Heaven (2005), a feature film about the Crusades in the 12th century, or in Pippin (1972/2013), a Broadway musical about the eldest son of Charlemagne in the 8th and 9th centuries. Yet we also engage with medievalism when we consume media that is speculative fiction and fantasies using icons, images, tropes, and representations of the medieval world, as in Game of Thrones, a massively popular book and television series about feudal royal houses warring with each other, or in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), only the latest of several feature films inspired by the Arthurian legends of Camelot, the Round Table, and the Lady in the Lake.

            Secondly, we and our students engage with medievalism when we encounter phrases, concepts, and iconographies that remain embedded in Western thought long after the end of the medieval period. For example, when teaching about torture that occurred in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, we may describe documented examples of torture as “medieval” in their barbarity, despite the fact that much of what we think of as medieval torture did not actually exist until the Tudor period that began with the end of medievalism in the 1500s (Matthews, 2015). To use another example, our notions of chivalry, courtship, and courtly love are concepts that took on distinctive forms as part of a complex code of rules and conduct in the medieval period (Emery & Utz, 2017). These concepts remain in our thought today, as evidenced by news headlines such as “Chivalry isn’t dead” (Fuller-Hall, 2018) and “Stanford professor puts desire in a medieval context” (Marian, 2013). Educators can select some medieval phrases, concepts, and iconographies for students to identify in our current social and political discourse, helping students map these concepts back to the actually existing historical medieval world. For example, in their edited volume Medievalism: Key Critical Terms, Emery and Utz (2017) survey the significance of terms such as feast, gothic, heresy, humor, love, purity, and troubadour, connecting how these concepts existed within the medieval world and how they have maintained their medieval legacy in our contemporary cultures. In investigating these and other concepts of the medieval, students are able to examine the continuity and change of the history of medieval thought in our world. In some cases, regrettably, medieval concepts, ideas, and iconography are taken up to promote repellant nationalist, racist, and supremacist beliefs, such as the adoption of the Templar Knights and runes with Norse warrior mythology and other medieval marks used to signify racial purity by white supremacists (Devega, 2017; Livingstone, 2017; Weill, 2018). Such uses and abuses should also be interrogated and critiqued in history and social studies education, ranging from how we describe something as violent or regressive as being “medieval” to invoking language and associations to the Crusades as Holy Wars with jihads and ISIS/ISIL.

            Thirdly, educators and students should realize we place ourselves within contemporary medieval worlds that we often visit in the present, such as medieval fairs and Renaissance fairs or “Ren Fests,” which are anachronistic for many reasons, least of which is that they visually blur and blend the High Middle Ages with Elizabethan England and the European Renaissance. I (Author 1) studied the history of the Middle Ages as a sixth-grade student in a project-based social studies unit where I and my fellow classmates created and hosted a “medieval faire” for the entire school (my contribution was learning to walk on stilts and recite ballads and folk poems). A popular choice for some high school history and/or British literature classes, Renaissance fairs allow visitors to dress in robes, boots, and bodices and converse with strolling troubadours and jolly court jesters. When I (Author 1) taught high school social studies and English courses, I chaperoned a number of field trips to such fairs, often cringing at what I perceived as historically inaccurate cross-periodizations of Elizabethan England, medieval France, and 17th century swashbuckling seafarers and pirates. Nonetheless, watching students marvel at medieval blacksmiths and singing troubadours may make up for the lack of precise periodization.

We also consume medievalism when we cheer on jousting knights while feasting on drumsticks and drinking frothy ales at one of the Medieval Times Dinner and TournamentÒ locations throughout Canada and the United States, notable for their scripted performance’s references to the medieval worlds of the Iberian Peninsula in the characters of King Don Carlos, Princes Catalina, and Lord Ulrich. These and other examples of medieval worldbuilding at public events and themed amusement parks offer ample opportunities for educators to have their students challenge the accuracy, veracity, and legibility of medieval representations in these spaces, calling upon students to think critically (and historically) about how such places and spaces evoke and ‘use’ medievalism.

             Finally, medievalism and fantasy as a genre for fiction and popular culture is fully entangled. The many dragons, elves, and giants in the fantasy franchise Dungeons & DragonsÒ have no existing evidence in historical fact, but the bards, monks, and paladins of the fantasy role-playing game are based on actually existing classes of people in the medieval period. Indeed, paladins, (with a name that derives from Palantine, a Latin word for servant) were high-ranking warriors in Charlemagne’s court (Freeman, 2017). The paladins did not, however, roll multi-sided dice when engaged in battle to the best of historians’ knowledge. Because representations of fire-breathing dragons often appear in literature and other mass media in landscapes occupied with castles, villages, dense forests, and feudal farms and fields. In the following section, we investigate the play of the medieval in one example: Assassin’s Creed.

Overview of Assassin’s Creed

With a global gaming market of $70.6 billion in 2012 to a soaring $121.7 in 2017, the market for games and gamers is climbing at an exponential rate. Projections for 2021 peak at over $180 billion dollars spent worldwide. Of the games produced and developed, many carry a medieval theme that draws millions of players each year. One game, Assassin’s Creed serves as an example of how our students may confront medievalism in their everyday lives. Operating as a medieval historical and science fiction twist on real-world events, Assassin’s Creed has sparked a franchise that as of September 2016 has sold over 100 million copies (Makuch, 2016). The latest of ten installments, Assassin’s Creed: Origins ranked as the eighth bestselling game of 2017. Therefore, based upon these numbers and our anecdotal experience of having middle and high school students express their fandom for the video games series and its film adaptation, we use it as an example of popular culture primed for some historical thinking about medievalism.

Plot Structure of Assassin’s Creed

            Released in 2007, the first Assassin’s Creed game features a character, Desmond Miles, who is kidnapped by Absergo Industries. This multinational corporate conglomerate forces Desmond to use a device called an animus to (re)live the memories of his ancestors through memories stored in his genes. He is thrown back in time to the twelfth century following the Third Crusade to Masyaf Castle (an actual medieval castle in present-day Syria) where he must live out the life of his ancestor who belongs to the Assassin Order. The plot revolves around a historical conflict between the Assassins and the Knights Templar, suggesting that students actively confront historical markers and significance about the Knights Templar, the Crusades, and Holy Wars in medieval Europe and what we now identify as the Middle East. In the video game, the goal of the Templars is to create world peace by subjugating the human race who they believe are incapable of ruling themselves without barbarism. The assassins fight against this stripping of free will and believe in the progression of new ideas and individuality. As a character in the game, the player progresses the storyline of his forefather, learning more about the history of the world and the conflict between the two factions (IGN, 2012).

As the player continues through the game, Desmond finds out Absergo Industries is the modern face of the Knights Templar who are attempting to have Desmond lead them to ancient objects of power called Pieces of Eden. These artifacts were created by a primeval race of Homo sapiens divinus, a highly advanced humanoid species. This race, termed the Isu, genetically modified the homo genus species in order to create a force of slave-labor. Using the Pieces of Eden, devices interacting with neurotransmitters in the minds of humans, they controlled humans until Adam and Eve escaped and began humanity as it is known today. The epic battle between the Templars and Assassin Order exists as a repercussion to the fall of the Isu and the eventual use of Pieces of Eden by humans against humans. The Templars, believing freedom leads to chaos, hope to use the artifacts to eliminate autonomy. The Assassins exist to prevent that dream from becoming a reality (Assassin’s Creed Wiki, 2018).

Problematizing the Knights Templar in Assassin’s Creed

Using the Assassin’s Creed plotline as a teaching tool for exploring medievalism encourages teachers and students to enact a critical media literacy with existing historical thinking skills and approaches. Throughout the gameplay, many deaths of actually existing historical figures are changed to assassinations to keep in with the themed narrative of the storyline. Acknowledging this plot device as an adaptation of history helps students identify historical errors, but also to be alert to when popular culture gets the history of the Middle Ages right and when it gets it wrong. Shifting students’ historical perspectives to view a real military order, the Knights Templar, portrayed as a power-hungry collection of world dominating fanatics can confuse and inspire conspiracy where no evidence is evident. The disbanding of the Knights Templars in 1312 at the behest of Pope Clement V marks the end of their historical timeline, despite, however, their continued presence in (questionable) usage amongst contemporary subgroups and populations as mentioned earlier in this article. This, unsurprisingly, takes on what we deem to be a concerningly problematic stance within the video game. The assassinations necessary to complete the game are made out to be necessary evils in order to protect the human race from the Templars. The historical record from the Middle Ages informs us that the real ‘assassins’ were a small Muslim Shiite sect, the Nizari Ismailis. Known as heretics by both Sunnis and Shiites, this group’s origin can be traced to immediately preceding the First Crusade during the crisis of the Fatamid Caliphate (Liebel, 2009).

Contextualizing History in Assassin’s Creed

Almost all the historical content in the movie is a complete fabrication. Claims that major players in history such as Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Mahatma Gandhi, and Genghis Khan used Pieces of Eden to further their agendas can leave players questioning their understanding of historical reality. There are, however, two accurate representations that can be used in the social studies classroom to help further students’ understanding of medieval times and see medievalism in action.

First, as mentioned previously, students can learn about the real Masyaf Castle. This castle exists in partial ruin and is in modern day Syria near the Mediterranean Sea. It served as a base of operations of sorts for a guild of assassins identified as the Nizari Ismailis during and following the Third Crusade (1189-1192 CE). The game’s developers worked tirelessly to make their depictions of main cities (Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus) as accurate as possible. Ubisoft hired a team of historians to advise on their gameplay and narrativization to make sure the layout and worldbuilding appear historically suitable. Using the game as an exploration and inquiry tool would be an application of critical media literacy for exploring medievalism in popular culture.

Standing alone without an educator to intervene in offering some historical contextualization, Assassin’s Creed is, unsurprisingly, a weak classroom resource for history and social studies educators. As an example of medievalism for our students in the 21st century, it offers much to consider, deconstruct, and critique. We argue the game can be used as a springboard for students interested in history resulting from their engagement in the game’s fictitious portrayals of historical events through elements of historical fantasy and fiction. We urge educators to be cautious in discounting the game’s appeal to student, suggesting instead that educators become more alert to which aspects of medievalism appeal to our students and to find out how and why. Expanding upon this foundation and using the inaccurate storyline as a method for introducing historical accuracies could be exciting for students. With ten games set in time periods ranging from Ptolemaic Egypt to the American and French Revolutions to the Industrial Revolution and the Russian Revolution, a curriculum created around something akin to “The Truth Behind the Assassin’s Creed Histories” could be an engaging and productive avenue for educators. The curriculum would have the added benefit of exploring historically accurate renditions of cities such as London, Venice, Florence, Alexandria, Memphis, Jerusalem, Spain, Istanbul, and Paris.

In closing, we offer a final thought from medievalist Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. The idea of the medieval and its immortal memorialization and representation across our cultural, political, and experiential encounters in everyday life can cultivate in students the idea that the medieval is “alluringly strange” and also “discomfortingly familiar” (Cohen, 2000, p. 3). It is something we hope will keep our students’ interests in the past alive.

References

Arnold, J.H. (2008). What is medieval history? Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.

Assassin’s Creed Wiki. (2018). Retrieved from http://assassinscreed.wikia.com/wiki/Assassin%27s_Creed_Wiki

Cohen, J.J. (Ed.) (2000). The postcolonial Middle Ages. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cole, A. & Smith, D.V. (Eds.) (2010). The legitimacy of the Middle Ages: On the unwritten history of theory. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Devega, C. (2017, December 1). Alt-right catches knight fever—but medieval scholars strike back. Salon. Online.

Emery, E. & Utz, R. (2017). Medievalism: Key critical terms. Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer.

Freeman, E. (2017). Charles the Great, or just plain Charles: Was Charlemagne a great medieval leader? Agora, 52(1), 10-19.

Fuller-Hall, S. (2018, February 13). Chivalry isn’t dead. The Sundial. Online.

Gilbert, L. (2017). “The past is your playground”: The challenges and possibilities of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate for social education. Theory & Research in Social Education, 45(1), 145-155.

Hammar, E.L. (2017).  Counter-hegemonic commemorative play: Marginalized pasts and the politics of memory in the digital game Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry. Rethinking History, 21(3), 372-395.

IGN. (2012, October 26). Assassin’s Creed in 5 minutes [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rnfg1rDmNIw

Kain, E. (2018, January 19). The best-selling video games of 2017. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2018/01/19/the-best-selling-video-games-of-2017/#31d639366226

Kim, D. (2017, August 28). Teaching Medieval Studies in a time of white supremacy. In the Middle. Online.

Liebl, V. (2009). The caliphate. Middle Eastern Studies, 45(3), 373-391.

Livingstone, J. (2017, August 15). Racism, medievalism, and the white supremacists of Charlottesville. The New Republic. Online.

Makuch, E. (2016). Assassin’s Creed Franchise Reaches 100 Million Copies Sold. Retrieved from https://www.gamespot.com/articles/assassins-creed-franchise-reaches-100-million-copi/1100-6443544/

Marian, V. (2013, February 11). Stanford professor puts desire in a medieval context. The Stanford Report. Online.

Matthews, D. (2015). Medievalism: A critical history. Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer.

Sapieha, C. (2015). How historians and artists crafted a ‘highly authentic impression’ of London for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Retrieved from https://business.financialpost.com/technology/gaming/how-historians-and-artists-crafted-a-highly-authentic-impression-of-london-for-assassins-creed-syndicate Weill, K. (2018, July 27). The alt-right is taking over Renaissance fairs. Daily Beast. Online.


Pushing the Boundaries of Elementary Social Studies Education: Teaching Young Children about Borders and Freedom

Greer Burroughs, Marissa Bellino, Morgan Johnston, Catarina Ribeira, Marci Chanin, Briana Cash, and Ellen Cahill 
The College of New Jersey, Ewing NJ
Bradford School, Montclair NJ
Edison Township School District, Edison NJ

The topic of immigration, who has a right to come to this country and who has a right to stay, has been at the heart of heated and emotional debates across the United States. In the summer of 2018 images and stories of children separated from their families at the southern border filled news and social media outlets. At the same time, the murder of a 20-year old woman in Iowa by an undocumented immigrant, led to calls for tighter border controls and for the governor of the state to proclaim that she was, “angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community,” (Klein & Smith, 2018). In recent years the nation has witnessed a series of executive orders to limit immigration from many majority Muslim nations, cuts to the numbers of refugees the U.S. will accept, a series of court challenges to these policies, increased arrests by ICE (Bialik, 2018) and outrage and protests from supporters on all sides of these issues. It is within this context that young children across the U.S. are developing a sense of what it means to be an “American”. A primary purpose of public education is to prepare individuals to be responsible citizens in this pluralistic, democratic nation, therefore schools should not shy away from addressing these issues.

Discussing controversial issues may seem daunting, or even out of place in elementary school. However, the National Council of Social Studies (NCSS) theme of Power, Authority and Governance, calls on educators to teach children about the functions of government, legitimate use of political power, how individual rights are protected and the conflicts that may arise when advancing fundamental principles and values in a constitutional democracy. The standards state that “through the study of the dynamic relationships between individual rights and responsibilities, the needs of social groups, and concepts of a just society, learners become more effective problem-solvers and decision-makers when addressing the persistent issues and social problems encountered in public life” (National Council for the Social Studies, 2010). Despite this charge, many elementary school educators avoid topics that can be deemed too political or upsetting to younger audiences (Zimmerman & Robertson, 2017). This stance turns a blind eye to the reality that these events touch the lives of children in many ways. Some children have experienced separation from family members or have fears members of their family or community will face deportation. Many children are exposed to unsettling images in the media or hear discussions among adults that may be laced with anger and fear. Avoiding controversial societal issues is, in part, to deny children’s awareness of their surroundings and can limit opportunities to help children make sense of difficult topics (Passe, 2008). Addressing these topics can be a vehicle to teach valuable concepts and skills of democratic citizenship (Harwood & Hahn, 1990; Parker, 2006).

In this article, we share lessons designed and implemented by a team of educators to address forced migration, asylum seeking, national borders and concepts of power and freedom with children in grades 2-4. Through the collaborative work, members of the team experienced shifts in their understandings of what should and ultimately could be taught to young learners. This evolutionary process, the lessons and what was learned from teaching the lessons to young learners, will be shared.

Where We Started

The team is comprised of three practicing teachers, two preservice teachers, and two education professors. The impetus for the project was a service learning trip most members of the team took to Lesvos, Greece in the summer of 2017. The island has been at the center of a migration crisis with millions of people fleeing war, human rights violations and economic hardships in their homelands. During the height of the crisis in November 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Commission reported that 379,000 individuals had already arrived on the island and an estimated 3,300 more were arriving each day, (UNHRC, November 2015). Along with the human toll of accommodating a massive influx of people, huge amounts of debris in the form of rubber dinghies, wrecked boats, personal items, plastic bottles and an estimated 600,000 life jackets washed-up or were left on the shores of the island. Organizations and individuals around the world responded by providing aid.

The goals of the trip were to study the interconnection between the ecological and social crises, while working with nonprofit organizations and people directly impacted. This involved learning with locals about environmentally sustainable practices, cleaning the beaches and providing aid for refugees. An additional goal was to advance education for sustainability by creating lessons for elementary children to teach about the impact of humans on the environment in the midst of a human and global crisis. Supporting the students in shifting their orientation towards a more social and eco justice orientation was an important objective of the entire experience.

Initially, the preservice teachers focused on the environmental side of the crisis and discussed possible lessons dealing with the negative impact of plastic on marine life, or the benefits of upcycling. One afternoon the group sorted clothing donations and prepared backpacks for children who had just arrived by boat on the island. That night one student noted in her journal that, “Getting adequate basics, clothes that fit, clean drinking water and food, was a reality for the refugees”. The team also interacted daily with volunteers who had been on the front lines of the crisis and heard first-hand accounts from people forced to flee their homelands. From these experiences, the human dimension became real. One journal entry captured this shift in perspective when the preservice teacher wrote “What makes a refugee? These people were just born in the wrong place, [it’s] all about the luck of where you are born…I am redefining human rights”. With this new perspective, what to teach about the crisis also began to shift away from just the environmental issues to the human story.

The Lessons

“Freedom is like a bird, a bird doesn’t get told what to do” 
- Second grader

In order to support the preservice teachers in the lesson plan part of the project, we invited in-service teachers as collaborators. In teams of two, lesson ideas were shared and refined. Drawing on their experience in Greece and the knowledge of the classroom teachers, the preservice teachers were able to work through some of their anxieties and conceptions of what young children could handle.  As one student expressed, “I don’t believe second graders can understand the concept of the refugee crisis.” The 2nd-grade teacher working with the student agreed and offered freedom as a concept that could be addressed and brought to the level of the children. From there the ideas came quickly and the two decided to begin the lesson with a children’s book. They choose the book Stepping Stones by Margriet Ruurs (2016). The book tells the story of a young girl and her family who are forced to leave their home due to civil war. The illustrations in the book show the family’s plight as they take only the belongings they can carry and flee on foot to find safety in Europe.

The second-grade team determined that once students understood the idea of being forced to leave one’s home, they wanted the children to relate borders and barriers to the concepts of freedom of movement.  They decided to use a simple simulation to help students connect to the idea. In both classes where this lesson was taught, the teachers divided the students into two groups and explained that the class was going to play a game. The in-service teacher brought her class outside and one group was told they could play on the playground for ten minutes, while the other would be required to stand in a small section of the blacktop. After ten minutes, the groups would switch. When the preservice teacher taught the lesson she began by asking the class to list classroom privileges they enjoyed and narrowed the list to two favorites; flexible seating choices and drawing on the whiteboard.  The preservice teacher then explained that one group could exercise these privileges for ten minutes while the other group needed to remain quietly in their seats.  In both classrooms, the idea that this was a game and that the groups would switch was repeatedly emphasized. After the lesson, the students were given opportunities to reflect on their experience and offer their own definitions of what freedom was.

During the activity, both teachers noted very strong reactions among the students. In a focus group, the second-grade teacher described her students as being, “distressed and outraged even though they knew they would get their turn [to play on the playground]”. In both classrooms students reflected on how they felt during the activity and the notion of fairness was applied to the experience by the students.  One child expressed dismay she had lost privileges even though she had been behaving well. This provided the teacher with the opportunity to explain that loss of freedom wasn’t related to one’s behavior and she reminded them how the family in the story didn’t do something bad to cause the loss of their home.

Another team designed a lesson involving a web-based, simulation activity in which students made choices for a woman escaping domestic violence in Nicaragua and seeking asylum in the United States. The simulation, The Walls We Don’t See (Public Radio International, 2017), follows multiple, true stories, of people leaving their homes as a result of violence, war, economic, or environmental degradation. Through the simulation, the students are asked to make decisions that impact the experience and ultimately granting or denial to the individual seeking asylum.

In preparation for the activity, students brainstormed a list of items they would take with them if they were forced to leave their homes. This prompted a discussion of how the children would feel if they were separated from their personal belongings, a favorite teddy bear or their favorite pair of shoes. In both a third and fourth grade class implementing this lesson, new vocabulary was introduced to students prior to the simulation. Students were encouraged to use the new vocabulary (ie. detention center, coyote, border control) in their discussions about the outcomes of the simulation. The students were highly engaged in the simulation activity and as a class, were very concerned with the outcomes of their choices for Maria (the woman in the simulation). After the simulation concluded, the children wrote letters to Maria sharing about a time when they also had to make a difficult decision.

What we learned

I think taking from the idea of freedom, that was so big and so complex, breaking it down and doing a simple activity where some kids were able to play and some didn’t,
Preservice teacher

Across all four classrooms, the children expressed common themes as a result of the lessons. Their ability to make connections between a global crisis and their lives was one big learning outcome. One child shared about his own family’s experience immigrating from Turkey and that he knew parts of his country were dangerous. Another boy shared about his father’s detainment when entering the U.S. from India. One fourth grader even informed the class that she knew many people were trying to gain entrance to the U.S. because she watched a TV show called, 90-Day Fiancé, where contestants seek to obtain visas by becoming engaged to a U.S. citizen.

In a fourth-grade classroom, the preservice teacher who went to Lesvos showed pictures of beach debris and refugee camps. When the image of a child’s shoe left behind on a beach came on the screen the students were stunned and asked, “This happened to children?” She described this as a moment when the student’s interest shifted and they could connect more to the stories. The in-service teachers were both able to make curricular connections to immigration, diversity, and culture and one had previously had a parent speak to the class about fleeing Cuba. This helped the children make connections between the woman’s story and the story of Maria from the simulation activity.

The students also made emotional connections with the refugees. One second grade student exclaimed “I felt like I was invisible, I kept thinking they couldn’t even see me!” Similarly, another child stated, “I felt like I wasn’t a part of the class anymore.” Making these connections helped the children develop empathy. One teacher asked the students based on what they experienced, would they do anything differently if the game was played again. Some of the students suggested they could help others who were denied freedom (i.e., couldn’t exercise class privileges), not feel so excluded by sitting next to them while drawing. In another instance, when a young boy learned that many of the refugees sought to build new lives in Germany, he explained that his mother often traveled there for work and asked if she could volunteer to help the refugees. Several third-grade students were so moved by the online simulation that during their recess they conceived of a plan for a hotel to house and aid refugees. After recess, they presented their teacher with a slide show outlining features the hotel would offer such as service in an individual’s home language to help them in their transition. These examples also demonstrate an emerging sense of civic responsibility, which is a primary goal of social studies education.

Teacher Reflections

I underestimated their intelligence and their ability to do something like this. I was nervous that they weren’t going to make connections to the story…. they took it much further than I anticipated. Preservice teacher

“If you’re telling the truth, not putting a spin on it, you’re okay. This is reality, I’m not telling them anything that isn’t true.” 2nd Grade Teacher

All of the teachers, both in-service and preservice, learned something from creating and teaching the lessons. One of the largest “ah-ha” moments for the preservice teachers was a better understanding of the capacity young learners have for engaging in a social justice-oriented dialogue. The preservice teachers struggled with trusting that young people would be able to actively participate and make connections to topics about freedom and immigration. By working alongside more veteran teachers, they recognized how significant these kinds of lessons are for children, and that to be a social justice educator, truth and discomfort may go hand in hand.

It also became clearer to all participants, how infrequently these kinds of dialogues occur in elementary classrooms. When discussing why this is the case, the reflections ranged from doubting the developmental capacity children have to engage in difficult discussions, to the time and curricular demands of teaching in the current high stakes, standardized testing school culture. Fear of reprisals by administrators and parents was also a common reason shared for why these topics aren’t taught more often. The veteran teachers were able to offer the preservice and novice teacher with models of teaching for social justice and inspiration. The idea that truth should always be taught became a significant theme for all of the teachers.

A final, more practical point was that opportunities to link global issues with an elementary school social studies curriculum do exist. Immigration is a common topic covered, as are colonization and civil rights. The veteran teachers described connections they helped the children make between the refugees fleeing the middle east and the Native Americans who were displaced by European colonists. By incorporating concepts of justice and human rights, the teachers are helping the children critically assess past and current policies and to begin to form their own beliefs on the kind of society they want to live in.

Conclusion

Teaching about issues of immigration and freedom are not topics that should remain invisible in our classrooms. The comments made by the children clearly illustrate that they have background knowledge of these issues, even negative aspects such as detainment and that not everyone who desires to come to the U.S. can. The children were also able to feel empathy for those who were denied freedom or faced difficult struggles. In the current political context, developing both the critical thinking skills to question the diverse contexts with which people migrate, as well as the empathy to connect to the experience of others, are valuable pursuits for teachers. Children can understand the ideas of justice and are capable of making personal connections to these topics. Concepts of freedom, security in one’s family, home and favorite belongings, are accessible to young audiences. The teachers experiences demonstrate there are opportunities in elementary social studies to push the boundaries of traditional topics and teach lessons that deal with important global and social issues.

References

Bialik, Kristen (2018) ICE arrests went up in 2017, with biggest increases in Florida, northern Texas, Oklahoma. FactTank. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/02/08/ice-arrests-went-up-in-2017-with-biggest-increases-in-florida-northern-texas-oklahoma/

Harwood, A. M., & Hahn, C. L. (1990). Controversial Issues in the Classroom. ERIC Digest.

Klein, Ann & Smith, Mitch (Aug. 22, 2018) Killing of Mollie Tibbetts in Iowa Inflames Immigration Debate, The New York Times, retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/22/us/mollie-tibbetts-cristhian-rivera.html

National Council for the Social Studies. (2010). National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: A Framework For Teaching, Learning, and Assessment.

Parker, W. C. (2006). Talk Isn’t Cheap: Practicing Deliberation in School. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 19(1), 12-15.

Passe, J. (2008). A Counter-Intuitive Strategy: Reduce Student Stress by Teaching Current Events. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 20(3), 27-31.

Ruurs, M., Badr, N. A., Raheem, F. (2016). Stepping stones: a refugee family’s journey. Victoria, British Columbia: Orca Book Publishers.

Ser, K. K. K. (n.d.). The walls we don’t see. Retrieved October 31, 2018, from https://interactive.pri.org/2018/02/walls-we-dont-see/index.html

United Nations Human Rights Commission (November, 2015) Lesvos Island, Greece Factsheet,
retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/protection/operations/5645ddbc6/greece-factsheet-lesvos-island.html

Zimmerman, J., & Robertson, E. (2017). The controversy over controversial issues. Phi Delta Kappan, 99(4), 8–14.

Learning in Three Dimensions: Avatars and Authentic Writing in the Social Studies

Julie A. Taylor, Danielle DeFauw, Glovetta Williams, and Matthew Hundley University of Michigan-Dearborn
Douglass Academy for Young Men, Detroit MI

Three-dimensional technologies are proliferating, yet their use in authentic writing and social studies education has not been explored fully.  The Smithsonian Digitization Office increasingly offers digital assets, including life masks and sculptures, to educators and students as downloads.  Visitors may view objects multi-dimensionally and in high resolution online.  In 2014, Barack Obama became the first United States president to sit for a 3D portrait.  He was scanned by imaging specialists from the Smithsonian and the University of Southern California (Fawcett, 2014).  Inspired by these developments, this action-research study examines the use of technologies to create realistic, 3D student avatars in writing projects.  Avatar is a Sanskrit word that means the physical embodiment of a deity (Ballin, Lawson, Lumkin, & Osborne, 2002; Graber & Graber, 2011).  In its most common usage today, the term refers to virtual representations of users of interfaces (Blais & Ippolito, 2006; Graber & Graber, 2011; Liao, 2008).  The graphical illustrations may be two- or three-dimensional (Berdic, Dragan, Mihic, & Anisic, 2017).

The theoretical framework of this study is rooted in deeper learning, a constructivist approach to teaching and learning in which the cultivation of transferable skills, critical thinking, and creativity are emphasized (Bellanca, 2015; Martinez & McGrath, 2014; Zhao, 2015).  Through deeper learning, students develop academic mindsets as they engage in relevant projects.  In this study, the authors’ research questions were a) would the creation of realistic avatars, based on 3D scans, increase levels of student interest?  If so, why?; b) How does three dimensionality enrich the learning experience?; c) Would students perceive the inclusion of personal avatars with writing assignments as enhancements to communication?  If so, why?; and d) What are students’ views of avatar technologies in the social studies?

 With its emphasis on the expression of students’ views of social and political issues and autobiographical writing, the project supported civics standards in the College, Career, and Civic (C3) Life Framework for Social Studies State Standards, namely on the application of civic virtues and democratic principles when working with others and the evaluation of social and political systems (National Council for the Social Studies, 2013).  Standards in history education were also addressed; students considered scanned, three-dimensional artifacts as historic evidence.  Additionally, the project addressed Common Core State Standards for English language arts (ELA).  Students were afforded opportunities to write, integrate visual literacy components, listen and speak collaboratively, and develop visual literacy skills using different media (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010).  Concerted efforts to connect social studies and ELA support secondary students’ instructional needs (Kern & Bean, 2018).

The School and the Students

            The students, who participated in this action-research project as part of an enrichment program, attended an all-male school in Detroit, Michigan.  With emphases on alternative and special education, the Title I, public school serves middle and high school students.  All 18 high school students, who participated in the IRB-approved study in 2018, were African American.  Each year since 2012, students have studied different social, historical, and cultural topics.  They have also explored emerging technologies. 

The Avatar Project

              Inspired by the creation of a 3D portrait of President Barack Obama by the Smithsonian’s Digitization Office, the authors acquired a 3D printer, and they invited the developer of a scanning app for the iPhone and the chief executive officer of TRNIO, Jan-Michael Tressler, to share his knowledge of 3D technologies at the school.  In preparation for a two-day workshop by Tressler, the students considered current applications of 3D technologies.  They also viewed and discussed the Smithsonian’s video, The President, in 3D, on the creation of Obama’s portrait.  

This project provided students an opportunity to develop digital literacies in an environment that fostered motivation (Kern & Bean, 2018).  Advancing students’ writing skills was a key objective; students created hybrid texts to narrate and inform through writing as well as 3D images (Bintz & Ciecierski, 2017).  Asked to imagine that their avatars would be displayed in a national museum, the students reflected on current social, political, and economic issues, and they considered what they wanted to tell the public.  On Google Slides or Google Sites, each student wrote an autobiographical statement to accompany his avatar in which he responded to the following questions: a) What is your first name?; b) How old are you?; c) In what grade are you?; d) What is your favorite subject in high school?; e) How do you spend your free time?; f) Of what are you the most proud?; g) Who has had the biggest influence on your life?  Why?; h) What current political, social, and/or economic issues concern you the most?  Explain; i) What issues in the local community concern you the most?; j) What does your future hold?; and k) What else would you like to tell people?

            During the workshop, Tressler engaged students in an exploration of 3D technologies in an interactive format.  He showed images of scanned objects and people as well as design features.  Tressler taught the students how to download and use the TRNIO scanning app.  With parental permission, they used iPhones to scan one another in order to generate avatars.  Each young student had the option of adding facial expressions.  To protect the students’ privacy, all files were deleted from the TRNIO server.  No avatars were published on the Internet. 

Tressler engaged in spontaneous discussions with students about the use of avatars in video games and films.  He spoke about developments in avatar technologies that are forthcoming.  In the near future, realistic avatars, generated rapidly with handheld devices, will speak and emote.  Users will choose appropriate environments for their avatars, including historic settings.  Students will engage in virtual travels in time and space.  

Figure 1:  Student (right) explored 3D technologies with Tressler (left).

The authors worked with student volunteers to demonstrate 3D printing by an Ultimaker II.  Because the digitization of the Lincoln Life Mask had inspired the staff at the Smithsonian to approach Obama about a 3D portrait, a STL file of the Lincoln Life Mask was downloaded and printed using PLA filament, which is nontoxic and biodegradable.  At the time of the project, the 3D file of Obama had not been released to the public. 

Research Methods

Action research is a participative, systematic approach to understanding the process of learning (Efron & Ravid, 2013; Mertler, 2014).  Because mixed-methods approaches to research offer insights into multi-faceted questions, they were adopted by the researchers (Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2009).  Mixed methods strengthen inferences and cull diverse views (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011; Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2009).  Jennifer Greene (2007) wrote, “…a mixed methods study seeks broader, deeper, and more comprehensive social understandings by using methods that tap into different facets or dimensions of the same complex phenomenon…results from the different methods serve to elaborate, enhance, deepen, and broaden the overall interpretations and inferences from the study” (p. 101).

            The researchers created an eight-item survey, with an embedded design, for distribution in hard copy upon completion of the project.  The survey included four Likert-scale items.  The students indicated the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with these statements: a) Creating a realistic avatar increased my interest; b) Including an avatar with my statement made the communication more powerful; c) I would like to use realistic avatars in my social studies classes; and d) Avatar technologies should be explored in schools.  After each item, the students were asked to explain their responses. 

The survey had two fixed-choice questions to assess students’ familiarity with video games and avatars: a) Do you play video games? and b) Before this project, had you ever seen avatars in video games or movies?  The students had the option of responding “yes” or “no.”  The final two items on the survey were open ended.  To gain understanding of the participants’ views of 3D-printed portraits and avatars, they were asked to write responses to these questions: What do you think about having 3D printed portraits of yourself and others in museums, homes, and other places? and What additional comments about avatars and/or 3D printing do you have?

Fifteen of the 18 (83.33%) students completed the optional and anonymous surveys.  For the calculation of percentages, the authors manually entered the data into the cloud-based site, Survey Monkey.  They prepared graphs with the graphing tool of the National Center for Education Statistics.  In addition to reading the students’ comments multiple times, the researchers repeatedly reviewed the students’ autobiographical statements. 

On avatar technologies, they conducted a semi-structured interview with Tressler.  This action-research project was noncommercial and autonomous; it was not sponsored by TRNIO. 

Findings

  The students recognized the impact of having strong likenesses with their written communication.  They had the option of adding some facial expressions to their avatars.  Over 86% of the students strongly agreed (60%) or agreed (26.67%) that including avatars with their statements had made the communication more powerful.  Two students (13.33%) disagreed.  The following comments were representative:

With 3D scanning, faithful and compelling portraits can be rendered.  The strongest finding in this study was that all students either strongly agreed (66.67%) or agreed (33.33%) that creating a realistic avatar had increased their interest.  As was the Smithsonian’s 3D Obama portrait, the students’ avatars were based on data.

  • I really think the avatar is cool because it’s a mixture of science and history.
  • Realistic avatars show how people feel.
  • The avatar increased my interest because my creative skills came out.
  • It made it more powerful because it was like I was actually there saying everything.
  •  (The avatar) added a lot of extra information.
  • People will think it’s true.
Figure 2.  Including an avatar with my statement made the communication more powerful.
Figure 3.  Avatar technologies should be explored in schools.

The majority of the students (73.33%) indicated that they would like to use realistic avatars in their social studies classes.  Sixty percent strongly agreed, 13.33% agreed, 20% were neutral, and 6.67% disagreed.  They commented on how avatars draw attention, bring things to life, and serve as strong visuals.  With the statement, “Avatar technologies should be explored in schools,” 93.33% strongly agreed (53.33%) or agreed (40%).  One student (6.67%) was neutral.  Students wrote the following comments:

  • It’s an interesting, fun way to learn.
  • It would make kids more involved and interested.
  • …kids would learn better.

 Media consumption by children and teens in the United States has been steadily increasing due to the ubiquity of mobile devices (Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010; Katz, Felix, & Gubernick, 2014).  Over 93% of the students, who participated in this action-research study, indicated that they played video games.  Eighty percent had seen avatars in video games or movies before the project.  Self-reports by adolescents suggest that playing strategic video games may improve problem-solving skills (Adachi & Willoughby, 2013).  Virtual spaces are integral to the lives of teens and young adults today.  In the manifesto, We, the Web Kids, Polish writer, Piotr Czerski (2012), wrote, “The Internet to us is not something external to reality but a part of it: an invisible yet constantly present layer intertwined with the physical environment.  We do not use the Internet; we live on the Internet and along it” (para. 1).

The Smithsonian transferred Barack Obama’s portrait to the National Portrait Gallery, where it was placed on display.  On the survey, the students wrote about the prospect of having printed, 3D portraits of themselves and others in museums, homes, and other places.  They expressed an interest in viewing such portraits, and they commented on the value of having a legacy.  When asked to share comments about the avatar project, students used adjectives such as “fun,” “cool,” “great,” “interesting,” “fantastic,” and “rich.”  One young man stated that he would be interested in the development of 3D technologies as a career.  During the project, other students conveyed similar goals verbally to the authors.   

On Google Slides and Google Sites, the students wrote autobiographical statements to accompany avatars.  They communicated concerns about social, economic, and political issues.  Global warming, pollution, and racism were the dominant issues.  “We create factories, cars, and plastics that pollute the earth.  I think that if we keep doing what we’re currently doing, we might make the earth unsafe for future generations,” stated a student.

Writing around the time of President Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-Un of North Korea, the students also expressed worry about the potential outbreak of war.  “The current political issue that scares me the most is the issue with us and North Korea,” wrote one student.  Of local community issues, crime and littering were primary.  “The issue in the local community that concerns me the most is the crime rate because it moves people out of the neighborhood, which brings down the population,” wrote one young man.  “I want the crime to go down in my city so that we don’t have to be worried…when we are outside,” stated another.

When asked about the future, the students described aspirations such as attending college, becoming entrepreneurs, entering skilled trades, and starting families.  In response to the prompt, “What else would you like to tell people?”, the majority of students offered forward-looking and encouraging messages.  “I would like to tell people to spread positivity and help us create a better community,” wrote one young man.  “What I want to tell people is that you should take your education seriously because it is the best way to become successful later in your life,” stated another.  “I would like to tell people to keep strong,” wrote a third.

Discussion

In video games and films and as icons on social media sites and blogs, avatars are pervasive.  Because they exist in artificial space, they challenge notions of embodiment (Leaver, 2012).  Self-avatars increase users’ sense of presence in virtual environments (Wolfendale, 2007).  Although they may intentionally alter phenotypic characteristics (Graber & Graber, 2011; Villani, Gatti, Triberti, Confalonieri, & Riva, 2016) when designing avatars, people often integrate aspects of their identities (Carruth & Hill, 2015).  Businesses, libraries, and universities have piloted programs in virtual worlds, such as Second Life, though the platform does not lend itself for use by K-12 students presently (Mon, 2012; Schultz, 2010).  With templates, users of Second Life customize avatars, cultivate social relationships, own land, and engage in business transactions (Schechtman, 2012).  With over 600,000 regular users, Second Life offers avatar-mediated communication (Koda, Ishida, Rehm, & André, 2009).  Often imaginative, avatars in Second Life may be viewed as a form of new media art (Liao, 2008). 

With facial expressions and gestures, empathic avatars, referred to as animated pedagogical agents, have been used in computer-aided learning programs to motivate students to continue working (Chen, Lee, Wang, Chao, Li, & Lee, 2012).  In affective computing or artificial emotional intelligence, computer scientists and cognitive psychologists study the recognition and simulation of emotions by computers and devices.  Interpretations of the facial expressions of avatars vary by culture (Koda, Ishida, Rehm, & André, 2009).  Affective computing has implications for education, neuroscience, medicine, and other fields (Calvo, D’Mello, Gratch, & Kappas, 2015; Powell, Garner, Tonks, & Lee, 2017). 

Three-dimensional models of people and artifacts in the collections of the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, and other institutions advance historical knowledge.  Internationally, 3D imaging is being used to capture threatened objects and sites; the Institute for Digital Archaeology is currently collaborating with UNESCO.  Evaluating sources and using evidence is the critical third dimension of the inquiry arc in the social studies (National Council for the Social Studies, 2013).  Lévesque (2008), wrote, “The intellectual ability to collect, process, analyze, and cross-reference evidence is crucial to an informed citizenry” (p. 115).

Figure 4: A student selected facial expressions for his avatar.

What is unique about the TRNIO app is its nearly instantaneous generation of three-dimensional, realistic likenesses with handheld devices.  In a photogrammetric process, between 10 and 70 pictures of each subject are taken.  The pictures are then digitally meshed together.  Blender and SketchUp Make software can be used to model 3D images; both are user-friendly and free.  It should be noted that the TRNIO app is still under development.  Several scans had to be redone during the project.  In his interview, Tressler stated that TRNIO is currently developing a web-based platform for classroom use.

Because 3D scanning renders images of high fidelity, a 3D video file offers a record of the subject at a particular point in time.  The use of realistic avatars is in alignment with goals for the study of history as students consider people in time and space (Drake & Nelson, 2005).  In creating realistic avatars, the students, who participated in the project, left “traces” of themselves (Seixas & Morton, 2013, pp. 50-51).  When they critiqued real, contemporary issues, they engaged in democratic education (Beyer, 1996).  In their statements, the students took identificatory and analytical stances as they weighed the history of the present (Barton & Levstik, 2004).  As embodiments of people within virtual environments, avatars enhance expression.  Lifelike representations may increase the persuasiveness and effectiveness of communication (Schultz, 2010).  With high degrees of representational fidelity, the avatars afford authenticity, increase ways of knowing, and amplify individuals’ voices.  The majority of the students in the study felt that the inclusion of the avatars had made their statements more powerful.  The likenesses offered vitality, realism, and agency.  They enhanced performative value. 

Projects that respect students’ voices increase their interest in exploring content (Hidi & Renninger, 2006).  Writers use voice to speak to and connect emotionally with audiences (Fletcher, 2006).  Writers are motivated to write to authentic audiences, which may be themselves (Murray, 1982) or authentic or fictionalized readers (Ede & Lunsford, 1984; Ong, 1975; Steinbeck, 1975).  Expanding the audience beyond the classroom increases the authenticity of a task (Duke, Purcell-Gates, Hall, & Tower, 2006) and creates more interest (Hidi & Harackiewicz, 2000).  In the avatar project, students created authentic, hybrid texts as they communicated through writing and three-dimensional representations (Bintz & Ciecierski, 2017).  

Implications

 Inquiry design and technological exploration are pedagogically synergistic (Magana, 2017).  Students are motivated to use technology and to create media (Unrath & Mudd, 2011).  To support learning, openness to new literacies (Kern & Bean, 2018; Kist, 2012), including screen-based texts, is vital.  Reflecting on today’s youth, Unrath and Mudd (2011) stated, “[They] are increasingly multi-modal, alternatively literate and technologically driven.  Their world demands the ability to think critically, create and re-create, and combine and recombine multiple sources to produce something new” (p. 10).

Figure 5: Inspired by the project, a student conducted research on 3D printing.

As 3D technologies develop, avatars and 3D prints will combine representational fidelity with customization.  TRNIO is currently working with artists on garments and hairstyles for avatars.  Other software developers are designing sketch interfaces to enable users to draw personalized garments on avatars (Yu, Qin, Sun, & Wright, 2012).  In the future, students will be able to place their avatars in diverse, including historic, digital settings.  Such visual landscapes will offer “imaginative entry” into the past (Levstik & Barton, 2001, p. 78).  Potentially, avatars could be used to increase students’ telepresence in virtual, educational contexts. 

Conclusion

            The exploration of 3D technologies engages students in deeper learning while advancing educational objectives in the social studies and English language arts.  Three-dimensional images are records of people and objects at specific points in time.  The realism of scanned portraits increases agency and credibility.  Students perceive the inclusion of personal avatars with written statements as enhancements to communication.  Though still in the early stages of development, technologies for the creation of realistic avatars in classroom settings are promising.  This study suggests that 3D technologies have the potential to build upon and generate students’ interests and skills.

References

Adachi, P. J. C., & Willoughby, T.  (2013).  More than just fun and games: The longitudinal relationships between strategic video games, self-reported problem solving skills, and academic grades.  Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(7), 1041–1052.

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Barton, K. C., & Levstik, L. S.  (2004).  Teaching history for the common good.  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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Berdic, N., Dragan, D., Mihic, S., & Anisic, Z.  (2017).  Creation and use of 3D full body avatars.  Annals of the Faculty of Engineering, 15(1), 29 –34.

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