SCHOOL AWAY FROM SCHOOL: Study materials for a DGN social studies class. Visit the “In-Depth” tab on our website for coverage on e-learning in other departments. (Photo by Madeline Schallmoser)
SCHOOL AWAY FROM SCHOOL: Study materials for a DGN social studies class. Visit the “In-Depth” tab on our website for coverage on e-learning in other departments.

Photo by Madeline Schallmoser

Overcoming Online: Social studies classes deal with current events, modern challenges

September 14, 2020

The challenges of e-learning in social studies classes may not seem as obvious as departments like fine arts and science, but they are pressing nonetheless. While a whirlwind of current events provides interesting content for social studies classes, the current learning environment makes both teaching and learning these events more difficult.

Social studies teachers have the power to turn many of today’s learning struggles into learning tools. DGN offers 20 social studies classes, listed in page 74 of the District’s Academic Planning Guide. Curriculum in these classes is often connected to historically significant events that are actively taking place, and, in such a historical year, there is no shortage of discussion topics. 

Social studies department chair Michael Roethler notes that having plenty of things to discuss comes with its own set of challenges, as technology impedes the conversation based nature of social studies classes. 

“I think all social studies courses really drive to look at modern issues. How do we wrestle with, grapple with, and solve these issues facing our world today? That just takes conversation, and conversation is hard to do on this platform, “ Roethler said. “The technology is glitchy…it’s really hard to have those natural conversations about things in this Zoom environment.”

Roethler emphasized two main changes to course structure, intended to optimize student learning with limited instructional time. The first being a school wide change, weekly calendars from each class allowing students to see assignments, learning goals, and deadlines. 

The second change regards content in social studies classes. Teachers are encouraged to take a big picture approach in order to maximize understanding of main ideas with fewer examples. Roethler cited the study of the New Deal in US History classes as an example. 

“Well, there’s 20 different New Deal programs that get at that [main] idea, but maybe this year we’re not gonna talk about all 20. Maybe it’s only gonna be two, but that’s okay because kids will get to that big idea and still wrestle with and understand the concept,” Roethler said. 

E-learning can strain student-teacher relationships, but Roethler remains impressed with the engagement of his students, and hopes they will continue to form bonds and seek help when necessary. 

“I’ve been really impressed with the student body and how engaged they are, how they are willing and wanting to be engaged in school,” Roethler said.

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