What are your must-have classroom tools?  How do you integrate them into your lessons in order to encourage student understanding?

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We've bought into some US and World History Google Earth content, so we have been using Google Earth pretty frequently.  In these lessons, students use the generic yellow "place markers" to locate cities, etc.  They also have primary source historic "place markers", which link to visual or text primary sources.  Students use the polygon and line tools to draw boundaries or show areas (for example, the boundaries of the Iron Curtain).  Using their background knowledge as well as the resources, they have an open ended question to complete as a group or individual presentation.

I hope this is relevant.  My wife and I are taking a 400-day around-the-world journey to raise geo-literacy in K-12 students. We will be publishing emails, photos and video from 50 counties and 6 continents.  We leave in January.  So, perhaps this will be useful next Winter/Spring term.  You can see an example here:  http://www.trekkingtheplanet.net/docs/W02_Hawaii_Education_Module.pdf

We could sure use your help.  Can you say whether this is relevant in your classroom?  If not, what should we change in order to make it easier to leverage?  We plan on producing 64 of these modules.  We have produced 11 so far.  Our materials are totally free.  They are published under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerial 3.0 Unported license.  This means they can be freely copied, distributed and transmitted.  They can also be used to produce derivative works (e.g., book reports).  We are also hoping to field questions from students while we are on the road.  



Darren, this is awesome.  It would totally be relevant in a classroom setting to give students a sense of how big the world is.  For my students, some of whom never leave the state of Louisiana, this is a great tool to pique their interest in other places.  I was wondering about the possiblity of whether or not you would be open to answering questions from students after they have had the opportunity to look at the modules.


Thank you so much for the work you are doing.



Yes. This is our plan. We want to have a two-way conversation. This will increase engagement and help us to further engage kids.

This is not the first time we have done this. In 2003/4 we took our two daughters around the world. While we were gone, we sent weekly emails with pictures home to our kids' school. We found out later that these emails were read to all of the students! When we were nearing the end of our trip, we sent out a final email to ask for questions. We got a ton of them. We built a whole presentation and delivered it after we returned. Our daughters presented too!

So, you see that Trekking the Planet, takes the whole experience to the next level.   Emails and pictures like last time, but also video and these educational modules.  We even have a map on our home page.  It uses Google Latitude which is a free service which tracks our location.  I wouldn't normally use such a service.  But, for the trip, it's perfect. Oh and one more thing is that we hope to visit schools when we are on the trip.  So this is another opportunity for "two-way" conversation.  Still working on this one.


We have set up a Twitter account and Facebook page.  It's pretty easy to post with either tool.  We will also accept questions by email info@trekkingtheplanet.net.



That is seriously the coolest thing I have ever heard of. I had the opportunity to visit  a school in India and that was a great experience. Your approach is not only unique but is in fact relevant to students and teachers. Being able to follow your journey across the globe and look into the lives of real people is so much better than reading a textbook. I for one, am looking forward to hearing more.


If you don't mind. I've started my own free social studies web-resource: www.gosocialstudiesgo.com do you mind if I incorporate this?


Good luck to you guys




Hi Ken,

I just finished reviewing your site, www.gosocialstudiesgo.com and I think it's AWESOME! I love the book technology that you are using - It was great to flip through some of the resources that you have curated. I'm sure that was a lot of work!  I see that you have used a lot of video which I think is so powerful with kids these days. I reviewed your online book on the Sahel.  I found it relevant, because we just finished our education module on Burkina Faso.  In our module, we briefly cover the Sahel under the physical geography section of this country.


Of course, you can corporate our materials!  They are published under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerial 3.0 Unported license. This means they can be freely copied, distributed and transmitted.  They can also be used to produce derivative works. The only limitation is that Trekking the Planet receives attribution (credit) and that they remain under Creative Commons on your site.  For more information see: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/.

Thank you so much for your encourangement.  It means a lot to us!  If you have any other questions, you can reach me at darren@trekkingtheplanet.net. 


Best of luck!



I, too, love this idea and am now receiving your email updates, etc. Is there a possibility to set up skyping into classrooms? Somehow a sign-up for days because you don't want to spend each day doing that. But it would be great to interact with students in your locations. I also follow you on twitter and fb and have let other educators know. Good luck planning and thanks for involving #sschat - we are a dedicated, interactive bunch.
I have a classroom projector and use selections from Susan Pojer's PPT Poolooza files from time to time.  I have also a HD filled with PBS documentaries that I can how selections from on a semi-regular basis.  I have an internet connection and have begun using polleverywhere, but I am a newbie at it.  I have moderated an online discussion forum through activeboard.com for about 5 years with good to mixed results.  I use the four corners method for pre-covering classroom discussion issues.  I've also used the fishbowl method when the class dynamics allow.  I don't have enough textbooks in my class for students to use.  We don't have enough to send them home.  I have 5 broken desktops in the room from 1998.  I highlight websites for students on my site: http://nbleadership.com but would greatly like to increase the student interaction on the site with student blogs and more student content.  That's all I can think of for now, but I am very appreciative of any suggestions, questions, comments, etc.  Thanks.
These are the tools I plan on using most in my classroom next year: http://livebinders.com/play/play_or_edit?id=110855

I certainly need to make a literal comprehensive toolbox, but Diigo is a must for us.  While not necessarily Social Studies specific, it is a must for us.  If you and your students work a lot online, Diigo can be used in several ways. 

  • First, students often complain about so many sites, logins, accounts, etc. given the numerous tools we use, so their first "list" in Diigo is their "My Stuff" list where they house their links to every site at which they have accounts they use regularly.
  • Second, we use it to conduct collaborative social group research.  Students bookmark best links for project resources.  Ultimately, students group themselves for projects, based on their own interests, because they naturally gravitate toward others with similar interests in topical areas.
  • Additionally, we use it to facilitate discussion and commentary on each others research, given the annotating and commenting features. 
  • And, we have started using it a viable search tool, too, versus a simple Google search because it is content that has already been bookmarked by someone else as worthy and often, contains some annotations that are helpful.

While most people take Diigo as a simple social bookmarking tool, its functionality extends way beyond that.  I have students who contact me once they've moved on to college to thank me for this tool because it has been invaluable to them in their college career.

Thanks Suzie, have thought about this before and now will def look into getting all kids set up. Learning how to search and create lists is such an important skill for students today.
Suzie it is great to hear about how you are using Diigo. I am a big fan both for myself and for its application in school. Sadly it has not taken off at my current placement, but I am holding out hope. I think teachers need to feel its power first. I wish Google Apps had a similar feature since my students are becoming more fluent in Google apps.


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