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Putting the "social" in social studies

November 24, 2009
at 5:16 pm PST

Maps—for many of us, they were the bane of our existence during social studies and history classes. From learning about our own state and its capital, we moved on to being required to know each state in the union and its capital. Soon we were putting together little rhymes and phrases to help us remember which Scandinavian and Latin American country was which.

For those of us with poor memories, maps were evil in paper form, rolled up and taunting us from their perches above the chalkboard or glaring at us from our desk, challenging us to identify the names of the landmasses separated by squiggly black lines and dry, two-dimensional oceans.

Once the maps were memorized to the best of our abilities and the tests taken to prove it, the rich history of these far off lands and the cultures of their inhabitants were soon narrated to us from the pages of books. We were taught by people who, more often than not, had never traversed the squiggly black lines and stepped foot in those countries.

Minds were filled with stories of battles, revolutions, military coups, the rise and fall of empires and the erasing and subsequent redrawing of the squiggly black lines. But we never once saw these places for ourselves. Many of us never would.

But that was then, and this is now. Technology innovations like TANDBERG’s video teleconferencing (VTC) solutions have since erased and redrawn the boundaries of how we teach all subjects, but especially social studies.

In 2009 a new program called the Global Classroom Project was begun at four schools, including Colvin Run Elementary School in Fairfax, VA. The Global Classroom Project utilizes VTC solutions to connect students from classrooms in places like Colvin Run to students around the world, where they can discuss their cultures, lives and outlook on world news and events.

Unlike in the past, students are now communicating face-to-face with people thousands of miles away and with very different cultures via VTC. This provides not only a window into another culture, but a first-hand look at the people and places that were previously only available in words and pictures on a page. In addition to promoting collaboration and understanding with people of other cultures, it’s also creating a feeling of oneness with people who are so culturally different, yet so similar in many ways.

The benefits to the students at places like Colvin Run don’t end with the rich educational experience and cultural understanding they receive. Awareness and acceptance of new technologies is being integrated into lessons about geography and social studies. They’re essentially learning technology and social studies together.

VTC is empowering a richer, fuller educational experience and opening a window to a world that was previously confined to the pages of a text book. Now that’s a new way of learning for a world without borders.

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