Fri Jul 11th, 2008 at 03:21:30 AM EST
I have recently switched jobs, and am now a real and proper teacher at a combined middle/high school in a dumpy city on the outskirts of Tokyo. Follow me below the fold for an amusing tale of teaching, English, woe, and a subject near and dear to the hearts of ET readers everywhere . . . graphs!
Evidence graphs are not boring - Promoted by Migeru
I teach at a "International School." Not one of the real International Schools, set up for the children of foreigners and ex-pats living in Japan for a few years, but an "International School" for Japanese students who want to learn English in an immersive environment. Some of the students went to English-focused elementary schools, and are good. Some of them are returnees who have lived abroad and have excellent English skills. Others are neither, and (when starting the program, at least) speak next to no English at all.
Fortunately, the language of instruction is English!
At my new school, I teach four classes, including a section of World History and a section of Social Studies. The Social Studies course is for middle-school first year students, who are about 12 years old now, and will likely turn 13 sometime during the course of the year.
In that class, I have 10 students. One lived in Canada for much of her youth, and is very good. Two are exceptionally hard workers with reasonable English listening and reading skills. Two went to an elementary school with a strong English program, and know a few hundred words and some basic grammar. Five are completely clueless.
So, how to teach social studies in English to students who can neither read or speak English? Maps and Graphs.
They can't read English, but numbers and pictures are universal. I can hang a few English words around these, and call it a day.
Much to my surprise, the students LOVE making graphs!
For a while, at the beginning of every class, one or two students would ask me, in a pleading voice, "Sensei, graphu? Graphu?" Or, "Teacher, are we going to be making graphs today?"
I give them a table of numbers, be it climate statistics, crime rates, or fish catches, and they'll happily work away at a graph. I still have to remind them to properly label their graphs and whatnot, but they're actually pretty good. They've figured out a variety of different presentation types on their own. All I explicitly taught them was the bar graph and the line graph, but playing around with those two basic forms the students have come up with all kinds of different, and generally valid, ways of displaying data sets. I've even had them combine data using averages, and graph differences over time.
However, I'm having a few problems, which I hope the ET community might be able to help me with.
First of all, aside from a few courses in Psych statistics, I've never studied much about making or using graphs effectively. I know some of the basics, but until a few months ago had NEVER thought of how to teach graph reading or drawing. I do worry that I'm inadvertently teaching them some bad habits or inappropriate forms.
Second, I often fail miserably to find useful and interesting data for the students to graph, and when I do it's often spread over several pages on different websites, which I then have to laboriously compile for myself in Excel.
What I really want are big compilations of boring tables, tables which, presented properly, can provide hours of educational fun for my students. I hope.
Content-wise, this year I'm covering North and South America, both physical and human geography. I've done a lot of stuff with climate zones so far, and the students sort of understand that concept, a little. But I'd love some data on wildlife populations (at the state or national level, for general species categories - focusing on one particular subspecies of fish is just not appropriate at this level), climate and weather, economic data on production and consumption of obvious things that the students can easily understand, ethnic composition, etc.
Also, if anyone knows where I could find estimated historical population series going back to first contact, and covering Native American populations, that would be great. I'm trying to do a bit of Native American work as well.
I have vague ideas about the econ and pop data, but haven't really worked too much on that aspect because we've not gotten to that segment yet - we're still doing the physical geography of North America.
Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!