I have decided to ditch a traditional pre-made curriculum for ‘Social Studies’ in favor of making my own with a little help from the Core Knowledge Teacher’s Handbooks. The books give me a list of what to teach, how much time to spend on each subject, and the information I should be covering. They also come with some worksheets and hand-outs.
This gives me a great place to start, but I’m on my own when it comes time to design the individual lessons. This is where things get tricky for me. Fact regurgitation is no way to teach history. It’s boring, ineffective, and doesn’t really impress any sort of interest in the subject at all. History should be fun! It’s fascinating, but how do I show my kids that? This is where History Pockets comes in.
History Pockets is a series of projects, coloring sheets, and fact sheets on multiple topics, all related, assembled into a book. Each subject gets its own ‘pocket’, a collection of the projects and fact sheets assembled in a construction paper pocket. For example, the Ancient Civilization book contains ‘pockets’ for six different ancient cultures, one chapter for each, with an extra chapter for the study of ancient cultures in general. There are many books, covering subjects such as Native Americans, the Revolutionary War, Life in the Colonies, and so many others. You can purchase a paper book to copy as much as you want, or you can buy an ebook to print as you chose. Personally, I love the ebook. I don’t have to fuss with the copier, I just select the pages I need, print, and I’m ready to go.
The books are rated by grade. There is a small set covering grades 1 – 3, and a larger set covering grades 4 – 6. I find the grade rating to be fairly flexible. I can easily use most of the 4 – 6 material in my 1st grade class, and I imagine some of the fact sheets in the 1 – 3 set might work for grades beyond 3rd. Obviously, you have to pick and chose if you are stretching the grades, but the material definitely allows it. The projects require supervision at lower grade levels, but more advanced projects could easily be independent work for older students.
I use the projects to enhance the material we’re covering. When we learn about the Roman senate, there’s a project to build a mini-book of the Twelve Tables. This lets us look at what Roman law actually contained, reinforces vocabulary like patrician and plebeian, lets us practice Roman numerals, and turns history into a hands-on project.
The flexability of History Pockets is excellent in implementation too. You could go through and do each project, in order, or you can use the projects more relevant to what you’re teaching. I do the later. When I find a chapter that covers a topic we’re studying, I look for projects that will enhance the material. I use them for either in-class teaching, or as independent work, depending on the material. We never construct a ‘pocket’ at all, but I could see the value in doing so. I can imagine History Pockets being excellent for unit studies and lap books too.
The only downside I could see would be material coverage and price. If the material you want to cover isn’t exactly what the pocket covers, you might not be able to use it all. For example, when we study Native American tribes, only about half of the tribes have History Pocket coverage. Those tribes work well, but the other tribes get left out. They can only do so much, I suppose. Also, at 16 – 17$ a piece, the price isn’t outrageous. If you want several of them though, it can add up (like the seven and counting I already own). They do offer complete collections at discounted prices. In hindsight, I probably should have just gotten the complete sets.
Pros: Flexible, fun, with a good range of coverage
Cons: Price can add up, may not fit perfectly with custom curriculum