iCivics: Social Studies and Civic Learning


iCivics.org is a great resource for secondary educators teaching social studies, government, and civics courses. Originally founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the non-profit site provides full-unit lesson plans, interactive activities and games to engage students on important topics such as the foundations of government, the Constitution of the United States of America, and the 3 branches of government. There are also a wide variety of interesting games to help students apply their knowledge in real-life situations. (The games are created in part by Filament Games – the same company who works with the JASON project and BrainPop!)

All of the materials on  the site are free, but there are additional resources and game-play options when teachers and students create free accounts. I forwarded the link to the Social Studies teachers on my campus, especially since a lot of the curriculum matches up with the 8th Grade curriculum here in the state of Texas. It seems like they have enjoyed using it so far – hopefully it can help you, too!


SoulPancake – Ideas for inspiring creativity

SoulPancake is a site co-created by Rainn Wilson with different creative “activities” that people can submit to answer some of “life’s big questions.” On the site, it gives people options to upload pictures or written responses to some interesting prompts, questions, and photos. A junior high teacher might not want their students to post directly on the site for privacy reasons, and some of the topics would not quite be age-appropriate for our students. However, t I think it’s worth exploring to find some engaging writing prompts for warm-ups or other practice. You could also see what others have submitted and maybe bring those back to your class to open up a discussion?

Here are some of the topics I found that seemed like they might be cool for middle-level students:

No-Stalgia: List 5 things that you are glad that you never have to experience again

Write your Biography in 10 words or less

Tweeting to the Oldies: Describe the sights, sounds, and smells of your grandparents in 140 characters or less

TEDEd – Lessons Worth Sharing

What Causes the Phases of the Moon Lesson Page

So I’ve been a fan of TED videos and the TED Radio Hour on NPR for both personal and teaching use, but I can’t believe I hadn’t explored the full lessons available on TEDEd before. We just finished studying the phases of the moon in my 8th Grade Science class, but I know this is a topic that many of my students struggle with. I am always looking for more lessons and different ways to address the topic, so I was excited when I found a link for this video on Twitter. When I got to the page, I was surprised to find that there was a whole “flipped” format lesson to go along with it, including assessment questions, supporting reading materials, and an open-discussion question. The format would be great to assign to students as an independent flipped lesson through something like Edmodo, but I could also see a teacher very easily using the materials in a whole class activity with face-to-face discussions, too. I love how it is a small chunk of information presented and assessed in a variety of ways – perfect for differentiated instruction in a junior high classroom!

There are hundreds of lessons organized by content area, and you can even see how many times they have been viewed or used by other people. Obviously, I am particularly excited to share that there are over 5 pages of videos for Science alone, but there are also interesting and engaging resources for math, literature, social studies, health, and psychology, among other topics.

Since the videos are short (usually 6 minutes or less) and the material is well organized, it would be easy to incorporate one of them as a warm-up or hook as you are starting a new lesson. Let me know if you find one that works for your class!


The Concord Consortium – Middle Grade Resources

The Concord Consortium – Middle Grade Resources

Like the PHeT simulations I mentioned last week, the Concord Consortium has all kinds of virtual labs and simulations perfect for the middle school Science classroom. They put a big emphasis in STEM education, so there are also lessons and activities for math and engineering, as well. I am making sure to bookmark simulations on Earthquake prediction and graphing motion for future use in my 8th grade classroom this year. 

PhET Interactive Simulations


PhET Interactive Simulations

The University of Colorado Boulder continues to update the interactive science simulations on the PhET website. These free sims are excellent ways to expose students to often complicated topics in new ways. The site was originally designed to deliver physics simulations and virtual labs, but they now offer all kinds of tools for chemistry, biology, graphing, and other math/science topics. I recently discovered the teacher resources, that include lesson plans, handouts, and assessments that help teachers better integrate these simulations into their classrooms in a meaningful way. Users can upload their own activities or documents, and as they are reviewed, the best ones are given “gold star”, high quality status.

Big History

Big History

This site is described as a free, online social studies course for secondary students. Although social studies is mentioned initially, I found a great deal of connections and lessons that specifically match my 8th Grade Science standards, including life cycle of stars, relationships between ecosystems and living organisms, and basic chemistry. I love that it works to answer big questions about the universe and major developments that have occurred throughout its history.

The Big History site is extremely well organized, and includes all kinds of resources for teachers. There are PDF documents, lessons, notes, quizzes, and explanations on how units might be used complete or as parts added into an existing curriculum.  There are also a few extremely detailed PBLs (Project-Based Learning Assignments) in the Buck institute format. The PBL documents even have day-to-day guides and very helpful tips for implementation.

Teachers must sign up for an account, but it is completely free and I received my confirmation email immediately. I think that the resources available on Big History would be great for Pre-AP level Science and Social Studies at the middle school and high-school level.