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Awareness. Something so critical but, at times, so difficult to teach. While our students are constantly exposed to different ideas, cultures, stereotypes, opinions, and values, their true understanding of how the world works can get misconstrued by what they see on the news, read on social media, and hear from family or friends. In addition to teaching content and skills, teachers are challenged with the awesome task of also helping shape our youth into strong-minded, considerate human beings. With this challenge comes great responsibility, effective planning, and willingness to discuss tough worldly issues in the classroom...a task that can be uncomfortable and difficult in a diverse student environment.

During my observations this week, I started to reflect on how important it is for teachers to have these difficult, crucial conversations with our students and also incorporate activities where students have to share their thoughts, listen, and expand their understanding while learning from their classmates. Our Social Studies department must do this on a consistent basis as they teach history, current events, the human mind, and the functioning of human society. In a world full of conflicting views and values, I find it refreshing that a Social Studies classroom provides the opportunity for students to open up their minds and become more aware.

Human perception can lead to conflict, and in Mr. Joe Polanski's AP Human Geography classes, he focused on this idea as he taught his students how to differentiate between stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. He asked some tough questions about perception and used pictures, references, and real-world connections in order to motivate students to share their thoughts and views. As with all classrooms at our school, Mr. Polanski's classroom holds a diverse group of learners, and as I observed, it came to my mind that many of our students have been affected by human perception personally and culturally. While this conversation is tough to have in a diverse setting, it is necessary if we want to build a community of students who are culturally aware and mindful of others.

Topics like religion, social control, reproduction, birth control, abortion, and politics play an important role in Ms. Mandy Kontos' Sociology classes as students learn more about human society. It was interesting to observe student reactions to behaviors and rituals that they were not familiar with. This week, class discussions and student work centered on religion, and the students' reactions to this work provided evidence that there is much they don't know when it comes to religion and belief systems outside of their personal experiences. This class offers variety and perspective for students by making them more culturally aware and understanding of how and why other people live their lives. Students were asked to meet in small groups to discuss a variety of questions about faith and religion. These discussions were face to face but Ms. Kontos also asked her students to respond to the questions as a group on Google Classroom. She utilized the question feature in Classroom so that all groups could contribute and share their discussions with the rest of the class. The conversations were rich and insightful; students were engaged and listening to each other. By providing a digital component, groups were then responsible for sharing evidence of their discussion and learning. Similar to Mr. Polanski's class, it became obvious from their conversations that the classroom encompassed a diverse set of students who all came from various religious backgrounds. Due to this lesson and activity, Ms. Kontos' students walked out of the classroom knowing more about other groups in our society and why behaviors, reactions, and rituals are so important to different groups of people.

In another classroom at our school, Mr. Andy Voller's senior Government students busily worked on their Civic Engagement projects - a great requirement for all seniors taking Government. This project asks the students to do something good for the world, outside of the classroom. Mr. Voller explained to me that students are able to work in groups and pick something they are passionate about to focus on for this project. In addition to researching and gaining more awareness about the topic, students must present their information to the class and do something connected to their work in the community. One student explained to me that her group researched the importance of bees and what they contribute to the environment. Her eyes lit up as she explained their research and how they planted native plants in the prairie in order to sustain the bee population. Their research was extensive, and it became quite clear how much appreciation and passion they developed by completing this project - appreciation and passion they might not ever have gained without an opportunity to do so. By asking the students to present to their classmates, their new awareness about a worldly issue will spread even more awareness to their peers. What an awesome way to give our students ownership!

While these classroom examples only provide a small glimpse into the important responsibility that comes with being a teacher, it is obvious that our Social Studies teachers are working diligently to help shape our youth into the strong-minded, considerate students I referenced above. Someone has to challenge their thinking and expand their awareness, and in doing so, our teachers are decreasing ignorance and instead, igniting equality, acceptance, and empathy. #whatsup