ERIC Identifier: ED415179
Publication Date: 1998-01-00
Author: Siler, Carl R.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Spatial Dynamics: An Alternative Teaching Tool in the Social
Studies. ERIC Digest.
In elementary school classrooms students are typically engaged in active
learning; however, as students progress into middle school, high school, and
college, their teachers use less activities-based instruction and more
"intellectual" classroom methodologies. Yet active learning has proven to
increase motivation, develop valuable skills, and enhance learning in students
of all ability levels and grade levels. Teachers at the middle school and high
school levels, therefore, need to incorporate more active learning into their
SPATIAL DYNAMICS: A KEY TO ACTIVE LEARNING
dynamics is an instructional strategy wherein students create large-scale models
that capture their interest by allowing them to participate in learning. That
participation is maximized because students help design and construct the
models. Spatial dynamics activities motivate and enhance the learning of
students of all ability levels and grade levels. Learning styles not
accommodated by more traditional teaching methods are addressed by spatial
dynamics. For example, concrete sequential learners prefer direct, hands-on
activities; a spatial dynamics classroom activity provides abundant
opportunities for such learners. Spatial dynamics activities also demonstrate a
teacher's enthusiasm and commitment to the subject, which further motivates
students and yields high-level cognition and learning.
Teachers who use only one teaching style day after day are denying
opportunities for achievement to their students who may learn more effectively
through a variety of teaching approaches. Furthermore, those teachers quickly
become stale and boring to students. The students then perceive the subject
matter as uninteresting when it is not the subject matter that is boring, but
the teacher's instructional style. Teacher creativity is essential to enhance
the educational experience in the classroom, but it is also needed to keep
teachers and their students active as learners. Spatial dynamics activities
enhance student learning in ways that traditional classroom instruction does
In 1994, the National Council for the Social Studies published EXPECTATIONS
OF EXCELLENCE: CURRICULUM STANDARDS FOR SOCIAL STUDIES as a statement of purpose
and standards for the social studies. In a section of this document on teaching
and learning, a "powerful" social studies curriculum was advocated--one that
would maximally enhance student achievement. A "powerful" social studies
curriculum was identified as one with solid content, containing various
instructional approaches and active learning experiences. Spatial dynamics is
part of this "powerful" social studies curriculum because it is based on sound
social studies content, involves a unique instructional approach, and allows for
active learning. "Powerful" social studies teaching, then, requires teachers who
can create and implement various creative curriculum plans that actively involve
students in the learning process. Finally, exemplary teachers use a variety of
instructional techniques, including physical examples. Using spatial dynamics,
classroom teachers can easily develop activities which provide physical
examples. Spatial dynamics, therefore, is one aspect of a "powerful" social
CLASSROOM FLOOR MODELS
For this Digest, two types of
spatial dynamics activities are discussed. One type involves large-scale
classroom floor maps or floor models. In such an activity, the concrete details
of an historical event are replicated and laid out on the classroom floor. The
chairs are moved next to the walls or into the hall for these activities. One
such activity on the John F. Kennedy (JFK) assassination uses a large-scale map
of Dealey Plaza.
The students, using poster paper, draw the Texas Textbook Depository building
with the famous sixth-floor window. They then build a small car out of balsa
wood for Kennedy and Connally, lay out the street plan, create the grassy knoll,
and make a small replica of Mr. Zapruder, who shot the famous 8 millimeter film
of the assassination. Using this large-scale model on the floor, the teacher
walks the students through the JFK assassination. A creative teacher can also
use primary sources on the assassination such as newspaper articles, CD-ROMs,
videotapes, and oral history information to enhance the lesson. Whatever
ancillary materials the teacher uses, the floor map remains the focal point of
the JFK classroom activity.
Another activity using a large floor model is based on the attack on Pearl
Harbor. In this activity, the classroom floor becomes Pearl Harbor, Ford Island,
and the surrounding Hawaiian waters. Students draw the outlines of the harbor
and Ford Island on the floor and make the various ships in the harbor that day
using flat poster board. After the "ships" are placed in the correct locations,
the teacher walks the students through the attack. The size and visual appeal of
the model stimulates student interest. Again, additional sources such as
videotapes, oral histories, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech
can be used to enhance this activity.
This type of teaching activity can be used in middle school and elementary
school classes, too. In an elementary class, in which state and local history is
usually taught, a large map of the state is laid out on the classroom floor.
Various geographical features, roads, and cities may be added to enhance a
lesson. At the middle school level, this type of activity could easily be
adapted to a study of the Oregon Trail, railroad expansion, or acquisition of
overseas territory by the United States in the late nineteenth century and early
twentieth century. At the high school level, a large map of Europe showing the
various territorial acquisitions of Nazi Germany between 1936 and 1939 could
easily be created. Indeed, use of this type of activity is limited only by the
imagination and creativity of the teacher.
PAPIER MACHE MODELS
A second type of spatial dynamics
activity involves using a papier mache model. This activity requires advance
teacher preparation and a large time commitment; however, the potential for
student learning is extraordinary. Materials needed for this activity are
cardboard, papier mache, paint, balsa wood, and newspaper.
For a unit on the Civil War, the class can construct a model of the
Gettysburg battlefield measuring three feet by six feet. The students outline
the battlefield, including the city of Gettysburg, roads, Culp's Hill, Little
Round Top, Big Round Top, Devil's Den, Cemetery Ridge, and Seminary Ridge, all
according to scale. Next, the papier mache model is created using cardboard and
paint. Students can add rocks and trees, as well as buildings and cannons
constructed out of balsa wood. Finally, students paint the model to add clarity
and accuracy. Teachers can also use this model to stimulate student interest in
other aspects of the war, such as tactics, weapons, use of geography in battles,
and features of common soldiers' lives. Scenes from the movies "Gettysburg" or
"Glory" or the Ken Burns PBS series "Civil War" can enrich student learning when
used in conjunction with the model of the battlefield. Using the papier mache
battlefield as a focal point for a Civil War study adds detail, dimension, and
substance to this topic and promotes active learning.
Another papier mache model that students can make is a World War I
battlefield, approximately three to four feet square, composed of the opposing
trenches and "no man's land." The trench lines with their supporting trenches
and barbed wire and a barren "no man's land" with a downed airplane add realism
to the study of a war. The lesson can focus on the origins of the trenches in
World War I, living conditions in the trenches, and the use of new technologies
invented during this war. The realism of this model can greatly enhance
students' understanding of many aspects of this war.
Papier mache models can be used to illustrate other topics, such as early
American roads and bridges, the Erie Canal, or state and local history. For
example, for a unit on state history, a teacher can use a state road map to cut
an outline of the state, and the students can build a papier mache model
complete with land elevations, rivers, cities, railroads, and roads.
Teachers who use a spatial dynamics activity
must be prepared to expend the extra time and energy necessary. For example, a
spatial dynamics activity demands that the teacher allow ample class time for
students to engage in the activity. Teachers' time is scarce; therefore, they
must be selective in what they teach and the methodologies they use. Because
improved student motivation and learning are just some of the positive outcomes
of the spatial dynamics approach, it is an excellent use of instructional time.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC
Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact
EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852;
telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an
EJ number, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE),
are not available through EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal
section of most larger libraries by using the bibliographic information
provided, requested through Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from commercial
Bradley Commission on History in the Schools. BUILDING A HISTORY IN SCHOOLS.
Washington, DC: Educational Excellence Network, 1988. ED 310 008.
Brant, Heather, and others. MUNCIE REMEMBERS THAT DAY OF INFAMY. Muncie, IN:
Muncie Southside High School, 1993. ED 359 137.
Chatman, Arleen. "Resource-Based Teaching and Learning: Reading, Writing, and
Researching in History-Social Science." SOCIAL SCIENCE REVIEW 36 (Fall 1996):
35-36. EJ 543 672.
Frederick, Peter. "Active Learning in History Classes." TEACHING HISTORY: A
JOURNAL OF METHODS 16 (Fall 1991): 67-83. EJ 446 466.
Gagnon, Paul. DEMOCRACY'S HALF-TOLD STORY, WHAT AMERICAN HISTORY TEXTBOOKS
SHOULD ADD. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers, 1989. ED 313 305.
Gagnon, Paul. DEMOCRACY'S UNTOLD STORY: WHAT WORLD HISTORY TEXTBOOKS NEGLECT.
Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers, 1987. ED 357 591.
Harman, Merrill. INSPIRING ACTIVE LEARNERS. Alexandria, VA: Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1994.
Jones, Fredric. POSITIVE CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill
Book Company, 1987.
Metzler, Suzanne. WITNESS TO HISTORY: USING HANDS-ON ACTIVITIES. A GUIDEBOOK
FOR HIGH SCHOOL HISTORY TEACHERS. Bothell, WA: University of Washington, 1995.
ED 387 416.
National Center for History in the Schools. NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR HISTORY.
Los Angeles, CA: National Center for History in the Schools, 1996. ED 399 213.
Schneider, Donald, and others. EXPECTATIONS OF EXCELLENCE: CURRICULUM
STANDARDS FOR SOCIAL STUDIES. Washington, DC: National Council for the Social
Studies, 1994. ED 378 131.
Tassinari, Matt. "Hands-On Projects Take Students Beyond the Book." SOCIAL
STUDIES REVIEW 34 (Spring 1996): 16-20. EJ 518 983.