"Just Google It" Using SHEG Lesson Plans

Oh, those infamous words that we all hear in the classroom. Google is simultaneously making us smarter and lazier. I remember when I first encountered Google’s search engine in the fourth grade. Little did my classmates or I know, but Google would quickly grow from a helpful tool to a worldwide phenomenon. Even at the moment of my first use, my grade school teachers embarked on a quest to teach us responsible web browsing and how to recognize fake websites. That is, or so they thought. Turns out that figuring out which websites were fake was hard even in 2004.  Now, it is next to impossible sometimes. In 2018, with technology moving at light-speed and with smart technology downsizing even further to watches, I think it is time for an upgrade in our teaching tactics. Yes, “responsible browsing” techniques are still relevant, but we teachers need to think deeper about the implications of the phrase “just Google it.”
Introducing the Stanford History Education Group. This website contains free online lesson plans and assessments. During my student teaching, I used their lesson plan for Japanese Internment and my students loved it. The lesson began with the question “Why were Japanese interned during World War II?” Obviously, a student could easily Google this question. However, we as educators know that doing such would not only disrupt critical thinking practice, but it would open wide the internet and its cesspool of answers. Instead, this lesson includes a graphic organizer for student interaction with primary sources. These sources range from court documents to videos. Aside from extraordinary sources, the graphic organizers allowed for a sequential building of conclusions that resulted in more than half of my students recognizing the complicated (and often conflicting) reasons that the United States government interned Japanese Americans. Overall, this lesson highlighted historical thinking skills (listed in frequency of us in the lesson plan) such as: corroboration, close reading, sourcing, contextualization. Furthermore, this lesson is only one example of the high-quality and critical thinking integrated lesson plans that are available for free.
The below chart that SHEG produced further explains the historical thinking skills (click to enlarge):

As you see, these are valuable skills that most teachers routinely practice with their students. However, integrating multiple skills while to ensure full student participation and mastery of both skills and content is exceptionally difficult. Anecdotally, I must mention that one should not try to instruct students in mastery over all or even three skills at once, but they should be incorporated gradually when students obtain mastery over one or more skills. Such advice appears obvious to most teachers, but from my short experience teaching, I frequently found myself adding too many assessable aspects to my lesson – therefore ensuring that during one lesson my students are a jack of all trades, but a master of none.
Consequently, utilizing a website like Stanford History Education Group not only makes our job as teachers better, but easier. For certain, their lessons are not absolutely perfect, and some may require some slight tweaks in content or resources, but they are pretty cool.
Therefore, aside from discouraging historical thinking skills, the key problem with “just Google it” (and look at the very first website or even the highlighted text for the answer) is that students are not engaging with history at all. The only skill that they learn is how to enter cleverly worded keyword searches to obtain plausible answers. While no doubt this is a valuable skill in itself, high school students do not need any more practice in this skill – they do, however, require training in source analysis and critical thinking skills. Teachers provide students this essential practice by utilizing the Historical Thinking Chart in their lesson design.
Of course, I recommend using their free lessons and assessments to augment your classroom learning, but I also encourage you to create your own lessons and assessments. I have found great success introducing primary sources and formulating questions around one-two out of the four historical thinking chart categories. The goal is to gradually introduce the skills while encouraging practice to mastery. Then, I follow that with increasing the difficulty of the sources, the number of sources, or the number of skills assessed to produce a rounded student-historian. Additionally, I also highly recommend introducing historical thinking skills in the first few weeks of class – possibly even more than teaching content. This may seem time-consuming and counter-intuitive, but I believe that once students understand how to think and analyze history, they will learn exponentially faster than if they encounter heavy topics and historical thinking skills at the same time. Additionally, once students are comfortable with critical thinking, they might not even resort to Google as their first option for research, but to an online archive or trusted website instead!
Try it out and let me know in the comments below!
Happy planning!
Photo: Dr. Daisy Martin, SHEG, presenting to HIS 299 class at Cleveland State University, November 3, 2017. Credit: Shelley E. Rose