Engaging Minds in Social Studies Classrooms: The Surprising Power of Joy

Engaging Minds in Social Studies Classrooms: The Surprising Power of Joy

Engaging Minds in Social Studies Classrooms: The Surprising Power of Joy

Engaging Minds in Social Studies Classrooms: The Surprising Power of Joy


Political intrigue. Environmental issues. Ethical dilemmas. Critical thinking. Problem solving. Social studies content is directly connected to real life and is filled with built-in hooks to transform tuned-out students into engaged and enthusiastic learners. Experiencing schoolwide elections, researching a cause, and participating in mock court cases are just a few ways to build the joyful self-efficacy and knowledge that students need for college, careers, and civic-minded adulthood.

Springing from the insights and research in Engaging Minds in the Classroom: The Surprising Power of Joy, Erekson explains how to integrate the joyful learning approach with social studies standards, including the Common Core, the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, and the College, Career, and Civic Life framework. In addition to discussing how to create a student-centered classroom and develop activities that generate authentic products and meaningful outcomes, Erekson provides specific strategies that will enhance your own joy of teaching and learning.

This volume completes the set of Engaging Minds, and is a welcome addition to every teacher's reference collection.

James A. Erekson is a former elementary teacher and has collaborated with K-12 teachers on reading, writing, and oral language. He has successfully used social studies content to help students develop into stronger readers and writers and is an associate professor of reading at University of Northern Colorado.


It seems to me that most students are not born with intrinsic motivation for social studies; methods of attending closely to abstract structures and evidence must be taught, modeled, and applied. When I talk to people who love history, for example, they will often reference a specific class and teacher who helped to “wake them up” to history—which suggests, unfortunately, that up until that point other teachers had put them to sleep.

A joyful approach to teaching social studies embraces the fact that student motivation and engagement are at the top of the curriculum. Therefore, when planning social studies lessons, teachers need to address these affective aspects of learning, to be able to assess and discuss both cognitive and noncognitive outcomes as aspects of student growth.

Considering Noncognitive Skills

Research in neuroscience has taught us that there are connections between the deep, old areas of the brain (the hippocampus and amygdala) that house our sense of fear, safety, risk, and enjoyment and the newer surface areas of the brain that control our problem solving, rational thought, and planning (Medina, 2008). The “thinking” areas of the brain are inextricably wired to the “feeling” areas of the brain; that is, cognitive memory is connected to affective experience. The implication is that if educators hope to achieve powerful . . .

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