Chopped–Social Studies Edition

A few months ago my daughter asked me to sit and watch a show with her.  It was called Chopped.  When it started I quickly realized that it was a show about people cooking food…ummm, not very exciting right?  I haven’t stopped watching it.  It hooks you in and keeps you wanting for more.  Go ahead, press play on the video below, give it five minutes and try turning it of (after posting, seems as though embedded video does not want to play, you can check it out here).

After watching several episodes, I knew that I could somehow turn this into a social studies activity.  This post is about Chopped–Social Studies Edition.  My very first experiment with the idea, and I would like to share what I did in it’s rough form that is far, far from polished.  Before I get to it, a quick story…

When I got my first teaching job, I lived at my grandfather’s and he had his windows replaced.  He took out old windows with multiple panes, chipped old paint, real antique looking things.  I stacked most of them in the cellar not wanting to throw them out, and brought a few into the classroom.  During our next project I gave each group a window and simply said you must use it.  What happened next surprised me.  While each group discussed how to use the window, they also processed and reprocessed the information from the unit in trying to figure out how to use the window.  The window ended up not just being a special part of a single moment in the presentations, but added depth and creativity to their entire presentations.  Since then I have added many strange objects, and will often throw in odd words that they must use.  Recently on the last day of the Constitution unit, as the student walked in they had to grab a random object from the room and simply write how that object was like the Constitution using all the key vocabulary from the unit.  Awesome answers and creativity and processing of the information from the unit. Back to Chopped…

The topic was Louisiana Purchase, and I had three days.  I figured this would be a good topic to experiment with. The students has basic background information on the Purchase acquired over a couple of days–we did not go into detail with this unit, it was riddled with snow days. The next day we had a 40 minute class.  I spent the first ten minutes introducing the task, and stalling so that when we started they would have exactly 30 minutes until the end of class. When they started each group received one box with a list of vocab words, and six items in it.  A picture of Napoleon, a letter from Jefferson to Livingston, a map of New Orleans, and 3 other random objects–everything from a puppet to the horn from a ram.

They opened the boxes and had thirty minutes to “tell” the story of the Louisianan Purchase using every single thing in the box and like on Chopped, anything from the pantry (our classroom).

Now if you are a social studies teacher I know what you are thinking….this is nothing more than a simple document based question type assignment.  Yep, you are right.  And you know what you hear when you say we are going to do a DBQ today?  That’s right, nothing.  After this kids were asking to do it again, and the next time I slip in more difficult primary sources, some additional historical artifacts and it will look like a legit DBQ except everyone will actually want to do it  (Julia and Paige please don’t reveal my secret :).

More pictures examining sources

Some of the things in their boxes were a bit strange.

What do you do with a doll and a hinge? a few years will I still be able to include Jefferson’s letter written in cursive?

Since I never had actually shown them a picture of Napoleon, some groups just thought this was a random guy on a horse!



While they were putting their stories together I had no idea where some groups were going with the items!


The other thing that added to the creativity was the time limit.  This could have lasted three days, they received thirty minutes.  Limiting the time increases creativity.  I believe that is none of the biggest reasons why schools do not change and do not innovate–there is no time limit placed on when they have to produce.  Want to change how classes are taught?  Create a committee, get input, create a plan, pass the plan out for feedback, back to committee, pass on to Bd of Ed subcommittee, and on and on.  Three years later maybe something gets done.  Blah…   Sometimes I do projects where instead of them coming in and extending time, I cut it.  Sometimes they walk in expecting to have 5 minutes to present and it’s announced they have two.  Sorry for the random thoughts…

For this attempt I had them present when they walked in the next day. the next time we do this we will film the interviews in between presentations, and reflections just like the real show, but for this one our minds had enough to think about.

So try a Chopped with your class, or at the very least, tell the kids that they have to use the words “boxing gloves” in their next essay.  If you don’t already promote creativity in your class, it might take several attempts to see a change, and that is ok.

So some day this year we will published a polished Chopped-Social Studies Edition video and it will look slick and impressive..but wanted to throw this up in a post so that I can link back to it and show where some of our ideas start.  Here are some silly videos, I quickly realized that even on the real show, they don’t attempt to ask questions of the chefs while they were in the middle of cooking!

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