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Exploros Educator Spotlight: Christopher Blake Waller

09 Apr, 2024

In our latest feature highlighting exceptional Social Studies educators, we're excited to present Christopher Blake Waller, more commonly known by his middle name, Blake. Blake brings a dynamic approach to teaching 8th-grade US History at Center ISD, emphasizing the importance of critical thinking and the ability to draw connections from historical events to current realities. Through his engaging storytelling and innovative use of technology in the classroom, Blake not only makes history come alive but also enables his students to see their place within the broader narrative of the American story.

Exploros - Christopher Blake Waller

Q1: 🌟 Please introduce yourself, including your name, the subject you teach, and the grade level of your students.

My name is Christopher Blake Waller (I go by my middle name, Blake!), and I currently teach 8th grade US History.

Q2: 🌐 Social Studies encompasses a wide range of topics. What aspect of Social Studies do you find most fascinating and enjoy teaching the most, and why?

I love helping students think critically and make real-world connections from the past to current events and issues today – the practical side of studying history. I think this is when history comes alive and becomes less boring and more relatable to students. When they can see that there is a utility to what they are learning and can easily see the connections to today and how it affects them, learning and engagement go up. I also love the storytelling aspect of history. Storytelling is a huge part of what it means to be human – across all cultures and backgrounds. So tapping into that storytelling element, telling captivating stories, helping students see the bigger picture of the Great American Story, and understanding their place in it and how to be storytellers themselves are among my favorite things about teaching social studies, namely American History.

Q3: 🎉 Can you share a specific success story or a memorable moment in your classroom that was made possible by Exploros?

Just recently, as we just finished Manifest Destiny and are in Industrialization and Reform, the Exploros activities on the Economies of the North and South as well as the Social Impact, led to productive discussions on how changing technologies lead to changes in society. It got us talking about what technologies are emerging today that are having drastic changes in our economy, workforce/jobs, and society as a whole. So naturally, we talked about A.I. We were able to talk about how while A.I. is a new technology, new technologies popping up and changing the way we live and do things is NOT a new phenomenon. Exploros helped drive our discussion and see how huge changes occurred during the 1800s that radically changed society and culture - so how do we learn from this? How do we observe how people adjusted, adapted, failed, and succeeded when these technologies emerged, and what can we do in light of our current moment? There were some lively discussions! Especially when they put themselves in the shoes of young kids during the 1800s who often had to work in horrible conditions - it was eye-opening for them and got the wheels turning for sure!

Q4: 🚀 What are some key benefits of using technology like Exploros in Social Studies classes?

Exploros in particular has freed up my ability to engage more in discussion and release more responsibility and ownership to my students in terms of their becoming familiar with the content. Lecturing upfront for long periods of time is not really a feasible approach with this generation, so it seems. So, telling really short stories, giving them the tools to tell those stories, engaging in discussion, and helping them think critically and problem-solve are all huge things to focus on. Exploros has helped me do that by pushing more of the content to them to work through it in a way that is engaging and allows me to focus more on discussion - breaking things down, asking good questions, working one-on-one or in small groups, etc. That has been really helpful in achieving some of the things I've mentioned above.

Q5: 💡 Share a valuable teaching tip for fellow Social Studies educators:

Story, story, story. Engaging kids through meaningful and impactful stories and giving them the tools to retell those stories has been a huge thing for me this year and for my students. I've taken this idea straight from 4QM (The Four Question Method - Gary Shiffman and Jonathan Bassett) and it has been a game changer in terms of engagement.

This conversation with Blake Waller underscores the transformative impact that passionate and innovative educators can have on their students. His approach to teaching 8th grade US History—marked by a commitment to critical thinking, the art of storytelling, and the effective use of technology—highlights the significant role teachers play in shaping how young minds understand and connect with the world. As we delve further into the journeys of extraordinary teachers, Blake's strategies provide both inspiration and actionable insights for enriching Social Studies education and cultivating a generation of informed, thoughtful individuals.

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