Teaching Ancient Middle East Innovations Using Popplet in a Social Studies Classroom for Sixth Graders

Ancient Ziggurat

The Context for this Lesson

Like the other two lessons that I have included in this portfolio, this lesson was written for a sixth grade class at Apple Valley Middle School. I wrote this lesson with the intent of preparing for my teaching internship this fall. Students at Apple Valley Middle primarily live in the rural area of Henderson County and many of them are natives. There are also quite a few immigrant students with Spanish as their first language. To meet the demands of a diverse classroom, my goal while creating this lesson was to  represent the material in a visual and interactive way in order to meet a variety of learning styles and abilities. I also focused on helping all students make connections to their own lives.

This lesson is intended to be one of the first lessons taught in the sixth grade social studies coverage of world history, which moves from early humans to just before the age of exploration. Before this lesson students will have only been in the sixth grade social studies classroom for one or two weeks. They will have reviewed geography principles learned in elementary school and begun to learn about early humans through 10,000 BCE. This lesson picks up in 10,000 BCE when humans are just beginning to move from hunting and gathering to farming and settling into civilizations. Students will discover that the growth of this first civilization led to other innovations such as the first known written script, the introduction of literature, and the rise of warfare and trade.

The students in my class will likely have a limited background knowledge of world history, since this will be their first study of the subject. Elementary school social studies primarily focuses on the basic concepts of social studies and a study of the history of the United States and North Carolina. Students should be able to understand basic concepts such as how to find places on a map and how  some innovations affected life in the United States. To begin this lesson, students will need to understand that the humans did not always live in civilizations such as those we live in today. A previous lesson on early humans, who were hunters and gatherers, will have already established this idea. This current lesson will help students understand how humans came to live in civilizations and how the growth of civilizations helped to speed up inventions such as writing and the wheel while increasing interactions for purposes such as trade and war.

To help students understand the concepts of this lesson, they will use essential questions  as they begin the lesson and as they work on the discussion questions provided within the media. My goal is to have students recognize that there is a clear path of how this particular civilization and in fact many civilizations came to be. I will have them extend their thinking about this by comparing the agricultural revolution of early civilizations to the technological revolution of our own time period. I will encourage them to think about how both revolutions affected how information was relayed and changed human interactions.

In the lessons that follow this lesson students will learn about other early civilizations including the Egyptians and Indus people. There will be a common theme of how civilizations flourish and interact with one another throughout this lesson and the coming lessons. These lessons about early civilizations near the beginning of the school year will help students to prepare for the continued analysis of the rise and fall of various civilizations and evaluation of interactions through trade, warfare, and the sharing of ideas. They should be able to use these concepts for the rest of sixth grade and into their continued study of world history in the seventh grade.

I was born in Henderson County and have lived here for much of my life. With this in mind, I feel I truly understand the limited world view that many of my students may have. To understand the main concept of this lesson, students will need to develop a world view and understand that there are many similarities and differences among civilizations of the past and between those civilizations and our modern society. To prepare to gain this historical worldview, students will need supports such as visual information to better visualize what this past civilization looked like. They will also need foundational vocabulary for this lesson and coming lessons.

For this lesson, I chose to use Popplet as my media. I chose this media for two reasons: it allows me to create a visual path with images to show the evolution of this early civilization, and it encourages me to synthesize information about ancient Sumerians and stress the most important facts, such as that farming is the root of this civilization. I also used Padlet within this Popplet to provide a discussion feature to the lesson. I chose Padlet, because I like that if offers a creative and interactive way to hold a discussion that encourages students to read a variety of posts from their classmates.

The Standards this Lesson Meets

As students work to compare events in this historical civilization and our contemporary society they will better understand how continuity and change affect past and present societies (NCES.SS-History.6.H.2.2). Through the study of how agriculture changed the ancient Middle East and the connection to how technology has changed our present day society, students will also be able to explain how innovations affect societies (NCES.SS-History.6.H.2.3).

The North Carolina sixth grade social studies standards and clarifying objectives I will address in this lesson include:

  • NCES.SS-History.6.H.2 Understand the political, economic and/or social significance of historical events, issues, individuals and cultural groups.
  • NCES.SS-History.6.H.2.2 Compare historical and contemporary events and issues to understand continuity and change.
  • NCES.SS-History.6.H.2.3 Explain how innovation and/or technology transformed civilizations, societies and regions over time (e.g., agricultural technology, weaponry, transportation and communication).

Popplet will allow students to meet the standards by allowing them to view information in the teacher created Popplet, while Padlet will allow them to begin thinking and expressing their thoughts about this provided information. A second use of Popplet through the creation of group Popplets, will allow students to create a visual synthesis of the connections they have found between the agricultural and technological revolutions. This will allow them to better understand how events and innovations affect societies (NCES.SS-History.6.H.2.3).

The Media or Technology I Am Integrating

Link to my Popplet for this lesson:

Ancient Middle East: Innovations

Note: Videos within this Popplet cannot be viewed in FireFox. Please view in another type of browser to access videos within the media.

Links to my Padlets for this lesson:

Discussion Question 1

Discussion Question 2

Discussion Question 3

The primary media I am integrating into this lesson is Popplet, an interactive media that allows students to view a virtual mind-map that shows how ideas and facts are related to one another. This media allows the creator to enter written information, images, videos, and links into bubbles called “Popplets.” These bubbles can be connected to one another in a variety of ways to show connections and sequencing. The viewer is able to view the provided visual information and see relationships between concepts and facts. To best see overall connections, students can zoom out and view the entire Popplet.

The Popplet I have created has a main set of bubbles connected by a line. The first Popplet bubble in this sequence states “Farming: The Root of Civilization in the Middle East.” This first bubble is intended to introduce students to the overall idea that all of the innovations in the Middle East began because humans discovered farming and therefore settled into civilizations. The second bubble contains a video from the History Channel about the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution and gives students a four minutes overview of how farming led people to settle into civilizations. The third bubble states the two major reasons farming came about: because there was a change in climate in the Middle East after an Ice Age and because humans realized they could plant seeds for easy access to food. The fourth bubble introduces Sumer, the first civilization in the world. The fifth bubble shows that sheep were some of the first animals domesticated for farming purposes. In the next bubble the fact that Sumer was located between two rivers is emphasized by showing that irrigation was used to take advantage of river waters.

At this point, the path of the Popplet moves down to a new row to begin to discuss the start of cities. A bubble between the two rows shows a model of a ziggurat. In the bubble that begins the second row, the first known cities are introduced with an emphasis on the ziggurat as a centerpiece of the city and temple priests as leaders. In this bubble students can click on a link to read an article with several facts about the Ancient Sumerians. At this point, the path begins to diverge showing that more innovations and changes in this society began to develop.

Just below the bubble about the first cities, there are four bubbles that show that civilized life led to an increase in warfare, religion, and trade, as well as the introduction of the first wheeled vehicle. To the right of this main bubble about cities is a path that shows the introduction of writing. This path includes a picture of an ancient cuneiform clay tablet to show students how this first method of writing looked. This bubble also defines cuneiform as wedge shaped script. The next bubble gives a list of items that humans were able to write down with the emergence of cuneiform: laws, religious texts, poetry, history, and science.

There are two final bubbles branching from this to show examples of important written language from this time. The top bubble shows a stone carving that depicts the introduction of Hammurabi’s Code, one of the most well-known ancient codes of law. This bubble also includes a link with a description of this important code to give students more information as they later answer a discussion question that compares this law code to modern laws. The bubble below this one discusses the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest well-known fictional story. There is also a link to an article in this bubble that explains  why this piece of literature was so important. All bubbles in this initial series of information are coded as blue.

Below this path, I have added a short path with three discussion questions coded in red. Within each bubble, students can click on a link to take them to the Padlet connected to that particular discussion question. Here are the three discussion questions:

  • Compare Hammurabi’s Code to modern laws. List two similarities and two differences. Why do you think punishments in this well-known code were so harsh?
  • How do you think the invention of writing connects to the increase in religion, warfare, and trade?
  • Why is farming the root of civilization? How was life different for hunter-gatherers from those who settled down to farm and live in cities?

These three questions are intended to help students begin to compare and contrast what they have learned about the ancient world with their knowledge of today’s society. They will also use such comparisons when creating their own Popplet.

To the left of the discussion questions is a resources section. The first bubble  is a Resources box which has a link to a Google Doc with a reference list for all items used in this Popplet. The second box includes a five minute video that shows students the basics of creating their own Popplet. They will have access to this video as they work in their group on day two to complete this project.

The second media I used in this lesson is Padlet. Like Popplet, thoughts, images, and videos can be added. The primary difference is that there are not lines connecting items as there can be on Popplet. For this lesson, Padlet will only be used for text to allow for a free form discussion where students will post their response to one discussion question on each Padlet. Within each Padlet they can also view their classmates’ answers and respond to those answers by posting a conversation box near the chosen answer.

The Rationale for Integrating the Media or Technology into this Lesson

A major reason I chose Popplet is that it creates a visual learning experience for students.  The visual mind map feature of the technology helps students see what the most important concepts and facts are. According to Wilson, Copeland-Solas, and Guthrie-Dixon, who completed a preliminary study on the use of mind-maps for visual learning for Arabic students, “This method is quite useful in helping pupils summarise [sic] lengthy lessons and increase student engagement and communication amongst peers” (2016). This study backs up my belief that my students will find mind-mapping technology to be useful as they synthesize information about the agricultural revolution and the technological revolution. This also supports my decision to have students work in groups for this lesson project. I believe the peer engagement will allow them to share their ideas and work together to pinpoint and show the most important concepts via their project.

I also see a connection between the use of Popplet and Padlet and the higher order thinking skills emphasized  by Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. According to Heather Coffey, the author of the article “Bloom’s Taxonomy”, when teachers use this taxonomy in the classroom they “…can assess students on multiple learning outcomes that are aligned to local, state, and national standards and objectives” (Coffey, n.d.). The clarifying objects addressed in my lesson require students to “compare historical and contemporary events and issues” (NCES.SS-History.6.H.2.2) and to “explain how innovation and/or technology transformed civilizations” (NCES.SS-History.6.H.2.3). This requires students to move through all of the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy to at least the evaluating level. However, I see strong value in having students move to the top level where they create their own product. This will allow students to show that they truly understand the material and have made deep connections.

While students view the teacher created Popplet, they will be engaged in not only the knowledge and comprehension levels of this well-known taxonomy, they will move into the application and analysis levels as they respond to the discussion questions. The assigned group project and the individual essay should keep students primarily in the upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy by encouraging them to analyze what they have learned, evaluate similarities and differences, and create a new product, their own Popplet, to show the connections they have found.

Besides addressing the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, this project also encourages students to participate in an authentic assessment situation. According to Chad Foster in the article “Authentic Assessment Challenges and Empowers Students” when students engage in authentic assessment they are not just “simply recalling facts, students are required to create a ‘product’ to show what they know and can do” (2012). Foster goes on to say that “Authentic assessment challenges students with tasks that have real-life relevance and meaning while empowering them to take control of their own learning” (2012). By asking students to complete a group project where they create their own Popplet, I feel that students will be emulating real tasks they would perform in the job world. Through authentic assessment, this lesson helps students see real world connections such as how technological innovations have affected how we communicate.

The Integration of the Media or Technology into the Lesson

Here is the link to the lesson plan that I will describe in this section:


Here is the link to the project that students will complete as part of this lesson: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1wo4EPpKWeAnAzc9wPoysq1gfzqoBUHgq68BmjOYMOKI/edit?usp=sharing

As students enter the classroom, they will find two background knowledge questions on the board:

  • How do you think people moved from hunting and gathering to settled civilizations?
  • What is one thing you would like to learn about this process?

Below the questions they will see several pictures displayed including: wheat, a sheep, an irrigation canal, a ziggurat, and a clay tablet. They will later find these same pictures in the Popplet. Below the questions and pictures are instructions to view the images and write about the questions in their social studies journals. After students have had a chance to write about these questions, they will engage in a class-wide discussion about this background knowledge and what they would like to learn from the lesson.

Next the teacher will display vocabulary and definitions important to know for this lesson: civilization, innovation, technology, and irrigation. Students will also find additional vocabulary defined within the Popplet: Mesopotamia, Cuneiform, Agricultural Revolution, and Hammurabi’s Code. They will record all vocabulary from the teacher and from the Popplet in their social studies journals.

Next students will view two essential questions to write in their journals and consider as they view the Popplet and complete all lesson activities.

  • How do innovations in technology or ways of life change a society?
  • Why is it important to study how civilization came to be?

At this time each student will receive a computer on which to view the Popplet. They will receive the link for this media in an email. Each student will work independently to view the Popplet and to answer all discussion questions. After they answer the discussion questions, students will return to one question and respond to a peer.

Students may finish the Popplet viewing and discussion questions during the first class, but if they do not, they may finish at home or use the school computer lab before or after school. As the first day of this lesson finishes the teacher will assign students a homework journal entry. They will write their initial thoughts about how they think the technological revolution compares to the agricultural revolution as they brainstorm for their group project.

On the second day of class, students will be split into groups of four and receive two computers.  At this time students will work on Part I of this project assignment, which includes reviewing two documents about the technological revolution, sharing information about their homework journal entries, and creating a Popplet comparing the technological revolution to the agricultural revolution. When they finish their Popplet they will begin working on Part II, which is an individual essay discussing what their Popplet is about and answering the essential questions. For homework they will complete a rough draft of this personal essay.

On day three of this lesson, each group will present their Popplet to the rest of the class. Then the class will participate in a discussion of the two essential questions. Students will begin creating a final draft of their essay in class to finish for homework.

My Evaluation of the Media or Technology Integration

The most helpful aspect of Popplet is the mind-map feature. The lines and bubbles allowed me to create a visual path to best show connections between concepts and facts within this lesson. I believe this gives students a valuable picture of how innovations connect to other innovations and affect societies. I believe the mind-map feature will also benefit students as the create their own Popplet. They will be able to better visualize the connections they find between the agricultural revolution and the technological revolution.

This media is pretty easy for students to use for content reception, so I felt that it would be easy for them to use to learn how to create their own Popplet. That is why I included the video in the Popplet. This is the same video that I viewed before creating my media example. I feel it is short enough to allow students to quickly learn how to use it without devoting too much class-time to the endeavor.

There are some issues that could arise with the use of this media. The first major issue is the need to have the appropriate web browser. While creating this Popplet I discovered that I could not open videos within this media when I was in Firefox. I had to work in either Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge to be able to watch the videos I had included.

Another issue I found in regards to the video was that it showed that users could easily add pictures to the bubbles through flicker, however, that button no longer exists on Popplet bubbles. I had to download pictures, resize them, and then upload into the media. This long process may make it difficult for students who are not familiar with such intricacies of technology.

I have included time in the class period to view this Popplet, but students who need more time to absorb the information may have to view the rest of it at home or in the computer lab at school. This could be difficult for students who do not have technology and internet access at home and do not have time to use the school computer lab. Both Popplet and Padlet require internet access. I did feel this media offers an option for creating a flipped classroom experience. However as I have mentioned in previous posts, Apple Valley Middle School does not have the technology capabilities for every student to take home a computer and there is a chance some students will not have access to technology at home.

In general, I felt Popplet created a great visual experience, however, I feel that the glitches in regards to the need  for a specific browser and the inability to get pictures online would deter me from using this in additional lessons, because it could be a time waster.

I used Padlet because it provides an excellent space to create discussions that allow every student to respond and learn from their classmates’ responses. I feel Padlet is an excellent option for an online discussion board, because it encourages students to scroll around and read a variety of responses from classmates. For the purposes of posting discussion responses, Padlet is very easy for students to use.  I have not used this media to post videos or pictures, but the process looks like it would also be easy for students to follow. I will definitely use Padlet as an interactive discussion forum for future lessons, and I can also imagine allowing students to use this media to create a virtual poster project.


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Andrews, E. (2015a). 9 things you may not know about the ancient Sumerians. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-ancient-sumerians

Andrews, E. (2015b). What is the oldest known piece of literature? Retrieved from http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/what-is-the-oldest-known-piece-of-literature

Bellow, A. (2011, March 29). Popplet. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/CxLDsWHsQ1g

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Coffey, H. (n.d.). Bloom’s taxonomy. Learn NC. Retrieved from http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/4719

Ellenanka (2012). Picture of wheat. Wheat. Retrieved from https://farm1.staticflickr.com/51/178335062_0c142c8bc3.jpg

Foster, C. (2012). Authentic assessment challenges and empowers students. Retrieved from http://www.amle.org/BrowsebyTopic/WhatsNew/WNDet.aspx?ArtMID=888&ArticleID=118

Graye (2005). Picture of Hammurabi’s Code. Enki and Hammurabi by Graye. Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/93985001@N00/19896109/

History (n.d.). Hammurabi. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/hammurabi

History (2012, December 2). Mankind: The story of all of us: Birth of farming. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/YC33aBh7okU

Jpockele (2005). Picture of sheep. Sheep! Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/44148352@N00/142645815/

Kramer, J. (2004). Picture of irrigation canal. Irrigation canal. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/44124372247@N01/755915845/

NC Essential Standards (2012). Social Studies Standards. Culture. Grade 6. Standard 6.H.2. Retrieved from: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/docs/acre/standards/new-standards/social-studies/6.pdf

NC Essential Standards (2012). Social Studies Standards. Culture. Grade 6. Standard 6.H.2.2. Retrieved from: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/docs/acre/standards/new-standards/social-studies/6.pdf

NC Essential Standards (2012). Social Studies Standards. Culture. Grade 6. Standard 6.H.2.3. Retrieved from: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/docs/acre/standards/new-standards/social-studies/6.pdf

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Padlet (2016). Padlet website. Retrieved from https://www.padlet.com/

Penn State University Library (2011). Picture of model of ancient ziggurat. Ziggurat: model. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/40717756@N08/5978756806/

Popplet (2013). Popplet website. Retrieved from http://www.popplet.com/

Wilson, K., Copeland-Solas, E. & Guthrie, Dixon, N. (2016).  Preliminary study on the use of mind mapping as a visual-learning strategy in general education science class for Arabic speakers in the United Arab Emirates. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16 (1), 31-52.  Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.14434/josotl.v16i1.19181








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