A little while ago I was contacted by a friend on Twitter about joining this great project. Every month we are given a topic to write a blog post about dealing with aspects in history classes. The prompt for this month was Teaching students a list of facts about the past vs. teaching them to think historically. Here is my contribution to the blog:
Growing up, history was important to my family. My grandpa in particular would always tell great stories about his time in Vietnam or living in Alaska, Arizona, or Hawaii while in the armed forces. We also talked about the Civil War or listened to Civil War books on our trips to Florida for Spring Break. My grandparents also took me to Pow-Wows and other historically important places near where they lived in Pittsburgh. I can remember walking through graveyards to find gravestones of past relatives among the many other adventures we would have. History was a part of our life as a family. It just wasn’t facts strung together to make sense of an event or time period, it was more, much more.
In school I was lucky enough to have some great history teachers and some really bad ones! They would still lecture to a class and we had to take notes, but many of my history teachers brought it to life. It wasn't just about reading out of a textbook and answering some questions at home. Then in class discussing the answers to the homework and repeating like a bad Boy Band song on the radio, they could make you feel like you were there. Yes, we would do the occasional project, but it was more used to break up the doldrums of the textbook. It was about bringing history to life. I remember one of high school world history teachers well. When we would cover a new era in history we had “visitors” come in to our class. He of course dressed the part and acted the part. It made it more real, and weird, but you could see how understanding was vital to the experience of history.
In college I had both types of professors. The ones who were really passionate, taught with a tenacity you would have thought you just ran a marathon after class. In fact, one of my college professors was so passionate about his big ideas, he actually created a new form of history called the Big History Project. (You should look up Craig Benjamin from Grand Valley State University and the Big History Project). Anyways, I digress. And I had those professors who would lecture strait out of the textbook or books we had to read for class. BORING!
The most valuable lessons I took from my teachers and professors was this, that no matter what form of history you teach, it is important your students have an understanding, no a grasp of conceptional understanding of what happened. This does not mean teaching a list of facts, that may or may not connect to an event, have a quiz or test, then repeat. Information like this that lives in Bloom’s Taxonomy Lower Levels does not need to be taught. Yes, some students are going to memorize facts and tell you what happened on that date, etc. But does that mean they really know and understand what happened?
We need to get away from a form of teaching where students will only study and dump that information. It’s more important for us as history teachers to give our students experiences that will last with them forever. Give them the primary and secondary sources to intense and stimulate their brain instead of memorizing facts and regurgitating them for a score. We need to use more inquiry to attract our students to our subject.
Here is how I do it. I always start a lesson with an image, map, a piece primary source, a movie clip, etc. to get the students hooked on what we will be covering. This usually revolves around a central question Google cannot answer easily. Then I have the students discuss in small groups or as a large group what this has to do. I am activating their prior knowledge to make sense of what we are learning. From here, students then either watch a video or read the lesson in the textbook or read more primary sources, or find information online to help them further their understanding of the topic. From here, students then need to apply their information they have gained in a way that demonstrates understanding. This could be a Socrative Seminar, a Fish Bowl, a PowerPoint (done with pictures and no words), iMovies, a mock trial, a business plan for a new company, a regular old test, etc. The sky is the limit. All along this way, I can see if my students are actually comprehending the information and by applying it to new situations, if they have a firm grasp of the ideas. If they had to learn a list of facts and pass a test, I can see what they knew for that test.
It is time we move our programs to the current century and teach our students the necessary skills they will need to survive outside of school.
Let me know what your thoughts are. I would be happy to discuss them.
George Phillip is a social studies teacher and designer.
Ramsey Musallam - www.cyclesoflearning.com
Karl Lindgren-Streicher -
Josh Stumpenhorst -
Jason Bretzmann -
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