Tag Archives: teaching history

What if Twitter had existed in other historical eras? Tweeting historiography.

I recently was tickled to find this piece on (where else?) Twitter: British r Coming. Pls RT! | Foreign Policy.  It’s really funny.  It gets one thinking, too.  Others have pointed out the value of challenging students to make observations in a succinct 140-character medium.  This forces students to use precision about the subject they are evaluating and to prioritize the material succinctly.  This is also a moment of frivolity to share with your class.

Aside from being fun, you could actually delve into some real historiographical issues.   Each set of tweets could be altered based on the different interpretations from the historiography.  For example, assign small groups a different scholar and encourage them to create tweets from the primary documents based on the assigned scholars interpretations.  Then you could compare the results.

It adds an extra layer of education, but it’s still fun!  Done well, this should be a slightly addictive exercise in levity and history.  Students should get addicted because its funny and entertaining.  You may find they actually have a better grasp of the scholarly concepts at the end, as well.  Maybe you throw it in right before or after exams or a big paper due date to get productivity despite the intensity of their coursework.

This is similar to the concept behind making fake Facebook walls.  You are asking students to use the technology with which many of them are well-acquainted as the medium in which to present their findings.  This does not suggest that you abandon papers or other means for testing their knowledge and developing skills, it is an alternative that can give students a bit of break without simply putting in a movie and having them unplug.  These exercises introduce a little levity and they should be fun.  At the end, they’ll be #Twitterstorians!

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Filed under Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Fiction, Historian's Journal, Tech tools

Things that annoy me as a historian (election thoughts)

I should qualify this post with the disclaimer that election seasons annoy me a lot, so this particular annoyance is probably just an extension of the many other misuses of history that pass so much gas with the elections and the various stumps and campaigns.

On Facebook, this morning, someone posted this comic:

Or, a brief non-history…

So, before I wrote this blog, I double-checked to make sure I hadn’t forgotten something obscure about the history of socialism.  I had not.  Socialism–the word and thus the concept, more or less–was first used in a French newspaper in 1832.  (The OED acknowledges that the roots are obscure, but the idea itself has far fewer direct parallels to historical eras than has been argued.)  Americans have not been decrying every new or progressive idea by hollering, “Socialism!”  I did not bother to double-check the years for which the various public institutions were invoked, though I may still look up the public water controversy of 1808 if I have some spare time.  I encountered this cartoon after it was shared from the Facebook page, “Being Liberal,” but I’m sure they found it elsewhere (it was the second time they had shared it).

In fairness, this isn’t really a post about elections, so much as it is a post about the misuse and abuse of history in politics which inevitably ramps up during the election season.  The current Tea Party, is not entirely accurate in its retelling of the original Boston Tea Party, either, which just demonstrates that political polemic abuses of the field flourish on both sides of the aisle.  (C-Span also captures such abuses regularly during congressional sessions, but they do not often get the same press or viral sharing that occurs during elections.)

History can be an interesting tool for the present, but the parallels can be overplayed.  I am starting to increasingly believe that we as historians and instructors of history should spend more time talking about the Nachlebens of history to show how applying history on the present can be used as a propaganda tool.  History majors usually get a healthy dose of historiography, but non-majors seldom do, and even the history majors do not always see the fallout of popular historiography.

In the end, I find this tendency at best embarrassingly stupid and at worst dangerous.  Rewriting the past to suit the ideological needs of a platform in the present does everyone a disservice and can unduly manipulate with damaging consequences, just as all untruths and lies can be used to manipulate.

It reinforces the importance of actually learning the field of history.  Aside from content blunders, a better knowledge of how we learn about the past highlights the limitations in making parallels because we appreciate the time’s unique culture that can differ in a thousand ways from our own.  I’m not saying we cannot evaluate the past with the present and vice versa, but we have to be cognizant of the inherent challenges.  Most people who pull from the past do so without that understanding which means they have only further confused the contemporary issue.

Besides, it’s damn annoying.

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Teachers Speak About Educating the Digital Generation

Increasingly, students are not only becoming acclimated to the digital world and its tools, they are surpassing the competency of the adults around them.  This forces us to make a decision as educators: embrace the digital world or ignore it. The option is actually a false one as choosing to ignore technology is a losing option.  The students who have access to it will not ignore it and thus education will be forced to compete with digital technology, while the students who cannot afford the technology will be left unexposed to it and thus not learn how to use it to the same degree as their peers.

So, while research supports the value of handwriting and slow reading–best done with books as opposed to digital media and readers–it is clear that the digital tools must be integrated.  This can be as simple as allowing students to Tweet about works in progress, assigning students to design useful websites on historical persons or events, using role-playing games or assigning students to create such games, geo-caching or other scavenger hunts utilizing History Pin or Google maps,  create fake Facebook pages for historical figures, etc., etc.  If you are not so confident in your own skills, enlist the aid of others, including the students themselves (many of the ideas I just suggested can be found in posts on my blog).

Don’t remove students from the library, but be prepared to grant increased access to the historical eras you are teaching by means of digital access points and tools.  Don’t cut them off from the art museums that showcase humanity’s history, but allow them use of the internet to build their content-knowledge before they look at stone-carved hieroglyphs.  Don’t give up on books and paper maps, but allow students to also explore an historical era through a role-playing video game.

Use the technological skills of one class to help you develop technological tools for next year’s class.  In enlisting their help in teaching with technology they will learn more.  And, so will you.

Enjoy the short, below, and make use of the resources and activities I have amassed at my site (including posts for retaining the use of paper!), especially in my posts in the, “Experiencing History – Project Based Learning,” category and its sub-categories.  You should also check out the resources at http://historytech.wordpress.com/ and http://teachinghistory.org/.  For more from, “The Digital Generation,” by Edutopia, visit the website: http://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation.

Good luck!

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Filed under Editorials on education, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning

Gaming the Past: How to Teach History with Video Games

Video games create role-playing opportunities for learning

I was first introduced to the concept of using games to teach history when I read Larry Ferlazzo’s post about teaching with “Choose Your Own Adventure Stories” (CYOAS).  (See, “The Best Places to Read and Write ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Stories,’” “‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Additions,” which inspired my own post: “Student-written ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Stories’ for learning history,” and a related post, “Writing Fiction as an Exercise in History Education.”)  Using the provided links from Ferlazzo’s recommended sites (such as the Microsoft site with a PowerPoint tutorial and these clowns who actually explain a YouTube adventure quite well despite failing at humor), I created my own PowerPoint CYOAS: “Lord Nivelo and the First Crusade.”

The main character was based on a real historical knight who left a charter about his decision to give up his life of robber-baron crime and repent by accepting the call to the First Crusade.  Links to online biographies, online primary sources, and an in-document glossary, provided the means for the students to build content-knowledge.  The links that moved the story provided students with the opportunity to role-play and engage in decisions that would have been relevant to a late-11th century knight.  Some decisions were purely moral and resulted in the same outcome, but the decision would have required careful consideration by a knight of the era who was opting to be moral or not.  The story progressed based on the events of history and historical persons.  In the below sample, for example, the knights in Emico’s entourage attacked the Jews of Mainz, sought to enter the Kingdom of Hungary, were repulsed, and then fell to bandits in the woods during their  retreat.  This is a dead-end scenario.  If the student selects the option of Nivelo refusing Emico’s offer, the story continues.

To recap: the students, by participating the story, do all of the following:

  1. Read related secondary and primary sources (online in this case)
  2. Build relevant vocabulary for the unit (plus, in my glossary of, “Words you may not know,” I included, “Places You May Not Know” with links)
  3. Engage the thought-processes, problems, and decision-making challenges of the historical era
  4. Engage these within a realistic fiction of actual historical events and persons, based on primary document evidence

This is a pretty useful way for students to engage the familiar and the strange in a the foreign culture they are studying.  (It is also a useful exercise for the educator who creates the CYOAS–assuming, of course, that it’s done right.)

It was thanks to Glenn Wiebe’s post, “Gaming the Past: How to Teach with Video Games,” that I was introduced to an entirely new and productive approach to teaching history with video games.  (A fact that was strongly recalled to mind when I visited, “The Art of Video Games,” exhibit and learned about the incredible potential of modern video games.)  Upon visiting Glenn’s site with the above link, you will be provided with links to Teachinghistory.com’s posts by Jeremiah McCall on using and creating simulation games in the classroom and the blog, Gaming the Past.  These tools will give you another opportunity to provide an authentic role-playing experience that helps students learn about historical eras, events, or persons.

boys,household,leisure,playing,teenagers,television,video games,kids,people

A twist…

Students will benefit from playing these games–their knowledge and understanding will increase.  These games are exercises in historical experiences.  That’s useful for learning.  There is another way to approach this, however.  As you will learn from the links, above, software exists to create simulations.  This means you can make games for your students to play, but it also means that the students can make the games!

I have already advocated for this learning experience in previous posts: “Creating Educational Games,” and, “Some advice and tips on creating educational games.”  The same logic can be used in providing students with the necessary tools to create digital simulations and games.  The same knowledge that was required in making my CYOAS, “Lord Nivelo and the First Crusade,” would be the researched portion of the project for the students in developing their games.  The same ideas I suggested for board or card games in the above posts could be used to create digital simulations with the software available, today.

In this way, students are not only engaging in role-play learning for eras, but they are doing the necessary research to create a simulated historical era, and learning enough about the habits and ways of a historical period to create problem-solving scenarios in line with the era.  This is an incredibly useful learning experience, a good way to engage the current generation, and valuable experience in traditional history research.


Filed under Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Fiction, Games

Teaching cultural exchange with art

A Cyprian Herakles

Roman copy of a Greek Herakles










A Roman Hercules

Teaching cultural exchange is a great opportunity to collaborate with your art teachers and create multi-disciplined projects!  There are different ways to go about it.  One could recreate a historical artistic exchange by directing research into the original cultural expression and the newer, adopted art form.  One could demonstrate the concept by taking a historic art form and making it anew with today’s cultural iconography.  One could assign the design of an edifice that is blending cultures or build a model of an historical example that demonstrates cultural borrowing.

The Museum of Russian Iconography did something like this for field tripping students of Clinton Middle School.  In their blog post, “From Field Trip to Exhibiting Artists: Clinton Middle School & MORI Partnership,”  the museum blogger Julia Metzidakis explained the field trip, art-making, and exhibition for the middle school students.  Each student was encouraged to pick their own subject for the icon portrait.  Below, is an excerpt from the blog sharing some of the inspiration students used to pick their subjects:

“I picked JK Rowling because I admire her. She overcame the challenges of being a poverty-stricken  single mother and wrote what was is probably the most successful book series ever.  Joanne Rowling has inspired me to be a writer. Many people have been moved by her story, and have attempted to overcome their own challenges because of her. I hope one day to be as good a person as JK Rowling.”

“I picked Muhummad Ali because I like boxing. I also like sports.  He has determination like me to win. He never stops believing, just like I do.”

“I picked Michelle Obama because she is helping the world with healthy eating, getting outside, exercise and much more. Michelle is someone I look up to, a great role model. She is also very stylish and fun.”

Another way to try this is to look at book-making.  Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord has created entire career out of this concept of book-making from different cultures.  I harbor dreams of someday making an illuminated manuscript out of the Declaration of Independence, but what a great assignment it would be in understanding how certain documents are regarded by different societies.  (Add a twist and you could specify making one that is rich with 1776 iconography versus 21st century iconography, or evolving iconography from the last 200+ years.)  Illuminated manuscripts from the medieval era are, themselves, rich in cultural exchange–even the pigment used by early Irish and British artists reveals a layer of depth in exchange with blues coming from organic or mineral material as far away as India.

Of course, another way to approach this concept is to use entirely modern examples, but this highlights a potential danger in this type of exercise:  Don’t lose track of what you are trying to represent historically.  Remember that a project like this involves a lot of doing, which embeds the experience solidly in your students’ mental archive.  The memory will only maintain the art project if it is not tightly tied to the historical example and experience.  Ways to avoid this deficiency include the following (note: I mention exhibits below because this sort of exposition of the finished product tends to raise the stakes for the students in positive, motivating way):

  • require research as part of the art project (whether heavily directed or loosely guided, just make sure they are connecting good information with the project)
  • explanatory essay for an “exhibit book” or “exhibit display” or simply as an additional assignment
  • set up the art project as a direct metaphor for the historical example–this idea may translate the concept: Greco-Roman ideals contributed to a neo-classical national Capitol in Washington DC; so, design a school or university using the design concepts Thomas Jefferson’s home because of his advocacy of public education
  • assign extensive review of relevant artifacts and primary documents–encourage them to be thinking in character, as it were, as they are designing or creating, not just immersing themselves into a creative project of their own design (mimicry is an essential ingredient for the historical learning process)

I want to emphasize that I think a project such as this works best if sparsely used to highlight particularly relevant points.  The illuminated manuscripts of Ireland and Britain form the foundation for generations of illuminated books of Psalms, Gospels and Psalters made throughout Europe with varying effects and materials that often reflect the changing domestic and international economic and political exchanges.  The central importance of these religious documents to the literate contemporary culture can be correlated to the importance of America’s founding documents in our literate culture, today, thus making an illuminated Declaration of Independence, Constitution or Bill of Rights a relevant activity.  Furthermore, there are multiple opportunities to study centuries of European Medieval examples in museums, university archives, or online.  Cultural exchange can be demonstrated in an illuminated Constitution, for example, by accounting for the changing face of American culture with the subjugation of the western frontier and the introduction of various immigrant groups in the iconography used.

Keep an eye out for off-beat exhibitions that may also demonstrate the point.  For example, during the Japanese Internment, the living facilities were minimal, but the internees made some beautiful artwork out of functional objects, such as furniture.  That is the sort of museum exhibit that could fuel an art project, reinforced by the historical material.  If you live in a city with a strong connection to an operable sea dock and there was a locally hosted modern exhibit on sailors’ art, you could tie this closely to historical examples of exploration, sea voyages, etc.  Many exhibits are also created with correlating online  exhibits that can be used, too.

So, take advantage of a great opportunity for a collaborative and interesting project, but don’t overuse it.  Make sure it is on point and facilitates a better understanding of the culture you are studying.

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Filed under art, Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning

Summer Olympics = Summer Adventures for the Family

This summer, the Summer Olympics are rocking London.  The Olympics are a fascinating source of cultural history.  They also present some great summer opportunities for families.  The marketing machine will be clamoring at a full din before you know it, so most kids will be aware of the Games shortly if they are not already following the lead-up.

Little of the marketing will get your kids doing anything, though (unless you pick up the nifty Great Britain Legos).  And, by now, most of your kids are out of school looking for something to do.  So, if you are looking for summer activities for your kids I have a few suggestions that will get them up and moving and exploring history and the world!

Below, are three ideas for themed exploration.  Try one or all of them!  Included are “Resources” that include links to website–some of these have books or DVDs for purchase, others have films provided.  I did not include specific offline resources for convenience, but they do exist, so check out your local library.

The Greek Olympics

Revisit the past!  The Greeks participated in Olympic Games for religious reasons and political pride.  The Greeks took it very seriously!  Winners were heroes; losers disgraced their city-states.  There were many events especially in what we would describe as field and track events, today.  One of the most important was the Pentathalon: long jump, discus throw, javelin throw, sprint and wrestling match.

Use the period during which the Games are running and host a Greek festival!  After having the kids explore the ancient Greek Olympics via the web or through DVDs or books, collaborate with them to design events for a Greek festival family or neighborhood Olympics.  Work it in and around the schedule of events that folks want to watch and serve classical Greek food (or modern Greek food, if you must, after all we love our baklava).


These resources either focus specifically on the Greek Olympics or include them in more general discussions about the history of the Olympic Games.  While it is likely to expect that many of your standard documentary channels will ramp up coverage as the games approach, there are already some programs available.

Perseus Digital Library Project

The Ancient Olympics

History Channel

The Olympic Games


National Geographic

2012 Summer Olympics

Registration for educational materials

History for Kids

Olympic Games

Food in Ancient Greece

History of Greek Food Blog

History of Greek Food

The Modern Games

2012 London Olympics Pictograms: Silhouette Version

While the above focuses on the ancient history of the games, the Games are also an opportunity to focus on modern history.  In fact, the Olympic Games provide a really unique and informative means for studying some of modern history’s events and conflicts, because the Olympic Games are such an important international stage for competition.

Some of the famous moments include Hitler’s Olympics in Berlin–the same Games in which Jesse Owens dominated the track and field events–preceding World War II, the Cold War Games, the Munich Games in 1972, and China’s games in the last Summer Olympics.  These Olympic Games, being of the modern era, include many of the sports that are still played, today (although the selection of the Games varies year to year).

Once you’ve spent some time looking at all of the challenges involved in the Games, induced by politics and conflict, perhaps the best way to celebrate is with a community sporting event collaboratively hosted by the neighborhood association, church, civic group or other community group.  Have an international potluck, organize some games, and enjoy the day.

Depending on how great the desire is to make it an educational event, families can pick participating countries and look at the current news from that country, answering questions such as: what’s going on politically, how are international relations with other countries, what are the relations like within the host country of “Great Britain,” in which the individual countries that make of up Great Britain are competing as one team?  At the potluck there can be an informational poster-board, international food, etc.


Many of the same resources above, are also useful for the history of the Olympic Games in the modern era.  Below, I’ve added more sources on recent history and the Games.


(This site provides a review and link to a number of useful sites on the topic and may well add an additional set of resources as Games approach.)

Amateur Athletic Foundation Digital Archive

Triumph: Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics


Doping for Gold

Politics and the Olympics

LA84 Foundation

Olympic Oral Histories

LA84 Homepage

Routledge Online Studies on the Olympic and Paraolympic Games


Internet Archive

Jesse Owens radio Interviews from Olympic Games 1936

Sports Illustrated Vault

March 3, 1980 issue

Indonesia Puts on its Games of the Newly Emerging Forces – December 2, 1963

When the Terror Began – August 26, 2002

Gleanings From a Troubled Time – December 25, 1972

The International Games

Of course, one can simply take the time to delve into the international culture of the Olympic Games and highlight different countries and their athletes.  This can be less historical and more of a modern survey for your family, though history can still be included.

There are different ways to do this:

  • Make individual country profiles for each day of the Games (family members can help with this)
  • Have international dinners during the days of the Games and at each meal recap that country’s accomplishments from that day of the Games, or create a running score board for the countries you chose in advance
  • Assign each family member a particular country to investigate, follow and share with the rest of the family
  • Host an Olympic Games-themed party or picnic and have each guest/family pick a different country, supplying ethnic cuisine at the potluck, bringing a flag and an informative printout or poster about the countries–families can compete in a mini-Olympics, follow their countries throughout the Games, etc.
The Olympic Games will be the sporting event of the summer while they are on, but interestingly the Summer Games are not followed as closely by as many folks as the Winter Games.  With so many summer activities, the events’ results are often followed more closely than the events themselves.  This means it is easy to have them on in the background while doing other things–like picnics and parties!


While enjoying the Games there are number of resources for results, events, and country information.

2012 Summer Olympic Games Coverage

Olympic Games Movement

NBC’s coverage

ESPN’s coverage

BBC Sport – Olympics

Team USA

Country information

CIA’s World Factbook

BBC Country Profiles

* * * * *

Enjoy the summer with Summer Games!  Compete against each other in friendly competition for swimming, biking, running, H.O.R.S.E., soccer penalty kicks, canoeing or kayaking, or invent your own events etc.!  Create decathlons or find a local adventure race–and be sure to drink water, wear sunscreen, and eat!  Have fun!

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Filed under Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Games, Sports

Oh the little, little things! Minor struggles in book-editing.


Lesser printing fee, greater eye strain.

I’ve been working diligently (well, fairly diligently) on a book about teaching and sharing history.  I had a great system to get myself started: I just started writing!  This blog was very helpful in that regard, because I could pull content from the blog and modify it for the book.  I did not worry about the book’s specific layout, initially.  I had certain content that I knew I wanted to include and made a few general outlines, but otherwise I just wrote on those topics and subjects!

A few months ago, I reached enough content that it was time to start pulling it together and organizing it all.  I wasn’t done, had not written all of it, but had enough material that the next pieces I wrote would benefit from the guidance of seeing how far I had come at the time and figuring out approximately how much further I had to go, what directions I would take, and what themes or research were still required.  Bon.  Alles gut.

So, I took all of these individually typed Word files down to my local print shop, because I can’t really edit anything of real length properly on the computer screen, and printed out all of my individual files.  I organized them, pulled out a working table of contents, did some preliminary editing, and brought it altogether in one new Word document.  Thankfully, I completed that task before the new dog peed on the binder and yellowed the entire manuscript, which promptly went into recycling once my desire for hygiene overcame any arguments from my desire to archive.  A little rocky, at the end, but again, bon.  Alles gut.

I returned to the printer with a newer, solitary Word document that had been updated with additional material and, of course, my working table of contents.  For a variety of reasons, I have a good relationship with my local printer, who has always proven quite competent.  So, I was a little thrown when I requested 2 pages printed on 1 page, front and back–effectively giving me 4 pages on one piece of paper, and thus saving me a little green while printing out 138 pages of my draft manuscript–and was told, “I don’t know how to do that.”  I did what I could to help, but the final result was 4 pages squashed onto each page of the single-sided print job.  Not wanting to waste the 35 pages and having battled through 4 squashed pages in my grad school days while printing off .pdfs of journal papers, I figured it wasn’t ideal, but I could manage.

And, manage I have…along with the mantra, “never again,” pumping through the vitreous fluid behind my cornea!  I have gone through all 138 pages, editing away, but as I go through them a second time to update my digital draft, I find myself [hysterically] laughing away margin notes that say, “Rewrite, unclear!”  It will still be unclear when I go through the next draft, maybe even more unclear, and thus will once again earn the severe margin notes.  But, just now, at 70-odd pages in, I find my readiness to be creative and my tolerance for creating textual fixes waning as I read letters that are but barely measured in millimeters–as in 2 mm high, if capitalized–and the attendant marginalia, also necessarily small.  Deletion, or paring down, if you will, has meanwhile been far easier than on any prior text I think I’ve ever worked over.  Bon.  Alles gut.

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Filed under Historian's Journal

100 Years Later: Ways to Teach About the Titanic

100 Years Later: Ways to Teach About the Titanic With The Times – NYTimes.com.

100 Years Later Ways to Teach About the Titanic With The Times - NYTimes.com

So, the Titanic has sailed back onto our horizons, for at least a little while.  The link above will take you to the New York Times education page.  On it, you will find links to primary sources from the Titanic’s sinking, including articles from the paper’s archives.  There are a variety of suggestions, such as: making scrapbooks or mock Facebook pages (try MyFakeWall.com) which are neat ideas–easily incorporated into an existing history program or as a stand alone activity.  And, this brings up an important decision for history teachers wanting to do something with the Titanic.

What are you doing with the Titanic: Is it an opportunity to take advantage of history being covered in the news, or does it work well with what you are covering in your class already, or is it something that you simply feel compelled to cover, or is it a means to actually cover current events?  Another relevant question: Are you going to simply do a fact-finding project, a history project driven by a particular question, or a project that evaluates other disciplines either in an isolated way or in a multi-disciplined approach, such as science, engineering, or sea-exploration?

I always consider the anniversaries of particular events as interesting opportunities in teaching history, but they are also potentially awkward prospects that could unsettle the flow of the class if they do not fit in logically. Sometimes there is no real way to introduce these moments without a natural gap, such as in-class activities just before a major test or due date while students are working on tasks at home, or immediately after such a date when students are a bit exhausted.

Of course, if you are already discussing the era, then so much the better.  This is a great opportunity to evaluate Edwardian issues of class, the lingering perception of invincibility for imperialists and innovators of industry, the era’s perceptions of gender, an evaluation of the early 20th century’s media and connection with perceptions of disaster, or a more general consideration of communication developments in the age.

One of the resource links from the NY Times article: RMS Titanic Victims of the Titanic Disaster

If you are going to utilize the Titanic tragedy in class, do it with a purpose.  Be cognizant of the event’s social and cultural cache.  It may be the perfect moment to capture and wow students with a degree of interest that is sometimes hard to achieve in history classes.  Try assigning each student a person through the stories, wooing them into the drama of the past.  Provide them with multi-media sources to explore the moments they are reading about.

If your student, Tommy, reads about a young lady who gushed over dancing in the ballroom and seeing the view from her balcony, and then let him explore the underwater scene of the ballroom, today, there is a real opportunity to draw him into an experience he may have never had before.

If your student, Natalie, follows the excitement and worries of a family who put everything into this trip to immigrate to America and their struggles to keep the family together during the tragedy, complete with subsequent census records for the family after the survivors made it to the States, she may develop an interest in the nitty-gritty she never knew she was capable of sharing.

If your student, Devon, takes a look at one of the socialites who is in the newspapers leading up to the voyage and then considers his or her experience during the voyage and its disaster, they will get a personal “in” and learn a little bit about class status in the era.

This is a potential trigger moment, that can really open the world of the past in a way that other events often do not, especially for older students who are more likely to know something about the Titanic.

Titanic 100 Years -- National Geographic Channel

Additional resources:

The NY Times piece from above: 100 Years Later: Ways to Teach About the Titanic With The Times – NYTimes.com.

The BBC has interviews with survivors–great primary sources, but don’t forget the effect of history and time impacting the memory of those interviewed.

Teachinghistory.org provides a useful movie review of the James Cameron’s Titanic which is short enough to be used easily in conjunction with the movie (also complement the Hollywood experience with primary sources!!).

HistoryTech.wordpress.com offers some tech resources for Titanic lesson plans.

Larry Ferlazzo also has a collection of “The Best Sites for Learning About the Titanic.”

The History Channel’s website also has a series of articles, clips and interactive materials on its Titanic Topic’s page.

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Filed under Drama/Theater/Cinema, Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning

Student Agency, Facilitate growth and development for today (without waiting for tomorrow)

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One of the reasons students get frustrated with education is that they are constantly told what to believe, how to do things, and when to be where or turn in X.  Understandably, this is difficult for students who are trying to establish their place and identity in the world.  In fact, it may be more alarming if they are not frustrated by this.  Unless they are incredibly far-sighted and naturally less-inclined to be social, then being totally at peace with life as a sheep leaves them vulnerable to being hoodwinked by sales, media, PR, and politicians.  It also means they are less likely to stray from the box in meeting with challenges in their field or community.

Where can we grant them agency?  If they are curious about something, do we support their investigation of it, or squelch it because we cannot accommodate it in our curriculum?  When we teach, do we let them take on the lead role of researcher and investigator, or do we insist on force-feeding them (disputable) facts from a textbook?  Do we let them debate and argue the points of view that they develop as the result of study and research?  Do we provide opportunities for them to take the lead whether in developing projects or ideas?

I am not saying that we should force them to languish at the limits of inexperience and cease teaching or facilitating.  But, I am suggesting that we facilitate their ability to take action, now.  People are always telling students that they are the future.  This implies that they must wait.  Wait to make an impact.  Wait to be involved.  Wait to be professional.  Why must they wait?  Do we expect them to mature faster if they are in every other regard waiting?  Yes, they must wait to be of driving age, voting age, and drinking age.  Yes, they should wait on major decisions that will have profound impacts on their life though they may not now be psychologically prepared for all of the considerations needed in the decision-making process.  All the more reason to facilitate healthy decision-making, project-planning, and development in their education.  Provide a safe environment where students can take risks, but in which the risks safely result in learning experiences instead of potentially harmful consequences if the gamble fails.

It works in every field.  Business plans, science experiments, policy questions and planning, etc.  In grad school, I had a theory that there was rhyme and reason, as yet undiscovered, in the ordering of Bede’s Martyrology.  After a semester of possible ideas, I found nothing conclusive (though, I still have to wonder if I was just unable to find the answer).  My final project included the admission that I had failed to find anything suggesting a method to its design.  Sometimes we have to fail.  Sometimes we have to dare something big, fail, and learn valuable lessons and insights that will make our next dare more successful.

In history, where textbooks could as likely be weapons of indoctrination as educational tools, it is important that we give students the opportunity to learn how to think like a historian, how to research, conclude, and argue.  Give them the opportunity to find the answers that they seek with guidance, but not by being told what they should conclude.  Give them the opportunity to be historians and not just passive learners (which seldom means they are actually learning).

Historians research primary sources and critically review secondary sources.  So should students.  Historians provide arguments for their conclusions, answering their own questions that have been generated through their reading or listening of primary and secondary sources.  So should students.  Historians provide peer reviews at all stages of a project.  So should students.  Historians attend colloquia, in which they hear the presentation of papers and ideas from other historians–even those coming from outside their own sub-field.  So should students.

In this way, they are legitimately validated in their own hard work and thought processes.  They genuinely develop self-confidence in their own abilities (note, that all of the above included the skills of writing, speaking, arguing, researching, presenting, and developing one’s own conclusions).  They work through difficult processes some of which may lead to dead ends, but which may nonetheless lead to much valuable learning through self-reflection.  They practice discerning which testimony is valuable and make judgments about which is more reliable.  They work through the arguments of others and test the logic used, making them more skilled at evaluating the proposals of others in different fields and contexts.

By giving students agency, now, you are not telling them that they have to wait to think, argue, develop plans or solutions, or to act.  You are facilitating, challenging, and testing them on being active right now.  You are helping them be more effective in every area of their life.


Filed under Editorials on education, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning

History and Project-Based Learning

I am committed to the concept of project-based learning as a teaching tool in history.  Projects can be small, confined to a single class period or two, or lengthy endeavors, that gobble up a couple of weeks or one class a week for an extended period.  In community college, my testing assignments were take-home mini-projects that students had to complete individually in two weeks time.  The main idea, here, is to get students learning by doing, not just reading, listening, or memorizing.  (Most memorizing does not actually lead to memorization, but that’s another post for another time.)

To introduce the general concept, I am borrowing two of Edutopia’s videos for a basic introduction:

I have covered many such projects (see posts in my Experiencing History – Project Based Learning category).  The general idea is to get students learning about historical content and historical method.  Thus, projects create two kinds of experiences:

  1. Experiences that help students better comprehend a foreign time and place, resulting in skills-building in problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and presentation.
  2. Experiences that help students better comprehend how a historian operates, resulting in skills-building in problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and presentation plus the skills a historian uses, such as critical reading, writing, argumentation, research, and peer review.

Projects of varying size and time commitment can be manufactured to create either type of experiential learning or both.  This is a much more effective way to build skills and create long-term retention of materials.  Entire units or elements of units can be taught in this way or projects can replace standard testing with application of learned materials. This provides students with more tools in the learning process, as well as more mechanisms for retention.

K-12 education may seem to offer more project types, and this is true to an extent, but there are many opportunities for academic level projects that should not be overlooked.  Some of these may be best achieved through collaborative electives, such as fiction-writing, documentary-making, historical archaeology, music programs, or oral history projects (that can be recorded), but department colloquia or conferences, journals, and peer review programs introduce projects that nicely emulate the actual responsibilities of professional academic historians.

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Filed under Experiencing History - Project Based Learning