I remember very little from my high school history courses. I remember heavy textbooks, and dry lectures. I remember the exhaustion of memorizing names and dates, without the reward of retaining them. The most important thing I learned from those classes was what NOT to do.
I was lucky enough to have gone to a history magnet middle school, and the excitement and curiosity instilled in me there kept me afloat during the arduous sessions of high school classes. Once one discovers the magic and power of history, the light never goes out.
My middle school experience was powerful and successful because it focused on absolute historical immersion. We worked in teams, and each team would represent a certain group of individuals at a time. For example, during the unit on Ancient Greece, the teams were Greek City States; ‘Athens,’ ‘Sparta,’ ‘Delphi,’ ‘Corinth,’ etc. Each team would explore real historical figures from their City State and adopt this person as their identity for the unit. We would hold mock gatherings, listen to music of the period, study art, read literature. Even our other subjects revolved around whatever unit we were studying. I’ll once again use Greece as an example. We studied math and science with Pythagorus, Archimedes, and Aristotle. We read Homer and Herodotus. We performed plays (the un-explicit versions, of course) of Sophocles and Euripides.
Our entire class would journey to the past for the unit (we had three each year, changing teams with each unit) and become part of whatever world we were learning about. Every moment was an adventure on our personal ‘Magic School Bus.’ It really was as if history were coming alive.
We students had the structure of a time and place, and the total freedom to explore it. This autonomy allowed us to deep dive into subjects that interested us personally, while still sticking to curriculum. We were given primary, secondary, and tertiary resources, but we were also taught to discover our own- developing and exploring our opinions. I find this balance of structure and autonomy key in my learning experience. By bringing people, places, and events to life, I was able to connect to them and care about them. I remember more from my middle school days than my high school days because in the former, history became real. It held weight and context. History was real, tangible, and therefor, significant and fascinating. Where high school was rule and blind information, middle school was guidance and discovery.
I fully intend to bring these techniques of immersion into my classroom, and truly make history alive.