The Importance of History

Over the course of this semester and given the current climate of the world, it has become increasingly evident that history and historical thinking skills are extremely valuable. While working to become a teacher and being extremely passionate about history, this seems like an obvious statement. However, with online learning, our students may be struggling to see the importance behind these skills or they may just see history as a ‘busy work’ subject with little real life application or substance. That is why its important to use history as a way to teach students to think critical thinking and challenge dominant perspectives.

Project Showcase

For my final project, I chose to look at a time period where students were empowered to bring change, however, in terms of the Cultural Revolution in China, it wasn’t good change. As shown by the events that occurred, a single narrative can be manipulated and have major consequences when its intentionally controlled and taken advantage of. Almost as a warning, but also a point of inflection, students used primary source documents to examine how narrative controlling through media and texts can really impact the way people think, especially students. This point is important to highlight because students today are exposed to just about everything thanks to the internet. It can be a very powerful tool, but it can also be extremely misleading when users don’t think critically about the content.

Another lesson that follows this type of outline, was the activity I created about the Red Scare. In this lesson, using Google Forms, students were assigned roles and looked at Red Scare propaganda. Each student had specific guiding questions to think about and were asked to figure out what people at the time were concerned with in terms of communists. Coming together in a town meeting, they were instructed to come up with a plan of action, but were also made aware that anyone at that meeting could have been a communist. This has students trying to figure out the world view of people at the time so they can see exactly how the narrative was controlled to foster that perspective.

When teaching history, as highlighted above by two of my activities, I like to teach it from different perspectives. In my student teaching now, I try to have students think critically and challenge the dominant Eurocentric historical narrative. While some people believe that ‘history is written by the winners,’ that disregards other people’s stories, thoughts, and feelings which holds immense value to our society today as it is more diverse than ever before. Through this method, I hope that my students remain resilient against just accepting what they are told as well as curious about other people and their experiences.

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Getting Creative, Co-learning and Cultural Consciousness

During my teaching last year in Taiwan I wanted to learn from my student as much as they learned from me. I spent time in and outside of class learning from my students, inquiring further on topics, getting their rationale behind an answer and seeking understanding behind cultural differences. Despite the large change of location, my inquisitive nature that roots my teaching remains. I didn’t know how to best articulate this teaching style until the end of the summer semester when Dr. Hetherington of the University of Portland School of Education described me as a co-learner. By including myself in the learning I am perceived as more accessible to my students and it enhances their communication skills, cultural awareness and critical thinking. I want to see my student’s greatest work and greatest potential and I believe that comes from allowing them to be creative, introducing and celebrating culture and fostering the knowledge in all through co-learning.

Project Showcase
One standout example of a lesson I planned that encourages students to be creative and culturally conscious involves them doing a deep dive into the lyrics and instrumentation of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? I ask them to take the drivers seat in interpreting the music and comparing the subject matter to modern America.

Continuing with a lesson that works at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy by asking my students to produce work, this primary source activity studies modern Asian culture through a democracy movement. The activity consists of students reading primary sources and then asks them about the symbolism, to question the source and to make speech bubbles for the visual sources.

This third assignment was developed as a final portfolio piece: it is a very interactive, creative lesson concocted to aid my students in future economics decision-making. Students are run through a gauntlet of Google My Maps, Adobe Spark and Google Forms and placed in the shoes of someone who is a year out of college and looking for a place to live, a job and transportation. They are faced with the economics decisions behind these choices and real-life situations they may soon experience.

I have great drive and focus when it comes to planning creative pedagogy. I want to continue to work on this strength and continue using co-learning in my teaching experience.

The Art of Storytelling

It’s true what they say, 2020 really was created by historians in order to increase book sales. Unfortunately, the books they wrote would have astronomical implications to the way education is seen. Whether for ill or for will, the way we imagine a classroom will most likely never be the same. Our reliance on perpetually evolving technology will transform the way instruction is designed, and our understanding of literacy will forever expand past the comprehension of novels. As teachers we hold a torch for the generations of tomorrow – understanding well that without the evolution and adaptation of our craft, passion and love for education will be extinguished. In the trying times of today, we take the sucker-punches of the universe and transform them into the budding brilliance of the youthful minds – where sometimes less work is more, and the best ability is availability. We wanted to avoid becoming the sage on the stage, and must work with being the queen of the screen. But when all are blind, the one-eyed man is king. So, we make do with what we have, and truck on by the power of passion and will. How can we be done when the sun rises again?

Dan Carlin once claimed to be a poor historian, but a very good storyteller. And that, should perfectly describe the way history, and maybe most social studies, should be considered. Students often claim to be “bad” at history, whatever that means, yet many are sucked into a descriptive book or memorized by a colorful movie. I think story is the difference. If taught correctly, ALL of history should captivate students by dropping jaws and pausing heartbeats. We may not be able to imitate a Michael Bay theater experience, but we are far from your grandma’s credenza radio. Virtual education has highlighted the importance of story. I have personally seen the difference between student engagement when lessons are captivating and appealing. By creating lesson plans that teach more like stories and movies, and less like graphic organizers, we are sure to spark passion and interest in students who previously thought little of history. By creating interest we are investing into participation. By fostering participation we are creating memories cementing ideas. By creating memories that cement ideas we transform individuals who in turn, transform society. How you get there is where you arrive. The following lessons may, or may not, use the principle of story as their backbone. But if adapted and transformed, all could be taught in very interesting and educational manner. I pass the torch to you, and ask that the ballad go on.

In this document-based-lesson about the trenches of WWI, students are asked to really examine the front line experiences of trench soldiers through multiple mediums – photography, first person accounts, a documentary, and fictional cinema. After examining these primary and secondary documents, students are encouraged to use their imagination and creativity by taking on the persona of a WWI soldier and writing a “Letter Back Home” to their family and loved ones. Additionally, they are also asked to combine their internet literacy with their new found knowledge of the trenches. This lesson fits into any history class that covers the storyline of WWI – whether as American, European, or world history. Most importantly, it can be taught as a story.

“A is for Atom” is a lesson that can be used in a variety of social studies courses since it highlights issues of ethics and humanity sown in history and propaganda. Students are asked to watch a video and examine photos in order to determine whether or not one (or multiple) primary accounts can be considered propaganda. The ability to identify and explain issues and consequences of propaganda are a crucial precedent that is valuable in any history class.

The Race to Space is an interactive Google Forms lesson that walks students though the space race of the Cold War by having them pick and choose their next move. Combined with comedy and banter this online lesson can be transformed into a multiple period activity/project that gives students a real opportunity to traverse the 1960s as an astronaut, or a cosmonaut. This is a great interactive lesson that lets student gather information on the opposing world superpowers as they attempt to beat each other through technological advancement. This lesson serves as a great introductory to a high school History class that covers the Cold War between the US and Soviet powers. Teach it as a story!

Critical Thinking: Our Greatest Tool During Distance Learning

Whether it is a text message, email, video lecture, or website post, students during distance learning are primarily interacting with information– not people. In today’s world, students have endless amounts of information available at their fingertips. They can recall facts from the internet with lightning speed. This has been exacerbated by the shift towards distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, in which students need to be on their devices to even attend class. While we are incredibly lucky to have technology as a means to keep us safe and connected while the Coronavirus continues to run rampant throughout our country, online learning also presents an entirely new set of complex challenges that have forcibly shifted the paradigm of commonly accepted teaching practices.

As a history teacher, I have been asked the question, “Why does learning dates and facts in history matter if I could just Google the answer?” Well, facts are an important cornerstone on which to develop historical knowledge. However, teaching our students to simply remember and regurgitate historical facts is not enough. What truly matters in both my classroom and the real world is the development of critical thinking skills: examining sources, analyzing their meaning, and forming a judgment.

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Image Source

“Remembering” is the lowest-order level of thinking in Bloom’s taxonomy, and while it is obviously important in everyday life, encouraging students to simply “remember” facts puts them at a severe disadvantage in a world that grows increasingly complicated every day. Students need higher-order thinking skills such as analysis and evaluation. These skills familiarize students with deriving information from text in order to adapt to this online environment. If students can understand the interconnections between people, ideas, and events in the past, they will also be equipped to use their critical thinking skills to maintain human connections today.

Featured Lessons:

In response, my lessons seek to foster critical thinking in my students. Each one requires students to (1) examine and analyze primary source documents through scaffolded questioning, (2) evaluate the source’s significance, and (3) form a factually based judgement about the source.

First, my “Good Friends Fight Together” lesson scaffolds primary source analysis regarding the various alliances at the beginning of World War I. I could simply tell my students which countries fought on each side of the war, but it is far more important for them to think about the relationships between each country. This lesson gives students the opportunity to analyze primary sources (either written documents or political cartoons) that illustrate the relationships between countries at the start of the war. They will discover for themselves who was on what side and why they chose to fight the way they did. Understanding the series of causes and effects based on global relationships leading up to WWI is far more relevant to my students in 2020 than simply remembering what the alliances were.

Next, my lesson entitled “You Know Your Rights. Right?” guides students in analyzing primary sources centered around the Federalist vs. Anti-federalist debate on the Bill of Rights. This lesson teaches students about the many opinions and rationales behind what rights are guaranteed in the United States. It might also challenge preconceptions by demonstrating that a Bill of Rights was not considered obvious, and some founding fathers like Alexander Hamilton actually believed its inclusion to be dangerous. After completion of this lesson, students will be able to explain the logic behind each position, an incredibly important skill in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

Third, my “Investigating Imperialism Mystery Activity” lesson allows students to act as detectives to uncover the definition and significance of imperialism. Students could easily Google the definition of imperialism and move on in their day; however, this lesson leads students through the process problem solving through investigating patterns. The goal of this activity is for students to think critically about the features of a larger concept, a skill that they could apply to other convoluted situations in today’s society, such as how a virus spreads or causes of the Black Lives Matter movement.