Using Activities To Teach History

Hello friends,

It has been a month since my last post!  I apologize for that.  Unexpectedly my job in ResLife and my assignments for my courses all seemed to be placed in this past month.  I’m back now, and though my posts may be sporadic during my Finals Week I do plan on making a renewed effort in posting.

This past semester I have been in a High School completing my Junior Field Experience through teaching ninth-graders in United States history.  Aside from the awkwardness of ninth-graders, teaching history in high school presents unique challenges.  Students come in tired, they come in stressed, or they come in unmotivated.  Many of these students have been taught that history is just memorizing events, they don’t realize how wrong that view is.  I

The teacher who supervises me and myself have both had discussions about how to make history engaging, and force students to think critically about the past.  I have also taken a course on Teaching History, and I applied one of those strategies a couple weeks ago.

So, to give you some quick context, I am teaching about America preparing for World War I.  We are talking about patriotism, Espionage and Sedition Acts, anti-German Hysteria, the draft, and propaganda.  I opened up with a lecture covering these things, as usual, the students seemed to just be there to take notes.  Then I turned back to the class and said, “Now it is time for you to be the historians.”  I had printed out several propaganda pieces from the time period, then I used an worksheet based on the PAIRe model found in Bruce VanSledright‘s book.

Students had to identify what the source was, who made the source, and why they would make it.  Then I asked them to rewrite the poster using 2013 language, but making sure that the message of the poster was secure.  Students were put in groups and spent the time searching through the pictures for hints on how to answer my questions.  I walked around to groups just in case they needed some additional support.

Following their research, I then had them trade posters with other groups to allow for multiple interpretations on each poster.  Then after they were done analyzing the second poster I brought all the groups back to their seats and we began looking at each poster.  I put a poster on the screen, and I had both groups read their answers.  Sometimes there answers were very similar, but sometimes they were different.  I had them explain what about the pictures led them to their answers, and that led to a good conversation about understanding historical documents — and more specifically, understanding the role of propaganda in World War I.  It was a good lesson, and at the end of the day I had a student who usually just goofs off in class come up to me and say, “That was a cool lesson, Mr. Strunk.  I wish we did more stuff like that in history classes.”  Hopefully with this new crop of history ed majors, we can make this student’s wish come true.

-Phil

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Christian, Lover of History, Aspiring Teacher

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Posted in Teaching History

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