Now that was a long title, but hopefully it covers the essence of the problems of how history is taught. What does it mean to make History fun? Is it all fun and games or is it engagement and interest? What is your goal while reading this article? By the end of the article we will answer one question, how do we make History more understandable and help your student gain higher retention.
A well-renown social studies speaker, Sam Wineburg was quoted to say:
"I don’t think that a history class should be about things such as History Alive or about making cute posters, or about making history “engaging.” It’s about getting students to thinking rigorously about the evidence. Fun is okay, but I would rather have them hate the class and come out of the class having the skills needed to be good citizens than having them enjoy themselves."
I personally, professionally, and academically disagree with his premise. It is the joy of History that will help them learn the skills that will make them better citizens, if better citizenship came mostly from a classroom.
Think of it this way. If someone resents a task that their parents ask them to do and mope and complain through the task, then they are less likely to want to go further with that skills development. There will be a resentment and while they will learn that skill, psychologically there will have resentful feelings towards that information which will come up in the future. At the same time, to part of his point, I would rather have them learn the skill any way possible because then at least they have the skills but it may be to the skills detriment.
Now let me break in here to explain that Sam Wineburg is well known for his philosophy of teaching history in the public-school system. The system that loses students left and right because of some of this type of mindset. We force feed our students skills that they either won’t use or resent after obtaining them. Is there a better way of doing this? Maybe a new way of thinking could help solve the problems of the public schools as well as make homeschool, private, and charter school thrive even more than they already do.
So how do you engage the student, meaning helping them think while interacting with information, like Historical facts, in a way that allows them to learn the subject and enjoy the skills that they are learning.
There was an article written back in 2014 for the History News Network called Five Things Historians and Teachers Need to Do to Make History Fun written by Tim Grove, Chief of Museum Learning at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and author of A Grizzly in the Mail and Other Adventures in American History that gave some ideas about engagement with college age students.
Treat your Students as an Equal. Share your sources
In a normal classroom, or a homeschool area of your home, setting we treat our students as underlings or just kids. As they get older, they respond better with being more on the same level as the teacher. Take Science class, if we stop lecturing them and instead use them as a lab assistant or partner and give them actual responsibilities that meet that level of intellect. As they begin to turn their learning into actual tasks, knowing that they are thought of as equals, they will feel pride and enjoyment in what they are doing. Think of it this way, if you explain to your student that they are now in charge and you are their partner or assistant, then they will be vested in the information, results, and the process. In the hierarchy of effective learning, teaching has the highest retention rate of learning. By putting your student in charge, they then become vested in the information. And because you must know the information before you teach it, and so they are more likely to retain that information well beyond the school years.
Creating a Personal Connection Creates a Stronger Neurological Connection
Use experiences or questions that allow them to feel they are or could have been part of history engages their imaginations. When learning about the Romans, don’t just feed information to them but experiences and questions that allow them to connect. When learning about the Aqueducts ask a questions like: “What would happen if all the pipes in the city and in your house weren’t there. How would you get water from (the local reservoir) to our home?” Then actually drive them to the location to look at the terrain. If you can’t drive, show pictures of the hills and obstacles they would need to overcome.
Provide a Different Perspective
“There is power in the unexpected.” Let’s talk about the Crapper. A man that changed the world by placing toilets inside the house instead of a wash houses. Did he invent the first toilet, NO. Did he make it popular to place toilets inside the house, YES. So teach the smaller stories and give a perspective to the larger issue that they solved. Did Eli Whitney create the first Cotton Gin? People seem to think so but there were dozens of other designs before him, so what made him so famous?
Tell the Smaller Stories – Personal Touch
We love to give the birds eye view of different events in history, but do we give them the personal touch. Everyone that played a part in the Event had a greater story, difficulties in their lives, and even major lose. The richest millionaire in recent history didn’t just one day wake up and have a million dollars in their bank account, most of them had to go through great struggles to make their millions. In the Great Depression and Industrial Revolution many of the richest men in the world began with nothing. Take Andrew Carnegie for example, he came to America with nothing and grew a Steal Empire that rivals any of the companies today. He went from working a below the “minimum wage” job on the railroad to making a million dollars every day.
Find Ways to Show Your Interest and Excitement
A student can feel the joy or excitement that their teacher is feeling. If the teacher is having a bad day the student can feel it as well. If the teacher is happy, the student will feel that and link that feeling with the lesson they are learning. As a teacher, we truly affect the experience of our students. So, if you are a naturally a negative person, please don’t teach. If you don’t like history, please don’t focus on your pains but find ways of teaching the subject in some way that you will enjoy the experiences. When they feel your excitement, they are more likely to enjoy it as well. If you can find activities that both of you enjoy then you made your job so much easier.
Teaching will never be easy, it’s not supposed to be. It is supposed to be a learning experience where you start off not knowing what you are doing and ending up being a pro. The same things goes for students. It’s not always enjoyable but the more joy that you can link to their experience, the easier it will be to retain and enjoy it for many years after obtaining their knowledge.