Catalog of Lessons by Category > Multi-Modal Projects & Interdisciplinary Learning > History

Catalog of Lessons by Category > Multi-Modal Projects & Interdisciplinary Learning > History 2017-10-03T02:27:27+00:00
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One exercise that has been particularly effective in engaging the interest of my eighth grade students is a project I do each spring called Rome-Net. In this month-long activity, each student is assigned an identity from Roman history which she is tasked with representing on a school-based social network comparable to Facebook. The participants all create pages on which they post biographies and images of their classical personae. They act out major and minor events from Roman history through status updates and posts on classmates’ walls. The students can even make friend requests. In order to make posts, students must find information on their subject in primary and secondary sources. The desire to make posts has typically increased the effort and enthusiasm of many students. Students relish the opportunity to make “friends” on this project and act out eventful historical relationships such as those of Brutus and Caesar or Antony and Cleopatra. This passion is evident in the sad way some students talk about having to make their last post. I am struck by how some students are still able to tell me their Rome-Net identities even years later as juniors or seniors.

Student performance on Rome-Net also reflects increased interest. Many students do significantly better on Rome-Net than on other projects, though Rome-Net is at least as challenging. Additionally, student reflections and comments at the end of the project indicate that the project has had some success in prompting students both to think about how history is made and to consider new perspectives. Because they are invested in their historical figures, they are more likely to question their personae’s representation in ancient sources as well as their own perspectives on a given subject.

The fact that the girls work together and produce products that they previously knew nothing about was very rewarding and exciting and demonstrated their strengths as students.
One project I found especially interesting and engaging was on the 13 colonies. We worked in groups of two and each group would research a colony. Once we had collected all of our research, we made a Google site about our colony. Once all the groups had finished making their sites the class got to look at everyone’s site. I thought this project was especially interesting because we got to do fun interactive things (like making a site) while we learned a lot about the 13 colonies. I learned a lot about my colony, Rhode Island, because I researched it, but I also learned a lot about the other 12 colonies because I found the sites my classmates made very interesting. I think it is a lot more fun to look at sites made by my classmates than to just read a textbook or have the teacher lecture. I thought this project was very engaging and I would love to do another like this.
Some of the most effective lessons I’ve used in teaching history in the upper school (grades 9 to 12) work to connect the larger themes we’re studying to the girls' own emotional lives. This isn’t unique to girls, of course--I attended a “Learning and the Brain” seminar at Columbia University, which made clear that students’ emotional investment in an activity or topic made a significant difference in their retention, regardless of their gender--but in getting the students genuinely worked-up and engaged, emotional involvement is key. This was particularly evident in a “roast” we did of president Andrew Jackson, adapting a “This is Your Life”-style panel. Students were asked to draw randomly from a list of names, including AJ and a number of his major opponents and critics, then to prepare for the roast. Students arrived quite excited, as AJ’s activities regarding Indian Removal, the economic situation, and conflict with the legislature raised some major controversies. What went particularly well was the expression of disagreement, even hostility. Often my students are reluctant to express dissent or independence in class discussion. We know they have no trouble doing so via the safety of a keyboard, or even in social groups, but as individuals asked to express an opinion and account for it in class, they hesitate (“Oh, I don't know . . .” or prevaricate (“This may be stupid, but…”) which I find thoroughly dismaying. In this activity, however, they jumped right in, articulating their positions with vigor, making connections, and putting quite a bit of verve into their roles. This is S.O.P. for role-plays, of course, which is why we do them, but for girls at a school where niceness and politesse are at high value, for them to state their views and their arguments with energy, and then be willing to stake their ground and hold it, their engagement with and commitment to this activity was gratifying to me. They retained it, too--at the end-of-semester evaluation, several of them recalled it as their favorite class of the term.
AP Euro – 12TH grade – Enlightenment. Students are assigned a philosopher from the Enlightenment (Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, Kant, etc.) and are required to research their character in regard to education. While some philosophers wrote on education, others did not, so students need to infer what they would have thought based on their writings. Students then need to research their “peers” to figure out who had similar views and who had differing opinions. After their research is complete they need to create a brochure outlining their school’s basic beliefs. Some questions for them to consider would be:

a. What would your ideal school’s overall goals be?
b. How would your school be funded? By government, religious institution, parents?
c. What would be your school’s curriculum--what subjects would be studied, and how? Will the curriculum include religion?
d. Will you offer any extracurricular activities, and if so, what?
e. Who will attend your school (are social class, religion, race or gender of the students important to you?)?
f. What will the school’s rules be, and how will they be enforced? Should students have a voice in determining the rules?
g. What would your ideal graduating student be like?
h. What do your ideas have in common with other philosophes? Do you disagree with any other philosophes? You need to know how you fit in with the group, not just what your individual ideas are.

Then we simulate an actual salon. Students come to my home since we are a boarding school and we have tea/coffee and pastries. Then I start the salon and pose the question “What is the perfect school?” and they debate in character from their Enlightenment thinker’s point of view, being sure to use primary source quotations. Student retention of the material in this unit is exceptionally strong and on evaluations they write that this activity was crucial in them retaining the information.