Hi there! I've not been very frequent in my posts lately, as I currently do not have internet access at home. This situation is a change from that of my residence in New York, where I spent perhaps too much time online. Also, I don't usually write my own pieces on this page, but would like to discuss an educational topic that has become very relevant to me over the past month: Activity-based teaching.
I grew up in the days where activity-based learning entailed filling in blanks on lecture notes distributed during class. I am convinced that the only purpose for this activity was to prevent 20 heads down - half of which whose snoring would drown out any teacher. While I was one of the fortunate (or unfortunate) souls to remain upright during class, I regret that I didn't learn a thing from the lecture-and-notes exercise. This is how history was taught to me through my second year of undergraduate studies. It is also why I disliked history up to that point in my life.
When I transfered to a 4-year college junior year, I was pursuing another major, and for several reasons I abandoned that major for one in history. Despite having learned basically nothing from my previous history coursework, there still existed something in me that liked the study of the past. Usually, however, this interest was separate from the material taught in the classroom. However, upon taking courses at this new university, I discovered something new about the way history was taught as well. As opposed to the lecture-only methodology espoused in high school and community college, upper class studies included seminars around discussion topics, assignments that allowed students to take on the perspective of certain historical figures, and ample choices of the topics explored due to the plethora of courses available. I finally had a say in what I learned and how I learned it. Therefore my love of learning about the past could be expressed through the classroom and through organized study.
It is through this pedagogical enlightenment that I arrived in graduate school - to learn how to teach history. In addition to my small wealth of learning activities and content knowledge, my professors, peers, and supervisors added fuel to the fire. At the end of that year, I walked away with a library of learning strategies, materials, and links to more of the same. I also walked away with a new lens upon which to teach social studies: current and relevant social issues.
We live in a world in which adolescents must take on some very challenging responsibilities. They must be expert managers of time, trustworthy caretakers of siblings, and are expected to make crucial life decisions based on there abilities to think critically and successfully. The latter responsibility must be nurtured and encouraged in the classroom, so that the former responsibilities can be achieved - along with others. Simply teaching social studies through rote memorization and recitation won't give students the tools to face those responsibilities. Giving students the tools to think and act for themselves will. In turn, it is our responsibility as social studies teachers to do so, and this can best be accomplished through interactive, relevant activities. What is more relevant than the world in which these students live? They live in a world of social issue after social issue. They live now, without really understanding how we got to "now". History and social studies provide the context, examples, and road that lead to today's complex and important issues. It is through understanding these past precedents, people, and events that they can make informed choices in this "now" world.
The above philosophy is how I see history as relevant to the lives our the young men and women in our classrooms. Through activities that allow student to discuss their own values, thought, and feelings, lessons curriculum becomes connect to their lives. Additionally, we live in a very diverse world which is also seen in the schools. By facilitating discussions and other interactive activities in the history classroom from a number of perspectives, our students can better understand why events are important to them, and why they are important to those events. History should be about "us" and not "them" in order to matter, and in order to see the complete and bigger picture of the discipline.
Thanks for reading these brainstormed thoughts from my caffeine-filled mind. Please feel free to comment. Just as I want to know what's on the minds of my students, I want to know what's on the minds of my peers. You and I are part of the bigger picture, too!
ONLINE PORTFOLIO & ISSUES IN SOCIAL STUDIES EDUCATION
- Eric Joseph Nally
- Annandale, Virginia
- Social Studies teacher with 2 years experience as a substitute, 1 year as a student teacher, and 6 years of volunteer work in various roles. I specialize in differentiated instruction, data driven curriculum, and authentic assessment. A New York State certified teacher, I graduated from Fordham University with an MST degree and high accolades. Finally, I hold membership with Kappa Delta Pi and NCSS as well. It is my intention to grow student confidence and widen content knowledge for students of all backgrounds, cultures and abilities through modeling literacy comprehension, critical thinking and communication skills. I believe each and every student is a valuable asset to the learning community, capable of achieving academic success. I am able to lead these young people to such success. Please click on the links on the right to learn more. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you.