Learning by Doing: Teaching Historical Thinking Using Problem-Based Learning, the Standards, and the Community

Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM
Room 304 (Hynes Convention Center)
Linda Sargent Wood , Northern Arizona University
Pre-service history teachers often walk into my classes knowing a fair amount of American history, a smattering of world history, a few teaching strategies, and a little about lesson planning. They generally love the history channel and kids. Many of these teachers-to-be have learned that history involves primary documents, multiple perspectives, and cause and effect. All have written history papers, but few have thought about teaching the historical craft. Even fewer have noted that history standards include historical thinking skills. Most note that they do not want to be teachers who engage their students in a cycle of textbook reading, worksheets, rote memorization, and multiple-choice tests. When they discover that teaching history can be an opportunity to help students “do history,” many want tools to do so. They want methods that help students confront historical problems, read sources critically, analyze solutions, and create interpretations. They need no convincing that the constructivist mode of learning is effective, but how is the question. The methods course can be an opportunity to unpack what it means to learn by doing. This paper focuses on creating history labs that engage pre-service teachers in historical work, including tracking the history of a school started by former slaves. In this simulation, students decide how the Laurel Grove School, could be turned into a museum and placed on the African-American heritage trail. A second scenario asks students to create an interpretive sign at the Grand Canyon explaining the disappearance of the honeymoon couple on the Colorado River in 1928. Showcasing several pre-service teacher projects reveals their development of historical investigations. These include recovering the history of a WWII submarine, an oral history project linking 8th graders and retired people, and a case of Vietnam veteran with Agent Orange.
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