Teaching Learning World History at Variable Scales in Middle and High Schools

AHA Session 208
World History Association 3
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Room 601 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Ross Dunn, San Diego State University
The Audience

Session Abstract

Today, world history is a foundational course in the curriculums of the great majority of public schools in the United States, a success inspired partly by the extraordinary growth of the Advanced Placement world history program since 2002. The AP course excepting, few state content standards or precollegiate textbooks provide middle and high school teachers and students with explicit conceptual and analytical frameworks for enhancing the coherence and intelligibility of a full year’s study. Students may acquire historical thinking skills investigating specific events or primary source documents. But if world history courses that span large swathes of time, space, and subject matter are to be something other than exercises in cognitive fragmentation and confusion, students need analytical tools that enable them to build meaning from historical data, connect pieces of information to larger patterns and generalizations, make comparisons, and ask good questions that may be addressed drawing on appropriate evidence. An effective world history course requires investigation of the past from local up to global scales. Research in the United States and Britain on young people’s historical cognition has shown that intellectual engagement and comprehension may improve as learners analytically link historical specificities to larger contexts of meaning in time and space and, vice versa, anchor “big pictures” of the past to examples, details, and concrete evidence at relatively small scales.

This panel will bring together educators who have all engaged, in both research and classroom experience, with the dynamics of “scale shifting” as an important issue in teaching and learning world history. The panelists will give attention to four questions, among others, that address the development of critical thinking skills related to variable scales: Why is it important for world history students to undertake evidence-based study of patterns of change at very large scales (transregional, global) as well as investigate histories of particular civilizations or nations, and how may this approach advance understanding of change at both global and regional levels? Why, as research has shown, do students commonly ascribe even major changes in human history to the intentions and desires of individual or group actors rather than take account of large-scale structural factors? How can the historical profession contribute to a greater and much needed understanding of how young people think and learn about the past, particularly how they conceive relationships among events occurring at different scales, how they compare events in different contexts of time and space, how they formulate questions to interrogate significance at different scales, and how they apply evidence to in addressing explanations of change on local, regional, and global scales? Finally, how might teacher education more effectively address such analytical issues as variable scales and thus transcend the study of the past as serial fact acquisition?

This panel addresses directly the "scale in history" theme of the conference. The panel expects to attract an audience of collegiate world history instructors and graduate students, middle and high school social studies teachers, and professionals interested in issues of historical pedagogy and cognition.

See more of: AHA Sessions