Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Planning for National History Day 2016

By Nina Kendall

As the start of the new school year approaches, it is time to start planning for participation in National History Day again.  Here are a few suggestions to help you get excited about student research.

1) Get to know the theme. 
The theme for National History Day 2016 is Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange. This theme provides a number of options to pursue.  Read the theme essay, look over the sample topics, and start brainstorming your own ideas.  If you spend some time thinking about the theme, it will be easier to share with students.   Look for a new way to introduce the theme. How will you encourage thoughtful topic selection? This year I was inspired by the Wisconsin Historical Society to create a theme introduction with state specific examples.

2) Encourage student voice in topic choice.
Challenge students to create a list of possible topics.  This year we started by having students compare time periods and fields of history they were interested in to create brainstorming groups. Ask students to draw on their own interest.  While a topic may see risky or unappealing to you may appeal greatly to your students. Student engagement in research is vital to success.  I have had students successfully pursue topics that were unfamiliar to me. Their passion sustained them. 

3) Introduce a New Avenue for Research
Show students different options for research. You can introduce special online services like Google scholar or databases available locally. You can encourage site visits or interviews.  Visits to museums and historic sites are fun and enjoyable ways to further your research. Share schedules for regional research facilities with students as well. Facilities can be quite welcoming to young researchers and may have planned events. During Archives Month in 2104, research facilities open their doors for visits by National History Day participants.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

History’s Canvas: Using Art in the History Classroom

By Jeff Burns

My love of history has always gone hand in hand with a love for art, so I was excited when I was recently asked to present a couple of professional learning sessions for my districts history teachers.

I have always incorporated art in my units and lessons whenever I can, and I use artworks as bulletin board and room decoration, and I think it is an important aspect of human history that cannot be overlooked.  Art is a cultural hallmark that allows us to distinguish cultures, periods, and places.  Art tells us much of what we need to know about particular periods and places, intentionally or unintentionally providing important economic, social, and political details.    Art is both primary and secondary source material. Art reflects both a contemporary perspective of the periods and events of history and how perceptions of earlier periods have changed. The study of art promotes analytical and critical thinking skills. Finally, appeals to a variety of student interests and learning styles.

So what do you with art in the classroom?  Often, I use an artwork as a hook or a warm-up to get students’ interest and attention.  Choose a work that relates to your lesson.  It could be one that students would be familiar with or something they would not.  Sometimes the unfamiliar leads to great discussions since students are all analyzing something fresh.  For this activity, I practice a spiral questioning technique, moving from most basic to advanced, scaffolding to get to high order thinking.  Start with “What do you see?  No interpretations, no analysis.  Just what do you see in the work?”  Then gradually move into interpretation:  “What does this element mean? What was going on at the time this painting was done?  How does this relate to ….?  Etc.”

Another tool that can be a lot of fun is the act-it-out, a strategy that I learned from Teachers Curriculum Institute (TCI) or History Alive.  Project a painting, poster, or photograph and ask volunteers to stand in front and assume the roles of characters in the work.  They assume their postures, maybe even use simple props, and create a backstory for the character.  Then, the teacher (or another student) interviews them as if he/she is a reporter on the scene.  This can be done either to introduce or review a topic they’ve read or studied about.  Students have fun in the process, and usually some historical connections are made.

If you have several works for them to consider, do a gallery walk.  Post copies of the work around the room or in the halls.  Divide the class into small groups and rotate them through, allowing them to see and discuss each work and take notes.  You can guide the notetaking as you see fit, but there are at least three big questions:  1)  Description. What do you see? What is it?  2) Context.  How does this work reflect the time and place of its creation?  3) Synthesis.  Can you relate this work, the theme, the ideas behind it, to any other place and time?

Small groups might also look at works chosen by the teacher or brought in by students to reflect a particular period, for example the Renaissance.  You might have 4 or 5 works.  Each group has to determine why their assigned work is the quintessential Renaissance work.  If you were in charge of curating an exhibit and had to choose one and only one work to represent the characteristics and ideals of the Renaissance, why should it be your assigned work? They then have to make their case to their peers and convince their classmates in order to reach a class consensus.

After looking at an iconic work in class, you might ask students “How would this work be different if it were painted today or in another period and place?”  For example, what would Mona Lisa look like today?  What would a Mona Lisa of the Songhai Empire look like? 

Some resources for American History:
      Smarthistory (Khan Academy)
      Art History Lessons
       Digital History Art
      Seeing American History through Art
      Art History Websites
      Robert Hughes American Visions series
Sources for World History:
      Art History Lessons
      Smarthistory (Khan Academy)
      Art History Websites