Saturday, 28 December 2013

Letting Go of the Reins...or Trusting Students

Taking inspiration from Shelley Wright, I decided to change the way I taught the Holocaust to the students enrolled in "Adventures in World History" (CHM4E1).  I wasn't going to teach them directly; rather, they were going to research, explore and create.

To begin, we talked about the question: What does the Holocaust reveal about humanity?  Students were able to recognize that tragedy can bring out the best in people and the ultimate worst in people.  From there I explained to the students that we were going to change the approach to learning.  We watched Chris Lehmann's Ted Talk "Education is Broken".  I remember reading one of Wright's posts and thinking, "Really?  Your students clapped after?" But there was some applause in my classroom.  Most of the students were inspired.  One student recognized that in the our previous unit about Gladiators, students were directing their learning and making it visible.  He said something along the lines, "I see what you're doing".  Yes, exactly...I'm trying to make learning meaningful!
Painting their exhibit about death marches. 

Working and chatting at the same time.
Students did some initial guided research about the Holocaust.  From there, we determined a variety of topics and students selected areas of interest to research more in depth and create a museum exhibit.  We discussed the set up of the museum and our discussion about the set up was interesting and intense.  Would the museum best be set up chronologically?  By topic?  Ultimately, I put two students in charge of this, and they chose a combination of chronology and topic.

To allow students to access an expert, I invited my colleague and friend, Dr. Adara Goldberg, into the classroom via a Mystery Skype.  Students prepared questions for her, as a way to round out their learning.  Additionally, we watched Schindler's List, as a way to give students visual interpretation of one story from the Holocaust, which is really the stories of many people.

Watching the collaboration and discussions that happen while doing is inspiring.  I could overhear students talking about their project.  I could hear them making reference to the Mystery Skype and to Schindler's List and how the ideas applied to their exhibit.

Explaining Auschwitz-Birkenau
to a guest.
One of the best parts of this process was watching the students actually build their exhibits.  This is where the collaboration really took place--not just between students who were working on an exhibit together--but also between students in different groups working together to meet a deadline.

I was nervous that the museum wasn't going to be finished on time, but students came in on their spares to complete all of their work and they all pitched in to help each other get things done.

Students visiting the museum.
The museum was a success. During our class period, four of my colleagues brought their classes to check out the museum and learn about the Holocaust. Additionally, some of my students' parents, and my own, came in to support the class' hard work.  Another teacher brought two of her classes by, for informal visits, as a way to provide context for their novel study on The Book Thief.

Through the museum creation, students had the opportunity to build their skills in research, collaboration, time management, and synthesis.  Skills that will serve them well in "real life".

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