History is a bunch of grass. And we need to let our kids play on it.
Bob Edens had been blind since birth. Fifty-one years of darkness, sounds, smells, and touch followed. But after a remarkable laser surgery, Bob can now see. For 51 years, Bob had imagined what things looked like based mainly on the descriptions of others and what he could feel.
I never would have dreamed that yellow is so . . . yellow. But red is my favorite color. I just can’t believe red.
He’s now seeing for himself what he had only imagined.
Grass is something I had to get used to. I always thought it was just fuzz. But to see each individual green stalk . . . it’s like starting a whole new life. It’s the most amazing thing in the world to see things you never thought you’d see.
Sometimes I think we do this with kids. We tell them about history and have them read about history but we never let them experience history. They never get to actually “see” the individual people and events and details – students rely on us to describe those things for them. We can forget that history is supposed to be a verb, not a noun – especially at this time of the school year when we’re trying to make sure to “cover” everything.
So . . . how can we help our kids see history?
The Heath brothers book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die has some interesting things to say about how we can best engage our learners. I especially like what they say about creating mystery and using emotional stories to suck kids into our content.
- Web sites like DocsTeach, the Stanford History Education Group, Zoom In, the Smithsonian Learning Lab, and Historical Scene Investigation provide hands-on kinds of stuff for kids to play with.
- Virtual reality tools like Google Expeditions, Google StreetView, and Google Arts & Culture give kids the chance to solve realistic problems and experience history first hand.
- Simulations such as those over at iCivics and Mission US all support the brain’s need to solve emotional, real-life problems.
- If you’re gonna use a direct instructional tool like a lecture, do it using strategies ways that engage and involve kids in what’s going on. Simply talking at them is not going to work. Try a micro-lecture or interactive lectures. Use images. And problems. Or images with problems.
We shouldn’t be trying to describe the individual grass stalks for our kids. They need to out there playing on it.