Resources for Non-Textbook Based Inquiry in History

This week there was a lot of inquiry going on in the History room.  The 8th graders were studying the Boston Massacre and the beginnings of the revolution in America; the 6th graders were preparing for press conferences to announce the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by King Menes; the 7th graders presented the results of their week-long inquiry into how the Christian church took over as law and order in Western Europe after Rome fell. 

The students were engaged with the material and with each other, all week long.  They were not sitting in their seats, bored out of their minds, taking notes, listening to a boring lecture and struggling to stay awake.  They were actively doing research, asking questions, planning, organizing, leading and following, writing, revising, and rehearsing for presentation time.  Learning must look like this; it must be students doing. Students listening to someone talking about learning or rote memorizing are not learning.

I have always had a project- and problem-based classroom, but over the years, my approach has evolved to almost purely inquiry.  I have discovered that there just isn't any other meaningful way to teach or learn history. I am a trained historian myself, so I understand the challenges historians face doing history for a living.  I understand that historians don't have a textbook with the answer key; they must analyze, collaborate, discuss, research, interview, revise and present their work.  Sometimes they have to go back to the drawing board because they discovered their findings are off base; that's life.  That's my classroom.  My students are much better for this method rather than the reading, memorizing and studying from the textbook method.

Teaching the Boston Massacre this week, I decided to do something different from all the other times I have taught this lesson.  This time, I simply provided my students with 7 primary source documents, essential questions (goals to work towards), a couple of internet resources, and a simple Animoto with background information.  I let them puzzle out the events, the issues, and the controversy of perspective and propaganda. 

(Link to Boston Massacre background information: http://www.bostonmassacre.net/)

For this activity, I used the "Multiple Perspectives Activity," although there are many other great lesson plan ideas and resources on this link: Boston Massacre.

When they presented their findings to the class, I was amazed at the results.  Because I had not introduced the subject, they did not approach the lesson with any preconceived notions.  They approached the lesson with blank minds, but quickly formed their own opinions based on all the readings. Because I did not introduce the controversy about the 'massacre' to them, they began to form the understanding of the event all by themselves, in their inquiry and in their own discussions with each other. 

The results were so much richer than in any previous years because the students were allowed to form their own understanding of the event, rather than learning it from the perspective of a teacher who introduces the topic with a bias.

 

(This is the introductory material that I used.  I showed it to the class after they had already read and analyzed the primary source documents listed above.)

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