Posted by: hlumpkin | October 17, 2012

Adding Meaning to History Class with Creative Projects

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For all of you history buffs out there, history may be exciting, easy to remember, and highly relevant and meaningful.  For others of you, myself included, history may be associated with boredom because of the countless hours spent studying dates and facts in history textbooks and lecture notes trying to make some of this information stick in the brain long enough to pass a quiz or test.  I was pleased to discover that History of Wilderness Exploration at Conserve School is nothing like the boring, unmemorable history classes that I have experienced and that history teacher Michael Salat is using teaching methods that make history exciting, easy to remember, and highly relevant and meaningful, even for students who would not consider themselves history buffs.

One of the central ideas I have encountered in a course I’m taking in educational neuroscience is this: information that does not have personal meaning and that does not make sense is unlikely to be remembered beyond tomorrow’s quiz.  On the other hand, information that is meaningful and that makes sense has a very high probability of being committed to long-term storage.  To complicate matters more, what is meaningful for the instructor may not necessarily be meaningful for the students.  In history students have been learning about the Corps of Discovery, i.e. the Lewis and Clark expedition, and reading Stephan Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage.  At the end of this unit students were asked to complete a history project that was meaningful to them.  The open ended format of the project allowed student to be creative and to focus on an aspect of the Corps of Discovery that was meaningful to them.  Evaluation of the projects was based on educational value to the class, creativity, quality of work, and effort

Some of the projects were:

  • a dramatic presentation about the encounters that the Corps of Discovery had with different Native American groups
  • a presentation and artwork focused on Sacagawea
  • descriptions of the wildlife encountered during the journey
  • a poem and in-depth analysis of the handwriting of Meriwether Lewis
  • a video presentation of the expedition’s medicine and medical practices
  • a presentation about the different types of horsemanship used by the Corps of Discover and by Native Americans
  • an exhibition of hand-crafted moccasins and presentation about clothing crafted and worn by the Corps of Discovery
  • a hand-carved canoe paddle painted with a map and accompanied by a power point presentation about Fort Clatsop
  • a board game depicting a part of the journey taken by the Corps of Discovery
  • a hand-painted mural in the stairwell

Each of these presentations was very creative and allowed the students to link historical information with something that was meaningful to them such as horses, art, and graphology (the study of handwriting).  After watching the student’s presentations, I feel confident that these students will remember these pieces of history for a long time to come and will understand how to transfer this knowledge to their own lives in the future.

~ Graduate Fellow Heather Lumpkin


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