Current Teaching Practices of High School History Classrooms Term Paper

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Technology in History Classes]

Since the beginning of education in the U.S., the classroom setting has remained the same: Students have sat quietly in their seats with just a pencil, textbook and lined paper to practice their "readin', riting and 'rithmetic." However, the advent of new technologies is heralding a change. In a growing number of schools, technological innovations are beginning to significantly change the way that information is conveyed and students learn. Depending on the creativity of the teacher, the advent of computers, CD-ROMs, videodiscs, multimedia, and cable networks is expanding the breadth of the curriculum -- from mathematics to the social sciences. For example, teachers have found multiple ways to restructure technology into high school history that have made an often very dry topic come to life.

In 1983 Howard Gardner, a Harvard University professor, introduced his theory of "multiple intelligences" (MI). His book Intelligence Reframed showed that intelligence is multi- rather than uni-dimensional. He said that teachers can have a much better understanding of how learning takes place when realizing that each student has a different combination of what he defined as seven different intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal and intra-personal. While all individuals have each of these intelligences, they differ in their respective profiles of intellectual strengths and weaknesses. "No intelligence is in and of itself artistic or non-artistic; rather, several intelligences can be put to aesthetic ends if individuals so desire," said Gardner.

This MI theory provides, he added, "different windows into the same room. We need to unleash the creative potential in all our schools to open as many windows as possible for every student to succeed. We must move forward together in a way that builds on our mutual strengths and respects our unique differences."

According to Cantu (2000), who specializes in educational technology, Gardner's framework "seems ideal for history teachers who already provide students with learning opportunities that involve maps, documents, political cartoons, broadsides, video and audio clips, and other forms of primary and secondary resources." Further, computer technology appears to enhance the ability to combine resources into in-depth MI lesson plans that respond to different student capacities for learning.

This is especially true about the Internet, adds Cantu. The World Wide Web provides both an excellent resource and platform for lesson plans. High school history teachers can develop curricula that incorporate Internet-based materials into their multiple intelligences lessons. In addition, many of the classroom activities produced may be placed on the Internet for student use.

For example, if students are to learn about the American Revolution, different Internet-based activities can be used to augment the multiple intelligences to learn this historical event: Students prone toward the logical/mathematical intelligence, can analyze statistical historical data for the war, create graphic representations based on this data, and create a hyperlinked timeline. Those with verbal/linguistic MI can use word processing and information from the Web to write a personal journal or poetry and then publish it online or critique written resources through an annotated bibliography via hypertext. The pupil with the visual/spatial mindset can build a web page that includes various visual images of the Revolution such as period illustrations and artwork, or construct hyperlinked timelines of the most significant battles along with maps of where these occurred. Individuals with musical/rhythmic MI can use the computer to compose compositions along with simple lyrics of the time or design and publish PowerPoint presentations that incorporate music and visual elements. Those with a bodily/kinesthetic inclination can develop Internet-based simulations, cooperative web searches or web quests based on Early-American time period or create role-playing activities of various War events that include web resources and classroom lectures. The student with naturalist/design MI can create virtual landscapes of Revolutionary War scenes and analyze and interact with computer simulated topographic battlefields. For those with the interpersonal and personal intelligences, all of these noted activities might be designed to incorporate cooperative learning groups or personally reflective individual projects.

I believe that allowing students to express their historical knowledge in a variety of ways can not only make the lesson plan more real, but also give each student the opportunity to build his/her interest in the topic and self-esteem in the ability to take what is learned and apply it in a creative format. The student can find a personal way to send him/herself back in time and experience what it was like to live in the designated time period.

Other educators have also had success using the Internet for their history classes. For instance, Warren (1999) suggests using the web as a source of information and quantitative data, especially because high school history instruction often lacks a critical research focus. He says that "the most effective (and attention-grabbing) way of engaging high school students in hands-on primary source exercises is by provoking interest, particularly in the affective learning domain. That is, adolescents will be most interested in exercises that challenge their values and beliefs."

Warren has found that the United States Historical Census Data Browser lends itself to quantitative research exercises in his history classes. Created by the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the site provides access to state and county level data for each of the censuses from 1790 to 1960. Although not as complete as the published version, this virtual census still provides a wealth of data and is much more user-friendly, especially for youngsters, than the bound census volumes. Warren first introduces his students to the era of Gilded Age industrialization and then says they will have to determine how industrialization impacts their own area of the country between the 19th and 20th centuries. Each student receives a blank chart on which to place county-level data on a variety of variables for the years 1870, 1930, and 1950, including total population -- number of foreign born, whites and blacks -- total number of manufacturing plants and total number who worked in manufacturing. After gathering raw data, they convert absolute to relative numbers for the purpose of comparing data over time (ibid).

Once numbers are added to the chart, students can then tackle the research question: How did Vigo County change from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century? Warren encourages his students to start by forming a list of visible trends before composing a more structured essay response. For instance, while the county's total population increased each year, some pupils point out that the rate of change slowed considerably over time. Others note that the total number of manufacturing plants declined drastically while the total and relative number of manufacturing workers increased steadily. "Students, most of whom tend to be fascinated by web sites already, will be drawn into historical inquiry exercises in a way that may transfer to greater enthusiasm for the discipline in general," states Warren (ibid).

Although this is not as a creative approach for learning as the earlier one, it is a helpful way in integrating different required high school skills such as history, mathematics, statistics and research. It provides a cross-curriculum approach that can only benefit the students in their other courses.

By no means has the Internet been the only modern-day technology that has been used to enhance the subject of history. Several years ago, two members of the University of Michigan's English Composition Board and an American history teacher at Ann Arbor's Pioneer High School considered the question, "How can we better teach American history to basic skills students using writing and technology?" (Butler 2003)

Over a three-year period, they developed what came to be known as the Pioneer-University of Michigan Connection (P -- UM). Based on research literature suggesting that writing-to-learn practices could improve the students' content knowledge as well as their writing skills.

Forty-five juniors and seniors from a variety of socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds were enrolled in the first two sections of the basic skills American history course. Several miles down the road at the university, a dozen juniors and seniors of various majors were trained as tutors. The project was designed around three developmental phases: Introduction to Collaborative Writing to Learn, Fostering the Pioneer Electronic Learning Community, and Making the Pioneer-UM Connection.

During Phase 1 classroom activities, the educators developed the Native American unit by adding writing-to-learn and collaborative learning activities. Instead of having students read out of textbooks, one of the teachers narrated Native American myths and legends. After class discussions about the roles and purposes of legends in Native American culture, students met in small groups to invent their own myths that explained natural phenomena. They then worked together to write out their legends and read them aloud to classmates (ibid).

In Phase 2, the teachers added computer-based collaborative learning- -- electronic mail and real-time electronic conferencing -- to the writing-to-learn and face-to-face collaborative activities. The Revolutionary War unit relied on this combination of approaches. The teachers lectured and showed videotapes about the causes, events, and results of the war and provided a list of names, dates, battles, and geographical…[continue]

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