The word innovation is usually associated with science, technology, engineering, and math. Introducing something new in history class isn’t possible – right? History is history – you can’t change it, you just have to learn about it…
Not so in Mrs. Naghib’s history classes at Powhatan School! This year, seventh and eighth graders are taking hold of a piece of history of their interest, researching it using credible sources, and presenting it in the form of a museum exhibit, dramatic presentation, interactive website, documentary, or paper. Mrs. Naghib is modeling her class project after the National History Project, and students will be working on their project one day a week during history class from October until March, when students have the option of submitting their finished work to the NHD Regional competition at University of Virginia.
The theme of this year’s competition is “Conflict and Compromise in History”. The over-arching goal of this project is to “provide for students to push past the antiquated view of history as mere facts and dates and drill down into historical content to develop perspective and understanding”. History is rife with conflict – political, economic, artistic, and social. Students are given the opportunity to choose a topic that is historically important, relates to the theme of the contest, and one in which each individual student has a genuine interest.
When I visited Mrs. Naghib’s classes, students had already been working on their projects for several months. A few were working individually and most were working in small groups. I wanted to see what the students thought about this different way to understand history, so I spoke with Beau Thwing, Sam Cornette, and Josh Call. They chose the topic of college athletes getting paid for playing on their college teams. This conflict interested this group of students because they all follow college sports. In order to research their topic, they used the internet, magazines, newspapers, and a discussion with Shenandoah University President Dr. Tracy Fitzsimmons. They saw this type of project as real-life learning in which they had to listen to each other and varying opinions from many different sources. I also chatted with Shayla Fitzsimmons-Call, Lauren Hetzel, and Talon Morris. They chose to research the Women’s Suffrage Movement, with a focus on voting. When I asked them about the skills they were learning, resoundingly they answered teamwork, sharing and taking responsibility. Both groups listed having some choice in their learning as a major excitement factor to this project. Working at their own pace, deciding how to present their project, and dividing responsibilities made the learning fun and gave the students some ownership of their education in preparation for real world higher education and jobs.
Mrs. Naghib learned about this project at the National Conference for the teaching of Social Studies, which she attended last fall. Just like her students, she is trying something new – a new way of teaching as a facilitator rather than a lecturer. Once a week, she lets her students take responsibility for their own learning as she steps back to let the ideas flow. She did provide the guidelines for presenting the project which included writing a good thesis, conducting authentic research, and developing an annotated bibliography. But the students are taking it from there, and the excitement they are demonstrating for this project is palpable.
Innovation – alive and well in science labs and the halls of history at Powhatan. Join me for my podcast at the top of the page with Mrs. Naghib and her students Louisa Craig, Gillian Banks, and Nathaniel Thompson as they share their history innovation story.
Head of School