Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Blog: History in the classroom – image makeover

History has an image problem. Students think it is boring. History teachers know that it is full of drama, romance, intrigue, discovery and mystery, oh yes, and important historical events! How do we, as educators, convey the hidden magic of times gone by, to a class of teenagers who would rather be texting, emailing or doing something called ‘twittering’ (an activity I had thought until now, was purely the domain of birds)?

 Picture two groups of students, each with a box of assorted materials tasked with replicating artefacts from two diverse ancient societies. Picture one, a challenging student, bored with his piece of sandstone and soft rock, ‘messing about’ with the sticks and grinding stones together, adding water. He started painting on his sandstone. As an educator, how could you not be excited! Disengaged, bored student became engaged, positive contributor for the rest of the time I had that class. We went on to bury the artefacts at opposite ends of the long jump pit. Each group digging up the others artefacts, I could not believe how excited they were upon discovering each artefact!

When teaching a unit on the 1960s, I had the students painting their own ‘Further Bus’ after all, we needed transport to get to Woodstock at the end of the unit! As they painted the bus, discussions occurred between the students, sometimes heated exchanges! I listened, and realised not only had learning occurred but they were able to contextualise the knowledge to the point of being able to debate and discuss the issues we had covered. 

History in my classroom involves a lot of hands on work, discussion and making phone calls to unsuspecting people who amazingly, agree to my odd requests. When planning a new topic sequence, I think what I would enjoy doing as I learn the skills and knowledge that are required by the curriculum. Where I can, I tailor activities to enable each student’s interests or strengths to emerge during the process.

Creating an engaging, interesting history lesson, while meeting curriculum requirements, is hard work. For me, allowing my passion for history to be seen by the students is very powerful, even if they do think you are a nerd. The reward is when you hear a student say with a note of surprise; “History IS really exciting miss! I love it”.


Monday, 9 July 2012

Blog – History matters

Dr Lesley Walker, a heritage learning and interpretation consultant with experience in Australia and the UK blogs about the biggest challenge facing teachers and communicators of history – convincing their audience why history matters…

The biggest challenge facing teachers and communicators of history is not to teach history itself, nor even the lessons of history, but why history matters. History is not the story of strangers, or aliens from another place, it is our story had we been born a little earlier. The power of embedding personal and local stories into national narratives and using meaningful inquiries are important lessons learned from the past 24 years of history in the UK national curriculum.

Inquiry-based or investigative learning should involve an element of mystery – an enticing and meaningful inquiry question framing a series of lessons. Getting the inquiry question ‘right’ is key. Start with a hook or a puzzle to capture interest (names on the local war memorial, a letter, a song, a series of pictures, a postcard, a photograph), make a connection (why should I care?), establish an inquiry or investigation and provide students with the opportunity to show what they can do. The learning must have a real focus with students working like ‘real’ historians to frame questions, solve a puzzle, test a hypothesis, challenge a misconception or reconstruct the past from a variety of visual and written sources – archives, artefacts, photographs, landscape, buildings, etc. An active, multi-sensory approach using real and ‘original’ documents builds a connection between the student and their inquiry as they develop a greater sense of feeling for the source and the person who wrote or read it.

The Rocks offers students the opportunity to engage with the historic environment and archaeological, written and visual sources, to connect with real places and artefacts, and the people who lived and worked here. It also represents a real example of how the past is interpreted and reinterpreted, of the connections between local and personal stories and national and international narratives.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Education Rocks

In her second blog post, education consultant Louise Zarmati writes about the exciting range of learning opportunities offered by members of The Rocks Education Network...

On Sunday 26 February The Rocks Education Network (REN) organised a free open day for teachers to showcase the education programs available to schools in 2012. When I began working in The Rocks 15 years ago there were fewer education providers than now. Even then we never thought of talking to each other about what we do or sharing ideas over morning tea. So the fact that REN now exists is testimony to the willingness of The Rocks education providers to work together to provide teachers and students with a smorgasbord of high-quality educational programs.

Rocks Discovery Museum
Louise Zarmati

Today The Rocks is an exciting and vibrant place to visit, full of tantalising shops, weekend markets and delicious foods and beverages in restaurants and cafes. But it’s easy to forget the significance of The Rocks in our national history. Whether we see The Rocks as the place of first ‘settlement’, ‘contact’ or ‘invasion’, we should always remember that it is a place of many firsts in our national narrative and that these stories should be passed on to the next generation through quality educational experiences.

Primary students with artefacts

The collaboration of REN is timely as we now move towards the implementation of a national curriculum in all Australian schools from 2013. Australian history will now be taught as a stand-alone subject in the context of world history. The Rocks is an excellent place for students to learn about Australian history from a local, national and global perspective.

The programs offered by the REN providers give students the opportunity to learn history (and other subjects) out of the classroom through a wide range of experiences. The point of taking students out of the classroom is to give them a learning experience away from their everyday school routines. And, because it is unusual, what they experience outside the classroom is often firmly imprinted in their long-term memory.

Students can visit actual places where famous (and infamous) people in Australian history lived, worked and died. They can walk the streets where they once walked and touch the objects they once touched. Most importantly, students can learn ‘history from below’, the stories of the working people of Sydney, not just the rich, famous and powerful.

Secondary students with aretfacts

Primary and secondary students can feast on one or many educational experiences during a day’s excursion to The Rocks that cover topics as diverse as history, archaeology, English, mathematics, science, geography, art, civics, legal studies and food technology.

Perhaps one of the most exciting innovations is the Aboriginal education programs offered by Sydney Learning Adventures (The Rocks Dreaming) and the Royal Botanic Gardens (Bush Food). Both organisations have Indigenous education officers whose moving stories of the impact of settlement on the people and environment of Sydney Cove are a poignant reminder that our magnificent city of Sydney is located on Aboriginal land.

Members of REN include:
• Sydney Learning Adventures (Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority)
• The Rocks Discovery Museum (Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority)
• The Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre (Sydney Harbour YHA)
• Sydney Observatory (The Powerhouse Museum)
• Historical Houses Trust (Susannah Place, The Justice and Police Museum, Museum of Sydney, Government House)
• The Rocks Walking Tours
• The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney
• The Museum of Contemporary Art.

For more information about education programs go to members’ individual websites or therocks.com.

Louise Zarmati has worked as a history teacher, archaeologist, museum educator and academic. She acts as education consultant for The Big Dig Archaeology Centre where she developed its award-winning programs. Ms Zarmati is currently completing a doctorate on teaching history in Australian museums.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The significance of The Rocks in our national history

Guest blogger Louise Zarmati writes about upcoming changes to the curriculum which encourage students to think historically. She believes The Rocks is the perfect place for students to learn to work and think like a historian.

The introduction of The Australian Curriculum: history from 2012 (2014 in NSW) represents a landmark in the teaching of history in Australia. For the first time, all students from kindergarten to year 10 will study history as a stand-alone subject. And for the first time, teachers and students will be talking the ‘language’ of historical thinking – not only will students learn about significant historical people, places and events, they’ll also learn to think and work like a historian.

But what does it mean to ‘think like a historian’, and how do students learn these skills? Each topic in the curriculum contains a set of key questions designed to guide students through the process of historical inquiry, such as ‘What do we know about the lives of people in Australia’s colonial past?’ and ‘How do we know?’. By critically examining a range of primary sources, such as official records, letters, diaries, photos and artefacts, students learn that history is not a single, linear narrative but rather a construct made up of multiple perspectives and interpretations. From this, they understand that because it’s based on the availability and reliability (or unreliability) of evidence, history is dynamic, changing and, most importantly, contested.

As the place of first British settlement, the historic precinct of The Rocks has a significant place in the new curriculum and our national history. By examining the history and archaeology of The Rocks, students learn about the lives of Governors, soldiers, convicts, free settlers, men, women and children as well as the long-term impact of colonial settlement on the Indigenous people of Sydney Cove. The Rocks is the perfect place for students to learn to think historically. Here they can come to understand that history changes over time because it’s made up of many stories that are constantly debated, contested and reinterpreted.

Louise Zarmati has worked as a history teacher, archaeologist, museum educator and academic. She acts as education consultant for The Big Dig Archaeology Centre where she developed its award-winning programs. Ms Zarmati is currently completing a doctorate on teaching history in Australian museums.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Sue Hodges on engaging students in Australian History ...

Sydney’s foreshore is one of Australia’s most evocative historical sites. So, how do you begin in engaging your students with this fascinating area?
First, explore the Sydney foreshore, including The Rocks, on foot. Make use of the wonderful resources of Sydney Learning Adventures, run by Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, which has a wide range of interactive tours and programs for students of all ages. Discover the site where the first plague outbreak occurred in 1900, find the house where members of the Sydney ‘Push’ murdered a young boy and examine remnants of convict life in the archaeological digs. Walk around The Rocks to get a feel for the physical effort required to live there daily. Find out where prostitutes plied their trade. Read Ruth Park’s Playing Beattie Bow to your students for an evocative journey between the present and the past.
Then, encourage your students to create something meaningful from their research. As well as essays, they could: produce drawings, a play, a scavenger hunt; use Foursquare to check in their location and record comments on a site; make a YouTube clip or tweet about their findings.
Ask your students to step into the shoes of a person from the past, such as an Aboriginal person before colonisation. Get them to imagine being a chain gang convict whose leg irons chafe and rub as he chips sandstone with a pick. Encourage them to think about being a free settler in this strange and wonderful land, which had harsher light than Europe and bizarre, jumping animals that looked like rats. Your English vegetables may not have grown because of the sandy soil and you may have caught typhus or another rat-borne disease.
In these ways you can make the history of The Rocks live and breathe for your students.