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Thursday, January 19, 2017

How I Make History Real for My Students, Part 1

"Hey, Mrs. Dahl. You should let us section the room into our tribal lands," one student earnestly opined on his way out after class. Another chimed in, "And we should have to sit in our own tribe's region!" We had just begun a unit about the Native American tribes of Texas. We spent time as a class building criteria for our reports based on what kids were expected to learn. They had picked groups, chosen a tribe, and would begin research the next day.  My brain immediately went into overdrive with all the possibilities!

The kids loved their taped off areas!
When kids arrived for class the next day, they found the floor sectioned off with orange tape to represent the approximate locations of the tribes in Texas long ago. Students had to stay in their own region (no matter what subject we were working on) unless they got permission from another tribe to pass through their lands. If a student needed something (chair, pencil, etc) that was located in another region, he would have to trade for it. However, in order to trade, they had to know enough about each others' tribes to know what was available to trade. Suddenly, learning about the tribes took on special meaning and students began to research in earnest.

Soon, one group placed signs in its region showing what natural resources and other goods their tribe had to offer. Others rapidly followed suit. In this way, they got to know the location and resources of all the different tribes of Texas. One day the Comanche group realized their tribe was more aggressive, and therefore unlikely to bother asking for permission. They began to roam the room without much concern until an enterprising young man from a bordering tribe raided for some comfortable chairs left unattended. After that, they stayed closer to home.
He traded land for chairs!

Students began to feel a kinship with their chosen tribe. Because of this feeling, the research became more personal. By the time research was finished and the presentations were shared, their depth of knowledge for all the tribes of Texas was sincerely impressive. In fact, they were able to transfer the knowledge of their tribe into point-of-view journal entries that will be discussed in the next installment of this adventure. The reports and presentations all exceeded the criteria of expectations we had set together.

Once the research was finished, students stayed in their regions rather than going back to their usual tables. This worked out very well because they had surprises coming. Stay tuned to see what happens when visitors appear unexpectedly in class as Spanish or French explorers. Then missions appear. Colonies begin to take lands from our tribes. Students journal through it all from the point of view of their chosen tribe's beliefs and customs.

Make history real by giving it meaning...make it personal for more of an emotional connection. Remember, emotions drive learning. Letting students drive how things happen goes a long way too!

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