Questioning Authority: Why Study History?

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Today marked the “official” start of the academic year for my history students, and they began by questioning that study of history with two questions: Why study history? and Why study American history?

I am making a concerted effort this year to really familiarize my students with both the essential questions that underlie their study, as well as the guiding questions that help direct their daily learning. As a result, we spent time reviewing the board (above) so that they are familiar with the format and terms I will use.

After an introductory video and time to Think-Pair-Share on the two questions, students accessed the classroom web portal to find the assignment. It was simple enough; answer the two questions and create a digital product to communicate those answers.

I warned my students that this assignment was deceptive, as the questions are both quite simple but require more complex, nuanced answers to fully address the questions.

I constructed this assignment for a number of reasons. The first was to genuinely engage students to critically think about why they study certain topics at certain times in school. The second was to identify the depth of thought and individual drive students would bring to a purposefully vague assignment. Finally, I wanted to gauge students’ levels of comfort with technology; who would need a laptop and who could make do with a smartphone?

Even after one class period, I was impressed with the questions students asked one another as they delved more deeply into the questions, as well as the creative ways in which they employed their own devices as academic and creative tools.