In the History classroom we often ask ourselves how we can make the content come alive so as to engage our students. In some schools students have the opportunity to travel to historically important locations. Via their school sponsored travels students are able to make a personal connection with history that they would not normally be able to make within the confines of a classroom. When students are able to travel to historical locations they can begin to experience what history looked like, felt like, and sounded like. In a wonderful interview with Stephan Anagnost on the Ed Tech Coop Podcast, he speaks to a trip that he organized for his students to the Auschwitz concentration camp. In the description of this trip, Anagnost describes how the experience becomes more of an educational journey, rather than a really big field trip. Anagnost speaks to how the idea of a journey comes about in the pre trip planning, the trip experience, and in the learning and debrief that occurs after. He says that because the trip becomes a chance for students to make real and intimate connections with their learning via this journey, they end up learning and thinking in a much more complex way. For the purpose of this post I want to think about and focus on the idea of creating a journey in the experience of student learning and understanding.
Unlike Anagnost, I have not been provided many opportunities to take students to a location to experience, to feel, to see, and hear history. However, after reflecting on this podcast, my thinking was provoked about how I can, or have, done my best to try to create learning experiences that become more than lessons and become journeys of learning within the classroom walls. When I think about a learning journey, I think not only about a student totally engaging with a topic or concept, but I also think about that journey leading towards developing empathy and a deeper understanding of a topic.
I have experimented with a variety of technologies that can help bring learning alive and make it a journey that allows students to connect with the history. In reality it is not devices that support the student journey but it is web based tools that build the connection for students. The web based experiences can transport students from the classroom to an alternate place and a time. These web based tools allow students to see places all over the world and hear voices that they normally would never get to connect with. Here are some examples of resources that I have used in the past, and or plan to use in the future. These resources I hope will facilitate an educational journey for students and help them make relevant connections to today’s world and through a lens of empathy.
Oral History Databases
A variety of organizations have spent lots of time interviewing people who have first person accounts of history. Students are able to access these oral history databases that contain stories as told by people who have intimately experienced an event. By listening to and/or viewing the stories students can key into the emotions that are embedded into the stories by their tellers. Through the emotions of the interviewees students can make connections that may not have been made if the student is just reading about something or listening to a lecture. This is the intended hope of a journey and a crucial step in developing empathy and understanding.
An oral History interview with my 1st grade teacher, Aki Kurose.
Google Earth and other Interactive Exhibits
Google Earth is another powerful tool that can transport students to places all around the world. One of my favorite ways that I have used Google Earth is creating a tour for my students to take. With the creation of a Google Earth Tour I can take students on a journey. The tour allow us — as a class — to “fly” to locations all over the world. At each location I can embed information, primary sources, songs, and other medias that will spark thinking. As the creator of a particular tour, I can share with students information that can help them build a deeper understanding of the topic. I have also had students create their own tours to reflect their understanding of a topic and to demonstrate a deeper connection. I love this tool because I think that it mixes geography and learning with a sense of a journey as students zip around the world.
Other Interactive Media Exhibits
Depending on what you are teaching there are all kinds of other interactive exhibits on the internet that allow students to take a virtual journey to new places. An example that I have used in the past is an exhibit called The Places we Live.
This particular tool allows students to visit different cities around the world and to step into the houses of residents of particular communities. I found this to be an incredibly powerful tool. Since students travel to locations all around the world — from Caracas to Jakarta — they definitely are on an adventurous journey. However, this exhibit — and others like it — take students on an emotional journey, as well. Programs such as this connect students with real people in their real environments. In their studies students can examine statistics or analyze text. However, when students have a chance to see the faces and hear the voices of real people they have experienced a different kind of journey — a journey of connecting more with their learning and develop empathy.
Taking time to explore virtual resources so as to create a journey for students is well worth the time. If we, as teachers, want to help create future global citizens that are aware of the greater world around them then a journey is a good place to start. By creating these journeys for our students we can help to connect them to real people and real places. Journeys have the opportunity to take the obscure and make it real. Journeys can put a human face on a story and can convey emotions that textbooks and lectures cannot. I think also important is that journeys are student centered. Through educational journeys students are allow to make meaning on their own. The connections that students make to what they are experiencing via their journey are unique to each student. An emotion, or a story, or a place that resonates highly with one student may impact another student in a different way. In the end hopefully these journeys can facilitate thinking, conversation, and most importantly, empathy.