History is about stories - I remember feeling connected to the Yankees or Ford Motor Company because I watched a documentary about their history and what made them successful. It was in these stories that I felt a connection with these organizations. I have felt that with historical figures or events because they were presented as stories with really interesting details that connected to my interests. I read the book Nazi Seizure of Power and was fascinated by how Adolf Hitler was really able to rise to power and take over control of Germany's government. It wasn't magical, it was simply doing something all politicans and many people do to get what they want - they tell people what they want to hear.
While I could name numerous stories and events in history that I really found interesting there are so many more examples where history was presented in the most horrific manner- NOTES! In full disclosure I did this too often in the my career especially early in my career. I realize telling a good story requires having true mastery of the content to not only get the details correct but to make it engaging. That means adding the dramatic elements and finding the details that connect to the audience.
In my career I can think of at least two great examples of where I told a great story. One was when I was student teaching and my cooperating teacher and I took turns telling the story of Henry VIII and his marital exploits. I still remember talking about how each time his wife was unable to bear him a son he had them beheaded and we would strike a wooden stool with a leather axe. By the end of the day we had actually split the stool seat. Yes I know the details weren't completely accurate, but we created an experience the students will remember.
The other great story I will share is when I was teaching world history and we discusses the Inquisition. I created a short presentation with images of torture devices. With each slide I discussed how the device was used. Each time reminding students that people came up with this idea, others said, "Hey that's a great ideas." and then used it to promote their values. I spend lots of time discussing the concept of what people will do in the name of their beliefs and not condemning a specific religion, but do point out that this was done in the name of religion which condemns killing. The students are enthralled with the details and I have even had students ask to return to hear that story again. I love watching students reactions and it opens them up for a great conversation about beliefs and actions and the difference between ideology and reality.
Let's get back to the title. Why I Hate History! It really has two meanings. The first is from the sentiment I have heard from students or adults after they have left school. They say they didn't enjoy history, didn't like it, found it boring. Some will recall their experiences in school in a negative light, but now may find that watching a documentary, or reading a book about a person or event has helped them appreciate history. These individuals were not taught history as a subject connected to their world and their lives. The events of the past to them are so disconnected that it has no relevance.
The second perspective is my own dislike for history in the way it was taught to me as a future teacher and thus the fact that those bad methodologies carried over into my classroom early in my career. I had been taught and in turn started instructing students had to do with presenting history as lots of independent events that were fragmented with emphasis on details and not on concepts. Students would be tested on factoids, names, dates, etc. that really meant knowing to them. I would eventually learn to look at history as cause and effect, why is this important, how did that impact other events and lead to modern events. The transformation to my teaching continued as I started to see history not as events but as human behavior. When people say why is it important to study history and they respond history repeats itself, I take pause. History will not repeat itself, we will not have the same events happen over and over this isn't Groundhog's Day - Bill Murray movie reference check. I am not dismissing the sentiment entirely becasue history does repeat if we look at human behavior. We have always had struggles for power, quest for glory, and conflict to reach those ends. If we study history the science of human behavior then we can appreciate how connected events in history really are. We see the quest for global domination not just in Adolf Hitler but Alexander the Great and Roman Emperors like Julius Caesar.
I don't really hate history but I hate the way it is being taught by many. We need to discuss what is most important for our society to understand about history so they can become educated citizens of the world. They can problem solve, stand up and fight for their rights and freedoms and agains injustices around the world. We need to develop lessons that engage students in real world problem solving and development of critical thinking skills. The idea of thinking like a historian is to be a detective, to examine the evidence, contemplate its meaning and draw conclusions based on the evidence and what we know. To use this information to guide our future path. Our students can Google names, dates, places. They don't need to color maps to locate countries or physical features. They can use Google My Maps to create dynamic informational maps that contain exponentially more information that a colored and labeled piece of paper. Student's don't need to recite from memory the preamble of the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence; they need to learn how to embody those sentiments and hold governments to those same expectations. We need to change the way we prepare social studies and history teachers education prep. If we want to create educated populous who question authority and status quo to make our world a better place we must start with those who present them with the past, present and potential future. Teacher prep needs to move from teachers being master's of content and truly inquiry guides. That doesn't mean teachers don't have an obligation to know their subject matter, but their knowledge of facts and figures won't match Google. Their knowledge needs to grow in building relationships, community and nurturing creativity and inqury.
-- Be the change you want to see in the world.
I often have what I think might be a little weird experience during conversations with others. While listening to others I find that their words trigger a reaction where I instantly have the words to a song flooding my mind. While I am not musical and honestly struggle to remember the names of many songs, the lyrics to songs seem to make connections. As I started thinking about this post, the title conjured a connection to the song "I got the music in me" and so a youtube search later here it is.
The other morning I was driving to work and a conversation on the radio about changing the melody of a song sparked an idea about the multitude of activities that can be connected to student learning. I will share a few examples that I have experienced as a student or used with students. More importantly, this post is about looking for examples others have used. I would love to create a database of ideas that teachers have used with students that incorporate music.
I have tried to break down the potential ways of using music in the classroom into different applications, but I am sure there are many more. An obvious one that I don't have listed below is to play music to set the mood or tone of the class. We know music is a powerful force and in teaching culture and history, the examination of time period music - actually hearing the music is a cool experience especially witnessing student reactions to what was cool back in the day!
Here is another post about music I wrote that might shed a little more light on my musical connection weirdness.
"We Didn't Start the Fire,"
I want to say the first time I used music as an educational experience was in high school when we used the song "We Didn't Start the Fire," by Billy Joel. I really don't think that is accurate but it is definitely one that stands out to me. We listened to the song and then jigsawed the events listed in the song. Each of us, or with a partner were asked to examine the event and report back to the group. Here is a link to a post about how I would update We Didn't Start the Fire.
"Banned in the USA"
Another lesson from my High School History class. I remember the activity was about the Bill of Rights and examining current issues. I chose to look at the First Amendment and use the group 2 Live Crew's song "Banned in the USA" that was in response to laws and court rulings that wouldn't allow them to perform in certain cities because of lewd lyrics. As a high school kid who's interest perked up when told that I couldn't do something, this interested me. I had to research the case surrounding the band and the song and the First Amendment protections. In my presentation we listened to the "Banned in the USA" song and convinced our young teacher to listen to one of the songs that sparked the controversy. I would not recommend that to teachers today.
Welcome to the Fish Bowl -
A few years ago I was teaching in a district that decided to go BYOD Bring Your Own Device. I asked the superintendent what was our policy on using these devices in the classroom. He directed me to the district's site that basically said students should bring their own device. It didn't discuss policies, expectations or provide any real guidance for teachers, parents or students. So I decided we needed a class policy. Instead of creating one and handing it to students, I took a couple of days and created one together. We listened to the song Welcome to the Fish Bowl a song that I had just stumbled across. Then using a Padlet type site we created a list of positive uses and behaviors that weren't acceptable. It was an amazing experience and I must say I learned about a lot of technologies/apps students used that I didn't know about before. Some of them beneficial, others concern me that students can access these and be exposed to the behaviors associated with them. Here is the lesson plan with links to Welcome to the Fish Bowl.
Sociology Deviance Lesson
The following is a lesson shared with me by Reuben Hoffman. The idea is to examine one of the most popular aspects of culture- music for the concept of Deviance. Students look at the lyrics of songs and discuss the examples of deviance they find within. Deviance songs.
We Built this City
Jefferson Airplane's "We Built This City" is a song that connects to an activity I did with students to build their own civilization. I will share it here and freely admit that I would revise it in multiple ways if I were to teach it again. I begin the lesson with a video of a nuclear war between the US and North Korea that leads to the destruction of modern society. The class is forced to choose a new location to rebuild civilization and make choices about how to establish society. The song seems to pop into my head every time I think about the Build Your Own Civilization activity.
An activity we did in school was to look at songs of the Vietnam War Era. I remember reading through a song by Bob Dylan and other artists and having the ideas come to life in my head. I think there are so many opportunities to look at the actual words of a song and take time to ponder their meaning and why they were chosen. If you are like me you may have sung a song using incorrect words at some point in your life. Then you read the lyrics and realize -- wow that's what they were saying! Well words are chosen for a reason and depending on the song they can connect to real world events that students should explore in more detail. What songs can you dissect?
Revise or Rewrite
I used to break down the Middle Ages into a jigsaw activity where students would explore the impact of of different areas on society like the role of the Church, the Black Death, Feudalism, etc. Students worked in groups and had to present their information to the class. I required them to perform a short skit that depicted the most important concepts. Also write a song about their topic. I encouraged them to use the format of a Ballad like the Ballad of Roland, but found it to be difficult for some students so I allowed them to choose their genre. One that stands out the song "I'm Religious and I know it" - set to the song "I'm Sexy and I Know it" by LMAFO. I gave the students one final aspect of the project- if they felt they couldn't demonstrate their knowledge enough in the skit and song they could present an overview of the topic in 3rd format to help their classmates understand the topic.
Too often as teachers we choose the song, the activity, the method of presentation and how students will demonstrate learning. There needs to be choices involved with activities as well. I have been thinking about how to introduce the idea of analyzing lyrics and really digging into what the artist is trying to say or how it connects to a larger societal issue. I have listened to interviews with artists explain the inspiration for their songs and found them to be eye opening. Often not what I thought the song or a particular verse was about. I wonder if we introduce the idea of analyzing lyrics to students by giving them the choice of which song they want to dig into. Let them bring in a song of their choice and do the work on song they want to investigate.
When I was 7 Years Old
This song seems to be on replay on my Amazon Music, or I just can't get it out of my head. But the song instantly pops the image of a timeline activity in my mind. I wrote a post about this with a few alternative activities. When I was 7 Years Old I realize this is already a long post and want to keep each idea relatively short so please check out the post if you want to see more.
When I Look into the Eyes of My Brother
I heard this song recently and it really started me on a path to write a number of posts about music in the classroom. I am a visual person and had some ideas about what I think the song was about and how it could be used and then I saw the video and this changed my perception of what is possible. Here is the post on When I Look into the Eyes of My Brother.
Engage Student Talents
Teach the to Dance
When teaching students about the Roaring 20s, I came across a lesson that talk about the dance the Charleston. I decided it would be cool to try to teach my students this dance. Admittedly I had never done it so I turned to Youtube for help. We all worked on the steps and I recorded their dance competition on Vine. I was fortunate to have a really good group of students and they were willing to take a risk with me. I think expanding this to other eras and other dance styles could be amazing for students, and let's face it some of our students are already dancers on the dance team or otherwise and they could teach us. Let their talents shine.
I worked with students to create a presentation last year using a Google Slides template created by David Lee that looks like a museum. This is an amazing looking template. What really made this awesome was that a few students went home and recorded themselves playing a song that was used to turn a Google Presentation into a video. The students tapped into their own talents and created something special and memorable.
When I was in 8th grade my English teacher assigned us to create a radio program. We had to create our own commercials and program a list of songs. The cool thing was recording our own commercials and the planning of our hour long program. We didn't record all the songs for an hour just the commercials. I wonder if we could create an opportunity where students create radio programs from different eras. What music, commercials would have existed. I know we could do video projects, but remember it wasn't until the 1950s that we had television.
This might be a staple in many History Teacher's tool kit, and it could be either a great activity or a disservice to students. I will start with the disservice. When teachers use the jigsaw activity of having students research and create a presentation about a decade for the rest of the class as the main form of instruction about the time period this doesn't do justice to the time period or student learning. The decades closest to the present that are most likely to resonate with students is glossed over while we spend weeks on topics students struggle to see any relevance. I speak from experience and hope to make awesome projects for students.
I like the idea of exploring a time period especially when looking at the cultural, and human aspects. Too often history is explored from a global or ideological perspective instead of making connections to the individuals who lived them. What I enjoyed about doing a decades project was the exploration of the dress, food, and especially music. Our group made a video and included music of the time in our VHS masterpiece. I remember spending hours editing this video to create just the right final product and I was hooked by the sense of accomplishment. This helped unlock the door to the things that I do today.
How to make this academically awesome? First let kids use their talents and have choice in the final product. Second and maybe more important is -do not let this become- oh crap we are out of time and need to cover the last 40-50 years of history. This cannot be the only connection to the more modern era students have. Cut out other things in your curriculum that hinder you from getting to the modern era and always make connections to the modern era to help students see why they should care about history. History isn't about events it is about human behavior and the stories of individuals doing great things.
Please share your music lessons below