15 January 2013

Moving Beyond the Classroom... Real World Connections

One of my continuing goals has been to get students involved in activities beyond the classroom that both improve their understanding of the content we are covering and giving them the real-world experiences of collaborating, working professionally, taking criticism and presenting what they have done. The best opportunities for this have revolved around student activities and with student club activities.
For in-class activities, my students regularly complete "History Labs" in which they conduct research, develop an interpretation, and create a product to share with the class (as a teaching tool) and with the world (via the web.) Students recently created eBooks and documentary videos that we published online. Students used the class iPads to create eBooks on the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment and videos on the revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Students shared these with friends and family and the rest of the world. My students are currently finishing their work on their National History Day projects. History Day also asks students to do original research based on a yearly theme and to be critiqued and judged on their work for continual improvement as they move from classroom to school to county to state to national competitions. Over the past several years, many of my students have made it as far as the state level competition. While doing serious historical research on a topic of their choice, students get the exposure to presenting their findings, defending them, and interacting with professionals in the field. It allows them to do the work of real historians.
Other opportunities for real-world interactions come with student activities and clubs. I have had the honor of moderating the Model United Nations Club and National History Bowl and Bee Team at my school. Through these extra-curricular activities, students learn so much about how to work collaboratively, think creatively, and interact with new ideas and people. The Model UN Club has to learn about the issues facing the people of the world, prepare a position (which may not be one they hold), present and debate with a diverse group of people as if they where really at the United Nations. This also gets them to look at real-world problems that the UN deals with on a regular basis. Our History Bowl and Bee Team also gets students thinking about historical topics in different ways and allows students to work as a team in a high pressure competition situation that keeps kids sharp.
Taking opportunities to give students a chance to learn in authentic ways cannot be overestimated. I see vast improvements in my student's engagement and desire to learn more. How do you get your students real-world experiences and authentically engaged inside and outside the classroom?

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