History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Author: esfitzge@brown.edu

Digital Tools for Active Learning

The Choices Program is midway through a multiyear initiative to increase our use of digital media as a teaching tool. While we are enthusiastic about the potential of digital curriculum, we want to make sure that any new materials we produce enhance, not obstruct, the most important part of the student experience—what happens inside the classroom. In terms of student engagement and active learning, we believe there is no substitute for the face-to-face interaction that happens between teachers and students during class. At Choices we are committed to active learning. We focus on developing materials that foster a participatory, student-centered experience because we want students to engage actively with history and think critically about its relevance to the world they live in. With this in mind, the Choices Program has been looking at ways to use new media (including video and audio content) to make the process of reading a digital student text more active than the traditional print format. We have a lot of ideas, and I am excited about the prospect of making the text come alive for students in new ways. We have also had conversations about digital lessons, and our videographer Tanya has developed some amazing digital tools to go with some of our new units.

We know that technology can sometimes be distracting. We do not want to isolate students on devices that detract from group activity. Whatever digital tools we develop, we want them to help teachers foster analytic discussion and productive classroom work. Digital curriculum materials have a lot of potential, but they cannot and should not replace the absolutely essential role that teachers play in student learning. They need to be designed in service to an active and participatory classroom experience.

These are some of the things that we are thinking about as we begin discussions about digital curriculum. What do you think about how digital materials can be used effectively in the classroom?

The Arab Spring

Nowruz is the name of the Iranian New Year. It occurs each year on the vernal equinox (around March 21st) and is celebrated by Iranic peoples throughout the world. Nowruz is the holiday of spring, and people come together to celebrate light and renewal by cleaning out their homes, having bonfires, and feasting. This Nowruz, President Obama delivered a message to the people of Iran, pledging support for their dreams and aspirations and for democratic change. I think that President Obama’s words are eloquent and compelling, but they raise complicated questions about the United States’ role in the many social movements of this Arab Spring. The U.S. has decided to use force to help end the dictatorship in Libya, but can military might really have a positive effect when the U.S. relationship to the region is so fraught? Is the U.S. now obligated to use force in other countries like Bahrain and Yemen? There are no easy answers, but we must continue to ask questions. I think the coming months give teachers an amazing opportunity to have conversations with their students about the Middle East–a region rich in history and tradition where so many people are standing up and making their voices heard. Many of the protesters in Egypt last month, and in Iran last year, were youth. Challenge your students to learn more about the lives and cultures of their fellow high schoolers in countries throughout the Middle East, and ask them to consider the role of the United States in democratic movements abroad.

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