The eyes of the fifth graders in Ms. Evans’ class widened when they saw a dazzling light on the classroom smartboard and the phrase “Let’s Time Warp!” »
Ms. Evans, who teaches at a large suburban school in central Ohio, told her students they were about to take a trip to a Native American community as it existed in the 19th century.
“We are now traveling back in time to Florida, to the 1800s, to visit a Seminole village,” Ms. Evans told her class excitedly as she began reading aloud the story of Seminole Chief Osceola.
In the story, Osceola says, “The white man wants our orange groves, our beautiful harbors, our full forests, and our warm, fertile lands. But they are ours. Here are our fish, our birds and our animals, the tombs of our fathers. , the land of our children.”
Immediately, a beautiful village appears on their Chromebooks. Students are welcomed by the Seminole before participating in a series of interactive slides. They learn about the foods the Seminoles eat, the clothes they wear, and their daily experiences. They are invited to stay and live with the Seminoles during their visit. However, on this first day of history class, the students do not yet know that Osceola will soon be captured by American troops, who will trick him into meeting for a truce.
This experience illustrates the type of social studies course that our research group – Digital Civic Learning – has been developing since 2020 to enable students to use immersive storytelling to better understand different perspectives on complex historical issues, as well as current social. We work with elementary school teachers from several school districts across Ohio.
Overcoming a narrow view of history
While other programs emphasize memorizing facts and dates, our approach emphasizes dialogue between students to make learning history more exciting.
From our perspective, as educational psychologists, the need for such an approach is made clear by national data, which shows that American adolescents’ knowledge of U.S. history has declined over the last decade.
Some history curricula currently used in schools are rooted in settler colonialism, which focuses on the displacement of indigenous populations with new settlers and often minimizes the perspectives of underrepresented populations.
Our approach integrates technology, immersive learning, such as an in-depth look at daily Seminole life, and collaborative small group discussions into everyday social studies instruction.
The students’ interactive experiences with the Seminole were created using Google Slides. The slides are composed of illustrations, story narrations, easy-to-read text and interactive activities developed by our team. Beyond history, we have also created units in geography, government and economics. Each unit was designed for primary school students and delivered to students over two weeks.
Students actively participate in small group discussions on the third and ninth days of each unit.
In our Seminole example, students are asked to think about the Treaty of Payne’s Landing, signed in 1832. The treaty required the Seminoles to give up their land in Florida in exchange for new land in the West.
They discuss the dilemma Osceola faced when deciding whether to accept the treaty in order to keep the peace or refuse to accept the new treaty so the Seminoles could stay on their land.
Our approach to teaching history also emphasizes connections to current events, such as the Dakota Access pipeline. Building the pipeline will help the economy by creating jobs and making the United States less dependent on foreign oil. However, the pipeline will be built on land owned by Native Americans who deeply fear that the pipeline will cause contamination of groundwater and soil.
Students learn about a related situation in which the federal government is considering whether to approve the construction of another pipeline in Minnesota that would run directly through Native American lands. In groups, students come up with reasons for or against the construction of the pipeline.
Based on our analysis of student discussions and essays during this unit, we found that through this immersive learning and interactive practices, students work more collaboratively and are more likely to consider multiple perspectives in civic debates.
Surveys also found that students who participated in the program became more emotionally involved in learning the story, in part by establishing emotional connections with the story’s characters, as they developed a deeper understanding. profound about how historical events affect people’s lives.
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