Middle school students have so much to learn in history. At times motivation is needed to get them interested in what they call “old dead guys.” In an effort to answer that concern, I spun the story of Lincoln and how he had several failures but kept trying and finally had success.
I ended with, “And look what he became!” I was hoping someone would say President, but the answer rang out clearly, “Dead.”
Determined to bring history alive, I kept trying, speaking passionately about Gettysburg and Vicksburg. One boy corrected me, “I thought it was Fixburg.” (His dad would be proud that he’s becoming a full-fledged man–always trying to fix things!)
Even though history is often hung on wars, this can add to the confusion. Not long after studying the Silver War several kids were all excited about an upcoming unit. A couple of students looked at me and one remarked, “Wow, we didn’t know there were really Aliens in American history!”
Their bubble burst when I explained the word was Allies. The boy at the center of the fervor moaned, “I’d much rather read about Aliens. That would be so cool!”
Part of this history class covers American Government. Last week a boy was thrilled to learn there is a lawbreaking branch of government. Throughout history some have idealized pirates and gangsters, so it took some convincing to prove the legislative branch was actually lawmaking!
Then it was time to revisit the three types of government. An astute young man told us he knew, “State, local and confederate.” Do we need to call in the Feds? Or maybe we need to go back and spend some more time on the Civil War. . .
One day they were reading about Europe after World War II. The serious young man blithely read that the country of Chico-slaves was not far from the Baltic Sea. Someone else wondered how a whole country could be made of slaves! So our lesson on geography veered into Black History and slavery in general as well as how to pronounce that challenging word Czechoslovakia.
History can make young people think of their own place in the world. One gal told us, “My dad speaks Czechoslovakian.” Another asked, “Does your mother?” The proud daughter replied, No, my mother’s not checked.”
Of all the histories, ancient may be the most difficult for children to comprehend. One student read aloud, “Rome is called an internal city because it is so old.” When I was in school the term was eternal but things change in 2500 years.
Then there was the older boy who was reading about Russian history. He clearly proclaimed that “the Tartar armies conquered Russia.” A second later another child asked if that was where tartar sauce came from. I began to wonder if a dentist could have helped remove the Tartars.
World history can be so informative. A young man informed me that Stonehenge was in the Salisbury plain of England. He asked if that meant they served Salisbury steaks there.
Geography includes a look at the Tigris and Euphrates River. A sharp little gal wondered why they would name a river ‘you fraidy’? She mused, “Maybe they were afraid of drowning?”
I began to wonder if this generation had a theme when we studied the Roman Empire. A student read about The Panic Wars in Cartridge. Back in my day it was The Punic Wars in Carthage. But I guess wars could make anyone panic.
No glimpse into World History is complete without a look at the rich history of France. A lad yelled out, “The next chapter is The French Revelation!” I guess he just had a revelation about that revolution?
A little clump of students got all excited when they thought ice cream got its flavors from France. When I asked why, they told me about the page all about Neapolitan. Looks like we need a few more days on this chapter. Maybe we could find a short guy to role play Napoleon.
The year’s almost over so I asked the class to write about a period in U.S. or World History they enjoyed studying. One paper said, “Even though I bet standing in soup lines wasn’t so much fun, The Great Desperation was the most interesting.”
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