Friday, February 15, 2019

Welcome to Vox Historia: The Voices of History

My name is Bruce Janu. I have been teaching history for 27 years. I am basically a traditional teacher: I like to lecture and tell the stories of history. Human beings have been telling stories long before they started to write them down. And I love it when I can hook a student through the power of storytelling. I have found that students are most attentive when history is presented as a story. Consequently, my classroom has been very "teacher-centered." Not that this is bad thing. I love telling stories. I love getting students interested in history.

However, students become complacent. They want to be given the information that they can then simply regurgitate on tests. And then it is forgotten. They become too comfortable in this sedentary, passive environment.

This year, a bunch of us at Elk Grove High School watched the documentary Most Likely to Succeed. That film highlighted a non-traditional school outside of San Diego called High Tech High School. This school is student-centered and focuses on project-based, interdisciplinary learning. While watching the film, I was reminded of the times in my career when I felt that I was truly getting the kids engaged in learning. My best teaching moments have always been in an interdisciplinary environment, whether it was with another teacher or working on problem-based activities that spanned multiple disciplines.

And that got me thinking: What if I could create, in a traditional classroom, opportunities for students to not only choose what they wanted to learn, but demonstrate what they have learned through storytelling?

And so Vox Historia: The Voices of History was born.

On this podcast, students choose to complete an alternative assignment. In lieu of a test or other traditional classwork, students pick a topic, research that topic and then write and produce a podcast about that topic. In other words, they become the storyteller--the "Vox Historia."

This project is still in its infancy.

Currently, I have a couple of students who have made the decision to forgo the traditional--and comfortable--classroom work to engage themselves in a conversation directly with history. They completed some background research on the unit. They then picked a topic from the unit.

In the next week or so, they will present their topic in podcast form.

This is not the easy way out. By choosing to do a podcast, these kids are putting their product out into the world.  I am not the only one who will be judging their podcast. Anyone with an internet connection will be able to listen to these students. This realization that their work will be beyond the walls of our comfortable classroom for all to see, adds a seriousness to project and is the best motivator for truly getting things right.

I am not sure how this is going to turn out. I am hopeful. I am optimistic.

In the end, the product will speak for itself. And, succeed or fail, these students will have done more self-directed work, learned more about a unit of history, than they would have sitting in my classroom quietly taking notes and memorizing facts that will appear on a test.

Stay tuned for some exciting content. I will be presenting an example of Vox Historia soon. Then, you will hear from the students.

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