Engaging Students in Australian History Studies
Yesterday The Age featured an article about History in the Australian Curriculum. Specifically they were referring to the decision not to make a specific Australian History subject part of the national curriculum in the Senior Years. Modern and Ancient History are the two subjects to be offered.
As our focus here at Sovereign Hill Education is working with students and teachers studying Australian History, we are very interested in this conversation. We are pleased that Australian History has a strong focus in the Primary Years of the Australian Curriculum and we hope that Secondary teachers, including Year 11 and 12, take the opportunity to include Australian History within World History. It is very powerful for students to understand Australian History within the broader context of world history.
Some of the conversations around this article have been that fewer students are choosing to enrol in Australian History at the VCE level in Victoria. A few comments also talked about History being ‘overdone’ or ‘boring’. But we believe history needn’t be dull, and Australian History can be just as exciting as major events in world history – mainly because of the potential for personal connections.
These are our tips for making History engaging and enjoyable to teach and learn:
Make it hands on - When students have the opportunity to ‘do’ history and not just read history, we see they are infinitely more engaged. There are many ways to give students hands-on opportunities, including: museum visits, local location visits, using objects (see below) and simulated ‘digs’. Keep your eye out for local history projects happening in your area and jump on board – for example, last year we ran a project around a 150 year old time capsule in the Burke and Wills memorial fountain, and recently a Chinese Kiln was found in the Bendigo region. Follow organisations such as Heritage Victoria to keep abreast of local history news.
Utilise storytelling - Stories are a powerful medium for students as they can help put emotion and drama into the past. The use of films, books about history, theatre and personal storytelling (think grandmas/pas, war veterans etc.) can capture students’ imagination and make them want to find out more. Students can also be involved in telling stories themselves by recreating events or making their own films and theatre pieces.
Make it personal - History becomes innately more interesting when it is your own history, and this is where Australian History has an advantage. You might be exploring your local history and have students research their own house/church/town hall. If you are studying immigration or international conflicts students may be able to find information about one of their own ancestors – the National Archives and the Australian War Memorial have great resources for this.
Make it purposeful - If you can give students a clear purpose for why they are learning history they can more easily see the value in what they are studying. This may mean having a strong focus on historical skills that have broader applications, such as critical literacy and research. History is also about broadening our perspectives and understanding different points of view. Living in our modern highly connected world, it is now easier for students to see how these skills and understandings will be important in their lives.
Build connections - Australian History did not happen in isolation, it was part of a greater world history and finding good links can help students to appreciate Australia’s role in the world stage. Understanding the role of the British Empire, the industrial revolution and exploration can add a new level of understanding of migration during the 19th Century. Also world movements, including the enlightenment, the revolutions and Chartism, all had a strong impact on Australia.
Play with objects and primary sources - The web has provided us with so many opportunities to give students access to primary sources and objects that can make history more real. Other objects that can give an insight into daily life can be sourced from homes, markets and outreach programs from organisations. The Australian Museum has Museum in a Box for NSW schools and the Australian War Memorial offer Memorial Boxes through groups such as Social Education Victoria. There are also ideas for using objects and historical research skills from Museum Victoria’s Small Object, Big Story program.
Later this year we will be running a workshop at the SLVLearn2012 conference about Finding and using objects in the classroom and there will be other great presenters sharing ideas about teaching history in engaging ways.
They are some of our tips for making History an interesting and appealing subject for students.