I couldn’t wait to go to class today. The subject: the Korean War, a topic of which I admit to having sparse knowledge. Not only would I learn something new, but I would be taught by three of Wildwood’s youngest educators: Juniors Emma M., Isabel L., and Ella M., who are honors students in Modern U.S. History (MUSH). Conducting the lesson was one of their honors assignments, and they were being assessed on their knowledge, preparation, and delivery.
The trio started with a review of the homework, which they’d sent via email the night before. It was a New York Times article on the current state of affairs in North Korea, and the girls wanted to hear their classmates’ reaction. The conversation was slow to get going—teacher Tassie Hadlock-Piltz had to step in and verbally goose the kids to get them talking—but once they started, the class was on a roll.
“It’s interesting that they put money into the military instead of feeding their own people,” said one girl. “They’re sacrificing the lives of people for their own pride.”
“So much of their money goes to the military rather than education,” noted another student.”Their focus is on the now, rather than on the future. Education is the way to advance toward the future.”
One boy questioned the bias of the author. “I felt he was trying to get me to have a certain perspective on North Korea,” he said. That prompted a quick debate between three students about propaganda and double standards. “We don’t want them to have nuclear weapons, but we have nuclear weapons,” noted a student.
The conversation could have lasted the full hour, but Ella, Isabel, and Emma had more to teach. After discussing current affairs in Korea, the girls guided the class through a history lesson on the Korean War, including the key players, dates, and objectives. They pointed out that although the war was declared by President Truman, it was never approved by Congress—contrary to the doctrines outlined in the Constitution. This, the girls said, was a clear illustration of abuse of power the students had read about over the summer in preparation for MUSH.
Our three teachers used a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate points in their lecture. They also had created a “Jackdaw,” a special box in which they filed primary documents, photographs, and materials they used for the class.
Following the lecture, students were given a broadsheet of Korean War facts and a crossword puzzle with questions based on the material. Kids worked individually and in pairs to finish it. Trust me when I tell you this was no easy puzzle. I was among the last to finish my assignment.
We had a wrap-up conversation to check understanding of the facts, and then it was time to debrief the lesson and offer constructive feedback to our teachers. “It wouldn’t be Wildwood without a debrief,” Tassie said.
“It was well-organized, and the information packets were awesome,” said a student. “I couldn’t have told you anything about the Korean War before this class.”
“I liked the crossword puzzle,” said another. “I like being involved with something. It helped me learn it and it will stick in my memory.”
Tassie offered the team a few bits of advice, like asking more questions in the beginning to get the conversation rolling, and sharing their Jackdaw materials more broadly. But overall, everyone agreed it was a great lesson.
I was completely engaged. I would have willingly sat through another hour of discussion on Korea past and present, and I’m inspired to go out and learn more. Ella, Isabel, and Emma whetted my appetite. That’s what good teachers are supposed to do.