Wildwood’s humanities classes are designed to give students a range of opportunities to build both historical content knowledge and research and collaboration skills–equally critical for success in college, and beyond.
In Ariane White and Annie Barnes’s Division Three humanities class, students engaged in the initial phase of a cooperative research project on 19th and 20th Century revolutions and seemed to be seizing every opportunity to acquire knowledge. Prior to my visit this week, each group had selected a topic, making choices ranging from well known overthrows, like the French and Chinese Revolutions, to more obscure uprisings, including the Zapatista and Algerian Revolutions.
One the day I drop in, the groups have a specific goal: assemble a variety of general secondary sources, vet them, and choose one as the basis for deeper research. Students will share these sources, research notes, and annotations using a secure, online collaboration platform called, NoodleTools.
Annie gets the groups started by asking students to brainstorm about where they might find valuable secondary sources. A variety of go-to sources are mentioned, including many which are part of Wildwood’s library databases—Britannica, Gale, and the New York Times.
The discussion starts to really get interesting when 9th grader David O. suggests a less conventional source: “What about Wikipedia?” he asks. Annie, wanting to encourage discussion, thoughtfully responds. “What we’re asking you to do,” she begins, “is to go through the process to vet all of your potential sources, like you’ve done before in class. After that, if your group assesses that Wikipedia is the best one—then use it.”
As students get to work, I circulate around the room, watching and listening. Through their conversations, I gain some insights into how the students collaborate, and their attitudes toward Wikipedia’s relative value in this stage of their research. It turns out that when given a choice and a thoughtful process to vet their sources, the students tend to believe their research goals can be best met by, shall we say, less ‘revolutionary’ online content.
“I’m having a hard time finding a source with a general timeline,” 10th grader Owen L. says to his group. Aaron K., another 9th grader, offers advice. “This one’s good,” he tells Owen, “I looked up ‘Indian Independence Movement’ on the BBC’s history website.”
In another group I see 9th graders Kaiya K., Asia G., David O. and Eddie K. sort through a wide variety of online sources for their topic: the Cuban Revolution. Suddenly Eddie finds something interesting and says, “Check this out, Asia. It’s really juicy!” I’m excited to hear such genuine enthusiasm as I see Eddie’s found a source from Gale’s Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture—now one of our juiciest databases!
This week the group is in the early stages of its work, but this joint research will be vital as each student shapes the material to craft an individual presentation, an historical monologue channeling an actual historical figure or creating one who lived during the revolution of choice.
The project is essentially collaborative in nature, but personal interpretation drives the crowning work. At Wildwood, we intentionally encourage these dual capacities.
While each student’s creative choices draw on the collectively gathered sources, each presentation will be unique. And when students see what their peers present and have a chance to reflect and offer feedback, more learning happens.
We want our students to be aware that individuals approach the same intellectual challenges in a range of ways. From start to finish, every step presents an opportunity to learn more, and might even spark some revolutionary thinking.
~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning