August 17, 2012

Making History Interesting to Teens

Maria made the mistake of telling me last year that she does not like history, she finds it boring.  You would think by now my kids would know better, or at least be able to predict what will follow a statement like that :)

I have spent the last few weeks creating a high school 20th Century Humanities course for this fall.  Each month we will focus on a single decade 1900-1909, 1910-1919, etc all the way through 1999.  We will study historic events, famous people, inventions, science discoveries, art, music, literature, film, television, and philosophy.  The goal will be to prove to Maria that history is fascinating and linked to everything else going on in the world at any given time.  The course will be interdisciplinary and have both breadth and depth.  I have been having a lot of fun putting the class together. 

I have learned through my years of teaching that most learning occurs when students are engaged, interested and having fun.  They rarely realize they are learning because it is just so interesting.  This is the goal and so far I think I will be able to accomplish it with her.  Yesterday I spent the day looking at 100 years of art selecting our works for the year.  You really learn a lot about a culture when you spend a day doing that.  Today the focus was music, the day before literature and inventions.  I can already see trends and patterns across just these few subjects.  Connections will be formed all semester long and hopefully carry with her throughout her life. 

The key is finding the hook.  I thought my way in would be through film and literature.  As I prepare though I realize in her case it will be through science and inventions.  So many amazing things happened and were developed last century.  Science played a critical role and she will enjoy that part being the scientist that she is.  The literature will be interesting and fun, the music telling of the cultural changes but as I prepared I realized there are so many more connections between science, inventions and history this past decade that I am getting excited to discover them all and help her along the way. 

I remember my first interdisciplinary class, my high school senior art class.  We only combined history, art and music but it had a profound affect on my understanding of the world to be able to see all the connections.  I have always approached my kids education with an interdisciplinary/unit study flare but this will be our first year studying exclusively this way.  Only her math curriculum and chemistry class will be outside of this class.  I was tempted to bring my younger kids into the study, it certainly would be easier for me, yet I know this needs to remain just a high school level class.  The 20th century saw a lot of events, art, music, and historical figures that one needs to have a certain level of maturity to grasp and handle emotionally.  I know Maria is ready for this and the others are not, so they will have to wait their turn. 

I was disappointed to discover there was no curriculum already made that could do what I wanted.  Still it has forced me to make it truly what I want as I develop everything from scratch.  There are many wonderful resources available so mostly I am compiling a big spreadsheet of lists and material to study.  We will focus on primary and original sources whenever possible.  Most of the original material is readily available thanks to the internet and the library.  I will report back at the end of the year letting you know if I found a way to make history interesting to teens, or at least to my teenage daughter. 

August 12, 2012

Teenagers are Amazing. Stop Judging Them so Harshly have always loved teenagers.  Everyone tells me that will change when I have my own.  So far we are doing okay but we are only a month into the official teen years.  People told me to hate two year olds and I did not.  I actually found two to be a magical and interesting year for my children.  I will go into the teen years positively and take it as it comes. 

My own teenagers are not the motivation for this post, teenagers in general are.  I thoroughly enjoy teenagers and I am at a loss as to why more people do not enjoy them as well.  Sure they are loud and at times rude and rambunctious but they are always interesting.  Teens are fascinating as they learn to navigate the world around them as themselves and not as who their parents told them to be. The teenage mind is interesting to watch a problem and see their creative ways through difficulties.  Yes they can be impulsive but often that is because we allow excuses for them to fall back on. 

For anyone who thinks they dislike teenagers I challenge you to get to know some teens.  Really get to know them and ask them about their interests, joys and hardships.  Learn about how they balance school, work, sports and friendships.  Ask about their goals and dreams and how they plan to get there. 

I always tell people my favorite age people are 15-22.  So much happens in those years.  The mind is developing, strategizing, understanding, negotiating, and it is amazing to witness that process.  Conversations, debates, and discussions are very rich with individuals in this age group.  Opinions alternate between firm, fluid, unsure and firm again.  People in this age range are trying to figure out who they are, what their place in this world is, what this world is all about and what it really should be like.  They love to engage on issues of religion, politics, sexuality, money and all the world's biggest issues and questions.  Adults are foolish to not engage and learn from them and help teens and young adults learn from them and see the world from other perspectives. 

I am a tutor.  I primarily work with teenagers on their study skills and their ACT test prep.  The first question I ask them is what sports or musical instruments they have played.  I ask about their favorite movies, music, books and video games.  I work hard to find connection points with each of my students and to help them feel comfortable with me.  The only part I dislike about my job is that when I am successful I work myself out of it.  When my students succeed they stop working with me and I miss getting to know them and see their success and journey. 

I watch other adults look at teenagers with disgust or cross a street to avoid them and I am saddened.  Our culture needs more cross generational relationships and the adults in this culture are doing little to connect with the teenagers and young adults and be active parts of their lives.  If I was a teen receiving looks from adults like I observe I would not want relationships with adults and I would likely continue behaviors that were repelling the adults. 

Our home school group meets at the beach every week.  Several times this summer I set up in the middle of the high school/college zone.  It was interesting to see how the teens served as "adult repellent" with no other adults wanting to be anywhere near them.  Yes they smoked, yes many of them swore, yes they gave me incredulous looks at first.  A strange thing happened though after I smiled, returned a football that landed at my feet and they realized I was not going away.  They spoke to me, they smiled, they seemed to have cleaned up their language some and even spoke a little softer.  I did not ask them to, I did not encourage them to, I did not even really interact with them. 

I work with many teenagers and every one of them is unique and interesting.  They are totally amazing and special people.  They are polite, kind and engaging.  They just want people to treat them with respect and kindness.  They want people to believe in them, build them up, support and encourage them.  They don't want to be talked down to, belittled, or prejudged.   They care burdens and walk hard paths.  They want to do hard things, be challenged and will respond to the opportunities laid before them. 

In all of my years of teaching and tutoring I have learned you always teach up.  Students long to be recognized, they long to have someone notice the specialness within them and help bring it out.  Students will always rise to the challenge when encouraged and supported.  I still believe Aristotle was right and work hard to help all my students realize I am only helping them discover what they themselves already knew.  It is not about the teacher, it is the student who knew and just needed a little help getting it out of themselves.

Teenagers want the adults in this world to realize they are just as capable and hard working as fellow adults.  Teenagers want to be treated like adults but also be given some breathing room to be allowed to make mistakes and screw up along the way, they are still learning.  Treat teens with respect and you will be amazed at the results.  You will meet some really interesting and amazing people along the way.